On Thursday, February 25th, CEO and founder of FounderTribes Gary Stewart sat down for a virtual conversation with political leader, activist, and Fair Fight board chair Stacey Abrams, who was also recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Abrams might be better known for her political endeavours: she formerly served in the George House of Representatives and went up against Republican Brian Kemp for governor of Georgia. Nevertheless, she has been an entrepreneur since attending Yale Law School, where in 1998 she started a nonprofit to consult small organizations helping disadvantaged groups in the American South.
“It was my way of situating both being a service provider and being someone who believed in supporting organizations,” Abrams told Stewart.
Abrams would go on to start a purely for-profit consulting company called Sage Works and an infrastructure consulting firm called Insomnia Consulting. She launched NOW Corp, a financial services and fintech firm that monetizes invoices for small businesses.
But Abrams’ success hasn’t come easily, and she has faced challenges along the way, like losing the gubernatorial race.
“Like most entrepreneurs, I’d had experience in not getting what I was seeking and not being successful. And sometimes it’s because of our own shortcomings. And other times it’s systemic,” Abrams said.
When Abrams was not elected governor in 2018, it was “the most significant loss” she’d ever experienced, in her own words, and it was made harder by the amount of publicity it received. Abrams was the most Googled politician in the world shortly after. Nevertheless, she turned her frustrations with voter suppression into action for the future.
“I had no right to be governor and in my mind, launching a campaign or lawsuits to make myself governor would have undermined everything I’d argued to the people,” Abrams recalled. “When I asked for their vote, the most responsible and responsive thing for me to do was to figure out, ‘How do I fix the system that I think is broken?’”
Abrams went on to found organizations around voter registration in the New Georgia Project, the single largest voter registration effort in the state, and Fair Fight, which is one of the largest voting rights organizations in the United States. She is widely credited with having flipped Georgia to a blue state in the 2020 presidential election, which gave President Biden the electoral votes he needed to beat Donald Trump, who took the state in 2016.
Abrams also said that her identity as a Black woman — and even colorism within the Black community — has been a challenge. She was criticized as overly “assertive” during 2020 vice presidential talks, but Abrams said every facet of her identity is “part of who I am.”
“I not only have the responsibility to myself to stand up for the things I believe in and fight for the things I want,” Abrams shared. “I have to remember that there’s another heavyset Black girl with chocolate complexion, who is watching me and deciding whether she should even bother trying.”
Abrams also believed in the need for specialized programs for Black entrepreneurs and businesses, like an existing government program in New York City. Black people have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, and a greater proportion of Black businesses have been forced to close.
“The disproportionate harm visited upon Black communities is based on centuries of legal segregation, but also legal isolation from opportunity did not end with the Civil War, it did not end with the Voting Rights Act, it did not end with the Civil Rights Act,” Abrams said.
The conversation ended with three pieces of advice from Abrams for anyone wanting to be as successful as she has been as an entrepreneur and organizer.
“Number one, don’t edit your ambition. Believe as much as you can, and reach as far as you can. But once you have that ambition, number two, do the planning. The difference between a wish and an achievement is the work in between,” Abrams said. “Number three, when you fail or when you’re afraid, know that failure isn’t permanent, and fear can be your friend.”