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How this Future For Us co-founder landed a grant from Serena Williams, and what’s happening next

When the coronavirus pandemic turned her startup upside down, Sage Ke’alohilani Quiamno channeled her frustration into words. The co-founder of Seattle-based Future For Us, a platform dedicated to advancing women of color at work, posted a blog describing her scramble to stabilize her business. She compiled and included a list of more than a dozen grant-making organizations aimed at helping small companies.

“We are in this together and we can all do our part in supporting one another at this time,” Quiamno wrote. “I’m right there in the trenches with you.”

Her post was picked up and shared on POCIT (People of Color in Tech), leading her to land three grants totaling more than $80,000. One of them is from tennis superstar Serena Williams, by way of Vital Voices Global Partnership. News of the grant was publicized in Vogue.

“I was on track for dissolving,” Quiamno said. “But I shared my story and supported others like me, and the universe made it happen and we got the funding to continue our work, which is more relevant than ever.”

This Friday, May 22, Future For Us has turned its second annual conference into a remote event rebranded as Virtual Assembly. Some 500 participants have purchased tickets for the day-long meeting, beating last year’s count of 350 attendees. The conference will feature presentations by women CEOs of color, tips on addressing mental health and financial security, advice on building allies with white women to help with career advancement, and provide connections to recruiters.

In response to COVID-19, the startup has been running free webinars featuring leadership and career advice during the pandemic. A benefit to taking their message virtual is the opportunity to further expand their geographic reach.

“We had to completely pivot our business, and it gives us a chance to be on the national stage,” Quiamno said.

Before launching Future for Us with Aparna Rae in January 2019, Quiamno’s previous roles included work as a salary negotiation coach with Ladies Get Paid, and management positions with Seattle’s Female Founders Alliance.

Quiamno traces her passion for promoting professional women of color to her family’s generations of labor activism. Her great grandmother was a Chinese immigrant who worked in the pineapple fields of Hawai’i and negotiated for higher wages to help support her family, which included 12 siblings. Her grandfather, who worked in construction, was a leader in the labor movement in Hawai’i, fighting for better pay and healthcare.

“Learning from those experiences,” she said, “taught me a lot about self-worth and what you bring to the table.”

We caught up with Quiamno for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: I am currently operating from my childhood home in Honolulu, Hawai’i, on the island of O’ahu. After Washington Gov. Jay Insee announced that events larger than 250 people were banned, I caught the next flight out to be with my family because I knew this was going to be worse than predicted. In Seattle, I live in the quiet and cozy Wallingford neighborhood.

Computer types: Apple Macbook Pro

Mobile devices: I’m a huge iPhone 11 fan because of the ease and design.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: My favorite software tool is Zoom. It has allowed me to launch and host our free weekly digital webinars for womxn of color professionals during this pandemic and we are hosting our upcoming Virtual Assembly on May 22nd on Zoom. My second favorite software tool is Gusto. Moving from QuickBooks to Gusto has made our bookkeeping, accounting and payroll incredibly easy. Last but not least, Google Drive is still my favorite cloud service.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Since the COVID-19 outbreak and flying home to Hawai’i, I have to be honest, I am operating from my childhood bedroom right now. I’ve completely redesigned my space with a new desk, hooked up my new MacBook Pro, bought a new HP monitor and Bose noise cancelling earphones. I even bought a “Socialite” for better lighting in my videos and a white backdrop that photographers use so my virtual backgrounds are clear. My new equipment helps me run, host and present our weekly Zoom webinars.

Also in my room is a tropical flower from a plant my great grandmother planted; it grounds me when I’m stressed. And I have a scented candle to activate my sensory awareness to keep me calm as I take meetings, go through emails and host webinars.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Stick to a consistent morning routine before tackling the day. You can set rules for yourself, like the first drink you have before you start the day is water, or remind yourself to take a deep breath before getting online. Every day, I ask myself what are my goals or priorities for the day and I write them down.

As I go about my day, especially when I have back-to-back Zoom calls, I make sure that every 15 minutes I take a break from my screen and look at the tropical flower. When you pause to look at something that isn’t your screen, you are saving your eyes. I also take at least one midday break to walk outside to the front or backyard, so I can breathe and remind myself that these are not normal times and that we are, as a collective, experiencing a crisis.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn — you have access to so many business leaders, content and resources at your fingertips. I think most millennials my age (I’m 29) have not fully leveraged the power of this social media platform.

I’ve used LinkedIn to engage my audience, share my curated content, build my brand voice and audience, and — most importantly — to galvanize the Future for Us community. LinkedIn is a powerful tool if you want to be connected to leaders at every level and every industry. Most of our most influential connections that have led to revenue and/or high-profile media and speaking opportunities have been through LinkedIn.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero. I am seriously on top of my emails because I am, admittedly, one of those people who needs to have their emails at zero to lessen my anxiety.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? On average it’s about 10-15 Zoom meetings per week. The meetings include team check-ins, new leads, webinars, planning calls, etc.

How do you run meetings? I run my meetings on Zoom, and I usually send out the calendar invite with the Zoom call details and have an agenda ready for the conversation.

Everyday work uniform? I still dress like I’m heading into the office despite the pandemic because it makes me feel prepared for the day. Also, because I’m usually hosting webinars with 100-300 people twice a week, I like to look buttoned up and put my best foot forward especially when I’m representing my company virtually. I have always viewed fashion as an influential tool for women — especially for womxn of color — so I get excited when I have the opportunity to pull “a look” together.

How do you make time for family? We host family dinner on Friday and Sunday nights and we usually cook a meal, all of us together. After dinner each night, my family and I walk our dog (Rocky Boy) down to the street to our local park. My mom and I walk up the street to our local farmer’s stand (Roots Kalihi) and purchase produce every Tuesday and Thursday. My parents and I take a 7 a.m. swim Sunday mornings. We set intentional, consistent time for one another and that helps us as a family to stay connected, sane and grounded.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Since I’m working in Hawai’i, I walk in our backyard and pick flowers my great grandmother planted decades ago. When I soak in the colors and smells, it seriously grounds me in who I am as a person and a leader. Taking a pause in my day and literally waking up by smelling the flowers, it is a huge stress reliever.

I unplug by spending time with my family and taking a swim in the ocean or hikes to waterfalls on the island. Being in nature makes me think of my ancestors, grounds me culturally, and reminds me how far we’ve come as a community and as Native Hawaiians.

What are you listening to? I’m listening to new R&B queens like Sabrina Claudio, Jhené Aiko and KeKe Wyatt on Spotify. R&B really gets me into the right vibe and mindset for the day, and it stills me among the chaos. When I’m getting ready to host a webinar or a pitch meeting, I listen to the remix of “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé. For podcasts, I listen to the New York Times’ “The Daily” for news and updates on the pandemic, politics and culture.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Zora, a Medium blog outlet for women of color, and the women-focused financial site Ellevest because they have done an incredible job of collecting relevant and valuable resources for women, especially during the pandemic.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Arlan Hamilton’s new book “It’s About Damn Time,” “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie, and “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

Right now, I’m deep diving into Arlan’s book to find inspiration to move forward during this challenging time. She shares her story of becoming one of the most influential VCs in Silicon Valley, and has key takeaways from her career for budding entrepreneurs. It has been a huge gut-check in my own entrepreneurial journey.

Night owl or early riser? In Hawai’i it’s easier to wake up early because I’m gently greeted by the sun and birds in my neighborhood. I wake up at 5 a.m., get through my morning routine, then start my day at 6 a.m. because in the Hawai’i time zone, I’m three hours behind the West Coast and six hours behind the East Coast. I go to sleep around 10 p.m. so I can have at least seven hours of sleep every night.

Where do you get your best ideas? I honestly get my best ideas when I’m pissed, when there’s a problem in my business or in society. When I find an issue or problem, that’s when my creative thinking kicks in and when I have the emotion of anger, it drives me to my passion. When the pandemic hit, it made a significant impact on our company. We lost over 40% of our revenue overnight, our sponsorship dollars were cut in half and we had about $50,000 in sunk costs invested in a new tech platform and were about to speak and host a brand activation at SXSW this year. A lot of small businesses and startups were significantly impacted and we weren’t spared.

The reaction of the government and how ineffective it was in responding and supporting small businesses really left me frustrated, so I decided to write about my experience of trying to pivot and generate funding. My Medium blog post got picked up by one of my favorite new media platforms — POCIT (People of Color in Tech) — and they posted it. It was a transparent and honest post and led to me winning three grants, including one from Serena Williams. So when I’m pissed, I get writing.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I want to learn more about Oprah’s work style because I’m interested in learning how she manages to set intentional time for herself, as well as run a media company and lead her philanthropic efforts. She is someone who prioritizes her passions and values through her work with her own and other nonprofits, and still runs her own business.

 

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