Lana Pozhidaeva is the Founder of WE Talks, a monthly event series for female entrepreneurs and professionals. “WE” stands for Women’s Empowerment, Encouragement, and Entrepreneurship.
Lana is also the Founder & President of Education Advance, a U.S. based nonprofit foundation aimed at increasing diversity in the STEM field by providing scholarships to minority students.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I came up with the idea while attending an intellectually stimulating but very intimidating women-focused summit event where the host cut me off after I got the guts to speak on the microphone – I was mortified.
Even though that event left its mark, I was able to turn it into something good – I reached out to my friend at Zuri, an experiential marketing tech startup out of NYC that believes in “bringing people together in real life should be easy and frictionless” to create a new type of event series that supports women in entrepreneurship from all walks of life.
At WE Talks, we are inclusive. We embrace diversity and individuality and aim to help others with careers and life matters in general. We welcome women from all backgrounds.
Our doors are open to those who are thoughtful, caring, ambitious and respectful: if you possess some of these characteristics we would love to hear your opinions at our microphone!
Tell us about your business.
“WE Talks” (“WE” standing for Women’s Empowerment, Encouragement, and Entrepreneurship) is a monthly event series co-produced with Zuri for female entrepreneurs and professionals.
So far, we’ve hosted mostly panel discussions – interactive platforms for successful women to come together and discuss topics like Fundraising, Branding, and Digital Marketing.
Each month we grew event attendance by 50% and we’ve partnered with awesome brands like Minibar, Peter Roth Skincare, Zeel, and TOPSHOP (where we hosted a panel in their flagship store with over 30 entrepreneurs and a total of 100 attendees).
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes! The events we have hosted validated the research we’ve done around female founders – women struggle to get money and exposure for their startups.
Our event attendees expressed their frustrations with us and because we’re committed to linking female entrepreneurs with the right resources we’ve decided to try a new event format.
In November, we will be hosting a pitch competition for female founders to win $10,000 for their new ventures. Our idea is to redefine the typical “Beauty Pageant” in a sort of “Techcrunch disrupt” for women.
We’ll first have interested entrepreneurs apply for the competition then select five finalists to present a 5 min pitch in front of a live jury at the event. Finalists will not only get a financial reward but also receive significant exposure to investors and media we maintain in our network through WE Talks.
Female founders should have equal opportunities and resources to their male counterparts. We hope that our event, and programming overall into the future, will encourage other female entrepreneurs in order to help them advance in their careers, both this fall and beyond.
If you are a woman and interested in applying or just attending an event, please join us by visiting our website or social media to learn about future programs and events. We want to help you dream big and achieve your goals!
Where is your business based?
We are currently hosting events in NYC, but we are planning to expand to San Francisco next year.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
We looked for strategic brand partnerships necessary to produce quality events. With the help of our production partner Zuri, we managed to produce all our events at zero-dollar cost, providing our guests with an opportunity to learn from and meet top female leaders without having to pay for an expensive ticket (another problem I discovered while attending business events in the city).
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Women are naturally great connectors and good at spreading the word when they like an event. All our guests not only came back but brought at least one friend with them.
WE Talks began as just an idea and has quickly become a rapidly growing community. We were expecting around 30 attendees at our first gathering and were delighted to host over 50 guests.
Consequently, we have been growing at a 50% monthly rate without investing in either traditional PR or even social media.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Our current challenge is to keep growing at a sustainable pace and to choose the right strategic partnerships for us.
After the first few events, multiple brands and speakers started reaching out, offering partnerships and collaborations. I find it very very hard to say “No” and that’s something I should learn to do better.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
My team and our community are the biggest inspiration and support for me at all times.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
What makes us different is that we’re trying to achieve balance in everything we do.
Our audience is from all different industries and all of our events are around all different topics but we still try to stay relevant to everyone.
Whenever we invite a professional to speak, we search for people who are not only at the top of their industry but are also approachable.
We want connecting and networking to happen organically, we don’t want to push it.
What is the best advice you received recently?
When you are starting a company or a project, you don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you need to know how to put together a team of experts necessary to get things done.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
My advice for female entrepreneurs – just go for it!
Have more faith in yourself and don’t be too afraid of a failure. Fear of failure is a top concern for most entrepreneurs, but it is more common among female founders. 
Nearly two-thirds of men exhibit confidence in their ability to start a business, but less than half of women share this confidence, despite similar levels of education and experience.
And yet women are more likely to introduce new products and services to the market than their male counterparts. 
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
What could be more valuable than increasing efficiency and saving time?
Typeform has also been helpful in conducting polls.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I absolutely loved The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career you Love without Becoming a Person You Hate by Fran Hauser, startup investor and former President of Digital at Time Inc.
It addresses the subject so relevant to most women pursuing careers in the business world and explains why kindness and professional success are not mutually exclusive phenomena.
My personal key takeaway is that you can maintain your authenticity and remain nice, supportive, and kind while still being a strong and assertive leader!
These are the values we stand for at WE Talks.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We are looking for innovative media companies to partner with to generate more exposure for female founders participating in our pitch competition.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Produce bigger and more impactful events for our community. We are constantly learning from our guests about how we could be more helpful.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
-  http://fortune.com/2018/06/07/female-founded-startups-revenue-funding/
-  https://www.babson.edu/Academics/centers/blank-center/global-research/gem/Documents/GEM%20US%202012%20Report%20FINAL.pdf
-  https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt/2013/05/28/the-confidence-gap-and-women-entrepreneurs/#3414fd9842c5
-  http://www.babson.edu/Academics/centers/blank-center/global-research/gem/Documents/GEM%20USA%202016.pdf