Leadership Spotlight: Leya Simmons
How do you ensure you’re supporting your passion when life gets busy? Leya Simmons, co-founder of BetterUnite, spent over fifteen years as an art consultant before turning her focus onto non-profits. Her company, BetterUnite, is a fundraising platform dedicated to helping non-profits take the guesswork out of raising money.
In her Leadership Spotlight, Leya discusses her own struggles with finding fulfillment and her journey to creating a company, and how she uses self-care to make sure she is able to bring her all to both her personal and professional life.
What is your current role, company, and responsibilities?
I am CEO & co-founder of BetterUnite.
How would you describe your biggest accomplishments in your current role? What did you do to accomplish this?
We are performing at 4x revenue over our first year, and that is due to my incredible software architect partner, but also to my tenacity, networking skills, nonprofit understanding and sales ability. These skills came together in the most wonderful way to the benefit of my company over the past 2 years.
And the truth is, I did what came naturally. I am a passionate person and I can get relate to others passion for their missions. I think it’s this relational aspect to what I’m “selling” with BetterUnite that makes me so successful.
Where does your passion come from in your business? What keeps you motivated to do what you do?
I think I kind of answered this above! I’ve always been inspired by people working to change the world for good – doing the real, nuts and bolts, feet on the ground work to better their corner of the globe. I love feeling like I have a solution to some of their problems and that my company and our software can remove a worry that was once prohibitive.
I stay motivated by keeping in close connection to a few orgs that really pull at my soul – University High School, a school for teenagers in recovery; The Austin 20, working to end domestic minor sex trafficking; Fusebox Festival, the premier performance arts org in Texas; plus a few others. But really, I’ve always been motivated by social impact and social justice – I don’t have to work for that.
What key strengths have you developed to make you successful in your business?
Succinct language in software demos!
A networking or connecting mindset – always looking to think differently about a problem or question and pull from all of my areas of knowledge.
I don’t think this is said enough: Radical Self-Care. I teach and practice yoga almost daily, I have a long-time therapist, I have a network of women mentors and friends who support me in work, family and doing life and I call on them for help and connection. A lot.
What is the biggest challenge in your industry at the moment? How do you face this challenge?
Marketing. It’s so hard to rise above the noise of nonstop drip email marketing campaigns and think truly differently about how we reach our customers. I face the challenge but I have not yet solved the problem.
What was your ‘A-ha!’ moment? When did you realize this was the path you wanted to take?
As with my experience of most moments of enlightenment, there was no A-ha! Moment, rather many slow turns to facing the eventual answer. I fought against building a business with my life partner (my co-founder is also my husband). Despite the fact that BetterUnite was conceived of (by him) because of a problem I was having with a small NPO that I was on the board of, I just couldn’t see myself having anything to do with tech or software. Over time, I came to see that I was actually the perfect person to be the face of the company – but it took quite a bit of convincing in the early months!
How have you balanced your career with personal and family needs? What tips do you have for our readers?
I don’t do that very well. I don’t know anyone that thinks they do. But I do my best, every day. And I believe that’s enough.
As I mentioned above, Radical Self Care. Yoga, therapy, women friends – I’m also in long-term recovery from alcoholism and working a 12 step program is integral to my life and forms much of how I am able to cope. That’s todays answer. Tomorrows will probably be different.
What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting out in your business?
Just get started. Take the job that you don’t particularly like or that is below your pay grade (or an unpaid volunteer gig) or isn’t the cause your most passionate about. And commit to sticking to it. That one job will lead to the next then the next. I could never have plotted my way to where I am or where BetterUnite is. Happy accidents and turns of fortune and chance encounters are where it’s at. And you won’t have any of those sitting in a classroom or waiting for the perfect job.
What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
You’re never going to be ready, so just start. Get prepared for the job while you’re doing it – that’s what most people do anyway (even Madeline Albright!)
What advice have you gotten that has helped you?
Back to my theme: take just one step. The hardest is the first. It (whatever it is that you’re working on) will fall into place if you continually do the next right thing, over and over, to the best of your ability.
Learn how you can turn you passion to into advocacy with Leya’s webinar “Advocacy: Turning Passion into Engagement.“