Dee Poku: Founder & CEO of The WIE Suite

Episode 422

Dee Poku, Founder and CEO of The WIE Suite, saw the need for a community for women leaders, innovators and creators. A membership community with a goal of creating a safe place that redefines the community experience and one that is supportive of one another. Dee’s journey in building The WIE Suite is super inspiring and the lessons and insights she shares are gold. Sit back and enjoy this incredible episode now. On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Dee Poku, who is the founder and CEO of the Wii sweet. And if you have not heard about the G Suite, you are going to be so excited to learn all about this incredible initiative. And also about Dee because she is one badass human at that I am just so excited for you all to learn about. So the waist suite is a private membership community for women, leaders, innovators and creators and Dee founded we with a goal to create a community that redefined success and how women achieve and experience it. And on their own terms and in support of each other. So I can’t wait to hear a lot more about we but also DS journey as I mentioned. So here we go. Welcome, Dee,

Dee Poku 1:39
thank you so much for having me. Yeah, absolutely.

Kara Goldin 1:41
So your background is in film and the entertainment industry. Can you share a little bit more about your career and sort of what you were doing before you decided to embark on starting the Wii? Sweet?

Dee Poku 1:56
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely been an interesting journey. So if I just go back a couple of extra steps, I started my career in fashion, and that was after doing a degree in math at university. So I went from a math degree to fashion to film and now to this, so definitely not a particularly linear path, but always following my instincts, you know, my passions. And they’re, you know, there was definitely a sort of synchronicity and, you know, a reason for why that particular flow, but the bulk of my career was in the entertainment industry, I love movies. I believe in the power of storytelling. To change hearts and minds, I worked for three different studios and in America for Focus Features and for Paramount, and I am in my last job was overseeing international marketing and food division at Paramount Pictures, and it was busy.

Kara Goldin 3:02
Amazing. That’s, that’s so great. And you mentioned in the US where were you prior to being in the US.

Dee Poku 3:11
So I grew up in the UK. So I moved here from London. My family are from Ghana. So I also lived in Ghana for a few years, but I was born in the UK.

Kara Goldin 3:21
Wow. And so you’ve seen a lot of different industries, obviously, but a lot of different parts of the world and how businesses have grown. And, frankly, probably how women are growing as well in different initiatives within different industries. So what inspired you to really make this career change to start the Wii sweet, then

Dee Poku 3:48
I would say that this sort of kernel of the idea for the Wii sweet came back when I was working, you know, within the movie industry. And, you know, I loved what I did. And I did some pretty incredible things. I met some really impressive and interesting and fascinating filmmakers and actors. I traveled around the world. And, you know, there was so much that was good about it. But it was also a very cutthroat business. You know, I mean, the world sort of got a glimpse into that with the metoo movement, but that was definitely, you know, my day to day was just sort of navigating all of the sort of bullying and sexual harassment that comes with being in that business. But I would say above and beyond that, you know, being one of a few women, being the only black woman in many worms was just a lonely place to be. And all women can relate to the fact that the way that we succeed is nuanced. So we can’t just say read the book and apply the lessons and you know, and then we’re there. You have to really navigate sort of personalities, and you know, what is perceived to be leadership in these spaces, and you have to figure out how decisions get made and who, you know, sort of who’s in charge, and like how you move through those systems. And like that requires a lot of EQ. And, you know, you sort of learn by trial and error. And I think, for me, understanding that there are women who come before me who had figured it out, you know, the question was, like, Why was I doing this from scratch? Again? Where were the people? You know, I could turn to, to, you know, brainstorm and have tactical conversations. Were also Where are the women, I could have vulnerable and open conversations with because obviously, you know, when you’re working in these spaces, like you need to present as having it together, like you can’t betray weaknesses, like you need to, you know, present as a leader and present as someone who could be in charge and should be promoted and should be paid what they’re worth. And so, you know, where do you go, and where’s your outlet. And so that was really the sort of genesis of the idea for the C suite.

Kara Goldin 6:06
I think it’s so interesting. I remember, I attended your event in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and got to see you. And it was absolutely amazing. But the one thing that I really pulled out of that event was that there were women from a lot of different industries. And I feel like there is this misconception, especially with people who are just starting out in their career that if they’re in the entertainment industry, that they end up hanging out with people in the entertainment industry, yet safe places, and safe conversations often happen amongst women that are in every industry, right, you can gather a lot of information, like how they did it, so you can figure it out for yourself. So I really, I’d love to hear your perspective on that as well.

Dee Poku 6:55
I mean, if anything is so much more valuable to get perspectives from outside of your industry, because you know, when you’re in those silos, you’re basically surrounded by people who have always done things a certain way. So then you’re doing those things a certain way. And there’s like, No, you know, there’s no sort of broader perspective and like, how could this be done differently? And so I think it’s important, you know, if you’re working in entertainment, understand what your peers in finance, or you know, entertainment or politics and like, what what are they doing? And how have they moved the needle for themselves? And what can you learn from their experiences and apply it to your own industry and to your own career journey? So I actually think it’s really, really important to sort of break out of those echo chambers, and connect with women in other industries and connect with senior leaders in other industries. Sure. Yeah, definitely.

Kara Goldin 7:49
So where did the name come from? Well,

Dee Poku 7:57
which story she likes it? Should I tell the real one. So the West we, we stands for women inspiration and enterprise. So inspiration, because we need that sort of constant motivation to keep climbing those hurdles and to keep sort of navigating those obstacles. So we need that piece of it. And the enterprises, the tools. So what is the what are the sort of tactical? What’s the tactical information that we need? What are the introductions, like? What are the learnings? And we also need alongside the inspiration to help get us ahead. So that’s why we originally wanted we as in W, E, and couldn’t get that name. And, you know, I actually may be glad of it now. Because, you know, I don’t think it’s really sort of synonymous with the image that you know, that I, you know, want to project for the organization. But that’s where it came from. And the WWE suite is really about, you know, it’s a play on the, obviously a play on the C suite. But getting away from the sort of corporate idea of what a C suite looks like. So that C and taking it to a way, which is about women moving together and rising together. So there was a lot of thought that went into the name and it and it’s really valuable to me, because it really helps me hone into the ethos and value and purpose of the company every time I say it, like, you know, why is why does it have this name? What is it that I’m setting out to achieve? How am I going to get there? And am I living my values every day?

Kara Goldin 9:36
So it’s one thing for you to believe like there’s this hole in the market, obviously, that you saw, there’s other membership programs out there. But why did you think you could accomplish what you have? I mean, it’s like it’s scary, right. You had you had done other initiatives and you had obviously a huge community of people that A big network that I’m sure you shared this idea with prior to deciding to start the company, but, but starting a company is really hard, right? And there’s lots of little things and details, as Steve Jobs used to say like, you’ve got to make sure that they have the right coffeemaker and the right thing in the office. You know, maybe that’s not applicable today, because many people are not in the office. But you know what I mean? I mean, there’s lots of little details that you don’t really think about that you have to accomplish in order to actually start a company, but what was it that made you believe, like, you had to go do this.

Dee Poku 10:40
So, you know, I would definitely say that entrepreneurship is, you know, it’s in my blood, it’s, it fuels me every day, I it doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like, I’m just pursuing my passion and my dream, and I will work all night. I mean, I’m not advocating that grind, I’m just saying that, you know, theoretically, like, you know, it’s so important to me that, you know, I put my heart and soul into it. I think every entrepreneur looks at the landscape, and you look at what’s out there, you look at what’s available to people on the tools that they’re using, and then you think about, you know, what you could do differently. And for me, it was really, that I felt, you know, that I could bring something different to the community building space. And also, you know, community building is just so innate in me, and I am. You know, I feel like I’ve been community building since I was five years old, you know, to me, like I was always, you know, putting little groups of people together, if you put me in a room with five people, I organize a dinner party, like I just understand people and the sand. You know, how we operate, what drives us, you know, how to keep communities together. And, you know, I think that it, there are people who start businesses as a business as a money making tool. And obviously, I want to make money, and I want my business to be huge. But I started it because I truly believed I could do this differently. And because it was just a passion for me, and a really, really deep pain point that I didn’t really want, you know, other women to experience. So I think all of those things combined, I think are what make a great entrepreneur and equate business.

Kara Goldin 12:26
I love it. So interested parties apply, and what is the criteria for actually joining the organization.

Dee Poku 12:36
So it’s a peer organization for women in leadership. So certainly, you have to be at a certain level in your career so that members feel like they are getting as much as they’re putting in and we require them to put in, it’s definitely not a passive place to be. So that piece is important. The second piece of it is that we’re looking for women who care about purpose. And women who want to change the world in some capacity, which, you know, may sound lofty, but I think it’s really where the magic in the wee sweet lies. So we say that it’s women who consider themselves to be trailblazers, or impact leaders within their companies, or who are building companies to drive change. And so it’s like big ideas, big vision, big dreams, like women who really think that way and are bringing that energy and excitement to each other. And it’s, that’s really what fuels the community. So, you know, we do not want business as usual. And so if you are, you know, an SVP trying to be an EVP trying to be CEO, and like that is it for you, then the G Suite is not the right place yet.

Kara Goldin 13:45
So it’s not necessarily I know, like, there’s other organizations like wipr, you have to run a p&l, and there’s a certain revenue attached to that p&l that you have to meet you got you all are not doing that as part of the criteria.

Dee Poku 14:01
You You have to be at a certain level certainly like so you definitely have to be a C suite leader, you have to be an established founder. We’re not as hard and fast on the notes of specific revenue, annual revenue that you have to achieve. But what can because what we do is we look at this whole body of work. So for example, like one of our members, is a startup founder, however, she was a managing director at BlackRock. So she clearly brings that whole body of work and experience at the table. So all those she’s sort of pivoted to entrepreneurship and there might not be accepted YPO I don’t know. For us, it’s, you know, it’s those 20 years of leadership experience that matter to us and you know, and what she can bring to other members because of that experience.

Kara Goldin 14:51
I love it. So the pandemic disproportionately affected women in the workplace. Where do you think we stand today?

Dee Poku 14:58
I think it’s a really interesting time, and there’s definitely been a paradigm shift because of the pandemic, that it accelerated. And, you know, a lot of thinking around women in our careers, and they talk a lot about redefining success for women and giving them your autonomy to drive the careers they want. So what I’m seeing a lot of is like women saying, you know, like, I want control over my career, and, you know, the ways in which I succeed, I don’t want to be beholden to my boss, to my company, to anyone else for my own success. And I think that is, you know, pretty true across the board now, for women. And so even when, you know, they are still in the corporate space, they are still thinking about their own impact and their own brands, and, you know, and just sort of thinking ahead about how they monetize, you know, their expertise. And then for those who are not in the CIO, corporate space, it’s very much the same thing. So we’re seeing a lot of, you know, fractional roles, like so, you know, women who have deep expertise as CFOs or CMOS, who have decided, you know, to sort of apply those tools, you know, in support of companies that need that expertise, but not having to work full time. And so, or they want to be on board, or they want to create educational content, or they want to be speakers. So there’s basically the sense of like, you know, I know so much I’ve achieved so much, I have so much experience, and I want autonomy over how I make money from that, and how I, you know, how I build my brand from that. So I think it’s something that corporations really need to be aware of aware of, you know, we work with a lot of corporations, and they really, you know, have to think about retention. And, and when you’re thinking about retention, it’s not really you have to think about not boxing in your senior employees so that they feel like they have the space to really grow in a nonlinear way.

Kara Goldin 17:06
Totally, totally agree. So you have incredible experience and are celebrated executive, but starting your own company, and launching the waist suite is a bit of a massive task, right? It’s, I I’ve talked to many individuals over the years who had been celebrated executives, but then decided to start their own company, and they were like, I had no idea how hard this was going to be. And obviously, this is your baby, and started from an idea and from scratch, what has been kind of the hardest part of starting this company that obviously, you know, lots of founders, but maybe people no one told you that it was going to that you were going to have to, like do X.

Dee Poku 17:54
I mean, gosh, there are many things, fundraising is obviously, you know, the least fun of it, is, you know, sort of building that financial foundation and going out there and sort of convincing everyone if your dream, you know, a lot of VCs play the comparison game, you’re just like x or you’re too similar to y. And so for those who are breaking through that mindset, I think as especially as a woman, and particularly so as a black woman, where they’re sort of perceptions, you know, a while like what you can achieve, or you sort of don’t fit the, you know, pattern matching that they rely on, so heavily. So that’s definitely been one. I would say more recently, as we’ve grown, you know, although I did, you know, manage teams, as an executive, there’s just sort of an added layer to that of just, you know, feeling responsible for somebody else’s hopes and dreams, you know, so, when I worked for a corporation, you know, there’s HR and there’s just this sort of infrastructure, so even though you are responsible for your team, you are and you’re not, whereas I feel as a founder, I feel responsible for their livelihoods, you know, for their happiness, but at the same time, like I’m really focused on my own, and, and so like, just that sort of push and pull of, I need to be there for everyone else, I really need to be there for me, I need to build my business. I need to, you know, focus on growth for my employees, like there’s just so for my investors. It’s just, you know, there’s just a lot I wake up every day with, like, you know, my mind is sort of swimming with, you know, all of the different people I’m responsible to in some way. I definitely find that quite trying.

Kara Goldin 19:56
Yeah, no, I hear you. i It’s I It’s a lot and it It’s, uh, you know, different at every stage of growth. But I remember, I remember early on when the first person left hint, and you know, and I took it very personally, right? Like, I was thinking, you know, why can I make them happy? And, and you know, and later I learned that you have to allow people to fly, right? You have to allow, yes, go and move on. And, and, and appreciate the fact that they gave you what they gave you all of those kinds of thing. So, but, but yeah, you learn a lot when you’re when you’re when the buck stops with you. But it’s, uh, but it’s definitely a, I felt like it was a big learning experience for sure. So you taught touched on raising capital? And any advice that you would give to people knowing what you know, today about the raising capital? Journey?

Dee Poku 21:01
Gosh, yeah, I mean, I feel like I could write a book on it. So I was, I would say, you know, people gave me this advice, I didn’t really understand it, until I was in it. But the storytelling piece is everything. And I thought I got that, you know, I was like, Well, you know, I have my deck, and I’m going to flow through my slides. And I, you know, this is my business, where I am is where I’m going. But I think that communicating now, sort of bigger vision, you know, of the world, as you see it, and how the world is going to change. And, you know, because of the impact of your company, like really nailing that and getting that sort of, shiny sort of response, you know, to what you’re saying, I think that piece is, you know, is what really moves the needle. And I, you know, after what other case, when I started, you know, in my early phase of pitching, I had this sort of deck, and I had all my talking points. And it was really, when I threw the deck away and just sort of spoke from the heart. Yeah, that was, you know, that was really, you know, when I was able to better communicate my goals, and really sort of bring them along with me. And so like, it just took a little while to really appreciate that piece of it.

Kara Goldin 22:32
Yeah, definitely. I found too, that it was not difficult for me to get the meetings. But I also felt like there was a lot of time spent convincing certain people that this was the right thing to do. So I came from tech, so I knew a lot of the VCs and the tech community. So everybody, I could meet with these people. And they were all looking for, okay, well, what’s the tech angle? And I’m like, nothing. We’re developing water. And then, like, Oh, I really want to do this. And yeah, I think the most valuable thing you have to really hold on to is time. And so I would think, Oh, I failed, I haven’t been able to raise this money. But if you look at the number of investments that many of these companies have, or many of these VCs have invested in, they’re not investing in companies in my industry. Right? And I think it’s the same for you, you can be a Checkmarx Oh, I’m, I met with de poku. She’s fabulous. She’s great. But do they actually invest in your industry? And I think that’s a key thing that entrepreneurs should be aware of, don’t, don’t hold it against yourself. If they don’t end up investing, they’ll invest in what they know.

Dee Poku 23:53
They’ll invest and what your I totally agree with that. And I think, you know, it’s also getting around, as I mentioned before, this sort of comparison game. You know, they want you to be like everyone else, but not like everyone else. And it’s like, finding the line through that is, you know, if you can figure that out, and that’s where the unlock, you know, also is

Kara Goldin 24:21
really comes I completely agree. So, how have you gotten the word out about the we suite?

Dee Poku 24:28
A lot of word of mouth. So the great thing is that, you know, we have you know, sort of three percentage attrition, like no one really leaves like our members are getting what they need. Yeah, it’s, it’s really fantastic. And it’s because we spent a lot of time really thinking through the mission and ensuring that that was really embedded in the company and then every new member who joined and so you know, obviously there Some sort of uncomfortable stories out there about sort of other women’s communities and the sort of difficulties that they had to navigate. And I think that, you know, everyone thinks, and I’m not saying this is not in relation to those companies just in general, everyone thinks it’s so easy to build community, but you have to remember that you’re, it’s a community of people. And so if you don’t really have the mission embedded, and like everyone who joins us understand that you’re going to go off the rails. And the second is that if you grow at a rate that is not sustainable, hence, really think about VC in this space, or at least finding like the very best partner who truly understands what it is to build an impact driven company, that will also make a lot of money. But like, who really understands, like how that works? You know, that piece is super important. So

yeah, I love

Kara Goldin 26:05
that. So what’s next for the we sweep? What are the big initiatives going on for you coming up?

Dee Poku 26:12
There’s a lot. So you know, really, like, I guess, phase one was really just about growing the community and growing, you know, building the right sort of membership, and women who were in sync with the vision, and you know, who had a lot to contribute. And I feel like we’re very much there. Phase two is really how we mutually leverage that expertise. And so we’re, you know, phase two is, is the tech. And so, you know, we have some really interesting tools that we’re building that allow our members to have that autonomy and ability to monetize your expertise in the way that they want. So watch this space for later this year. For the West, we 3.0. tech platform, which is it’s very, very exciting.

Kara Goldin 27:12
Are you just us currently, are you also outside of the US?

Dee Poku 27:17
No, no, we’re global. Yeah, so we’re global. And, you know, we have sort of a smattering of members in some places, and then a lot in others, obviously, like the UK, so also building out our global presence, as well, which is great.

Kara Goldin 27:36
That’s terrific. So what is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Dee Poku 27:42
So when I became when I was in the early stages of being entrepreneur, obviously you hear no a lot, and, and continue to hear no a lot. But in those early days, it, it just felt heart, like it felt like such a personal rejection of my vision. And this wasn’t necessarily just in relation to fundraising, but just coming from a job. You know, as I guess, a somewhat glamorous job, you know, working in the entertainment industry, I knew lots of great people, I was always hosting an interesting thing. So like, you know, there was I had some, there was some sort of cachet to what I was doing, especially because I was living in LA. And then sort of going from that and being, you know, Dee for paramount to Dee was, you know, was sort of a leap into the abyss. And so, you know, I had to sort of come to terms with the fact that, you know, my previous identity had been bound up in my job and in being sort of Dee from x company. And then suddenly, I had to kind of stand on my own two feet. And, you know, be sort of de the vision that I’ve created. And that was really hard at first, because I think, especially in LA, you know, it just wasn’t as interesting to people. And I think the less interesting it was, the more I sort of took that on. And so like, it was like, this vicious cycle of feeling insecurity. And so, you know, I was sort of, you know, less forthcoming about what I did, I did a lot of sort of, I used to work here, and I’m doing this, you know, so, you know, it wasn’t like anchored in my vision and dream. And so I say all of that to say it’s really, really important to have the courage of your convictions, in the way that you communicate your vision. You know, as someone who builds community I see, you know, and read people and people respond to conviction to go back to the storytelling point before. And so it doesn’t really matter what you do or where you work. It’s the conviction that you bring to how you communicate as who you are how you sell. And so you have to really sort of believe that deeply and do the work, you know, to ensure that you really believe that at your core, you know, almost to a delusional point. And then communicate that to anyone that you’re selling to partnering with. If it comes from there, I guarantee you like it sort of exponentially changes your ability to convert people to whatever it is you want. I just realized that you asked, you didn’t ask advice I would give you ask the advice I would had been given. And I went off on a tangent, no, that’s okay. I love it. The advice that I was given was the, you know, experiencing all that insecurity because because I was hearing nose or people were not like returning my calls. I was I was sitting with a male friend, also an entrepreneur, you know, he was quite a successful one. And when I told him, I felt a bit down in the dumps about someone in particular, who hadn’t responded to me, he looked so puzzled, like, he looked so confused by that. And he said to me, rejection fuels me, you know, it makes me want to prove them wrong. And it was like such great advice. And I held on to that. And it really, I mean, you know, and it’s not in some victim, vindictive way, but it’s like, I know, I can do this. And I’m not going to allow, you know, that rejection or, you know, you know, the lack of response to do well, what it is I’m trying to do.

Kara Goldin 31:30
I couldn’t agree more. And that’s been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl when people said, You can’t do this. It was like, my dad used to say, okay, that’s really dangerous, where you just took care of you. Figure out how to live undaunted and go and figure it out instead. So it’s like it’s a it’s kind of a double edged sword. I guess for people. They think they’re stopping you. But it’s actually for certain people that really grasp that concept. It’s it is fuel. So I love this. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thanks again, Dee. And thanks, everyone for listening. And until the next one. But thank you. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen. Or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening