Battling Imposter Syndrome: You're More Ready than You Think
Imposter syndrome can affect the unlikeliest of people.
Despite wearing many hats – not least tech entrepreneur, real estate investor, nurse practitioner and author of children’s books – Dr. Irene Okoronkwo-Obika was one of them.
The CEO and Co-founder of Afrinanny reveals that, while she was elated at being selected for the invitation-only Mentorship Circle program at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, she was also plagued by self-doubt.
“I felt my company was too early on to be among seasoned entrepreneurs,” says the Texan native. “But I felt welcomed and eventually settled in with the help of the program.”
Irene’s reservations weren’t entirely without foundation.
After all, her fledgling company had only been up-and-running for one month shy of a year – the youngest startup on the program.
The Afrinanny platform, which carries the slogan “connecting care with culture,” is dedicated to helping families with Black children find childcare providers with culturally relevant experience.
The idea was borne out of Irene’s personal frustration with not being able to find childcare providers who not only looked like her, but could also instill in her then two-and-a-half-year old son the same Nigerian norms and values that she was raised with.
A comprehensive online marketplace for culture-specific childcare provision didn’t exist at the time. So, Irene decided to build one herself – and Afrinanny was born.
Leveraging customer community
Like most early-stage entrepreneurs, Irene prioritized fundraising. But the program changed her perspective.
“We had venture capitalists talk to us about how important it is to focus on having customers and generating revenue versus being worried about how much money we raise.
“If an investor sees value in what you’re doing and there’s actual money behind it – that is, the revenue you’re generating – you should be fine. So, it was about shifting the way I thought about the whole fundraising process,” she says.
Beyond revenue generation, Irene also discovered the importance of building a community of customers and prospects, not just to garner investor interest, but also to position her company for potential acquisition down the line, which is part of her five-year plan.
“I learned that it’s very important to make sure your product is built around a community. People in your industry who may want to acquire your company will consider that valuable,” she says.
“It’s about generating revenue, but it’s also about adding value to whatever company you’re hoping to be acquired by. You do that through community.”
Exercising peer group power
With lofty aspirations for Afrinanny to become the “world’s largest marketplace” for culturally relevant childcare providers, Irene has always had a healthy appreciation for accessing another type of community – a community of entrepreneurs.
She unpacks one of the main benefits of being part of a thriving, vibrant and ambitious group of like-minded entrepreneurs:
“My mom always says, ‘no man is on an island alone.’ You need a community of entrepreneurs in your corner to uplift you and help you get to the next level.
You need a community of entrepreneurs in your corner to uplift you and help you get to the next level.
“My peers on the program helped me develop as an entrepreneur because a lot of their companies were already ahead of mine (insofar as the phase they were in). Because they had already ‘been there, done that,’ so to speak, they gave me pitfalls to avoid and what programs to look into.”
Irene also derived some peripheral benefits from her fellow mentees.
She explains the invaluable role they played in helping her create work-life balance as a married mother-of-two.
“I met many spouses and parents in the group,” says Irene. “Being an entrepreneur and having a family adds another dimension. It was good to be around people who could help me develop my family life, too.”
Sadly, partway through the program, Irene counted her father-in-law among the millions of Americans who have died from COVID-19 complications since the virus first hit U.S. shores.
Consequently, she observes that resilience was the area where she unexpectedly experienced the most growth on the program.
“Despite losing a loved one during the program, I was able to put one foot in front of the other and continue with the mission of Afrinanny,” says Irene.
“Everyone was truly supportive and rooted me on to complete the program. With their support, I was able to push through and cross the finish line.”
Describing her experience on the program as “life-changing,” Irene says she now has an improved sense of belonging to a community of entrepreneurs. She also feels more confident approaching venture capitalists.
Irene has some sage advice for founders and entrepreneurs entering mentorship programs.
“Just because you don’t feel ready doesn’t mean you’re not,” she says.
“Be honest with yourself and your mentor about what’s going on in your life, what’s going on in your business and where you hope to get to. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.