Judith Martinez is the Founder and CEO of InHerShoes Inc., the modern woman’s community for courage. An LA native, first-generation Filipina-American, Judith’s work is redefining traditional standards of what it looks like to be a successful woman today. InHerShoes is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to catalyzing courage for girls and women around the world to live and create courageously. A social impact practitioner, Judith has built programs alongside Echoing Green fellows, worked with global leaders such as former Secretary of Defense and White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, and shared her voice on behalf of youth at the Youth Assembly, United Nations. She is a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee and is a Vital Voices and TRESemme Global Leadership Fellow.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
JM: Growing up a first generation Filipina American, entrepreneurship has always meant a variety of things for me. When I was in elementary school it meant selling blankets and rice with my mom from the trunk of our car on the weekends. When I was twelve it meant knocking on my neighbors doors selling home-made frappuccinos, which was really the Ovaltine in the pantry with heart shaped ice cubes. When I was at university it meant an entrepreneurial spirit as an intrapreneur within an education system. Today in the midst of our current COVID-19 reality, now more than ever, it means bringing an endless sense of curiosity and tenacity to whatever my team and I build for our communities, and enjoying the process while doing it. Entrepreneurship to me is a mindset that allows for opportunity and innovation to provide solutions and value.
How did your company come to be?
JM: The heart of InHerShoes is a call to action for people everywhere to catalyze courage. My own catalyst for courage came to be after finally attaining the “yes” I felt I was chasing my entire life: a law school acceptance. Getting accepted to your dream law school is typically seen as a major milestone and means for celebration; unless you were like me, and realize sometimes the picture perfect version of success you always imagined for yourself was never your version to begin with, but was everyone else’s. In realizing law school was not what I was authentically passionate about, I declined my law school acceptance and began what would be a winding, unknown, challenging, exhilarating, and incredibly rewarding journey that is now InHerShoes – the modern woman’s community for courage.
What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
JM: Throughout my own entrepreneurial journey, I consider myself fortunate enough to fumble, completely tank, and fail in ways that have led to an immense amount of humbling experiences and lessons – both in the boardroom and in life. One of the biggest lessons I’ve experienced is the power of choice and the reality being entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Just like anything worth having, it is a lot of work and it takes choosing the highs and the lows and still moving forward to make it. The failures, the years of making no money, the time spent learning – it can be a lonely and incredibly exhausting (mentally, emotionally, physically) journey. Just because the journey proves challenging however, does not mean it is impossible. It all comes down to choice. It takes more than ambition to build something, let alone to foster and grow it. Especially now during these times of navigating a new reality amidst the Coronavirus. It requires commitment, dedication, resilience, curiosity, an ability to be agile, learning to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, empathetic leadership, and in my opinion, a solid team, to not only go the long haul, but create an impact.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JM: InHerShoes is the catalyst for courage. Our work happens in the split-second decisions, in-between moments, and uncomfortable situations that are all opportunities to take action. Our work is about expanding our capacity to be courageous – not just for the big stuff, but the daily moment choices that ultimately make up our lives and impact our communities for generations to come.
Through this philosophy, our programming ranging from student leadership intensives to corporate workshops, InHerShoes places itself in a unique position to walk alongside the growth and development of women, of leaders, as they navigate through life – especially life’s transitions and changes. Closing out 2019, InHerShoes was recognized by Mogul as a “Best Place to Work for Gen Z”, especially when looking to make a positive impact. Noted alongside companies such as Nike, The Honest Company, Costco, and Skillshare, InHerShoes is changing the landscape of what it means to be a non-profit in a day and age where social good is not a trend or an advertising strategy. Rather, we believe social good is a demand of the future of work, a genuine desire of the future worker, and a need for a more just, sustainable, and courageous world.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JM: Looking back on my experiences I wish I knew the importance of patience. Whether in business or in life, I believe patience is such a crucial lesson, practice, and quality that is too often overlooked or underrated. When building or starting anything, I think people often look at the outcomes and don’t always think about what comes along with it – the pressures, the processes, the hardwork and unpredictable moments of uncertainty – all requiring a level of patience. Patience that leads to resilience, building a team, mobilizing investors or donors, you name it. Things take time, and in a “now” culture, patience can easily become non-existent or a throw-away inspirational quote, rather than an actual daily practice or tool. Though only in hindsight can we truly learn and recognize these moments, I would do nothing differently. Every choice, misstep, and moment of impatience or patience has allowed me to grow and develop into the type of leader I am today and create an organization like InHerShoes.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JM: Words I constantly reflect on as I grow InHerShoes and continue to build my work is: enjoy the process of building something. I reference patience often because of this, and also understand patience is a skillset I am constantly striving to master as I grow throughout my life. My personal driving force is to create and live a life aligned with my highest self. This naturally leads to my professional mission of catalyzing the movement of human beings into their highest selves. For me, that often looks like building up communities and the courageous leaders who lead them. When it comes to growing a business I think its important to always remember people make up businesses.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JM: I personally love working with a team. I am clear I would not be where I am today if it were not for the incredible team and partners I am surrounded by. When building a team I believe it is incredibly important to realize it’s not necessarily about the value a team member brings, but the value a team member adds. Anyone can make a machine run. You want to surround yourself with the individuals who uniquely make the machine run better. Surrounding yourself with individuals who foster diversity, equity, and inclusion not only in experience, but in a richness of ideas and innovation is also critical.
Being genuinely invested in the success of your team within your company and outside of it also goes a long way. Taking this on as a practice has not only led to a strong sense of trust and fostering a culture of self-starters for us at InHerShoes, it has also led to low turnover rates, an industry bane for many in the non-profit sector. Especially during the new realities we all are facing during COVID-19, priorities such as mental health, employee satisfaction, and work-life balance are critical more than ever for teams.
Empathetic leadership coupled with a keen understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, as an individual and as an organization, will go a long way when building and growing a team.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JM: When met with challenges, I often find inspiration through conversation with mentors and peers I trust. I consider myself a deeply reflective person and an introvert who happens to live an extrovert’s life by virtue of my work. Much of my recharging and finding inspiration will come from moments of solitude and giving myself the time and space to decompress and reset. That, and a great laugh and moments of play usually do the trick.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JM: Success for me looks like a lifelong journey of growth. If asked this five years ago when first starting InHerShoes, I would have probably said something like a dollar amount or number of countries we are in, or an app we have launched. Now however, I realize there is always something “more” or “next” to achieve or want. Success for me now truly is enjoying the process and to keep going.
Whether with InHerShoes or any future venture I create or take part in throughout my career, a benchmark of success for me will always be measured through “is this fostering my growth?”, and “am I contributing to a better world?” I believe asking these questions has not only helped me achieve success, but create something that is committed to furthering the success of others, too.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
JM: A key low in my journey happened when my health and well being hit an all-time low two years ago. I was burnt out, resigned, and any appetite for life, let alone work, was gone. From the loss of a loved one, a romantic relationship suddenly ending, and the stressors of work, the state of my life in that period took a major toll on my mental, emotional, and physical health. It was the first time I seriously considered it was time to call it quits and the first reality check of how much making a difference is impossible when our health and well-being is gone. It was an incredibly humbling period in both my life and in my career journey that led to so many lessons. Many of which to this day have impacted not only how I choose to live, but also, how InHerShoes operates and the culture we foster.
Many lows, if you allow them, can lead to many highs. This particular low led to one of my greatest highs in my career journey thus far – celebrating InHerShoes’s five years of existence this past January 2020. Hitting our five years, I still feel like we are just getting started, an exciting feeling I feel fortunate to still wake up to every day. From working with incredible partners to deepen our social impact — such as Google, Cartoon Network, and Global StartupGrind to name a few — navigating this fifth year amidst the coronavirus pandemic has showed me the incredible importance of my journey’s lows; all of which have allowed me to build resilience, learn to adapt, and pivot with community in mind.
What lessons have you gained given the new COVID-19 reality? What do you look forward to in 2020?
JM: Navigating this new reality of COVID-19 has been a crash course in learning to reassess for an uncertain future while operating in a new unknown now. In the midst of so many changes, I am learning even more so the importance of empathetic leadership, and the ability to pivot in meeting new needs of communities facing new challenges. As we move forward with new initiatives, adjusted plans, and new approaches, I view this unique time as an opportunity to bring new ideas and solutions to complex problems and insufficient systems across communities. In these few weeks alone I am reminded adversity can also be a launchpad for innovation.
As I connect with our community partners, schools, and organizations, it is clear this is a time filled with much uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. It is also clear this universal experience of fear provides a universal opportunity to explore: what does being courageous look like in this time? From an individual level to an organizational one. Could it look like choosing to stay home to save lives or shopping local? Choosing people over profit? Or perhaps even deciding to be part of a solution and not necessarily the solution for a community you care about? Overall, I am looking forward to seeing the upsurge in leadership and community that arises from this period – both of which I think the world is eager for.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
JM: A routine that grounds me daily is taking time to journal every morning before I start my day, and every evening before bed. I also make sure I am tech-free by certain times and especially during meals. These two practices alone have led to growing my bandwidth and capacity to take on the daily work ahead of me.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JM: In much of my work today and in the work I am excited for in the future, the common thread I am committed to is creating a legacy of being a leader that builds up other leaders. I believe everyone is a leader, entrepreneurs being no different. In my years of experience I personally believe courage is a practice and capacity every leader, every entrepreneur, needs – in life or in the boardroom. Whether it’s finally mustering up the courage to ask for that promotion, taking the leap into entrepreneurship, or even getting up the nerve to ask the love of your life to marry you, seizing most big opportunities in life requires a radical act of courage. As an entrepreneur, and especially as a human, my life’s work and legacy is to help make those radical acts possible, one act of courage at a time.