Episode 94: This 22-Year-Old CEO Is A Powerhouse, WOW! (With Nadya Okamoto)

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Episode 94: This 22-Year-Old CEO Is A Powerhouse, WOW! (With Nadya Okamoto)

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CUE 94 | Powerhouse CEO

 

Prepare to challenge your disbelief because this episode’s guest is an absolute powerhouse. Joining Brendan Meyers on the hot seat is Nadya Okamoto, the 22-year-old CEO of the lifestyle period brand, August. Fueled by a passion for eradicating period poverty among the homeless, Nadya started her first nonprofit when she was 14. Her hunger for learning and willingness to ask for support allowed her to achieve in a few years what most people will never accomplish in their lives. But there is another side to all this success. Nadya has her own share of hardships as a young leader of a new brand that is still in its build phase, coupled with an ongoing struggle to overcome childhood trauma and mental health issues. Brendan dives deep into these two sides of Nadya and shows us why she is a true embodiment of the CreateU Experience.

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This 22-Year-Old CEO Is A Powerhouse, WOW! (With Nadya Okamoto)

An Inside Look Of “August” Founder Nadya Okamoto

We have another special guest. I swear to you, this beautiful human keeps on falling into my lap and get to discuss some cool things, uncover many secrets, and journeys along the way. First of all, welcome, Nadya, to the CreateU Experience. She is the Founder of August. It has honestly created a lot of opportunities in her own life and for other people on her teams. She has other ventures. I’m not even going to go into all of it, but first of all, Nadya, what’s up?

Thank you so much for having me.

I’m super excited about this. A little brief story, her and I were in the same Clubhouse room. If you are not in Clubhouse now, you need to get on it. You’ve got to get on it because there are many ways to connect. I’m sure she’s already building business based off of Clubhouse as I am. I heard a very small snippet of her story and I’m not someone who cares about age. I don’t care if you’re 50, 20, as long as you have experience and you come from experience, you work hard and you’re a great person, you’re a great human. That’s what I care about. When she said her age and I started looking into some of the stuff that she’s done, I was like, “This is unique. This is going to inspire a lot of people.” Nadya, take it away. Tell us about yourself. What are you up to?

I’m Nadya. I am 22 and I’m going into my last semester at Harvard finally, which is crazy. My background is in nonprofits. I started a nonprofit when I was sixteen. I was inspired by the fight against period poverty. I learned that in 2014, 40 states in the US had the sales tax on period products, considering them luxury items. Meanwhile, products like Rogaine and Viagra were considered essential goods. I didn’t even know what those things were at the time. Once I found out, I got very activated about it. I started an organization. I used social media to scale it and ran that until this past January 2020. By the time I left, we had distributed about eighteen million units of product and had about a thousand chapters at universities and high schools around the US and abroad. I’ve been on a nonstop book and speaking tour. I ran for office when I was nineteen. I was the chief brand officer at JUV Consulting and GEN Z Marketing Agency, that’s scaling well, which is exciting. In January 2020, I left both of those active roles to pursue raising capital. I’m about to close seed round for a new lifestyle period brand.

You’ve accomplished more in four years. You’ve accomplished more in 5 or 6 years than most people will ever accomplish in their life. I honestly like that. It’s inspiring and motivating. I want to back up a little bit before we jumped even further because it’s beyond the American dream. The dream that we all have is developing something that we’re passionate about. Not only financially, obviously you’re going to have some type of financial gain, but the impact. Impacting people around the world, that’s such an incredible experience that you’ve been able to curate over the years. When you had this idea when it first got started, what was running through your head? How did you get a business up and running? Even a nonprofit is some type of business. How did you even get any of this stuff rolling?

This wasn’t an idea I came up with out of the blue. It wasn’t like, “I wonder if people need period products.” When I was sixteen, when I was a freshman in high school, my family experienced housing instability. During that time at the place we were staying, I was meeting homeless women to and from school and was hearing their stories of using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, and cardboard for their periods. It was something that I think gave me a privilege check at a time that I needed it. When I was this depressed sixteen-year-old being like, “Why does my family deserve this? We’re in such a bad scenario.”

CUE 94 | Powerhouse CEO
Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement

Hearing that people had to use trash to take care of something so natural, which is something that came up naturally in conversations from asking these women, “What is the most challenging thing about your living situation?” I was curious about the spectrum of housing instability because of what my family is going through. Basically, I was obsessing over it. I had a lot of insomnia that I’m still working through and was passionate and angry about it. I googled how to start a profit, because I think I had understood that nonprofit was this term that meant like helping people. Everything I’ve done, I didn’t dream or plan for. I wanted to be a fucking public defender.

I wanted to be an obstetric surgeon because I watched Grey’s Anatomy and liked a certain character. I did this and it kept rolling. I started a nonprofit, the goal was to get period products to twenty homeless once a week. We ran out very quickly the first day we were out there. I didn’t come from money. I tried fundraising like playing guitar on the street, canvassing, going to restaurants, none of that worked. I started pitching at random places like Fidelity insurance at their staff meeting, trying anything and slowly but surely, we started building. I remember crying the first time someone gave me a $5 bill and was like, “Here’s a donation.” I think I kept using every small win like that to be like, “We are going to get somewhere.” I can see the work translating into something. I kept going, cold emailing a lot of people, googling things, trying things out, failing, and fast forward we ended up as one of the biggest organizations in the space. We had an actual team and registered a thousand chapters, all 50 states in 50 countries, purely using organic social media primarily. I had grown to a much bigger budget.

Every time you speak, I feel like you have so much to say. This is why anyone would be honored to have you on their stage. They’re inviting you everywhere. It puts a smile on my face because I feel like you had to learn how to be consistent and hustle before the smart work came. I feel online and in society is almost the opposite. It’s like, “You have to be smart first before you get started. You have to learn everything. You have to gather the knowledge.” You live differently.

It’s also that I wake up every day and I feel very similarly to how I did when I was sixteen. I wake up and I think, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I know that I have this vision of what it could be, but sometimes I don’t even know what that is and that’s not static.” I don’t even know if I call it hustle, but I think I am born with this feeling of like, “I want to do something and I’m so passionate about this. There’s a need and I don’t see other people building a solution.” I think that there’s a gap that’s missing. I follow that.

I use a lot of Google. I should honestly be a spokesperson for Google because that’s how I published my book. I was eighteen. I was like, “These politicians aren’t listening to me. I feel like I need a book too because I see other adults using a book as a vehicle to spread awareness.” I googled how to write a book. I looked at the Wiki answers on what a book proposal looked like. I cold emailed literary agents. A year later, my book came out with my dream publisher, Simon and Schuster. It was more like waking up. Even now I’m like, “I don’t know anything about supply chain and performance marketing, but I will hustle to connect with people who’ve done it a lot before and have a lot of experience and then bring them onto my team.”

There are two things that I want to highlight there. One is you’re willing to ask people for support. It’s hard to come by. Most people don’t because of their egos. That was number one. Number two, you created a passion. Before the passion, something affected your life and you saw it as, “I want change. I don’t accept this as the reality.” You bridged the gap into a passion and you took that passion and you bridge that gap into a business. Now you’re doing what you love and you don’t have to be fake about it at all. You don’t have to live by what society is saying. You don’t have to any of this stuff, you’re creating your reality.

When you lead from a place of fear instead of love, it eats away at you. Click To Tweet

I think that the other myth that I try to dismantle in my own life is, I have an issue with how we ask all these young people. It’s like, what do you want to be when you grow up? You give me a one-word answer, “An astronaut, a doctor.” First of all, I got diagnosed with ADHD. It makes a lot of sense that I like being a Renaissance person and doing a lot of different things. Even now, I’m raising capital building this company, but also, I have a number of freelance clients that I’m still working on overall business strategy with our communication strategy. I’m working on my second book and doing writing and brand deals and speaking.

I think that it’s the beauty of living in this new economy. People call it the hobby economy. There’s a whole economy of side hustles and trying new things. I also feel an immense amount of privilege to be able to have turned my passion into a profession. The other thing I’ll say is I also want to highlight that there’s also a dark side to my journey. I think that there is a lot of assumption that when you’re a founder, you have all your shit together. You find this thing and you’re so excited and happy about it. You’re loving the work because you want to be rich or successful or you want to make an impact.

I had a little bit of a dangerous symptom where my come from was running away from something. I grew up with abuse in my family. I had a lot of struggles with the mental health aspect of what was happening in my family and in my personal life. I did find this passion and I am overwhelmingly passionate about menstruation, which is so niche. This is why it’s a right place at the right time. At the same time, I think that my hustle, and I’m not recommending this at all, was this mix of feeling like I can build something/I need to change the situation I’m in. In the situation that I’m in, I feel scared, small, and invisible in silence, but I don’t feel that way in activism. I’ve had to, in the last year, deal with the repercussions. I don’t want to say burning out because I didn’t burn out with energy, but I think the depression that comes along with that.

I think energy is directly correlated with your emotions.

It’s something that I always like to talk about with my other entrepreneur friends. I feel like in the entrepreneurship space when you’re a founder and I’m a young CEO, I’ve had a bunch of people work for me before, that’s different. I’m in school and media and social media pushes us to portray like I have it all figured out, I’m happy. That’s something that I find interesting about Clubhouse is that there are a lot of rooms that portray this. “I made a bunch of money and I’m killing it. I’m so proud of myself.” In reality and why I am proud of how I think about this is, I think that there’s so much importance to staying humble about it. When I go into Clubhouse rooms, I’ll share what I know and try to help. I do think I try to push myself. You can’t let it get to your head. I’ve seen many friends have had this happen. Once you let it get to your head, you slow down and you’re content. I try to wake up every day and I have learned some and I want to share it, but there’s so much that I don’t know and I can learn from others too.

It’s always like, “How do I learn?” That’s something as well as business owners, as founders, as CEOs, as executives. Number one, can we agree that it’s not easy? Number two, the more people you have on your team, the more money you’re making, the more shit you deal with, the more emotion is involved, more stresses involved. I’m sure you can attest to this as well. I get super stressed. The reason why I need so much structure in my life is because if I don’t, everything eats at me, it’s almost as if I’m like a rotten tomato. If I don’t put the tomato in the fridge and within seven days eat it, I feel like that tomato that’s just rotten, tired, exhausted, no one has been contacting me.

CUE 94 | Powerhouse CEO
Powerhouse CEO: The beauty of living in this new economy is that you can have the privilege to turn your passion into a profession.

I say all this but at the end of the day, I still haven’t figured it out. One of my goals for 2021 was self-care and getting more sleep. I’ve stayed up until 3:00 AM every day. I’m still figuring it out.

I sleep eight hours every night.

That’s what I’m supposed to do. When I was on tour for the last few years I was going to school on Mondays. I dwindled all my classes to Monday. I was flying into Harvard Monday morning, usually leaving Monday night or Tuesday morning. I was on a plane once or twice a day for the rest of the week doing speaking, meetings, photo shoots. I slept wherever I could, I would sleep in Ubers, which is dangerous as a young woman. I would sleep on every play. Every time I got a moment, I would just fall asleep. For me, when COVID hit, I was confused because I had never been in one spot for maybe longer than four days.

It’s definitely been an adjustment. I feel 2021 is exciting as much as there’s so much shit going on in the world. I do have this, “We’re going there. Big shit is going to happen. Big things like companies launching. I’m graduating from Harvard.” Honestly, there are many times where I was like, “I’m dropping out. I hate this.” There all these aspects and even with my family is okay, stable, safe and getting back to thriving. I’m in my dream apartment in New York. I think that there are all these elements that I am trying to push myself to be better about. The other thing is I try to sleep eight hours, but I’m on mad mental health meds to get me to go to sleep.

I spent several weeks in residential rehab in 2020, six weeks for trauma, PTSD. I grew up with sex abuse in my own family with my dad. I suppressed a lot of that and ran away from in work. When you lead from a place of fear, not a place from love, it eats away at you. There’s something beautiful about building something on social media. I built a whole career of using the tools in front of me using Google, using social media. We built a seven-figure business as a bunch of college students. There are all these things, but at the same time, when you do that, every part of you becomes commodified. I used to work out for self-care and I still do, but then I’m also a fitness model and that’s the biggest part of my income. I speak, so it’s my voice, my hair, my skin, my brain.

It’s almost like you have all this stuff going on. You’re not getting enough sleep. You’re on all these different types of medications. You went through a lot when you were a kid. I want to bypass all the success. What are you doing for you? What are you working on in your own? You don’t have to share this if you don’t want to. Do you go to a therapist for your mental health? Do you meditate? How are you organizing your life to calm things down? What are one of the main things that you’re working on?

There is no cookie-cutter way to be successful. If there was, everyone would be doing it. Click To Tweet

August is my main focus from a business perspective. This is one of the first businesses that I’ve ever worked on where I do all this work and I don’t feel drained because it’s so fun. I love doing this. I love the build phase. It was one of the things with my nonprofit. I built it for six years and then I was like, “It’s going to continue growing and I love the new team there, but I think that I missed this build phase.” When everything is conceptual, it was in our heads and now it’s in production. Now it’s out in the world and growing. Finding work that I love doing is important for my mental health.

At the same time, I am sleeping a lot more. A lot of that is because I have meds to help me with that. That’s just part of PTSD, which I’m healing from. I live by therapy. The other thing I got into at rehab was yoga. I became a certified yoga teacher. Now I teach yoga twice a week. It’s a joke with my friends too because I also crochet a lot. I make all these sweaters. On-calls, I’ll be crocheting. I opened up an Etsy shop. I am the serial entrepreneur, but I think something that my therapist has had to get to know about me is that I’m not going to stop doing that.

It’s more about making sure that I’m building my life around, making sure that I have these self-care practices. I teach yoga twice a week for free. I am not letting myself charge money for that because to me that’s a labor of love to myself and others. Also, I think that wellness needs to be democratized because when I grew up, I thought that yoga was something rich white moms did. It was not something that I saw necessarily as accessible and when my family could afford it, I think I saw it as a win, a luxury to have. That’s a whole new passion is I love yoga. I have this meditation app. I barely use it, but I have it and I’m trying to get to use it. Also, writing and journaling and stuff.

I can definitely relate to you in many different ways. Me personally, I’m always wanting to accomplish something new. I even run into my own speed bumps like I’m trying to rush it. “I’m trying to get this out. This product is happening. I need this. I need that.” I got something tattooed on the back of my ear and it says patience. I literally moved specifically to focus on me. I lived in LA for five years as it was one of those things. What I’m hearing is you’re not completely trying to suppress who you are. You are working with what you were born with. I’m somebody and we can agree or disagree.

I’m not someone that looks at you or anyone else with a label. If you have ADHD, I try not to even associate that with you. This is how you live. That’s literally how I think. Even my PTSD, it’s a real thing. I’ve gone through a lot myself. I’ve always tried to steer clear from any type of labels that anyone has provided to me, any doctors, anything. It’s almost similar to what society tells us in a way. I don’t know if you can relate to this but society tells you that you need to have a specific type of job, you need to go to college or, “If you do build the company, then you have to pay everybody X amount and you have to only make X amount. You can’t talk about financials too much because that’s boasting and not being humble.”

That’s how I associate labels because we’re humans at the end of the day. Humans are simple yet very complicated at the same time. The simplicity side of it comes from not suppressing who you are. That’s what I admire about you most outside of all the cool stuff that you’ve done. It’s the fact that you’re like, “I’m not going to suppress who I am.” I may go to therapy. I may do different things like yoga, journal, meditate and do all this stuff. At the end of the day, you even said it, your therapists know that you’re going to continue to do the things that you’re doing.

 

The only thing I’ll say to that around the labels is that’s super interesting because it’s also what we’re seeing with this Generation Z. I’m on the older side of Gen Z and so much of it is trying to defy labels or say, “We don’t need labels. I’m just who I am.” I will say though, for myself, I have found having labels for my mental health diagnoses such a relief. I grew up and I’m like, “What is wrong with me? Why am I like this? Why are my hands always shaking? Why do I have these panic attacks and these nightmares? Everyone’s telling me that I have these mood swings. Do I?” I have serious mental health stuff but I think that when I heard my diagnosis, even in 2020, two new ones, I think I have this whole weight lifted off my shoulders where I’m able to say, “This is a label. Society says it’s something I should be ashamed of, but I’m not going to get rid of it.”

Maybe it’s basically sharing with me that I am not this way because there’s something wrong with me. I’m this way because this is what my body has had to do to survive. I have gone through this shit and this is how my body has survived. In that case, then I started leaning into it. I have ADHD. This is how I work. I have my laptop. I have three notebooks next to me. I have my notebook for my freelance, my notebook for my to-do list, my notebook for my company. I have my iPad up and my phone. I basically do it. When I get bored, I just go to the next thing and I do that. That works for me. Everybody’s different. I think I could go on and on about this, but for me, I’m just hopeful for where we are in the world. Politically, there are still things happening out in the world that gives me so much anxiety.

Let’s not get into politics. I hear you and I appreciate you saying all of that. Might I add, I think it’s very important that two people can disagree with something or agree with something but also be friends and connect. That’s the communication. That’s what it’s all about.

It’s needed now because we are becoming so much more polarized. When I was in rehab, I grew up in liberal bubbles, New York City, Portland, Oregon, then went to Harvard. The first time I met someone who disagreed with me so much at the other end of the political spectrum was when I was in rehab. He was the only other person there. It was just us. We had four hours of group therapy a day. We ate every meal together. In the beginning, we would get into yelling fights about everything that was happening in the world, because at the same time the presidential primaries were going on. I think it’s funny because I came out of it. I was telling my friends who are on the more progressive side like, “We became good friends. Because of that, I had to see him for his humanity and I heard his story through group therapy.” That’s one of my 2021 goals as a human is in my life, where are these places that I can bridge the divide?

Tying everything that we’ve been talking about on this show, everything from you, it comes down to one thing. When you were born, you were happy, joyful. We didn’t know anything. We were smiling, laughing and crying. The layers started piling on. Whether your experience is more difficult than someone else’s or not, it’s our reality. It’s how we make everything out to be. As we get older, we have a lot more control over the choice. Our choice of choosing whether or not we like that situation or we like that. What anyone reading can take from this is you can create anything that you’d like. You can choose how you react. When you’re creating this stuff, you can choose the direction that it goes. At the end of the day, we are our environment. We are our reality. If someone’s reading and they’re like, “I’m so similar. I have a passion and I want to create this. What do I do?” What’s the number one piece of advice that you would give them? What would you say?

Go for it. I know that sounds simple but that’s what I always tell people. I meet all of these aspiring entrepreneurs who say, “I have this idea, but I think I have to do school. I have this thing that I’ve been planning for five years and I have to be ready for it.” You should be emotionally ready for it. I was not in many scenarios, but there’s no cookie-cutter way to be successful. Successful means something different.

When you’re trailblazing, you’re going to get thorned up. You will get rejected. The only thing that matters is that you keep going. Click To Tweet

 

What about the 6 steps to 6 figures in 30 days?

I hate that stuff. I’m sorry if you subscribe to it, but I get in Clubhouse sometimes and I’m like, “What do you mean the five things I have to do to be a millionaire? First of all, no. Second of all, if there was a magic, actual formula to build a nonprofit, make an impact, do a business, to patent something, everyone would be doing it. There’s a reason why there isn’t.” If you feel scared, people are always like, “Be fearless. You’re so fearless, Nadya.” I’m like, “No, I’m the most anxious person ever. However, you embrace your fear because I look at it saying, ‘If I am scared, if I don’t know what to do because I don’t see a model out there, it means that I’m doing something that has not been done before. It means that I am breaking a boundary that no one has crossed before.”’ It’s about all those emotions that you’re feeling, maybe don’t repress them but embrace them. Be like, “I’m scared, but it’s because I’m a fucking trailblazer.” All of that. I don’t know.

Don’t say I don’t know. You should fucking capitalize that shit at the end that’s being a trailblazer. What does being a trailblazer mean to you? You definitely have something to relate to with that. What does a trailblazer mean? What does embracing who you are mean? What does it represent for you? What is this shit? Talk about it.

I think the first word that comes to mind is two words, being unapologetic, not apologizing for things. I post with my period blood now. People think it’s gross, but I embrace it. I’ve literally posted videos. I can send you some if you want. It’s all on my Instagram. I will post these videos of my period blood. It’s something I just started doing a few months ago where I was like, “I’m trying to tell people to destigmatize periods. We’re not really.” I started doing that and it’s just built this whole community. It’s why August in two months has 150,000 followers growing a community of engaged people. I think it’s also the fact that it says unapologetic and resilience.

I have resilience tattooed under my left boob because for me, it’s trailblazing. You’re blazing a trail. There are all these brushes. You’re going to get thorned up. It is hard. You get rejected. The only thing that matters is that you keep going. I know that’s cheesy and cliché, but the difference of what I see is the scars you have from those thorns I wear with pride now. Those are things that I survived. Those are things that I went through. Those are things that I learned from. Those are things that made me a better person, who made me who I am and who brought me to where I am now.

CreateU Experience, create you. At the end of the day, I know you’ve got to head out. We have this tagline that we live by under the brand CreateU. It’s ignite your breakthrough and bring your vision to life. No one else is going to ignite it for you. If we try and figure it out, we try and find the fast pass to success. We find that fast pass to relationships and the perfect this and the perfect that. In reality, our reality is our reality. The environment we create is the environment that we live in. The way we speak our words, our world, be impeccable with your world, all of these things that we hear of every single day, we hear, “It’s cliché. What is this period stuff that she’s talking about? That’s cliche. That’s different.” This is stuff that people almost put to the side and they don’t want to hear it because it’s what we need to hear. It’s the stuff that we need to see. It’s what the stigma should be. The stigma should be loving yourself, loving who you are and creating what you want for your experience at the end of the day. Is there one last thing that you would love to bring up, anything that you would like to say to women, men, anyone that’s reading this blog?

 

CUE 94 | Powerhouse CEO

I think I have this on a Post-it note in my bathroom, which is just like, “Fuck shame.” That’s what I’m bringing onto myself. I think that shame is something that holds many people back from going after what they want and negotiating for what they deserve. That’s what I would say.

Fuck shame. Fuck ego. Live your best life. Ignite your breakthrough. Bring your vision to life. Thank you so much for coming on. Where can they find you? I know you mentioned the August Instagram. What about your Instagram?

My full name, @NadyaOkamoto.

Is there anything that you want to offer? Do you do consulting?

DM me. I’m always casting for different opportunities. You can join our community at August or buy my book, Period Power. Anything like that.

Thank you so much, Nadya, for coming on here. I appreciate you. If you’re reading, ignite your breakthrough and bring your vision to light. This is the CreateU Experience. Look me up on Instagram, @TheBMeyers. We are on all audio platforms. I’m also on YouTube. I’m also on Facebook. I’m pretty much a floater. I’m everywhere. CreateU is all about you. Remember that. You can create your life and your vision is important. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you on the next one.

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