TheBlackManCan has made its way back to the Washington D.C area to bring you an Exquisite Woman who is chasing excellence in all walks of life. It is our distinct honor and pleasure to introduce educator, blogger and business woman Stephanie Folling. Stephanie sits down with TheBlackManCan to discuss, starting her own business, cupcakes and her love for teaching.
TheBlackManCan: Stephanie, can tell us about your childhood and how it has played a role in developing you into the woman you are today?
SF: My parents were really good at developing my sense of self as a girl/woman and my self-esteem as a person of color. They never restricted my creativity or intelligence while being my most authentic self was always encouraged.
My parents were also really big on character and money management. From ages 8-14 my allowance of $5 a week never changed while my chores increased! This taught me early on to be an entrepreneur and have my own money. I made hair bows and sold them to classmates for $1 creating new designs each week to maintain market share. I started a very lucrative baby-sitting service and even sold snow cones in the winter–true story.
My parents had another rule: no tennis shoes over $50 and no designer digs. Their logic was: you will not be defined by what’s on your back but by what’s in your head. Growing up in a wealthy black neighborhood like Prince George’s County made me the object of much ridicule with my Payless Soda Pop tennis shoes and Sears’s sweaters. What’s worse was that my parents were ballin’! But it instilled in me character and placed my value on my mind and people- not superficial things.
Looking back I’m grateful and I realize that they were building my character. They were teaching me to define myself for myself because society DEFINITELY has roles for you as a woman, a person of color, and as a woman of color: stripper, Jezebel, welfare queen, etc.
TheBlackManCan: In 2010 you started your own independent commercial real estate firm. This is an area not frequented by women or minorities. How did you decide on commercial real estate? How did you break through this barrier?
SF: It was a combination of hard-work, brilliance, hook-ups and God’s tremendous favor on my life. After having moved up the ladder in residential real estate with skills ranging from leasing, property management and sales, I realized that the real money was in commercial real estate (CRE). The commissions were evergreen, the process was more numbers less car salesman and I wanted to increase my skillset.
At the same time, I made a bold move and moved to New York to get my broker’s license. While there I made friends, connections, and contacts for job offers. After turning down 3 lucrative offers in NYC, I decided to go back to D.C. and begin my CRE career there. One of my NYC connections gave me a massive hook-up and called the president of a firm in D.C. and said, “Hire Her!” Two weeks later, I had a job.
Being fresh out of broker’s school, I was hungry; nay famished. I worked late, was the first one in the office and brought fresh ideas to the table-I was on my Olivia Pope flow. Within a month I was commended by the company’s Vice President for having record numbers. This gave me carte blanche at the company. It also sparked jealousy amongst the men at the company (comprising roughly 87%).
In CRE women are/were often regulated to admin roles (even with the same titles) or completely infantilized with limited mobility. I refused such treatment, advocated for myself, and made alliances along the way. I made team MVP twice for my leadership skills and numbers which forced senior brokers to step their game up. Although my deals were clean there were several unsuccessful attempts to sabotage me to get me fired or look foolish and incompetent in front of clients. I couldn’t let any of that deter me. I was determined to leave my mark so that other women and minorities coming behind me would have a road map of how to make it and win. I was successful in that and I’m proud.
Looking back, I see that God needed me to learn and be comfortable in a room full of ridiculously wealthy people, speaking their language and negotiating major deals without being intimidated; and, to quote Jay-Z, “Show’em how to move in a room full of vultures”. This would provide an excellent foundation in starting my firm because that’s the big-time. There are no safety nets and you can be mistaken for easy prey.
TheBlackManCan: What ignited the spark for you to start your blog The Cupcake Critic? What is the mission and vision behind the blog?
SF: The purpose of the blog was to give me a creative outlet discussing, what I thought to be, the most inane and uncontroversial topic of cupcakes. Little did I know that I was coming in at the crest of the cupcake-boom and have been riding it ever since.
The spark that ignited the blog was me sitting in my office with a mountain of paper work and feeling overwhelmed. The business was about six months old at the time and I needed a break. Spring was peaking so I called a friend and said, “I’m coming in to D.C. and we’re going to get cupcakes and then frolic in the park”.
I had so much fun that day that I realized I was a workaholic and had no hobbies or real outlets to enjoy myself. I decided to make cupcake-ing my hobby and made a list of all the cupcake shops in town to visit. When I put the pictures up on Facebook, the response to my adventures was overwhelming. People would ask me: “Where are they located? How much are the cupcakes? Can I take the metro?
This prompted me to set-up a tumblr account and post pics of my cupcake adventures with a short narrative answering common questions. Overtime other people found my site, liked it and that prompted me to create an official Twitter and Facebook. In 2012, I bought the official domain name and transferred all my reviews to Blogger.
TheBlackManCan: Please share with our readers the shops where they can find the best three cupcakes?
SF: This is always tough and I have to note that my opinions change often but here it goes:
- Delectable Cakery in Landover Hills, MD
- Georgetown Cupcake Georgetown, DC
- YoCake DC in Dupont Circle
TheBlackManCan: You have won numerous accolades, which include but are not limited to Black Street Best Blog and Best Website. How does it feel to be honored for the work you do?
SF: It is so rewarding to be recognized for my work. I work really hard on my blog and for people to not only like it but to give me accolades whether with an interview or an award is humbling. Of all the things that I’ve done in my life, I find it funny that I’m most recognized for cupcakes. A good example is: I was in the CB Richard Ellis building a few months back for business and someone yelled out, “Hey Cupcake Queen”. I laughed as it seems my cupcake blog has overshadowed my other business endeavors but I’m cool with it J
TheBlackManCan: You are a very successful woman and still climbing to the top. How do you stay motivated and keep from getting discouraged?
SF: It can be tough; as black woman you get opposition from white men and women and even black men. Whether it is relationships, fighting discrimination, sexism, ageism, whatever- there’s always something new. My major issue now is going green. What we call food is not food and the water in our homes is really a chemical causing asthma, fertility issues and lead-poisoning. However every problem has a solution.
I stay centered with walks through nature, mediation and prayer allowing the peace of God to overtake me. Where necessary I advocate and allow my voice to be heard to evoke change- not to rabble-rouse. I seek wisdom from people I trust and eliminate negative energy from media, people, or even places. Further, God really is the center of what I do. I believe in Him; I listen to him and where he leads, I try, to follow. It sounds like a cliché but I take all my pain, worries and fear to him because he can make it right. I trust him.
TheBlackManCan: You also have a company called SVF Brand Media. Tell us about the mission and vision behind this company? What are some things you are working on now?
SF: SVF Brand Media is a social media marketing firm that I started as an extension to my blog. With the success of my blog and eye for creativity, other businesses and bloggers began to ask me to do for them what I did for my blog. Essentially we build eye-catching, demographically relevant marketing campaigns to drive traffic, attain online visibility and provide a succinct voice/message for a service or product. Currently I’m working with a few cupcake shops and public figures to maximize their online presence.
TheBlackManCan: You live by the motto “Anything is possible to him who believes”. What do these words mean to you and why should people embrace this motto?
SF: Belief is a powerful thing and essentially who you believe that you are is what you are. People can tell you that you won’t amount to much or throw bricks at you marked “obstacles”. If you collect enough of those bricks, you can build a bridge and charge a toll.
Although I’ve had a lot of support throughout my life, I’ve had a lot of bricks thrown my way too. Overall though they made me tougher, stronger, wiser and, ironically, very forgiving. People can only give you what they have and if they’re throwing bricks at you, it’s because someone threw bricks at them.
I also believe in the idea of alchemy; that you can turn nothing into something. I look at my blog and what started as virtually nothing is now a lot of something that yields unlimited opportunity and possibility. Power shifts every day and it can shift to your advantage based upon how you perceive things.
TheBlackManCan: If you had to name three books that everyone should read what would they be?
- Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
- Up From Slavey: The Autobiography of Booker T. Washington by Booker T. Washington
- On Her Own Ground: The Biography of Madame C.J. Walker by A’lelia Bundles Walker
TheBlackManCan: You have a true entrepreneurial spirit. What advice do you have for others to develop their entrepreneurial spirit?
- Have a solid plan for your business and finances with an exit strategy should things not work out.
- Surround yourself with advisors and mentors who will keep you grounded.
- Hang out with other entrepreneurs because your mind will change and you will think like an owner; sadly your friend who aren’t in business for themselves won’t understand or be able to give sound advice.
- Be prepared to do without sleep for some time.
- Love yourself first: eat right, exercise, pray/meditate. The business is only as good as you are.
- Never underestimate anyone; some of most brilliant minds are hidden in unsuspecting packages.
- Above all things know more than anyone in the room and at the same time realize that you know nothing.
TheBlackManCan: You recently have decided to join Teach for America and you will be teaching English in your hometown of Prince George’s County, MD. Why did you decided to head into teaching?
SF: I’ve always wanted to teach but the catalyst for my decision was losing my father, in early 2012 to a brain aneurism. For me, everything stopped and something deep inside of me changed. I felt like up until that point, I had been selfish and only living for myself. I needed my life’s work to mean something and to me, every move in my career was strategic but the only person benefitting was me-not my community. Also, despite not being a parent, I felt like these are my kids too and I wanted to invest in the lives of young people.
Realizing that life is short, I decided that I was going to do everything that I ever wanted to do. I made a list and at the top of my list was teaching. The opportunity of TFA presented itself; I applied and made it in. More importantly, I was stationed in my hometown and I couldn’t be more excited.
TheBlackManCan: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
SF: Hopefully married with children and living a small homestead. I’m really into urban-farming and hydroponics so it’s appealing to me. Also penning a few books and going on tour as a thought leader and inspirational leader. I’m really big on people of color learning how to navigate the systems of finance, real estate and technology. Those industries are the future with little presence from women or minorities.
TheBlackManCan: Why is it important for Black Boys and Men to see positive images of themselves?
SF: As stated previously, perception is important. Perception is often influenced by outside stimuli like media, environment, family, friends, institutions, etc. Black males, like black women, are given images, attitudes and ideals based upon what suits society’s purposes. They are told to be low achievers, prison fodder, shiftless, street pharmacists, athletes, and rappers. Further although colorism is a problem that is usually attributed to women, a lot of men are self-conscious about their hue.
When young men (and women) are fed a constant diet of healthy and affirming images of themselves they immutably conform and grow into these positive images. For example, during segregation the African-American community produced more PhD’s than they do now. Primarily because of the positive reinforcement and nurturing that they received from their community coupled with access to outstanding HBCU’s. In my opinion, it isn’t a coincidence that so many young people are conforming to the abundance of negative images that are on constant rotation. As a community we have to step up and stop this.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for the youth of today?
SF: Life is short but it’s also long therefore having a plan for your future is crucial. Write your plan down and seek out mentors, advisors and friends who can help you achieve your goals. This is important because if for any reason you get off track, having a written plan (that you can see), makes it easier to pick up where you left off or amend your steps. Also, if you are surrounded by people who are headed in the same positive direction, you’ll get there faster.
Finally don’t make short-term decisions that will negatively impact your long-term being. Divorce yourself from negative things and people- no matter who they are. The moment you do that, life will replace them with people whom you can trust and will invest in your success.
HuffPost Live Appearance: Stephanie Folling discusses social media on HuffPost Live’s Tech Game Changers with host Mike Sachs, Starbucks CDO Adam Brotman and Gigya CEO Patrick Salyer.
HuffPost Live:Top Stories with Jacob Saboroff
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