Angela Benton does it all. From founding a wildly successful business accelerator to raising three daughters to penning a new book (all during her battle with breast cancer, no less), her determination is palpable. She's the kind of person who sees a problem — say, a gross lack of diversity in the technology field — and instead of simply getting frustrated, gets to work. Hurdles be damned. Throughout her journey from single mom to CEO, she's picked up a few valuable lessons. Perhaps most telling of where she's at in life now: "Don't waste your time on just building a business, build a life."
We got the chance to catch up with the multihyphenate business maven at Inc.'s 2017 Women's Summit, presented by Genesis, to talk about how to get ahead in business, why relationships really, really matter, and whether or not "balance" is something obtainable for today's working woman. See what she has to say, below.
Can you walk us through the first chapter of your career? What were your ambitions at that point in time?
"The early part of my life and career weren't typical. I had my oldest daughter at 16, so I was really focused on finishing high school and then completing college. It took me a while to do so while balancing my job as a mom, and, to be honest, deciding what I wanted to focus on career-wise was difficult. When I finally settled on graphic design, my first few jobs were as a freelancer, and from there I had jobs laying out print magazines and ads. Eventually, I ended up teaching myself how to code, which is where my career in technology started."
Then in 2011, you founded NewME, an accelerator for minority women in business. What sparked that idea?
"Starting NewME was a direct result of two things. The first was simply the awareness of always being the only black person working in the technology space at any of my jobs. The second was the vast amount of stories from entrepreneurs that I interviewed on Black Web 2.0., my first entrepreneurial venture. We were really just trying to solve for the lack of successful non-white-male entrepreneurs in the technology space, which at that time was very, very few. I was shocked to see that a program didn't already exist, so I started the early planning for what would become the first-ever accelerator for minority entrepreneurs."
What has been the most empowering and rewarding moment in your career thus far? What about the most challenging?
"The most rewarding thing has definitely been getting to watch and play a part in someone else's success — really getting to see someone transform and blossom into a leader. The most challenging has been the need to constantly reinvent our model based on the existing needs at the time. This was hardest when I was worried about what the industry would think about our new direction. Changing our model so early on definitely made people think that we weren't successful or that we had lost steam when the reality was the opposite: We had to get really focused on our customer, the entrepreneur, instead of the industry."
What advice do you wish you had been given when you were just starting up NewME?
"The only advice I would give my earlier self would be to spend more time nurturing my own thoughts on how my business should have been run before seeking (sometimes too much) outside advice."
What advice, then, would you offer to other women, especially women of color looking to build successful careers and businesses?
"Women of color are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs, so this is an excellent time for us. I think getting the mentorships and training you need to go where you want to go is important, as is building a stellar product and focusing on finding more of your customers."
You mentioned that after beating breast cancer, you really learned how valuable time is and how to prioritize yourself and your health. How do you manage your time differently now than you did when you were just starting out?
"Before, I was really focused on getting 'everything' done, which usually meant I had a ton on my plate at all times. Now, I focus on what exactly I invest my time in and whether that thing is going to get me closer to where I want to be personally and professionally. The two have to be in balance for me to pursue it and invest my time in it."
You also spoke about the importance of relationships, letting yourself be loved and supported, and not just building a business but building a life. Can you speak a little more to that? Have your relationships, business and personal, benefited from this mantra?
"My business relationships are totally transformed. The business relationships I have now understand and respect my value. Before, I was more accepting of what I was offered instead of communicating what I was actually worth. This transformation actually started when I began to pay more attention to my value in my personal relationships. It's interesting, but when I valued myself less in personal relationships, I also valued myself less in business."
Do you have any advice for working women out there trying to find the “right” balance between their careers and families?
"Balance doesn't exist. I think when we let go of the idea of balance we can actually get closer to what the reality of balance looks like, which, in my opinion, doesn't always stay the same. Some periods of my life I was way more focused on family than other periods of my life. Staying fluid has allowed me to develop and grow as an individual, a mother, and a businesswoman."