Now what? and other Non-CPA goals

The incubator has been a significant catalyst for me to identify my key goals for the next few months and develop a set of workable steps to achieve them. I hadn’t previously given myself the time and space I deserve to consider what I really want. I have been operating without questioning assumptions that got me to where I am in the first place.

Now, I am more confident of my next steps, both in terms of PizzaPlex and exploring building a network of investors in women- and POC-owned businesses.

Pizza Dreams

The last post not only honed my empathy for the “non-Neapolitan pizza customer” (what we in the industry call the NNPCs) (just kidding), but also resulted in some fantastic questions and considerations from commenters that I am so grateful to have received. Based on the past few weeks of listening, learning, and deliberating, I will pursue the following next steps by end of 2019 for PizzaPlex to accelerate its conversion to a worker-owned business:

  • Develop a comprehensive marketing plan in collaboration with the team, especially soliciting help from our new Events & Partnerships manager (formerly our Operations Manager). This will give me the opportunity to develop the customer profile – who is our customer, and who will our customers become? I will also finally make time to consider and articulate/document clearly all that PizzaPlex has to offer beyond the delicious product itself – catering services, event space, and programming.
  • More actively consider next steps from our conversion consultants (Center for Community Based Enterprise, or C2BE). C2BE has provided guidelines for what we need to consider long-term to enable our conversion to worker ownership. While we all know how important this is, we have had trouble imagining the future in the pursuit to keep doors open today. I can at least make sure we are clear on the specific questions we need to answer to prepare for that future conversion.
  • Continue refining our messaging. Sometimes, I feel our value proposition or description of our Edges gets lost in complex wording. It took the team a long time to land on Pizza – People – Planet. What else can we do?

Theory of Change: Invest in women, improve world

A friend and I have been meeting regularly to ask each other questions and challenge the notion of what a network/fund for investment in women- and POC-owned businesses could be.

Our agreed-to next steps are:

  • Complete the Ship-it Journal! And compare our notes
  • Get smarter on alternative forms of investment and community capital (I know some experts in this cohort I might want to consult!)
  • Benchmark and learn more about a few Detroit-based investment companies and community organizations, national VCs/investment companies that focus on women and POCs, the legal constraints of alternative investment vehicles (lawyer friends – we will be looking at you)
  • Survey local women entrepreneurs leading all sizes/types of ventures with the following preliminary questions: Do you feel your business needs more capital (outside investment)? How would additional funding help? What is preventing you from obtaining it now? What does your business need to succeed?
  • Interview local experts/investors in women- and POC-owned businesses; understand where gaps are

The plan for this network is to do as much research as we can before the end of the year, recognizing we will have a number of action items and meetings that carry over into early 2020.

Staying in touch

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have written and publicly posted my ideas and plans. I’ve never seriously blogged before, and certainly not with the same level of consistency! (Yes. I realize it has only been once a week for six weeks.) I would love to stay in touch with other incubator participants through our continued writing, comments, and reflection, if CPA is willing to maintain the WordPress site for that express purpose! This allows for low-pressure stakes to contribute, read, and comment – all with the goal of generously supporting when and how we can, from wherever we find ourselves! I’m looking forward to staying in touch with all participants and following the important work you are all doing.

A Slice of Empathy

First, it is only fitting – and, hopefully, not eye-rolling – that I request empathy of my fellow cohort members for my tardy post this week. I spent most of the past few days asleep and resting, home from work, afflicted by some unknown ailment from which I am only now recovering. I apologize for not routing my energies to my post before Wednesday to provide you all with more time for review and comment as all of you have done despite your own busy schedules.

One of my goals for this incubator is to convert PizzaPlex to worker ownership in 2020. The dependency upon which all conversion activities rests are improved financials. In this scenario, the exercise of showing empathy for people who buy from our competitors only makes for critical competitive analysis – so I welcome this activity with open arms.

Why People Who Eat Non-PizzaPlex Pizza Are Right

First, before I empathize with the non-PlexPeople, a word on PizzaPlex (ok, this part is actually very many words):

The mission of PizzaPlex L3C (low-profit LLC, a structure of incorporation in Michigan that – despite its name – does not mean the LLC is subject to low profit only, but that it can offer a social benefit along with striving for profit) is to serve delicious pizza while uplifting people and planet. We offer pay-it-forward programs where any individual can redeem a free pizza, food, or coffee – no questions asked. We scale this up for community organizations who need pizzas for their meetings or events. Our customers have helped us serve hundreds of pizza at no-cost to non-profits and Detroiters since opening in September 2017. Our entire restaurant reduces, reuses, and recycles, and is the second entity in the entire city to leverage a green infrastructure credit program with the water department. We compost all our organic scraps and even accept residents’ compostables in case they do not have access to composting. We throw out the equivalent of less than two residential bins of trash per month because we reuse, recycle, or compost the rest. These are some examples of our regard for people and planet.

So, back to the product: PIZZA. PizzaPlex is Detroit’s first and only pizzeria serving certified Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN). This means, the pizzeria applied for and received approval from a third-party entity known as the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) that the restaurant is preparing pizza in a centuries-old style from Naples, Italy, that uses specific ingredients (e.g. finely milled flour called 00 flour, certain types of tomatoes, cheese, and yeast, etc.) and employs very precise equipment and techniques for baking. We have an oven from Naples in the restaurant that blisters each pizza curst at nearly 800 degrees F for less than two minutes. Pizzas must be approx. 12” wide and have a softer, chewier dough compared to US-style pizza – making individual slice sales very difficult or infeasible.

Our head pizzaiuolo has worked in a pizzeria in Naples. Photos of my Neapolitan grandparents adorn our walls as an homage to everything they did to provide me with the opportunity to share the culture of Naples in Detroit. The AVPN president made me a personalized video indicating how proud he was that I representing Naples globally.

So, as the resident Neapolitan whose extended family still resides in Naples while operating a pizzeria throughout my childhood, VPN certification was a must for any pizza business I started. In the spirit of “seeing the other side,” I’ll quote Chicago’s Giordano’s pizzeria history of pizza to explain why, beyond the cultural familiarity of the food, Vera Pizza Napoletana holds significance related to the mission of our social enterprise, to make delicious food accessible to all:

Naples was a thriving port city, and the areas near the waterfront were crowded with the working class. These people, many of whom were quite poor, had few places to cook. They often heated large, flat stones to cook flatbread, then topped the bread with cheese, meat and other items. Because they had to hurry back to work, they folded the cooked flatbread up into a pocket and ate it later, or ate it as they walked. The very first pizzeria was founded in the year 1760 in Naples. Da Pietro pizzeria opened its doors in Naples to sell their inexpensive flatbread concoctions to hungry dock workers.

In 2017, Unesco designated the art of the pizzaiuolo, or pizza maker, world heritage status. “The pizzaiuolo craft has been handed down for generations, Unesco said, and encompasses the social ritual of songs, stories and gestures that takes place between pizza makers (‘pizzaiuoli’) and diners in working class Neapolitan neighbourhoods.”

For me, pizza is personal. Pizza represents access and the right of all people to high quality, delicious food. I’m not naive to recognize classism in commerce. But I believe pizza is symbolic of a story that refuses to compromise quality for means. As a good Neapolitan, it’s a borderline irrational mantra.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The competitor’s customer is right because…

  1. They don’t consider PizzaPlex pizza “pizza.” I spent paragraphs above explaining how “different” the VPN pizza is. A person in Detroit or the Detroit area familiar with pizza more commonly found in the US has many examples of pizza as it is traditionally known in this country, but – guess what – virtually no examples outside of PizzaPlex.* If a pizza customer is craving a pizza, what is the opportunity cost of trying something drastically different, and not at all obtaining what you expected? That can be high risk with such a notorious comfort food like pizza. I presume the majority of pizza-ingesting people in the Metro Detroit area would fall under this category.
  2. They are confused by PizzaPlex. Is this place a non-profit? (I’ve heard this question before in the restaurant.) Are you a charity? (Heard this one too.) I’m confused – where is the event? (Did I mention we are also a community event space?) Again, I spent paragraphs explaining our mission and the cultural importance of the food we prepare. To whom else does this matter? Is what we are doing clear? Or are we confusing people in our messaging?
  3. They have never heard of PizzaPlex. While we have some amazing regulars (thank you, dear, wonderful return customers!), we have been struggling with marketing and reaching new audiences. Am I demonstrating obliviousness by saying we might be a niche business?
  4. They don’t care about the bla bla bla acronyms and the Naples hoopla and the fancy imported ingredients. Try as we might to stress the mission, the affordability (our pizzas range from $5 to $14 for a full pie), that might not matter to someone interested in good food. Could we be alienating potential customers by celebrating what makes us different?
  5. They want a slice of pizza. We don’t sell individual slices.
  6. They want pepperoni. We don’t serve pepperoni. And when we start to explain that our spicy salame is close to pepperoni, would they like to try it? They check out. Don’t underestimate people’s love for pepperoni.
  7. They don’t like it. And when you only have occasion to try it once (literally) – it may be a hard sell to come back for it and give it another shot.
  8. They don’t want to travel to a specific neighborhood for pizza when they could access different styles of pizza much closer. We are in a neighborhood of Detroit and even our Grubhub delivery radius only goes so far.
  9. They have other pizzeria choices down the street from PizzaPlex in either direction. None of them are VPN-certified, but they may be a closer fit for that customer. Is our value proposition, our “edge,” strong enough to lure them away from their tried and true choice? Probably not.
  10. They can’t try our food during our open hours. We are open Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 4 pm to 11 pm. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to be open during lunch hours or other times on the weekend. We might be missing a segment of potential customers as a result.

What am I missing? Why is the competitor’s customer right?

* The first and only other AVPN-certified pizzeria in Michigan is in the Metro Detroit area; however, this is about 30 – 40 min away from PizzaPlex

RS – My reflection for this post is delayed, yet, this marks one of the posts whose comments surprised me the most and with which I had to sit longest. The messages were straightforward, simple, and clear. I think what I was not expecting was the depth of perspective hearing about the business both from the eyes of those familiar and those out of state, less familiar with PizzaPlex. Reading others’ impressions of a venture that I feel is so intimate and personal always gives me pause.

I appreciated the warm response to the vision and commitment of the business. Knowing the CPA incubator includes kindred souls who are motivated first by equity and radical transformation of broken systems, I felt so affirmed that my (long) post communicated the PizzaPlex mission in a way that like-minded people could digest (pun intended and I’m not ashamed).

I also appreciated the very practical tips commenters provided. Yes to all of the above! I had considered the suggested ideas in passing before, but seeing them succinctly captured in writing is invaluable for me. This incubator reminds me how I tend to overwhelm myself unnecessarily; that if I take things one step at a time with the long-term goal in mind but not stopping me before I start, I can accomplish more than I expect.

I Might Already Know The Answer

This week, I struggled deciding on a decision (go figure). There are a few sensitive business decisions we must make at PizzaPlex, and those are great candidate questions – but I decided I would not publicly outline my decision-making process for those decisions. I do commit to trialing this method for those decisions, to see where the method leads me.

For this exercise, I followed the hint to write this narrative as if I were a consultant, making a decision for someone else. As soon as I assume that consultant character, I am convinced I already know the answer. However, perhaps going through this process of making impartial recommendations will actually encourage Alessandra (this consultant’s client) to take action on the outcome.

Making Alessandra’s Decision


  • Goals: Alessandra’s goals are to free up time in her schedule to allow her to focus on a few key engagements: her income-earning employment, her small business, and her passion for increasing access to capital for women- and POC-owned businesses. She is seeking an outcome that does not pre-commit her to new engagements once certain engagements are eliminated (or placed on hold). Ultimately, the real end goal is to make space for deeper connections and more significant transformation in her work.
  • Possible Choices: Below follow options available to Alessandra to meet her goal of freeing up time to focus.


      1. Rethink her key engagements and potentially eliminate one or more of them — her job, her commitment to her small business, her desire to establish an investing network
      2. Reduce her commitment to one of her key engagements rather than eliminate entirely; be satisfied with diluting her time (similar to status quo). She could change her work week schedule and compromise income to reduce the number of hours worked, announce a shift in her involvement at PizzaPlex, or chip away at an investing network with minimal resolve
      3. Resign from her role as president of a local community development corporation (non-profit CDC)
      4. Resign from her role as vice chair of a local sustainability and climate action non-profit
      5. Resign from her role as infrastructure committee member of the local CDC
      6. Resign from her role as a neighborhood volunteer for sustainability initiatives
      7. Resign from her advisory role with the local Global Shapers Hub
      8. Resign from some combination of her volunteer roles
      9. Confine all her work on volunteer engagements to a single day and time and be satisfied with whatever performance she is able to deliver within the new constraints


  • Dependencies: We can broadly characterize Alessandra’s options and related dependencies as follows:


    1. Adjust or eliminate her work or PizzaPlex commitments
      1. If reducing or eliminating job:
        1. Evaluate and adjust personal financial situation; evaluate and adjust professional growth plan [low preference]
        2. Necessarily apply freed time to PizzaPlex [moderate preference]
      2. If reducing or eliminating PizzaPlex commitments:
        1. Communicate plan to team and evaluate the most effective method of increasing day-to-day involvement [low preference]
        2. Assess impacts to staff and payroll [low preference, assuming the business has fewer human resources to succeed]
        3. Assess impacts to other business partners [low preference]
      3. If increasing PizzaPlex commitments: Reduce or eliminate job commitments (and follow i) [low preference]
    2. Adjust or eliminate her commitment to developing an investing network
      1. No practical/operational change beyond ceasing any future related plans or activities [neutral]
      2. Re-assess personal goals and dreams [low preference]
    3. Adjust or eliminate her involvement in volunteer activities
      1. Communicate with relevant stakeholder(s) [neutral]
      2. Establish succession plan(s) [neutral]
      3. Complete adjustments by year end to enable organizational planning [neutral]
      4. Be satisfied with fewer ongoing external connections and continuous relationship building, or ability to apply her resources to influence local sustainable development [low preference]
      5. Project extra time to commit to other projects [high preference]

The consultant didn’t make a final recommendation. Her draft is now up for public comment. But I might already know the answer.

RS – I am grateful for the space the RS imposes between the Ale who outlined the set of decisions to make earlier this week and the Ale who is prepared to make a decision today. Over the past few days and in considering comments on the post, I learned a few things:

  • The insights from writing the post were that I never openly displayed (most of) the “extra” stuff I do for me to read/review/process. I inventory them in my head all the time to make sure I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. As a result – as asked in one comment – it’s incredibly difficult for me to estimate the amount of time I apply to my commitments because I blend my work so much. Working on infrastructure topics through the CDC links to my own neighborhood, which in turn, might lead me to an opportunity to make a connection for PizzaPlex. The network of people and resources I turn to for all my work (professional, personal, community, etc.) is so intertwined.
  • I have established relationships that I can continue to nurture; my role in various organizations does not determine the outcome of my relationships. I need to detach the evaluation of the outcome from the validity/value of the decision I make.
  • I am really tired of continuously asking myself if all the engagements I commit to connect/make sense. To see and reflect on the words “tangentially aligned” in one of the comments affirmed that while I can make the connections abstractly, they are likely diluting the effect of my activities. I’m not really optimizing my time and resources – I haven’t been strategic. I’ve only been saying “yes.”

I decided that I will have a heart-to-heart with the people behind the organizations I support or lead and figure out appropriate succession plans. This is for my own sustainability and out of consideration for these organizations – I’m not giving them everything I would like to and it’s not fair to them.

“Not even the William Shatner”

I decided to answer this week’s prompt – What are the edges that make the most sense to me personally and for my goal(s) in the CPA incubator? – by answering the following questions from Seth Godin’s Ship It Journal:

Given that you’re not the Michelangelo of this domain, the Julia Child or even the William Shatner, how can you possibly hope to have a breakthrough? The only solution is to find edges others haven’t found, to bring a dynamic others are afraid of. What’s yours?

What first struck me about this short passage is that it questioned my very nerve to be hopeful – “how can you possibly hope to have a breakthrough?” Before I even got to this sentence, I was already considering all the reasons why my specific goal in convening women to invest in other women was trite, duplicative, maybe even irrelevant. Aren’t there banks? Aren’t there foundations? Entire organizations dedicated to making this happen? And then, my doubts were validated. How dare I hope?

So, I considered the second half of the passage. “The only solution is to find edges others haven’t found, to bring a dynamic others are afraid of. What’s yours?” And this is where I reflected a bit on what dynamic I bring that others are afraid of. Myself included, sometimes.

I can navigate through multiple layers of responsibility, expectations, communities, cultures, roles, and competing interests with vision and discipline. Within this complex framework, I stay the course and bring enough activation energy to develop a plan and implement it. My edges lie in connecting, planning, and activating. What does this look like? How do I know?

The best example I can give of this is related to how I leveraged my time, resources, and skills to accomplish a goal in 2017. I had set a personal goal of opening my own business without leaving my job, while continuing to contribute to social and environmental sustainability efforts within my city. How this played out was working full-time at a large company, planning and applying for grants to open a business, opening a business, and serving on local non-profit boards while volunteering in my neighborhood to keep my ear to and boots on the ground on development that affects my city, my community, and my neighboring communities. While this level of time, energy, and resources is unsustainable to devote on an ongoing basis, I learned from that spark I lit that initiated the entire plan to materialize. I learned that in complexity, I find ways to make direct connections that serve multiple benefits. I learned that I could and would do the things I set out to do. And I learned that I am good at asking for help.

Recently, a friend told me that “maybe if she worked on an idea she had with [me], her idea would finally happen.” I was really humbled by that statement – as nonchalant and jovial as it was – because it affirmed my interpretation of my edge. What could anyone be afraid of, in soliciting my edge? Perhaps, that there will be accountability and investment in place from someone else who is all in to make that idea happen. Perhaps, that I will relentlessly work on that idea until we see it through together – and remind them constantly.

Now, I seek to apply these lessons in convening people that may not normally intersect to identify a common purpose and establish a strong system that nurtures and grows other women and minority entrepreneurs. From last week’s prompt, I received excellent questions regarding my preparedness to “follow through on engaging others – not to convince them to go along with [my] thing but to either offer feedback to help [me] refine a model that [I’m] kind of wedded to or taking where [I] start from and allowing it to be truly shaped/co-created through engagement.” I was challenged to acknowledge “a spectrum of need.” And that question and challenge are what motivated me to seek my edge – to embrace my latent discomfort everywhere as an invitation to be comfortable inviting people everywhere.

Not only do I acknowledge “a spectrum of need” for entrepreneurs of different ability, resources, stories, communities – I recognize how much stronger the web is by bringing representatives from across the spectrum together. And not only am I open to inviting them to go along “with my thing,” but how important and special the “thing” will be with others’ feedback and ownership and investment – financial/tangible or otherwise. Hence, the edges I would like to see come from this network will be in the “spectrum” of diverse needs represented, availability of diverse resources, and resulting depth of connections formed. In some ways, my goal of converting PizzaPlex into a worker-owned business relies on this edge of making connections, and asking for help. The edges of PizzaPlex are in distributed ownership (at this time, only in decision-making and accountability – not yet financial) to reflect a commitment to “Pizza. People. Planet.”

My personal edge manifests in the connections I make when I reflect and use my own skills, network, or passions as a starting point. I don’t have all the relationships in place to launch a successful investment club; however, I can make connections between incredible human beings who excel in so many areas I do not, and gratefully welcome them to build something with me and invite others. I am willing to put in the work and light the spark – I hope many minds will bring the fuel to keep the clean, particulate- and smoke-free 😉 flame alive.

RS – Another week of comments that do not disappoint, and posts that inspire so profoundly! This week, between the theme of fellow team members’ posts and the theme of questions I received on my own post, one emerging insight I have gleaned is that I need to consider how Trust is built into my own actions and my plans. Trust must be bi-directional. It must be mutual to be comfortable building together. But Trust doesn’t stop between customer and service provider. Trust needs to exist among all stakeholders. Do we trust each other to help each other launch our dreams? Do we trust our allies – be they conventional or non-conventional? Do we Trust ourselves to hold ourselves accountable?

I’m still mulling over what Trust looks like, how you know when it’s there, and how strategies to persuade must still be rooted in authenticity that fosters Trust. I am going to be more intentional asking myself how I measure Trust, and ask for feedback as to whether others have Trust in me. I don’t know how yet, but I am curious to learn.

Working Backwards: From The Customer To The Relational Meeting

One of the most incredible conversationalists I know is also among the most curious. (Her runner up shares this quality, but is a distant second.) I often wonder if it’s part of her training — she’s a journalist by “trade” — however, I’m more convinced that it’s her curiosity that has catapulted her on a journey of unparalleled opportunities and pioneering firsts. Today she leads an organization of “entrepreneurial journalists” in major cities around the US, is part of a loving family, makes time to answer friends’ emails and texts with heart-felt warmth, and connects acquaintances to support and promote their work around the world when inspiration strikes her. I marvel at her ability to approach life and work with so much fluidity and dynamism, while making those in her company feel at ease and comfortable.

As I considered which relational meetings I will plan to achieve my goals – profitability at PizzaPlex to finalize our conversion to a worker-owned company, convening a network to explore investment opportunities in women- and POC-owned business – I also considered my friend’s wild success at connecting. Ultimately, I want to connect like she does, with authentic curiosity and open-mindedness (and “open-heartedness,” frankly). The discussion isn’t strained, the next steps aren’t forced. I imagine this stems from a central belief that we all have so much to learn from each other – no discussion is a bust under that thinking. I want to connect in relational meetings with experts – and customers.

In parallel with model conversations, I also thought about my own ability to balance the relational versus transactional. How can I avoid asking without also giving in return? For my goal of obtaining guidance on business activities to strengthen PizzaPlex’s bottom line in preparation for our conversion, I consider how this could look like understanding what customers want more of, and responding to their needs or untapped excitement for good food and fun events, seamlessly and naturally. On the other hand, what resources or support can I provide the local expert in cooperatives I will consult? We had previously arranged to meet again after a preliminary discussion and exchange of ideas. In that initial meeting, we covered a lot of ground around the “why” of our work; as a result of time constraints – plus my lack of clarity on what I needed precisely for my business at the time – there was very little transactional discussion. Now that I can articulate the needs of my business better, I can better prepare for the key focus areas of our next meeting.

When meeting with women entrepreneurs (are they my “customer” in the case of an investment club or network?) or organizations that could provide resources to fund, mentor, or otherwise support women- and POC-owned businesses, I will consider my Story of Self and what aspects of my Story resonate with their own paths. My Story of Self rests primarily on my own experiences as an entrepreneur navigating a complex system; however, I also recall my experience mentoring a young woman for a few years when I lived in Seattle. I met her when she newly turned 17 after release from a state rehabilitation program. We spent years building a strong relationship, and while I did my best to support her educational and career endeavors, so many systemic factors kept her from achieving her goals, ultimately leading to a very tragic separation with her son and family in the US. My experience with this young woman and the painful reality of how quickly the positive influence she had over the lives of her family members and young son could end in the absence of certain privileges (that I’d prefer not to publish publicly) were more than enough evidence for how transformational women’s education – especially women from communities of color – could be towards the benefit of society. I imagine what fate she and her family could have had if she got her diploma and did her life’s work. I felt helpless in all these situations, there was virtually nothing I could do to remedy her story’s outcome. My privilege, access to capital, and resources, were insufficient for my friend to realize a different outcome for her Self. I wanted those same things to exist for her. And her story is not uncommon, so many more women who act as the glue in their families risk repeating this outcome – and I have seen it, sadly, repeated.

When I invite my contacts to a relational meeting to explore investing in women- and POC-owned businesses, I plan to focus on my own experiences as an entrepreneur. I do find that there is a common understanding from other women of color in “getting” the why behind the work. What I need to learn to pitch well is why there is a need to organize differently through a different mechanism to enable this access to capital, and, specifically, reveal that there is a need in the first place. The “customer” of this work, ultimately, is going to be a very successful entrepreneur who knows how to scale her business as well as social and community value. For these meetings, I plan to connect with directors from local social entrepreneurship programs, other women entrepreneurs, and small business financing organizations.

I’ll end with the risks that exist upfront in engaging in this work. First, some of the entrepreneurs or local experts I will consult I consider to be friends. I will need to be careful to identify a clear line between relational and transactional work. I am accustomed to this given the nature of my work, but am always mindful of potential pitfalls. Conversely, I also perform some of this work at my “day job,” and will need to take care to separate the overlap of resources available to a local network versus what I focus on at “day work.” Given all the hats I wear, I am well versed at announcing what organization(s) I represent in any given dialog; I can always simplify my affiliations, however, which may be the ultimate “a-ha” in all of this reflection. Is there a better way to condense and strengthen the impact of my work?

R/S – I am so grateful for how thoughtfully my Generous Skeptics invited me to reflect back on and interpret my own words differently this week. In doing so, I distilled a few themes that pushed me to consider the following in my general approach to meetings and planning (and life):

  • Motivators (values)
  • Positivity
  • Receiving as a gift
  • Inclusivity
  • Facing adversity

The value that drives my interest in my two goals is a commitment to systemic change to scale equal access to opportunity. I can reframe transactional meetings as avenues for mutual benefit, where I can celebrate and embrace positivity first. Finally, by truly committing to equal access, I can consider who I invite to meetings – and affirm I want to engage with a spectrum of needs – and prepare myself for adversity, and actually welcome it to grow. I can play out scenarios of how meetings might go, and determine how I would to respond to each scenario if it results in conflict.

Thank you for the insightful questions and comments – this reflection is only a summary of my key takeaways. Know that your questions surfaced many times throughout the past few days, and gave me pause not only in thinking about my two goals, but how I walk through my daily life.

Putting Intersecting Identities to Work

One of the reasons I am so ready for this incubator is that I have been avoiding myself. I’ve been avoiding the hard questions, and certainly avoiding the necessary reflection required to answer them. I initiated my current trajectory at a time where I felt very sure of myself. I wrote my narrative and put my Self on autopilot. I didn’t account for personal change. I didn’t account for personal growth.

Despite the inevitability of key life events transpiring in the almost ten years since I first started formulating my outdated plan, I let my momentum from a decade ago carry me into the present. And the weight of accumulating beliefs that don’t serve me are slowing me down. That momentum is dwindling (or has dwindled). This incubator is my confrontation with my biggest fear: fear of conflict. In this case, an absurd conflict, which is a conflict with myself.

Over the next few weeks, I commit to let myself question and answer myself. My question will be – how might I let my intersecting identities guide me to fulfilling work, and not overwhelm me? I will start exploring this question by establishing two related goals that sprout from my identities as a business co-owner, a woman of color, entrepreneur, sustainability professional, and tired person. These identities do not exist in isolation of themselves, but I need a stake in the ground to start.

  1. THE GOAL: My tangible goals will be:
  • To convert PizzaPlex to a worker-owned company (an already stated, public-facing goal, but repeating it reinforces its priority to the business)
  • To establish a network of women interested in investing in women- and POC-owned businesses, including those business leaders

This second goal has been a nebulous idea in my mind that I have yet to socialize publicly or fully formulate! “Establish” can be vague – in this case, I mean assemble, develop a value proposition, and proceed with activating the network only if tangible value to other women and communities of color can be confirmed.

  1. THE BENEFITS: The benefits I perceive of worker ownership are to redistribute wealth to all the people who tirelessly strive to make a small business first exist and then thrive, and then to return wealth back into the community who serves as our gracious host. I have the privilege to start a business as an entrepreneur outside of my primary livelihood. I am convinced that democratic decision-making – involving not only the staff but the adjacent ecosystem of partners and neighbors – is at the heart of “good business.” For me, there’s a selfishness in proving this – because it benefits the people putting in the work and establishes a business model that can be transferred to other enterprises of which I am a part or will start myself. I would never call this business an experiment, because that word could trivialize its meaning. So I’ll say that I want this template to succeed, and I want to apply it to new networks I create – including one established for women who want to transform their local economies.

I develop programming for women-led organizations to some degree at my “day job.” I want to make my life’s work about investing in women, who invest in their families and communities, and who in turn can develop sustainable and equitable neighborhoods, organizations, businesses, and governments together. The goal for now isn’t about life’s work. It’s about establishing a small nurturing network first.

  1. OBSTACLES: For PizzaPlex, the obstacle is succeeding as a conventional business to achieve our social enterprise goals. We will not convert to a worker-owned business when one of the primary things to “own” at the moment is liability from our day-to-day business operations. Hence, when we break even and start generating profit, we will share the profits, and formally re-write our articles of organization to reflect “ownership” by the full team driving our small but mighty engine. Acknowledging the fundamental challenges of growing a small business (let alone one trying to restructure itself!) as an obstacle expresses my sincere desire to operate a transparent business. A social enterprise needs to be a conventionally successful business to achieve its mission. I have nothing but gratitude for all the people and organizations who are taking this plunge with me.

For a network of women investors and investees, the obstacle is establishing feasibility and relevance. Is this desire to connect with and drive the good work of other women relevant to other women? Is this needed? Aren’t there an abundance of these organizations, initiatives, spaces? I need to affirm that there’s a desire for this concept first. Sometimes, my dual roles as a business co-owner and a person who simultaneously thinks about what social enterprises need to succeed, can conflate and contradict each other, and expand my examination lens to a point of dissolving purpose. (This is a fine example of intersecting identities overwhelming me.)

  1. SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED: Our team at PizzaPlex is striving to figure out the business formula. And we are learning this through trial and error. But how long can our runway sustain trial and error? We consistently update projections and adapt our business plan to reveal what needs to change operationally to lead to growth. At the same time, we need to know the nuts and bolts of what a conversion looks and feels like. (The next part addresses that – who our local experts are to guide us through this!)

As for developing a network, the skills and knowledge required include ability to conduct real market research through transparent and open, vulnerable conversation: what’s the real need? Is this Ale waxing philosophical about something she wants in a vacuum? I also will be served by the ability to make meaningful connections that will accelerate the beginning of or growth of an enterprise, and the ability to raise funds or other necessary resources.

  1.  THE PEOPLE AND GROUPS WHO CAN HELP: For PizzaPlex, we have a couple of trusted key partners who already help. These are the Center for Community Based Enterprise (C2BE) and the Detroit Community Wealth Fund. These are local experts on cooperatives, social enterprises, and worker ownership. Another third party review that would benefit us at this stage is from a finance professional who also understands the dynamics of operating a business with an integrated social and environmental mission. We must holistically evaluate the impacts of our decisions.

For a network of women interested in seeing their business thrive or the businesses of other women thrive – the people and groups who can help are aspiring and existing business owners, investors, technical experts, women willing to serve as mentors, and these groups’ allies. The same groups supporting PizzaPlex are likely to be wonderful partners for a nurturing network.


For PizzaPlex:

  • Create systems and infrastructure that reduce extra labor on staff; find ways to maximize their effort at work so they enjoy work more and worry less. This looks like me, Ale, actually observing tasks, writing policies, and enabling behaviors that make staff happier
  • Continuously tweak our business model to identify areas of improvement, and then improve them – this may mean finding new businesses opportunities or paring down existing operations to optimize
  • Leverage our partners to develop the groundwork for our conversion more actively (i.e. ask for more help, and respond to their questions more quickly!)

For this so-called network (better word forthcoming, I promise):

    • Interview at least ten women entrepreneurs, investors, technical experts, and community leaders for feedback on this concept
    • Convene these women if there is an established need (and cook for them and feed them to thank them!)
    • Collectively identify roles of interest for these women, and plan next steps together in celebration
  1. DEADLINES: PizzaPlex will be a worker-owned business by the end of 2020. I will establish this network (placeholder word) by May 2020.

RS – I am in awe at how your comments prompted me to dig deeper. And, in fact, that’s the biggest takeaway from reflecting on my two goals since publishing them – that I deserve to carve out time for more reflection, and communicate what my reflection yields in what I write. I am also grateful for the way your questions nudge me to break big goals into small steps, and to work backwards from there. Each small step corresponds to a digestible question, so I will blend my own reflection time with self-questioning. Sometimes, admittedly, I’m not clear what to ask. Seeing your questions (and suggestions!) in writing has been very fulfilling, and I can go back to them to reference.

I’ve started tackling my plans of action and have had some really energizing conversations this past week that are moving me in a very hopeful direction. I am extremely thankful to have so many incredible women in my life (the people with whom I’ve connected in association with my goals this week are all women) and I recover so much strength from spending time with them.