Chrysta Bairre – StartUp FoCo Podcast

A public speaker, a gifted career coach, and a passionate advocate for service-based entrepreneurs, Chrysta Bairre‘s efforts have created connections and opportunities that span throughout Northern Colorado.

Chrysta will be presenting FIVE sessions at Techstars Startup Week Fort Collins:

Let’s get to know Chrysta!

I’m Chrysta Bairre and I’m excited to be a repeat speaker at Fort Collins Startup Week.

This will be my third year speaking at Fort Collins Startup Week. I hate the whole elevator pitch thing. So, instead of boring you with that, what I’m going to tell you is something that I’ve done in the last week that I’m proud of.

This is a question that I ask of everyone answers at the beginning of every meeting that we have for She Leads, the women’s leadership group that I run here in Fort Collins.

Last night, I spoke to a room of over 100 people in Denver about imposter syndrome, and it was an amazing night. It was at General Assembly, and the event was put on in collaboration with Denver Women in Tech and Ladies Who UX Denver. I was blown away by how many people were in the room and the responses that I’ve gotten, and I’m still getting tagged in people’s Instagram posts today. People are talking about the things that I talked about last night. There’s been several people who have posted stories of their takeaways from the event, and it’s just something that I’m super proud of and felt like that was better than saying a really canned, here’s my elevator pitch so that you know who I am.

Do you get a lot of pushback when you reject people’s elevator pitches?

I don’t actually get a lot of pushback. Most people are caught off-guard, so that counteracts the pushback. People tell me usually that they find it really refreshing, actually.

She Leads has become a major force in Fort Collins.

I created She Leads to be the group that I’ve been looking for, for many years, in my professional career. Wanting to come together in community and collaborate with a variety of women from across different professions in a supportive and introvert-friendly environment, where it wasn’t about … Some traditional networking groups really have the energy of let’s do business with each other, or it’s a very transactional relationship. As an introvert, that’s something that has always been challenging for me.

My very first She Leads event, I thought to myself, “I’m going to be really happy if five people show up to this event.”

The day before the event, there were 35 RSVPs, and more than half of them were people that I did not personally know. The day of the event, we had about 23 people show up, and what it said to me is that there were a lot of people actually wanting this type of environment where it was about connection and building community as opposed to just this more hard-core pitch-focused networking.

Most of the women that are coming to She Leads on a regular basis are really coming for the connections, and it’s not necessarily about creating future business transactions. It’s a space where we get really filled up personally and professionally so that when we’re out there doing the amazing work that we’re doing in the world, we’re able to do it with a little bit more support and grace and ease and confidence.

A lot of your efforts are aimed at elevating female business owners. Is that a major trend that you see in Fort Collins in particular or beyond?

A lot of my efforts are focused on that, and I haven’t really seen it as that much of a trend.

I was involved with the Larimer County Women of the Year, and I was a participant as well as a facilitator. There are a few programs out there that are doing this type of work, but I don’t think it’s really widespread. I don’t know that this work is as accessible to all women as I would really like it to be, and that’s absolutely something that I’m hoping to shift and change with She Leads.

I absolutely encourage anyone who has an idea for a group or a program that supports professional women to take that idea and see it through to fruition because there’s a lot of room in the Fort Collins area for more than one group that is supporting women in this way.

You’ve focused a lot on public speaking. Is that something that you see has helped push the message forward for some of your other efforts as well?

I really want to help others grow personally and professionally and be better versions of themselves. I want to help people work happier and get paid a lot more money, and one of the easiest ways for me to reach people with that message is to do speaking.

What are some of the primary ways that you go about doing that?

A lot of times when people think about making more money or being in a better position career wise, they think about, “Well, I need to find the right job first of all,” so they think it’s their external situation that is going to really impact those two factors.

Oftentimes, in the work that I do with people, it’s less about the external situation and much more about our internal situation. It’s absolutely about how we’re showing up in the world, how we’re showing up at work, how much do you value yourself, and how are you communicating that with others?

Not just communicating it in a job interview or in a sales conversation, but how are you communicating what your value is day-to-day in everyday interactions that you’re having through your work?

When you can shift that, when you know that what you’re providing is worth something, and then you can communicate that more effectively, other people see you as more valuable. It’s a lot easier for them to want to pay you more.

You’re not just talking about crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. You’re talking a lot about situational awareness and attitude and approach when you come to a communication or a meeting?

Absolutely, yeah. It’s how do you say, “No,” when it’s appropriate? Or are you saying, “Yes,” to things that you shouldn’t be saying, “Yes,” to? And what happens when you say “Yes” too much is you’re letting other people down or yourself down because you have way too much on your plate.

If you’re an entrepreneur let’s say, are you firing clients that are just terrible to work with?

I cover that in one of my sessions at Fort Collins Startup Week. It’s a pretty vulnerable thing to think about firing a client, even if that client is making you absolutely miserable, and you’re not making very much money from it.

In terms of a 9:00 to 5:00 career, it seems like these are issues that directly feed into the gender pay gap.

Absolutely, these issues do feed into the gender pay gap. One thing that surprises me is how often I speak in rooms where there’s both men and women and that I hear from men that they experience these things as well as women. The impact on men is a little bit different. It’s shows up differently for them.

Last night when I spoke in Denver at General Assembly, this event was put on by Denver Women in Tech and Ladies Who UX Denver. So, I was expecting a primarily female audience, but in fact, it was about 50/50.

Everyone was there because of the topic. It was imposter syndrome, and every person in that room could identify and felt like they were some version of an imposter professionally. Across genders, it was a similar issue. It just shows up a little bit differently.

What do you think is the best way for a startup to combat imposter syndrom from day one?

The more that you are doing the work that you want to be doing in the world, the better and better you’re going to get at it, and the getting started piece is huge.

Particularly for entrepreneurs, and I put myself in this category years ago, who treat their business as a hobby business. You flirt on the edge of actually having a business, but you’re not really treating your business like a business. The focus and the clarity is not there, and so getting started is a huge piece of that, for sure.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for startups in Fort Collins or Northern Colorado?

A voice that I’ve really been trying to elevate in the Fort Collins community is the voice of the service-based entrepreneur. I’ve observed that there’s a lot more support in our community for tech and science businesses and for retail and brick and mortar type businesses, but there’s a lot less support for service-based businesses.

Interestingly enough, service-based businesses tend to be primarily female- and women-owned. So, when women go into business, it’s usually in a service. Or, they’re doing some kind of maker business, but they’re doing it on a small scale.

A lot of the resources that you’ll find, for example, through Innosphere or through the SBDC are really focused on or, I believe, benefit more those type of brick and mortar businesses or the tech businesses or the science-based businesses rather than the independent service provider. I feel really strongly about providing more resources to service-based businesses, which by extension elevates women entrepreneurs since that space is predominantly women.

When it comes to resources, who’s doing the best job providing for those service-based businesses like you’ve said?

If it was anyone, I would say you’d find it at Fort Collins Startup Week.

I would absolutely love to see more organizations being mindful in the services that they’re providing, that they are supporting a more wide range of entrepreneurs and businesses rather than maybe just the traditional ones.

Speaking of Fort Collins Startup Week, what are you most excited about?

I am most excited this year for the theme, which is diversity and inclusion. I got so excited when I saw that that was going to be the theme for this year because I feel like these are important conversations that we need to be having if we really want to elevate entrepreneurs in Northern Colorado across the board.

When we create a space for diversity and inclusion, we do a much better job of giving those people an opportunity to be heard and inviting others to the table that maybe aren’t speaking up for themselves right now.

If you could tell a startup business owner one thing, what would you tell them?

I would tell them, “Don’t do it alone.” I am a firm believer that none of us really do an effective job totally in a vacuum, and so find those resources and find the support that you can. They are out there, and it might be in places that you wouldn’t immediately think of going to.

I once heard from a female entrepreneur that her experience as a business owner was that she didn’t think that there were many female entrepreneurs in Northern Colorado, and I said, “That’s absolutely not true. I could name off probably 50 of them for you right now.”

If you’re not finding them in the rooms that you’re going to or in the spaces that you’re in, the resources that you need, keep looking. Keep asking and keep being curious, and if it doesn’t exist, go out and create it because if there’s a need for it, people will show up.

Have you seen any cool projects come out as a result of that?

Yeah, absolutely. Define the Line. Define the Line is a comic book form of sexual harassment training for the workplace, and Tina and Nikki have just done an amazing job of putting this together. I just am such a huge advocate for this project that they have. I was one of the early supporters of the project. In fact, I’m a character in the comic book.

Having experienced the training that Tina and Nikki are doing to support Define the Line, it’s just so incredible. Anytime there’s an opening for me to tell someone about Define the Line, I tell them about it.

Define the Line was drawn and illustrated by Moriah Hummer, a local Fort Collins artist, who is behind Flat Track Furies.

So, Chrysta, what’s next for you? What are you most excited about in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado?

I am working on releasing my first book, which will be coming out in May.

What I’m most excited for what’s coming up and what’s happening in Northern Colorado is I really do believe that we’re seeing more and more spaces where there is more diversity and inclusion happening. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening surely. There’s some cool stuff going on here if you know where to look, and I’m hoping that some of those programs become more well-known and more accessible.

Give us some examples.

Dr. Cori Wong at CSU has released a course on feminist friendship and you can take that course through CSU-Global. She did a presentation at She Leads about it. She also did a TED Talk at TEDxCSU around feminist friendship.

It’s about having the discussion on how we can better support each other as women and not just speak for ourselves in the space of advocating for women but also speak for women who are different than ourselves when we’re advocating for other women.

There’s also the Women’s Foundation of Colorado has a Northern Colorado little branch that often has events that meet and discuss pay equity issues.

They discuss the state of what politically is impacting women in Colorado, and there’s a lot of opportunities there as well to get engaged and be involved in some of these conversations.

Do you find that access and inclusion works better in a community where we actively make that a goal and explicitly state it as opposed to assume or take for granted that, yes, of course, that’s the goal because why wouldn’t we want to have more access, more inclusion, more diversity?

It absolutely matters that it’s spoken out loud and that it’s intentional.

What happens is sometimes we assume that we’re supporting people who have less access and inclusion when maybe we’re not really.

How we know that we’re supporting them is I’m listening. But in order for us to listen, we have to first shut up ourselves, and sometimes, it looks like we really do have to invite those conversations.

We really do have to challenge ourselves to think differently about issues that we may believe we understand how it impacts people who have less access and inclusion. When we create space to have those conversations and to actually listen, oftentimes, I think we can find out, “Oh. I had it wrong. I didn’t understand how this impacts you as well as I did.”

Just hearing from one person isn’t enough because it impacts us all differently. Pay equity issues, for example, we’ve talked about that a couple times. It impacts all women, but it impacts women of color differently. And even among different races, you find that it’s wildly different. Having those conversations and listening and creating an opportunity for people to have those conversations and to listen is really important.

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