Michelle Akhidenor is the founder and CEO of The Peers Project, a successful podcast production start-up. Michelle is passionate about entrepreneurship, leadership and understands the importance and value of diversity in business.
WHAT IS THE PEERS PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS IDEA?
The Peers Project is a podcast production agency. We produce podcasts for brands like the fashion retailer, Forever New and underwear brand, Modibodi as part of their marketing strategy to elevate their brand online.
Our podcast, Peers2Peers, is our company’s in-house podcast where we share stories of progressive millennial entrepreneurs.
It all started three years ago when I was about to head into the corporate world full-time but I felt I had a lot more to give. I studied languages, I love international travel and cultures, and I wanted this to play a role in my career. I thought if I don’t go into corporate what would I do?
I was 23 and heading to the UK to do my final year of studies at the time, and thought “why don’t I start speaking to entrepreneurial people who haven’t taken the traditional route?”. I didn’t know what entrepreneurship meant at the time. I didn’t even think you could start a business in your twenties. But when I came across the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and read about amazing people starting businesses in their twenties, I knew I had to meet them.
That’s when I came up with the idea for my own podcast. I interviewed some amazing people from the Forbes list and I was able to do that overseas. It was through these conversations that I realised there were a lot of people my age following their passions and doing really cool things, and I was inspired to take the leap.
In my first year of business, I had no idea what I was doing. I failed a lot and tried out a whole heap of different business models. But it was these failures that ultimately led to The Peers Project being born.
WERE THERE CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME AS A YOUNG FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR?
I did come up against some resistance in the form of no responses, but it was from both males and females. I was young, naïve and still figuring it out when I decided to start the podcast and was reaching out to these amazing people on LinkedIn.
After every no, I just thought “keep hustling”, even if you get a million ‘nos’ just keep going.
I think it also helped that I was reaching out to people in their twenties, not my Dad’s age for example. I wanted to speak to people who were my own age and who I didn’t feel too intimidated by.
Three years on, I feel grateful to have started as young as I did. I don’t know if I’d do it again that way, maybe some more experience would’ve been great, but you just need to start somewhere!
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU ATTRIBUTE TO YOUR SUCCESS? WHERE DID YOU GET THESE QUALITIES FROM?
Determination, grit and perseverance. You also need passion behind you to keep going. In any business, especially when you’re just starting, it won’t go your way for a long time. That’s not to say don’t start, definitely do, but it will be tough because you’ve never done it before. You need the drive to keep going when you have to, not just when you want to.
My drive and determination definitely comes from my family. My parents were immigrants and worked hard to make something of themselves. I had that work hard immigrant mentality ingrained in me from a very early age.
I was fortunate enough to come along when my parents had established themselves and my dad was running his own business. My parents have been running their own business for thirty years now so that entrepreneurial spirit has always inherently been in me.
WHY ARE YOU SO PASSIONATE ABOUT SHARING OTHER PEOPLE’S STORIES?
I will always want to learn from other entrepreneurial people that are a step ahead and who can educate me. It was starting my podcast that changed the course of my entire career and ultimately, led me to start my business.
Our Peers2Peers podcast is for the twenty-something who wants guidance; who is feeling stuck or confused about their career, or what they want to do with their life. It’s for the younger me. I do it because I genuinely love it and I wish it existed when I was just starting out.
WHY IS DIVERSITY WITHIN YOUR BUSINESS SO IMPORTANT?
I have naturally built a diverse team, interview people from all different backgrounds and work with female-led brands.
In my view, everyone adds value as a person regardless of what they look like, their gender or their background. I probably have this view because I’m a woman of colour and it’s ingrained in me to think this way.
For me, when I’m looking to hire someone, it’s based on vibe first and foremost. Do you vibe with me and my vision for my business? Are you going to hustle with me to achieve goals?
Having this mindset and recognising the importance and value that diversity plays, always brings amazing things to the table. When you’ve got people from different cultures, backgrounds, even education and skillsets, you’ve got different viewpoints and ways of thinking. The value you hold as a team, especially in a small company, is so much greater with diversity.
IS IT A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY THROUGH YOUR PODCAST PEERS2PEERS OR DOES THIS COME INHERENTLY TO YOU?
There is definitely a consciousness to it but it’s also ingrained in me. Right from the beginning I’ve asked “who is the person that can best speak on the topic at hand?”, and whoever that is we interview. I’ve had to make some conscious decisions when it comes to ensuring we have enough females featured on the show as opposed to people of colour. That inclusion comes naturally to me and we’ve had people from all different backgrounds on the podcast. So for us, it’s really about making sure we have enough females featured on the podcast because, unlike males, we’ve found that females don’t actively reach out to us as much.
Michelle Akhidenor, founder and CEO ~ @michakhidenor
The Peers Project ~ @thepeersproject
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