I recently had a guest on the Elite Achievement podcast who quit her job as a photo editor at Elle Magazine in Germany to find adventure (and she claims she has not had a boring day since). As a first-generation immigrant, she got out of $135,000 of debt by bootstrapping her passion for photography into a successful global business. She eventually sold that business to Bill Gates in a multimillion-dollar deal.
Beate Chelette is the growth architect and founder of The Women’s Code, a strategic business and balanced leadership development company. She has been named one of the 50 must-follow women entrepreneurs by HuffPost. She is also the author of the number one international award-winning Amazon bestseller, Happy Woman, Happy World, which describes how women can move from overwhelmed to awesome. Beate does strategic planning for companies like Amazon and Reckitt, and we met back in November. She is an expert on scaling, creating equal and inclusive work environments, and turning chaos into clarity, so I am excited as we begin our conversation.
I start by asking Beate to share more about the photography business that she turned into a multimillion-dollar deal with Bill Gates.
“So, I want to start with the idea that the career aptitude counselor said I should have been a roofer,” says Beate. “Because I liked to be outside, I didn’t mind carrying and schlepping gear, and I was not afraid of heights. There was this moment when I was a photographer, and I was on top of a glacier in Switzerland. And I’m thinking to myself, I’m definitely outside. I’m definitely schlepping. And it’s a good thing that I’m not afraid of heights. So, the aptitude test was right, but the interpretation was completely wrong. I say this ahead of time because often, our skill sets in life are misinterpreted by people that mean really well, but they don’t understand what we are all about. Photography has been a passion of mine for a long time because I believe that telling a story in a single image is a powerful tool that few people possess. But I found that I am much better at the business behind the art. And I realized that you don’t really have a determined point of view when you’re young, so it takes time to hone that. And because the business was so easy for me, I went from photography to becoming a photo editor. After I immigrated to the United States, I was a photographer representative and ran a photography production business. And then I lost half of my business in a lawsuit against a former employee who had a brilliant idea for her own business, which was my business without me, with my key vendor, no less. I ended up in this massive lawsuit, and I lost my production business six months later on September 11th, which was another half a million in 24 hours, so I ended up being $135,000 in debt with no place to go.” Beate continues to share how she’s pretty sure that borrowing money to pay interest on borrowed money is the definition of a financial death spiral.
“So, I’m here, and I had this idea that interestingly enough, or as a joke of the universe, was brought to me by the people that had betrayed me,” Beate continues. “I wanted to go into stock photography, syndication, and with a specialty of architecture and interior photography. And this was at a time when nobody talked about 600 count thread bedsheets. The whole trend about living well and decorating your place was just starting. I had this idea, but I had no money, so I had to figure out how to invest in building this business with nothing. Luckily the lawsuit did settle, and when I paid everything, I started with zero. I mean, literally, I think there was $5 in my bank account after paying the lawyer and my debt. This battle for a year was worth $5 in the end. So, I went into debt again. So, I’m $135,000 in debt again for the second time, and I have to figure out how the heck I will get myself out of this crazy mess. During this time, I fly to Germany to drum up some business. My father had a car accident, and we thought he had a stroke, but he had pancreatic cancer and died within six weeks. So, while we are at the funeral, I get a phone call from my office in Los Angeles, and it’s my landlord. We’ve been served notice and have to vacate the house. So, in all of this, I fell on my knees, raised my fist against God, and yelled for two minutes. And I said to him, if you have a plan, this would be an excellent time to fill me in. Thank you very much.”
Beate shares how when you’re at that point, you surrender. Because really, there is nothing left to do. She came back home and prepared for bankruptcy. “And then a letter from the White House comes,” says Beate. “In my desperation, I had written a letter to the President of the United States. And I said, you need to help me. And I only wrote a letter to the White House because my former mother-in-law wouldn’t shut up about it. I’m like, fine, fine, fine. I’m going to write a letter to the President. And in that response letter, I was put in touch with the Small Business Administration. I had written a business plan, and they helped me make sure that my financials were in order. They also found me a bank that restructured my debt that freed up my line of credit and gave me the cash I needed to make it through three months, which is what I needed to break even. And then, eighteen months later, I’m the world leader in my category. And the category was celebrity at home stories. I did not invent the celebrity at home story, but because I was a photo editor for Elle Magazine and used to buy these stories, I knew how to sell them. And so, we sold Madonna, Francis Ford Coppola, Simon Baker, Julianne Moore, Teri Hatcher, and more. And that’s how a Bill Gates company came knocking on my door to ask how to do it. And I said, like any decent woman, you want what I have, you have to pay for it. And then they asked me how much, and I named a multimillion-dollar amount, and they said, fine! And that’s how I got to sell my business to Bill Gates.”
Beate’s story is one of overcoming adversity, not stopping, and bouncing back. I ask how she kept her mindset strong through all of those things.
“I decided that I would not drown in a puddle,” says Beate. “Because it’s not worth it, drowning in a puddle. If you drown, you drown in the ocean because at least it’s a better story. And I learned that I had to be very precise about how much time I was going to allocate to worrying about things that I could not change at that moment. I worried about money when I had to pay bills. And the minute I was done paying the bills, no matter how bad it was, I forgot about it until I had to pay bills again. Because otherwise, I would have driven myself crazy and I think that’s what a lot of people misunderstand. We need to be clear that these moments of opportunity stretch us beyond what we think we’re humanly capable of. It is God’s spirit universe stretching you because you need to step into what you’re here to do.”
I ask Beate how people learn what they’re here to do. She responds by saying that whoever could sum that up in one sentence would probably be rich by now. And that she believes much of what we have to think about is how we grew up.
“We are being taught that we have to learn existing information, regurgitate it, and then we get an A,” says Beate. “And then we go to college, learn existing information, regurgitate it, and get an A. We give preferential treatment to people who know how to regurgitate and retain existing information. Then we wonder why we don’t have innovation. And then, you go into an organization and become an entrepreneur on your own. And then suddenly, it’s like, what’s your viewpoint? And you ask, what do you mean? Nobody’s ever even asked me about my viewpoint. My viewpoint always had to align with the viewpoint of the person that gave me the test. So, to find out what you are, or who you are, what you’re here for, you want to step into this piece of understanding what you enjoy. Leave that safety and security thinking that we are raised with and say, well, if somebody has done this before me, it must be possible for me. So, then the question is, how do I make it possible for me? Many people get caught up in the, I don’t know, I’m not sure the sky will open, and the hand of God will reach out with a piece of paper that says what we’re good at. But there are opportunities in front of you. And it’s your job to recognize it. We like to think that opportunities have to be presented on a silver platter with a glass of champagne and caviar on the side. But opportunities are almost always presented as challenges. They’re opportunities in disguise.”
As I’ve been growing my business, I have noticed opportunities or those ideas that pop into your mind at random times that keep nagging at you until you’re like, fine, I’ll do it. Those tend to lead to really incredible business opportunities. So, learning to lean into that intuition has been really helpful for me. Beate agrees and explains how intuition is an important part that is often misunderstood, especially in an environment where what she calls “middle-class thinking” is prevalent.
“Middle-class thinking is all about, here’s something that you can do now for the rest of your life, and then you die,” Beate explains. “And when I say it like that, it’s hardly a sexy value proposition because it sounds absolutely dreadful. But how many people do we know that say, well, you know, it’s a job, I’m good at it, I make money. But they don’t fulfill their passion. I think the best part about entrepreneurship, and why we are talking about it, is because we love what we do so much that we prefer to work sixty hours, so we don’t have to work forty.”
My husband will tell me that I work more now than I did in corporate, and quite frankly, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work. I’m in the flow, and I love what I’m doing to help make an impact. So, it’s really funny. We work sixty hours, so we don’t have to work forty!
I ask Beate to talk more about her work as a growth architect, and she explains that her brain works in a structured and process-oriented way. So, when she hears something, she can’t help but identify the steps and the process to follow. “Everyone looks at me like, how did you do that,” she explains. “Maybe it’s the German engineering. But a growth plan or a strategic plan is a reverse engineering process of the desired outcome. So, people in the entrepreneur organization, in the accelerators, for example, know they need to get to a million dollars to be full members in the entrepreneur organization. So, we have a goal. The goal is $1 million. Now, as a strategist and as a growth planner, I go in, and I say to the individual, are you impact or money-driven? Because it may be easier to say impacting 10,000 people than it is to say a million dollars. We adjust the language and the unapologetic value proposition to reflect that. Then the question isn’t, how do I get to a million dollars? The question is, how do I get to impact 10,000 people?”
Beate explains how you can then talk about how many people you are currently impacting and relate that to revenue to understand your revenue if you reach 10,000 people. “If we follow this current model, then you’re going to realize that it is impossible for you as an individual to service 10,000 people a year,” Beate says. “So, then we say, well, what are the options to serve 10,000 people? Now we go from the one to one to many piece. Are we doing a sort of a franchise? Can we train the trainer? Do you have a method? Do we have to develop the method? So, there’s a very logical approach to how we go through this step by step. So, for the consultants and coaches that I work with, almost always, one challenge is that they don’t have a system. And because they don’t have a system that has a clear definition of when somebody comes in to when somebody leaves, most consultants want to “vomit” the entire solution on their poor clients all at once. They say it will be a one-year engagement, and then the client freaks out and runs because it’s too much. But if I say, well, here’s my system that I’ve created with individual steps, it’s much easier to sell. In my world, I developed the Five Star Success Blueprint. And so, with a system, I can say, in the first step, we look at your idea and ask if it’s good. Who is this idea for? Who wants this idea? And is this idea needed? And why are you the right person to do this? In the second step, now we’re building the offer. How do we build the offer so it’s appealing to the people that want to buy it? And what are we solving? Then we go into building the processes and the systems. Then we go into the team building piece. And then we look at you as a leader. What do you need to lead your entire team or get to that goal? So as a consultant, as a coach, if you have a system like that, now, it’s much easier to sell. The first step is a workshop, a coaching session, a group session, whatever. Then we design what we need to offer and the journey map. And once you have that, you’ll need a couple of months to implement. Then you come back for the second step. So, it allows you to sell more often and more consistently. And you bring people on a journey with you that has a predetermined guaranteed outcome.”
As someone who has trained tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, I ask Beate what big mistakes she has seen entrepreneurs make as they scale and grow.
“I think most of it is that entrepreneurs think that doing an incremental growth plan is the sensible thing to do,” says Beate. “But when we are building a business, the idea is not incremental growth. The idea is quantum leaps, which is so much more fun. When I sold my business, that was a quantum leap. That’s like, how do you get from a revenue of a million dollars to a multimillion-dollar payday? That’s a quantum leap, a massive quantum leap. A quantum leap was how do I get from $135,000 in debt to break even in three months? Because most people would say that over $135,000 in debt will equate to 10 years of fixed loans. Or, I will have to make an extra $1,000 or sell more things. But that’s not how entrepreneurship really works. If you are in this mindset of 10% this year, maybe I’ll stretch it to 12% next year, just stop it. That’s not what we do. We are looking into the future for our vision. And then, we reverse engineer the vision to the best of our abilities. You don’t have the answers to what it takes to have a quantum leap or stretch yourself beyond what you’re capable of because it’s outside your thought process. But if I say, is the thought of making a million dollars any more difficult than the thought of making $5 million? What would you say? You’d say yes, it’s more difficult, but it’s the same thought.”
It’s a bigger number, which is what Beate had mentioned earlier when she described middle-class thinking. The way that you’re taught is to keep safe and get A’s. Beate explains that if you say I’m going to buy a Prius versus I’m going to buy a Bentley, you’re still just saying you’re going to buy a car. The difference is that there are more zeros, but the limitation is just the belief that entrepreneurship is about being realistic. “Entrepreneurship has nothing to do with being realistic,” Beate says. “Entrepreneurship is insane by its definition.”
I ask Beate how entrepreneurs can ditch realistic thinking.
“You have to overcome your mindset barriers, and you have to be very aware,” Beate responds. “So, I do a lot of mindset work daily. I listen to a podcast about mindset. I constantly remind myself that my mother’s conservative viewpoints of the world are not my own. And that what my brother, father, or relative achieved or didn’t achieve has nothing to do with what I can achieve. I look at consciously focusing on people that I admire and wanting to achieve that versus looking at who is around me who is trying to keep me where I am. I think the biggest fear is if I’m the biggest earner in my family because I will be up against being more than they are. And because I am more in a relationship with them, it makes them feel bad. So, their job is not to empower me. Their job is to take me down. Because then they don’t feel so bad about what they didn’t do because I’m from the same family and did.”
Beate is explaining the difference between fear of success and fear of failure. Fear of failure is often a bit more obvious. We don’t want shame, we don’t want to look foolish, but fear of success is an important discussion point. And the way Beate just described fear of success clearly explains what it is. Beate continues to share how sometimes the people who brought you here are not going to get you there. She shares a story about someone who didn’t understand how someone around them had quit. Beate responded by saying, “Congratulations, you’ve just identified who’s not going to get you there.”
“When that happens, you are now at a crossroads,” Beate explains. “You have to make a very important decision. Are you going to revert back to that fear-based piece you worked so hard to overcome? Because that’s what’s happening right now, the rubber band snapping back, something happened. Now you’re reverting back mentally to the safety and security thinking. And now you think that the person that left needs to be replaced with somebody who’s equally inexpensive, instead of saying, what am I learning? And how much is it costing me not to have a highly qualified person in that position? That will cost me way more than I’ve ever paid for anyone. But that is the growth opportunity. You can see how your mind is completely screwing this up for you. Because your mind is telling you, find somebody who’s less than $20 an hour, give them a commission, and then hope that you’ll find somebody really amazing. So, I took this woman’s calculator, and we went through the numbers. I said somebody who’s making $19 an hour is making $3,000 a month. We’re in Los Angeles, you can live off $3,000. And then you give them a small percentage of the item you’re selling, so that for them to make serious money, they would have to move 40 units of that. And it’s a high ticket item. I said that’s just numbers-wise, not even possible. So, this person that you’re hiring, you’re hiring already with the intent that the minute they find something better than this, they will leave. Because there’s nowhere to go. That’s the challenge as a business owner to have realistic thinking. If I declare that I want to get to $2 million, are the people who got me to $500,000 the right people to get me there? And they might not be.”
Beate mentioned rubber band thinking. And that gets my mind turning. Sometimes clients will share with me that they had their best year ever last year. But they have this fear that they can’t do it again. I ask Beate if that is rubber band thinking where they stretched big to grow and hit this awesome goal, but then they get a reversal or a no, and now they’re shrinking back and going into that safe space.
“Yes,” Beate confirms. “So, the way I describe it is that the original program runs all the time. That’s the stuff your dad and your mom put in before you were seven. We know this from human psychology. So, we are running around with all this stuff that everybody else told us. Then we do a lot of self-improvement work with coaches and consultants. We read books and go, well, I don’t really want that. But the old program is like a USB port plugged in on one side of your head. And that runs all the time. It cannot be taken out of the original operating system. Now you take a bunch of new ports, and you plug them in, you’re like, let me try this one. So that runs for a little while, then you go in, you take it out, and the old program immediately takes over. Change only works if you consistently run the new program every single day until the new program has taken hold so significantly that the old program just kind of runs in the background. The minute you know that there’s a system error, you know exactly what to do. The rubber band idea is the same idea. You stretch it and stretch it and stretch it and stretch it. And then something happens, and you take the pressure off. It goes right back to its original state.”
And usually, that original state is not a state you want to be in. It’s not the state that will lead you to your goals. I heard Beate say that even as successful as she has been in business, she does work to overcome that mindset barrier every day. She explains how she listens to podcasts daily, both on mindset and business growth, to ensure her mind is always exploring new ideas. She also started her own podcast called the Business Growth Architect Show.
“I started because I think people are so overwhelmed with strategy as a concept, or they think it’s a dead, ugly fish and not some fun, amazing thing,” says Beate. “I mean, I get excited about strategies. So, I decided I was going to set up this podcast, and every week I’m going to bring a different strategy to business owners, just so they can see the sheer number of different strategies people are using. Because when you use strategy, you go, well, I wonder what the strategies are for that? And then, let me find the right one that works for me. It’s really not that challenging.”
But it does feel overwhelming. So, I appreciate how Beate simplifies and gives entrepreneurs permission to test and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
“Yes, that is the key, the attachment to the money invested in one strategy, and then holding on to that strategy until the ship sinks,” Beate says. “Not every strategy is going to work. You’re going to have to allocate money to different strategies like an investor. An investor takes ten projects at a $100,000 a pop, and the investor knows that maybe one, possibly two, investments will make it. But those that make it might be Facebook, Twitter, or PayPal.”
I ask Beate what inspired her to write her first book, Happy Woman, Happy World.
“That was born out of necessity as a single mom,” Beate shares. “I was often at the table as the only woman in the room. And I found that the way men do business is not very pro-women. And then I looked at the women, and I saw them in cat fights with each other, withholding information, hiding materials, and not sharing stuff. And I looked at this, and I’m like, what the heck is going on here? So, when I sold my business and was asked to be the Senior Director of Photography, I couldn’t believe it. People would wait until I was in the bathroom and then run out for lunch and say, oh, we didn’t know you were here. We were going to ask you if you wanted to go with us. I’m like, people still do that? How old are you? It is like middle school. And this is still in effect. And so, I’m like, I have to write a book and tell women what’s up because we cannot continue like this. And so, the premise of the book is that the first step to achieving true equality of balance in leadership is that women need to start to take responsibility for the crap that we do and say. This kindergarten behavior is not leadership. Taking everything personally is not leadership. Thinking that 2% of CEO positions are ours, and the rest is unavailable, so we have to take every woman out that we know because we have such low self-esteem, needs to stop. Because if I operate from the agenda that 50% of leadership is for women and 50% of leadership is for men, then I don’t have to take everybody out. That is my gender, which men don’t do. Men love the idea that women are fighting with each other because they cancel each other out. So, they don’t even have to deal with 50% of the competition. I mean, that’s just genius. Men have a self-interest in feeding that, especially in the corporate structure, because it means they don’t have to deal with any of that.”
Beate shares that her book is a clear guideline for women to know how to show up to be taken seriously. She covers equal and balanced concepts and shows that there is enough for everybody, and we can get along with each other.
“Women want to advance in their careers,” says Beate. “And so, a lot of the work that I do today, which is also strategic, is sharing a lot of my backdoor strategies on overcoming some of this nonsense men say to women, where they come up with a completely unrelated question. There’s nothing to do with you. But if you answer truthfully, then you’re going to look bad. And if you look bad, then you look like an idiot. And then they’ve just taken you out again. Staying in control of a conversation means recognizing when these curveballs are coming and deflecting them with humor and grace. Then get back to being unapologetically you. And so that’s one part that I talk about in the book a lot. I talk about what women are up against, with the paradoxes that we live in, how we are expected to look younger when we age, how we are expected to have children and pretend like we don’t have children, and how we feel bad about that. How the concept of equality is being misused as sameness. We are not the same as men. We are equal to men, but we’re not the same. And then, I have a concept called ego rhythm, which helps women figure out where they are in their rhythm of life and how to prioritize that. And how to understand that you cannot be perfect in all nine ego rhythms simultaneously. You have to set a priority, the main focus. And then you make that the guiding thought because the rhythm changes about every three to four years.”
Because, as women, we tend to strive for perfection, I ask Beate for recommendations to stop feeling overwhelmed.
“It’s really the discipline of your mindset and identifying the most important thing you’re dealing with today,” says Beate. “Asking, what is my priority for today? And not allowing catastrophic thinking is a process that has to kick in. Because our brain volunteers 100 thoughts to one bad thought, so if I say I’m such a loser, then my brain goes, oh, let me find some examples. Oh, remember when you were in the schoolyard, and then they did that? Yeah, you were a loser, then. Let me remind you of the other time you were a loser. Oh, you know, now that we’re talking losers, do you remember these other 60,000 instances? And so, you’re sitting there, and your mind is bombarding you with loser thoughts. And now you’re like, yep, that’s true. It’s no good. I’m going to shut the computer off. I’m going to play some stupid game, or I’m not going to do anything. And I’m just going to run away from my life because I’m a loser anyway. You have to have the discipline to stop yourself. You do that with a replacement of curiosity. So, I always come from the mental mindset of curiosity, like, isn’t that interesting? My brain is volunteering 16,000 loser thoughts. Wow, that is just astonishing. I found out that this is happening. I’m not falling for it, but it’s very interesting that I still do that. What can I do now to get out of that, right? Instead of allowing yourself to just fall into that self-pity mode of your brain wanting to tell you things because you had a fearful thought.”
Throughout my conversation with Beate, mindset has been such an important theme. From the mindset to get out of $135,000 of debt and sell a company to Bill Gates in a multimillion-dollar deal, to the mindset around helping clients thrive, grow, and create clarity around the plans that are important to them. And to learn that Beate still works on her mindset every single day. I ask her where people can go to learn more about her story and her work. Beate suggests Instagram. She also shares airtightavatar.com for business owners. There she offers one of her foundational concepts of the Five Star Success Blueprint, which is how to figure out who your ideal client is. And finally, to reach out to her at BC@beatechelette.com as she loves to hear from people directly.
With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned and identifying your priorities for next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.