Both new to town in 2012, Jennifer Holder and Shawanda Mason were seeking connection and friendship. Fortunately, they met while Shawanda was out apartment-hunting, and the two became fast friends. Eight years later, Jennifer and Shawanda are proving that best friends can also make the best business partners. Their nonprofit, The Chattery, has been a source of affordable and accessible learning experiences for the Chattanooga community – the organization has held more than 800 classes and events since its founding in 2014. Here, Jennifer and Shawanda give insight into their business partnership and provide advice for future women entrepreneurs.
HS What gave you the idea to start The Chattery?
SM We both began taking entrepreneurship classes separately – mine at CO.LAB, and Jennifer with Launch. We were wanting to meet new people, to get a feel for the Chattanooga area. Then Jennifer presented me with an idea to start an organization similar to something she had seen done in New York.
JH The whole idea was to enhance the Chattanooga community through learning. We wanted to break down the barriers of forming friendships by bringing people together to learn something new. It took us nearly two years to really fine-tune a plan and get The Chattery up and running.
HS How has your friendship played a role in your business?
SM We have a lot of meetings, and one thing we’ve been intentional about is setting aside 10-15 minutes of “friend time” at the beginning of each meeting before we jump into budgets and scheduling and things. Our friendship is the relationship we most want to protect – it sets the stage for everything else – so making time for that is a priority.
JH I would also say that our friendship has spilled over into our other relationships, like our marriages. Shawanda and I will bring our husbands along when we attend conferences around the Southeast, and they’ll gallivant around Miami or Birmingham or wherever. It’s been a lot of fun!
HS What is the most important thing you’ve taught each other in the past six years of working together?
JH Shawanda has taught me to say what I mean and mean what I say. Speak up when you need to speak up, and always go with your gut.
SM Jennifer has taught me to ask all the questions. Our business thrives on collaboration, so it’s so important to ask questions, even the tough questions, no matter what.
HS What piece of advice would you give to women interested in founding their own business?
JH You’re going to have people in your life who tell you that you can’t do this. Figure out who’s supporting you, who’s giving you practical advice, and hold those people close.
SM Overnight success doesn’t happen. Our “overnight success” took five years, and even still, we’re constantly telling people our story. Be patient, and surround yourself with a strong community of women who will help you along the way. HS
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