q&aTX: Magatte Wade, founder of Tiossan and Texas Conference for Women roundtable speaker

by Paxton Kelly on October 12, 2015 in Living Texas, Austin,
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Coming up on its 16th year this Thursday, October 15, 2015 is the annual Texas Conference for Women in Austin. This conference brings together thousands of Texas women each year for a day of networking, skill building, professional development and personal growth. One day with more than 100 speakers and over 30 breakout sessions to choose from; I can just smell the inspiration!

A few of this year’s noteworthy keynote speakers are Patricia Arquette, Academy Award-winning actress; Terri Gruca, award-winning anchor at KVUE; Johnita Jones, Texas Conference for Women board president; Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and Debbie Hiott, editor of the Austin American-Statesman.

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Small business roundtables will be conducted by expert facilitators to offer intimate settings for best practices around specific topics within the small business and entrepreneurial space to be shared. One such roundtable will be led by expert authority on marketing and branding Magatte Wade, founder of Tiossan and Adina World Beat Beverages. I had a chance to catch up with her before the conference for a Q&A!

Was a career in business something you were interested in from the start?

I have always loved business – I attended a business school in France and loved my internships in business there, but it was only after I moved to Silicon Valley that I became in love with entrepreneurship. My husband was an entrepreneur and my first job there was as a recruiter for financial professionals for startups. I recruited key staff for Netflix, Google, etc. when they were tiny companies. I was very inspired.

You mentioned in your TedTalk on “The Four Stages of Bringing an Idea to Life” that you didn’t attend school when you were younger. Why were you so uninterested in school at the time?

I love adventure and I love leadership. School is largely a matter of being told what to do. I believe most entrepreneurs, who are by nature adventurous leaders, don’t like school because they despise being told what to do.

When you were uprooted from Senegal, were you the type to be indifferent towards other cultures or did you welcome foreign exposure?

I like people, and I loved the people I met at school in Europe. I had two German “boyfriends,” at the age of 7, within a few months of being in Europe, so for me it was largely an adventure. I was too young to think of cultural differences. I just wanted to talk to people, so I had to learn a new language so I could talk to everyone.

Can you recall the moment when you decided you wanted to be on the forefront of introducing your country’s traditions to the west?

When I brought my first husband to Senegal, I was very excited to introduce him to my cultural traditions, but when we got there, I found that my country’s cultural traditions were disappearing as middle class Senegalese all aspired to purchase products from the West rather than preserve their cultural traditions. That was when I realized that my people would only respect their own culture once it had succeeded as a western brand. Both of my companies, Adina World Beverages and Tiossan, have been based on this premise.

Who was your biggest supporter when you first decided to start your own business?

My husband was undoubtedly my best supporter. I had done everything to help his business succeed. When I started mine a few years later, he enthusiastically did everything he could to help my business succeed. He was a perfect example of a supportive husband. Unfortunately, he died within a year after my business was launched.

What words of advice have you held onto throughout your career?

More than “words of advice,” the example of heroic people who have stayed the course despite great obstacles have helped me. Thus Amadou Bamba, my country’s most important spiritual leader, and Nelson Mandela have been powerful role models and inspirations for me.

Do you struggle with balancing your work and personal life?

It is a challenge to take enough personal time while growing a business.  That said, my husband, Michael Strong, is also a mission-driven entrepreneur who has been very helpful with my business. The entrepreneurial life is much less lonely and stressful when your spouse is fully aligned and committed.  Much of our time together bonding as spouses consists of conversations about our common life’s purpose of working towards the end of global poverty and entrepreneurial education.

Your driving force behind Tiossan is to change the way the world perceives African and Senegalese cultures through the power of consumer branding. Do you feel you’ve achieved that? 

The biggest impact I’ve had thus far has been to inspire young Africans to launch companies that are respectful of their own cultures. Every month I receive new emails from Africans who have heard my talks telling me how I’ve inspired them to launch a career as an entrepreneur based on their culture. It is very gratifying.

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You took a very hands on approach when conducting research for Tiossan by apprenticing with your village’s traditional healer. Can you tell me what that experience was like?

I am deeply connected to a spiritual guide in Senegal and he introduced me to the traditional healers he most respected. Because of him, I was already familiar with traditional Senegalese culture, but what was most surprising about working with the traditional healers was the fact that they did everything by intuition. I had been expecting formal “recipes” in the western sense. Instead, they knew how to make things by “a little of this and a little of that” in just the right proportions. It was a lot of work moving from their very intuitive traditional style to get to consistent recipes that could be scaled.

What’s next for Tiossan?

We’ve got a sleep line coming out soon. Women want to be healthy and beautiful, but often forget that sleep is must for good health, good mood and good looks. It will closely be followed by a face care line.

When you’re not running your business or off speaking at events, what do you do in your spare time?

I love going to beautiful places with my husband. We love travel and beautiful resorts. (I’m writing this from Esalen in Big Sur in California, and it is glorious!!!)

Wade’s roundtable discussion at this year’s conference is Taking Your Idea from Concept to Market: how to turn your concept or idea into a business or brand that is ready to command market share.  

If you’d like to attend this year’s Texas Conference for Women and learn from leading women in the working world like Magatte Wade, register now!

By Paxton Kelly

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