Lisa Skeete Tatum of Landit changes the face of corporate America
Lisa Skeete Tatum is the founder and CEO of Landit, a personalized career pathing platform designed to increase the success of women, people of color, and other diverse groups in the workplace. Landit’s “one size fits one” solution helps companies attract, retain, and develop diverse talent.
Skeete Tatum founded Landit after spending more than a decade as a general partner with an early-stage healthcare venture capital firm. Earlier in her career, she worked in product development and product supply for Procter & Gamble. She’s an alumna of Cornell University and Harvard Business School, as well as a 2012 Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. Fast Company named Landit one of the Top 10 Innovations That Made Women’s Lives Better.
In our conversation, Skeete Tatum talks about the importance of product-market-founder fit, leading with empathy in 2020 and beyond, and her own career pivots that led her to found Landit.
When you founded Landit, what problem were you trying to solve?
We’re focused on increasing the success of women and diverse groups in the workplace. Most organizations focus on intake, which is really important, but equally important is what happens when someone gets there — do they stay, do they thrive, do they progress? Often, the answer is no, which is why most organizations have fewer women and people of color higher up the ladder.
It’s not about capability; it’s about access. We take the support and investment that would be typically reserved for the people at the top of the pyramid and knit it together, so that each and every person can own and drive their career. We give them the tools, access to an ICF certified coach, and the personalized recommendations they need to move their career forward. Landit is portable, so as they move throughout an organization — or if they’ve left the workforce and want to rejoin — Landit is there to support them.
I founded the company because I was trying to solve my own personal pain point. I started out as a chemical engineer, worked for Procter & Gamble, then joined a startup, then discovered venture capital and thought that was going to be my end-all be-all. After about a decade as a general partner, I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but everyone expected me to know, including myself. And it felt pretty horrible. No one walks around any organization saying, “I’m not sure what my next move is,” or “I’m feeling less than confident,” because there’s a social cost to doing so. So many times we suffer in silence, and we think we’re the only ones.
I realized there were literally millions of people around the globe trying to figure out how to achieve success on their own terms, but not knowing where to start, not knowing what they don’t know — and even if they did, they don’t have the access. We set out to bring all these key elements together — the access, the quality, the curation, the pathing — to unlock human potential. We have really small goals!
I could no longer live with the status quo of all this talent sitting on the sidelines for lack of having access or a clear path forward. That’s why we started the company to address this massive, global opportunity.
How did your time in venture capital inform your work with Landit?
You learn lessons after investing for a decade. The first is, you cannot be a nice-to-have, because then it’s too easy for you not to have longevity with your customers. So you have to ask yourself, are you really solving for a pain point where your customer says, “Where have you been all my life? If not for you, I’d be in a different place.”
The second is the importance of having a business model from the very beginning. When I think about some of the most successful businesses, it’s those that had a robust and transparent business model that fits their product.
It’s also important to have proxies for success. For example, the purpose of your seed round is to have enough milestones to get to the Series A round. The purpose of your Series A is to turn over enough stones to get to the Series B. So you have to think about the proof points along the way that are helping you build a business and momentum.
Culture is also really important. Many times when you’re a startup and you’re stretched really thin, you just want to get bodies in the door. But when you do that and you’re not mindful of the culture, it will impact your sustainability.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a founder?
Hiring is the most challenging — number one, hands down. You can certainly find people who can do the role or have a skill, but it’s harder to find someone (or lots of someones) who will be additive to your culture and additive in terms of accelerating your path and time to goal.
Prioritization is another challenge. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. I love the quote, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” You have to be hyper-focused. There’s no shortage of things to do, so you have to ask, “What is the most impactful thing I can do that aligns with the business to move us forward?” That applies to your team as well. Sometimes there’s so much to do and the team can feel overwhelmed at times, but not everything is urgent and important.
Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s also hard and challenging. You have to be mission-driven around solving a problem that you care so much about that you’ll run through fire to make it happen.
What do you love the most about being a founder?
I love our mission and I love the impact we have. We literally impact and change lives. Almost daily I get to hear someone telling us that something they thought was impossible is now possible. Or how, through the tools and access they received through Landit, they were able to propel themselves forward, gain confidence, or take on a new role.
The fact that this is what I get to do — that this is my contribution to having a more equitable workplace — feeds my soul. Everyone at Landit is mission-driven, and we can actually see the impact we’re having. I believe that’s why most founders found their businesses: because they want to make a difference. In my case, we are aiming to change the world by democratizing and driving career success and access.
Is there anything you wish you had known when you launched Landit?
I knew the challenges, and I knew I’d be drinking from the fire hose, but you don’t fully appreciate it until you’re in it. Being a founder has a level of intensity that people underestimate. One thing I would have done is have an operating partner from day one. There are so many strategic decisions, and there’s so much to do to propel yourself forward. Fortunately, I have an amazing co-founder, funders, advisors, and board members. But if I had a do-over, I would have had someone else in the day-to-day business from the beginning.
2020 brought so many changes, not just because of the pandemic, but also because social justice and inclusion came to the forefront of the public discourse in the U.S. How did you navigate the past year as a company whose mission aligns with these issues?
To say it was challenging would be an understatement. Personally, for me and for so many others, it was disappointing, scary, angering, activating and exhausting — often all at the same time. Many parts touched home in a very personal way. There was and still is widespread suffering and loss. It really underscored the importance of being there for others, whether it’s family members, communities, or our members.
2020 re-emphasized the importance of leading with empathy and the importance of showing vulnerability. As an entrepreneur, you’re the chief storyteller and chief evangelist for your company, but I believe my team also appreciated the vulnerability and authenticity I showed.
I also loved how my team came together. When you’re remote, you have to be more intentional about connectivity and making sure everyone has a voice. I found that we grew closer through covid as opposed to more distant. The way we pulled together was great.
Many of our partners realized that 2020 was an opportunity and necessity for them to rethink how things were done and be bold with their actions and commitment.
Ultimately, the silver lining in this extraordinarily difficult year was knowing we made a difference. People needed us more than ever. Most were remote, isolated, juggling the personal with the professional, and flexing new skills and muscles — all of this without having access to traditional career development and support. With the awareness around workplace social injustice, there’s never been a more important time for what we do. The landscape has changed forever. We are not going back to the way we were. Knowing that we were able to support our members and partners through all this was huge.
What challenge are you most proud of overcoming?
Not only founding Landit, but being able to raise capital. Less than 0.02% of women of color are able to secure funding. That was the challenge of challenges. To start a business is hard for everyone; to start it and get funding and great partners is almost insurmountable for many, particularly women of color. So to be able to do that and have great partners like Xfund was certainly an accomplishment. I’d also say breaking into venture capital was another accomplishment where the odds were not in my favor.
But the thing I’m most proud of is my family. I’m so proud of my two boys, my husband, my mother, my sister, and all those that came before me that sacrificed and pioneered so that I would have an opportunity to shape my own future. Family, as you can tell, is my rock.
I come from very humble beginnings. It was not predetermined that I would have the opportunity to attend the colleges that I did, or work for the amazing companies I did. Challenges have been my way of life for a long time. But I’ve been fortunate to have people who believed in me and supported me, and I have grit like no one’s business!
Have you ever been wrong about something, and what did it teach you?
This falls in the category of being able to take risks. I’m wrong about something almost on a weekly basis, but if you don’t have that learning mindset, that means you’re not taking risks and you’re not pushing yourself forward. I’m a voracious consumer of knowledge and believer in trying different things.
It’s part of the journey. You have to take bets, and if it doesn’t work out, you pivot and try something else. And if it does work, you double down.
I’ve been wrong about many things and I continue to be wrong about many things, but the goal is to get more right than you get wrong. But you have to be willing to take the lesson from it. I am always open to feedback.
When we do our weekly meetings at Landit, we ask each other: What are the three things you did to move the business forward? What did you learn? Every week there had better be something you learned about something — a customer, a member, yourself, the business. I value that. Understanding what went right and where you need to course-correct allows you to accelerate into the future.
What advice do you have for first-time founders?
Everyone talks about product-market fit, but it’s really product-market-founder fit. In other words, why are you the person to win? Why are you the one to solve this? The other advice is that you have to be a master at storytelling, because you’re constantly enrolling people you need to hire, customers, and funders.
Do your diligence, particularly when it comes to raising money and partners. Sometimes you’re so anxious to take the money so you can move forward, but take the time to choose your partners wisely. Find out who they are when things go sideways. In every business, something goes wrong, and the last thing you want is people around the table who aren’t going to be there in the good times and the tough times.
Make sure you have clear milestones you’re moving toward. Because again, the goal is to get to the next round, to be able to turn over another card.
Lastly, but certainly not least, make sure you build in self-care every single day.
What are your next milestones and ultimate vision for Landit?
My ultimate vision, as I’ve been known to say, is world domination. Besides that, we want to touch as many people as possible. There’s not a company out there that doesn’t have what we solve as a top priority. For companies, it’s how do we unlock the potential of everyone in my organization? For individuals, it’s how do I achieve success on my own terms?
Shorter-term, we have two important strategic partners that we are really excited about going to market with. We are also fortunate to partner with amazing sector-leading companies, and our goal is to continue to collaborate with them to ensure that as many people as possible in their organizations have access to the investment in their success that Landit provides. It’s about running fast, running smart, and making sure we are serving our customers as well as our individual members.
Originally published at https://blog.xfund.com on January 9, 2022.