Carlanda McKinney on Intentional Networking
CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee
In our eleventh episode, Carlanda McKinney, Founder and CEO of Bodify, joins host Alana Muller to share how she attracts the right connections by setting intentions that steer her approach to networking. Tune in to hear how Carlanda makes it easy for her contacts to say “yes” to networking with her, and, in turn, achieves her professional networking goals. “Set your intention and don't worry about the things that are not for you. Approach every interaction, every conversation, with intention, and focus on what you are trying to attract.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank and Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We, at Enterprise Bank and Trust, thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Enterprise.ing podcast. I'm so glad to have you here today. Today's guest is a true entrepreneur, which is a passion for me, having received her MBA in entrepreneurship at University of Missouri, Kansas City following an undergraduate management degree from University of Missouri. Carlanda McKinney is owner and CEO of her own entrepreneurial startup, Bodify, a personalized streamlined way to find what fits when shopping for clothes online.
Carlanda, I need you. I'm so happy you're here. I have to tell you, I'm a terrible shopper. I want to tell you, I'm going to give you the chance to tell all of us about yourself and about Bodify. How did you find your way to Bodify?
Carlanda McKinney: Sure. Well, it's such a pleasure to be here, Alana, thank you for having me. Happy to be here and talk about all things Bodify. But I actually started Bodify as a solution to a problem that I had, personally. I was shopping for clothes online, like a year and a half ago. I do that a lot. Where you said, you're a bad shopper, I was too. I was shopping for clothes online and I wanted to buy a dress. I remember it very vividly. There was a specific dress I wanted to buy and I wasn't sure which size to buy, so I used the Fit Finder tool that was on the website. It told me to buy an eight and I'm like, "Well, I haven't been eight in about a decade, but that's what it recommended so I'm going to get it."
Alana Muller: For sure, right.
Carlanda McKinney: Right. But they know, they should know. I bought the eight, but also bought a size up, a 10, just in case something went wrong. Well, both of them arrived and neither of them fit. I was super frustrated and now I had to take them back and do all that junk, but then I started thinking like, "Okay, what went wrong? Why didn't that work? I answered all the questions right," blah, blah, blah.
I came to the conclusion that it's because it didn't really matter what size they told me to buy, the problem is I was shopping at a brand that doesn't make clothes that fit my body. That is what Bodify does, we match online shoppers with the brands that will best fit them, because size is not universal and one size in this brand is a different size in that brand. Like I said before, it doesn't matter what size you buy if the brand doesn't make clothes that are cut stretchy enough for your hips, if you have wide hips, or if you have a short torso and longer legs, you have to be very specific about where you shop. We help people make smarter choices about what they're buying.
Alana Muller: Oh, I love that and I love that there's an interactive component to that. You're really satisfying a need that I think genuinely everybody has this trouble. I do most of my shopping online and you're right, it is so frustrating and a little bit dispiriting to receive something in the mail and it doesn't fit, and just the whole return process, I mean, what a pain. I applaud you and I am so excited to dig into who are the people around you that made this happen. Let me start by asking you this. How do you manage your own network, whether it's for Bodify, and I know you're involved in so many other things, but talk a little bit about how you manage your own network, how you've essentially established, grown and cultivated that.
Carlanda McKinney: Sure. I'll start with the latter part of your question. How I established the network I have is really, I mean, there's the traditional route of networking events, but I feel like so many people go to those and they actively network, but then that's where it stops. What I started actively doing at those events were if I told someone, "Yeah, we should get coffee, we should follow up, we should do whatever," I would do that. I would send an email a couple of days later or the next day, "Hey, this is Carlanda, we met at such and such. It was such a pleasure to meet you, I would love to continue our conversation." It's not asking for anything and it's just letting someone know that, "Hey, I liked meeting you, I think we should talk and see if we have some commonality, we can work together towards something." Usually folks are responsive.
I've also been responsive to those types of follow emails. With LinkedIn, it's really easy because you can attach that to the LinkedIn request. You can say, "Hey, what's your email address? I would love to get something on the calendar," while it's fresh. Subsequent to that, when you do meet people and follow up with them, be gracious for their time, being on time to appointments that you make with people as you follow up goes a long way, I've found.
Alana Muller: I mean, it's respectful and professional. I mean, all the things we were taught to do, right?
Carlanda McKinney: All the things we were taught to do. Things happen, right? Things happen, but I also started changing my language. If I was running late, instead of saying, "I'm so sorry I'm late," I would say, "Thank you so much for being patient," because it's gracious. You're still sitting here waiting for me, so thank you so much for being flexible and being patient with me.
Alana Muller: Yeah, I get that. I think that's great. You said something that I, want to hone in on because I think it's super important and so few people do it, but you said that when you reach out, so let's say you meet somebody at a networking event, you reach out on LinkedIn to connect and then you say, "I'd love to get together." You do a couple things. One, you follow up, which is, you know what, I think as basic as that sounds, so few people have the capacity for follow up and the fact that you do it I think is essential.
The other thing that you talked about is suggesting a time to meet or a date and time to meet, a location to meet. I think that that's true master networking, and the fact that you do that. Not only are you saying, "It's great to connect with you, but how about coffee next Thursday at the local coffee shop?" That's significant. When you talk about the specificity of it, you're making it easy for your contact to actually reply. I think that that's really brilliant. I suspect you've had a lot of luck doing that.
Carlanda McKinney: Yes. As a founder, I am always thinking of ways to make the “yes” easy. One of the biggest ways is to do the pre-work so that someone doesn't have to do that mental work, where it's like, "Oh." If you say, "When can you meet?" now I have to go look [inaudible 00:07:36], versus if you say, "Hey, can you meet this day or this day?" and then I can say “yay” or “nay,” but I'm already primed, like, "Okay, they want to meet on Friday. No, I can't meet at that time. But are they free at this time?"
Alana Muller: Absolutely.
Carlanda McKinney: It kind of works the same way. It's almost shooting your shot in some cases, you know?
Alana Muller: Yes, just like take your best shot. That's exactly right. Well, and I mean I love the comment, make it easy to say yes, make it easy to say yes, because one of my least favorite messages to receive is, "Let me know when you're free." I mean, I'd like to know who of our listeners has anytime that they're actually free. I'm guessing most people would say, "I'm not." The fact that you do make it easy, that you allow people the courtesy to say, "I know you're a busy person, let me offer you a few times, dates, locations," I think that that is just so essential, so thank you for that. That's great advice.
Carlanda McKinney: Sure. One great way is to ask for a calendar link.
Alana Muller: Oh, yeah.
Carlanda McKinney: I've also said, "Hey. I would love to schedule some time with you. Do you have a calendar link that I can use?"
Alana Muller: Are you using one yourself? Do you use a calendar link?
Carlanda McKinney: I tried and I didn't do it right, so I ended up scheduling meetings over things, but I'm going to start very soon using [inaudible 00:08:55].
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Carlanda McKinney: But yeah, it's a great tool. The calendar links are a great tool.
Alana Muller: Well, and especially I've seen people who have used those calendar link tools like Calendly or some of the others, and the people who do it well, not only do they give a variety of dates and times, but if they're in a large city, for example, they will offer different locations with around the city so that it's not just a time and date situation that I'm contending with, but it's geographic convenience. I really love that.
Carlanda McKinney: And time to [inaudible 00:09:32].
Alana Muller: Yes, exactly, that's exactly right. Certainly, virtual is an option now so I think that that makes a lot of sense. Thank you.
Talk a little bit about ways that you've been able to make your connections mutually beneficial. How do you give back, how do you show mutual appreciation? You talked about graciousness, which I think is really important. What are some other things that you've done to foster a mutual benefit?
Carlanda McKinney: At the end of every meeting that I have with someone, I ask, "How can I provide value? Is there something that I can be helping you with?" Because right now, as a founder, a good chunk of my network - they are further along than I am in a lot of ways. They're either mentors or advisors or something in that capacity. And I never want it to just be me taking, me getting. And you'd be surprised how many ways that someone you think is further along than you can get assistance in some way from you.
Alana Muller: Oh yeah.
Carlanda McKinney: I always ask, I'm like, "Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. How can I add value? Is there anything I can do for you?" A lot of times the answer is, "No, you're good. Thank you," but sometimes it's, "Well actually," X, Y, Z thing and then I feel good because there's some actual reciprocity here. If there is nothing, another way is to show action on what was discussed. If I ask someone to sit down and meet with me and we discuss certain things, I will let them know what happened based on what we talked about.
Alana Muller: Great.
Carlanda McKinney: For example, I was interviewing some interns and I had asked an advisor of mine, "I've not done this before. What can happen? What are some good questions," et cetera, et cetera. Then after the interview, I shot this advisor a quick email, I said, "Hey, it went really great. Thank you for the questions. Here's what happened. We're going to move forward," just so that she knows that I took her advice.
Alana Muller: Very good idea. Yeah, well, and people appreciate that. It's kind of like this virtual cycle where it makes them feel good. Just like you were describing, you want to feel like you've added value, so do other people. That's a really nice way to close the loop on that, great idea, great idea.
Carlanda, I know that in addition to your work at Bodify you're deeply involved in several nonprofit organizations, some of which I know are Goodwill, Gilda's Club, Community Housing of Wyandotte County, the Owen/Cox Dance Group, et cetera. Can you talk a little bit about how your community involvement has helped you cultivate meaningful relationships and what that's meant for you?
Carlanda McKinney: Sure. For me, I look at it as balance, and not so much in necessarily an altruistic way, but it is important. The goal of a startup, the culture of startup, is to make money. That's what you do. We all have the underlying goal of changing the world and changing how people do commerce, and I'm trying to change the way people shop, but the goal is to make money. That is why people start startups. Being involved in a nonprofit serves a need for me in another way. It allows me to really dig in and do things and not necessarily worry about the profitability of it. Doing that and being in those rooms and in the same orbit with people who are like-minded in that way has been super meaningful because then we see in each other the desire to do something deeper. That builds a really deep connection because there's a little bit more meat there.
Alana Muller: I think that makes a lot of sense. I love that you're filling your bucket, is what you're describing. It's that not only are you serving the organization, but it's helping you to meet a need that you have within your own life in addition to your work life, the things that are important to you professionally, but you're also addressing that community need. It feels good, it feels good. There's a sense of belonging that you may not get in a professional capacity and it's a give back. I think that's really nice, really nice.
Carlanda McKinney: It does. There's also a component of ... With Bodify, the platform will touch a lot of people I'll never meet, but with Goodwill and with CHWC or Community Housing, I get to directly see the impact of the work that I do and it's different.
Alana Muller: Yeah, it's very special. Yeah, that's really special, really special. You were talking about actually touching people and being directly involved with specific individuals. Can you talk about a relationship that you've had or an interaction you've had with one person that resulted in a breakthrough for you, either personally or professionally?
Carlanda McKinney: Yes. Recently I participated in a business accelerator called Fourth Wave. It is centered around women founders. One of my mentors through that program, her name is [Goli 00:15:13]. We were having this conversation, I was really frustrated about something that was going on in my startup, and she made the comment of just set your intention and don't worry about the things that are not for you. What I was frustrated about was an investor that had bowed out, right?
Alana Muller: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Carlanda McKinney: I was really down about it. She goes, "But is your intention to have aligned investors or is your intention to have any investor?"
Alana Muller: Smart, very smart.
Carlanda McKinney: I'm like, "Well, it's to have aligned investors." That conversation, we went deeper into what is your intention and what are you trying to attract and what are you trying to bring. I started approaching every interaction, every conversation with my intention to have people who are going to support me, who are aligned with my vision, who I will not feel the X, Y, and Z way, I won't feel belittled, I won't feel this or that. When I just set that as the intention, I feel less distraught about things that don't go my way, quote, unquote, because, okay, that wasn't for me, that's not my-
Alana Muller: Right. Amazing, amazing advice. I mean, gosh. I mean, I often ask people if they're in sales and the truth is, I think we're all in sales, we're all trying to influence people every single day. Yet, I think we all know sales professionals who try to sell us things we don't need. It's frustrating both for them and for us, and yet, when we are offered products and service is that we actually need, it's sort of a magical moment, kind of like what Bodify does. Not to come all the way back to the company, but I'm telling you, I need you, I need you. But what's so interesting about it is the advice that your mentor gave you, I'm sure you were still emotional about it, but I bet it centered you and set you straight, not just for that day, but going forward, that of course you want aligned investors. You want people who are supportive, you want people who are going to continue to champion your efforts, not the other way around.
Carlanda McKinney: Exactly.
Alana Muller: Right?
Carlanda McKinney: Exactly. It almost changes your perspective, specifically in fundraising, as a founder, from chasing money to just letting it come. The people who are supposed to find you will and the interactions you're supposed to have will happen. You don't have to stress about it, you don't have to force it. Everything that is aligned will find its way to you.
Alana Muller: That's right.
Carlanda McKinney: Be ready for it.
Alana Muller: Yeah. Be ready, believe in the process. I think that's so great. Well, so let's talk a little bit more about that. I want to talk specifically about how networking has impacted your business, and specifically, I'm interested in knowing how cultivating professional relationships enabled you to start and grow Bodify.
Carlanda McKinney: Yes. Networking has impacted Bodify in a very positive way, because so many pivotal people and opportunities and things have happened from a connection, from someone saying, "I think you would be good for this program. I think you should meet this person. I think you should talk to that person," it's, again, closing the loop on those things, like, "Yes, I would love to talk to this person," making it easy, "Here's a forwardable email, please send it so that you can prime this person that you want me to meet." Then it's just easy and it flows.
For the Fourth Wave cohort, the accelerator that I had just mentioned where I met Goli, I got the information about that from a third-degree connection who I had met at a group coffee. She shot off a message and said, "Hey, I think you should apply to this. It seems like a good fit." From that cohort, my network expanded even exponentially just from being in that cohort, and beyond just regionally. It's almost like a tree, like-
Alana Muller: That's amazing.
Carlanda McKinney: ... everything connects to something else which connects to more people.
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Carlanda McKinney: When you're genuine, people want to help you.
Alana Muller: That's right.
Carlanda McKinney: I want to help other people and I have found that a lot of people want to help me. It works.
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Carlanda McKinney: I don't know if that answered your question exactly.
Alana Muller: No, it absolutely did. It absolutely did. I mean, it's not just paying it forward, but it's establishing meaningful, authentic relationships. It's being authentic yourself and offering to help, offering to participate. That makes a difference, it makes a huge difference. I think that's great, I think that's great.
What advice would you share with someone who wants to grow or cultivate their professional network?
Carlanda McKinney: I would say be open, I would say be deliberate. Some people hear, when I say, "Okay, be deliberate about your networking," then that means be opportunistic, but it doesn't. It just means, okay, I want to meet X amount of people in this field because this is where I whatever-
Alana Muller: You want to play, right?
Carlanda McKinney: ... this is where I need my network to strengthen. Then look for opportunities to meet those people. It's very difficult to meet people when you don't leave your house.
Alana Muller: Well, I mean, you're talking about intentionality.
Carlanda McKinney: Exactly.
Alana Muller: I mean, I understand what the critics are saying and what you're describing as some of the naysayers, but what you're describing is being intentional about your networking.
Carlanda McKinney: Exactly.
Alana Muller: And have some purpose. I don't mean with an expectation of remuneration or some kind of payment, but just think about that value exchange, what can you offer to those people.
Carlanda McKinney: Exactly.
Alana Muller: I think that actually makes a lot of sense. I'm sure that especially with Bodify, I mean, I don't know what industries, and I'd be curious for you to share with us, what industries you targeted as you were figuring out next steps for your company.
Carlanda McKinney: I targeted the tech sector, specifically around machine learning, computer vision, artificial intelligence, because those are all parts of the platform. I also targeted people who are in apparel because the clothing fit is a big deal about how we're writing our algorithms, the way things fit matter. I also looked at or wanted to meet people who were on the retail side to find out how they thought about software.
I'll give you an example. I spoke with someone before I got Bodify off the ground, but it was a contact that I had at Levi jeans. They made the comment of, "Well, if you can give metrics, then it's going to be an easy sell. It helps get the yes." Take away any potential nos or any potential comeback later by already having X amount of things ready, or finding out, "Well, this is what you think the problem is, but here's what the problem really is." When you talk to people in the sectors that you're targeting, those are things that you find out.Especially it's so important, as a founder, to do continuous customer discovery. Even people who aren't necessarily going to be your end users can be part of your customer discovery because they might be in the chain somewhere.
Alana Muller: Super smart.
Carlanda McKinney: That's where your network is important.
Alana Muller: Yeah, I love that, I love that. Well, as we come to a close, I want to ask you just a fun question, and that is, if you could meet with one person, it could be anybody, living, not living, fictional, nonfictional, who would it be, and why?
Carlanda McKinney: Oh, man, any one person. That's Michelle Obama.
Alana Muller: Oh, good choice.
Carlanda McKinney: Yes. I just finished listening to her book and I was like, "I just want to talk to her." I just love her perspective. She has been on all sides of life, I feel.
Alana Muller: Yes, she has. Well, and she's so real. What a good choice, what a really good choice. I love that. With Bodify, you might get the opportunity.
Carlanda McKinney: I hope so. I could [crosstalk 00:23:43].
Alana Muller: She's a fashionista, I think she'd be a great spokesperson.
Carlanda McKinney: She is, and she would. I am going to put that in my intention book.
Alana Muller: I would like for you to do that.
Carlanda McKinney: [inaudible 00:23:53].
Alana Muller: If you get her, remember the little people.
Carlanda McKinney: A hundred percent,
Alana Muller: Well, it has been so much fun talking with you, Carlanda. I really admire you, I admire what you're doing.
Carlanda McKinney: Of course.
Alana Muller: I just think the way that you're going about creating a startup that really has the end user in mind is just really, really special. Tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about Bodify.
Carlanda McKinney: Sure. There's a few places. Our website is www.bodify.io. You can go on there and just find out a little bit about what we're building, but the biggest thing is to join our wait list. We will be launching early next year and we're going to be doing some beta testing. Part of being one of our beta testers is you'll get a free pair of jeans. You can only be part of the beta test if you're on our wait list, so bodify.io\shopper, go ahead and join. I promise not to spam you, we will only contact you when really cool things are happening. But that's one place, another places on LinkedIn, same thing, Bodify.io on LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter.
Alana Muller: Perfect.
Carlanda McKinney: Yeah. We would love to keep you updated on all the things Bodify.
Alana Muller: Well, Carlanda McKinney, so wonderful to have you on Enterprise.ing podcast. I look forward to following you, being part of the Bodify community, and I hope to talk with you again soon. Thank you so much for joining us.
Carlanda McKinney: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.
Alana Muller: Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website, enterprisebank.com/podcast, to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing, powering business leaders one conversation at a time.
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