Storytelling and Creating Communities with Amanda Lewan
This week on Taste For Tenacity, we hear from Amanda Lewan. Amanda is a storyteller, writer, and the co-founder of Bamboo, a Detroit-based coworking community. Amanda walks us through her transition into entrepreneurship, and even shares some pointers for the storytellers out there.
0:00 This is Taste for Tenacity show number 30.
0:04 What is going on everybody? My name is Ben Trela and this is Taste for Tenacity. This week on the show we have Amanda Lewan. Amanda is a writer, storyteller, consultant, and Co-Founder of Bamboo, a Detroit based co-working ecosystem here down town. She sits on the board of Fierce Empowerment, co-leads the Detroit Writers Collective and bi-weekly writers group. She’s a partner and board member of Venture Catalysts. She has a decade of operations and marketing experience, but she has had the most fun bootstrapping Bamboo from a $5,000 loan to an over 500 member and 25,000 square foot of community space organization. I live in a tiny apartment downtown I have no idea how you can manage 25,000 feet. Welcome to the show. Amanda,
1:03 Thanks. Thank you for having me.
1:05 Alright, so let’s kind of dive back in and wind back the clock a little bit. What did you do? What was going through your mind when you were like kind of 18 years old, wrapping up high school? Were you thinking about going to college? What was going on?
1:19 Yeah, so I think there’s a few things that lead to the ones assumption that they need to go to college. For me, I grew up in a very lower white middle class, blue collar family, in Metro Detroit, which is currently I think our region shifting from blue collar work to being entrepreneurial again in our roots. But growing up in that family and that small family, it was just expected to go to college and to do good in school. So I was always that overachiever, tried to get straight A’s and do well and which in some ways, is interesting how that plays in entrepreneurship later. But so I went on to college to Michigan State. Okay. And I remember being 18 and just like ready to leave. I felt like in high school, I didn’t really maybe I was a late bloomer, but I didn’t really feel like I had a great close knit group of friends. Also kind of family situation, divorced and like, grew up with my mom. And I think it was always that person that having that really bad divorce experience. When I was younger, I wanted to bring people together, okay, and I always was that in that group of friends, but I didn’t feel like I branched out yet. So like, going away to college was scary, but fun, and I was really ready for it. I was just ready to get out and go somewhere new and explore. And leading to my decision to Michigan State was very random. I had applied to like four or five schools. I got waitlist at the University of Michigan and I was just like, I’m not gonna wait, I’m going to go to Michigan State pick that. And it was a much better fit for me, I think in terms of culture, people, there were very friendly. I was able to make friends and explore so easily. And they had a very unique, so sort of stumbled into a really unique program that was a good fit for me at Michigan State. When I was younger, and I was 12, I knew I wanted to be a writer, which I just had this like experience in English class where my teacher read a poem I wrote, and it kind of felt like a light shine down from heaven. It’s like there was a movie scene. And it said, this is it. I think that this is that moment expands and grows. And like, you know, you end up being multiple things in life, which I’ll circle back to later. But I ended up in a small program at Michigan State. Michigan State is a massive school, right, and you have them. So I ended up in this small program called professional writing that was new. It was only a couple years in and there’s a handful of colleges that have them and it’s looking at writing across different genres and different ways and I’m in the modern world. And so we actually had to learn coding and design skills and like how you apply that all into communicating. And so it was really, really fascinating and got me a little exposure to the world of tech, which I’ve since been really fascinated in. So a lot of my life, I think it’s just kind of like following these interests and taking risks, and also naively making decisions that led me down the right path, in some ways. So at 18, kind of went off to Michigan State, found that program and probably a year switched in. And I think that that was super, super beneficial to where I am today, which is kind of fun. And so that’s, I guess, a long version of why I went to college and where.
4:30 Okay, so I’m curious, you had this like, you know, angels from heaven seeing down to you moment when you were 12. What do you think, really struck you about writing in particular that drew you toward it? I know, you said you really value building community and bringing people together. What about writing in particular, do you think scratched that kind of itch for you?
4:50 Yeah, so that poem, which would be really cheesy to go back and read the 12 year old girls poem right now. It was actually about like my family, and that was the year that my parents are going into their divorce. But I think there is something communal about hearing like emotional raw, like storytelling, and that when the teacher read it, I think a lot of empathy was created. And I think you can do that; community is a way to do that too, right? You bringing people together, creating understanding and empathy. A lot of storytellers, our community organizers in different ways. And I think in a lot of ways, all of us are storytellers. And once you’re listening on this podcast, and you’re hearing those things about someone else, it really just breaks down barriers and people really understand each other. So what I remember about that moment, is just like feeling heard and feeling like other people knew what I was going through and that like, there was some moment of just like, communal aspect to that, I think.
5:42 Yeah, it was it was understanding and empathy through vulnerability, really.
5:47 Yeah. Probably. At 12. I’m not sure if I knew that at 12. But definitely, definitely think that was helpful.
5:54 Yeah, you may not have like pinpointed it, but you could feel it in that moment. It seems like. So now you’re at Michigan State, you’re in this professional writing program you said you transferred in or you switched into it after your first year.
6:22 So the main kind of goal of that professional writing curriculum was to expose you to as many different channels as as possible. So you can at least have that working knowledge.
7:35 Well, to look at like critically how to tell a story or message across those channels and what might be best and then using them how you see fit, and they had different tracks you could study. I think I did like a editorial and publishing track just like the main writing one, but they also would sometimes dabble in UI and UX. And so it’s looking at now we live in a world with all these different tools to create web, how do you communicate across them, right. So then later, when I stumble to digital marketing it obviously makes sense. But at that time, maybe didn’t. But there is one other pivotal moment in college that I realized. So being a creative writer, I remember that there’s this, I think it was like senior year of college. And this is kind of more personal story, but it’s values driven. So I think it’s helpful to share. I wrote an essay, I saw like a call for an essay about I don’t even remember the question now. But I wrote this essay, and I felt really strongly that I wanted to submit it. And I had never done that before. And at the time, I was in a long term relationship for four years and that individual and I think weren’t value match. And this was a later critical moment for me looking back on it, where he had told me, don’t submit that essay, nobody will want to read it. He wasn’t really supportive about it. It was a really vulnerable essay too. Well, I went ahead and submitted it and I just trusted my gut feeling and that it was right. I ended up winning this like student national essay contest. It was published in The Nation, which is a really big publication, and won like $1,000, which was the big deal being for college student, paying for college. And to me it kind of felt like this was authentically who I was and I needed to sit down that path and not listen to anyone that told me otherwise. Yeah. So I took it as like a sign and later like literally fast forward later my now husband, met me by reading that essay.
9:25 New whole area.
9:27 Full circle for sure.
9:30 But for me too was just realizing having those shared values and support all around you with partners is really important to me too.
9:36 Yeah, that’s fascinating. You really have to align your values anywhere in life, not only just with what you work on professionally, but anyone you spend your time with. If that match isn’t there, then there’s going to be a lot of friction.
9:48 And also just be who you are and tell that authentic story because you then attract the right people, right? To work with you or to join you on your journey.
9:57 So you you mentioned a word there and we’ll kind of circle back to your story in a second that I’m kind of curious about and I’d like to unpack a little further. You said, tell your authentic story, and I’ve been hearing a lot lately about authenticity. How do you define authenticity? And where do you think? Where do you think you can really refine what truly is authentic to you?
10:22 That’s a really good question. I think I’ll just share my personal experience. So as someone who then later stumbled into entrepreneurship, and even I guess writing. I write a lot of non-fiction. You have to be honest about yourself and your journey and not pretend to be something you aren’t. So for me being like a female founder and i think Detroit being a smart community. You’re constantly. I was on stage last night, I’m going to go speak again in like two weeks. I never like wanted to be that visible person speaking a lot. And I think sometimes I even have these moments where I’m sharing my story. And I’m wondering, I step back and like, does this actually help someone or you know, but it just authentically sharing your journey does. I’ve had so many people come up to me afterwards saying, “That was great to hear you” or like “You’re so young to be doing this” or x y&z. And so it’s just being you and being present and not, you know, I think in some ways in the entrepreneurial space, there’s a lot of media and a lot of fluff. But it’s not about that it’s about doing the work and impacting who you want to impact and sharing your journey along the way does help others in their own ways too. And so, for me, I always feel a little insecure like, well, what what can I say that’s actually going to benefit someone? Or why am I here? Like, you know, I think it’s because you’re living it. You don’t really see how just your story alone can help someone else.
11:44 Yeah. And sharing your truth can oftentimes give someone else something concrete to look at and say, “Oh, this isn’t just a me issue. This is, this is something that consistently happens.”
11:55 Yeah, or just even being you and who you are following your values. I think it’s such an important message that a lot of people are going to resonate with at different periods in their life. Or, you know, one person came up to me at this conference and said, normally there’s it’s only all old white men at a conference like, “Thank you, I can resonate with you.” And so sometimes it’s like just even being who you are. People can see themselves in that and resonate and follow that path themselves.
12:19 Yeah, have someone they can identify with. Yeah. Awesome. So now you’re in this Professional Writing Program. You’re learning, coding, you’re learning, you know, different forms of writing. What was going through your mind as you sort of wrapped up your college career? Were you planning on going a traditional sort of, you know, corporate route, what was going through your head and what were you thinking at the time?
12:40 I was thinking a couple different things. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And even though I was taking all these other kinds of writing classes, I was still avoiding creative writing. Like I want to be a fiction author and write books, which I am currently practicing, you know, they’re not published yet but I’m practicing. And like so I felt like I was still missing something. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. And then also, at that time I graduated, it was the heart of the recession. And so there was a lot of fear. And I almost wish I could go back then and say, like, “Don’t be that afraid”, but I was very anxious about what I was going to do next. You know, I grew up in a small family where I helped pay my mom’s bills at like, 16. And so there’s a lot of like, internal pressure to really figure out what I was going to do and how I was going to make money. And so instead, I just decided to go to grad school for two years. That didn’t fully last. I mean, I completed grad school, but I didn’t fully focus on it. I ended up working full time at a startup ad agency, which later led me to, you know, believing that I could start something on my own. But it was interesting because I got hired, I was the first employee and that grew really quickly and at the same time, I was then going to grad school for English and Creative Writing and taking more space to actually perfect my craft. I also thought I was going to maybe teach someday, which I do think I’d be interested in. But a lot of people who go down that path and go on to get a PhD and then go on to go work in a university, it’s kind of like a lifelong path. And I didn’t feel like that was. I felt I’m more of a doer, I need to learn through experience, I want to go do things for a while, maybe later in life, I’ll go back to getting a PhD or go back to using my Master’s in teaching. I do think I would like to do that later in life. And so it was kind of bouncing like short term not really knowing and seeing that this was like a difficult market and time to be in. Yeah, and a long term knowing that maybe I want to go down an academic path at some point. Who knows?
14:34 Okay, so what drew you to working toward that working with that startup and being that first employee while you were also going to grad school because that seems like a lot to juggle?
14:43 Yeah, grad school. That program I was in was a little more after hours. Most of the classes were in evenings. It was a lot of reading and work. But I did feel like, I’ve always worked a lot like I’ve always worked long hours, long days, like 40, 50, 60 even like at college. I took some had some later semesters and still work full time waiting tables. And so I just Well, I thrive when I’m a little bit busier, I think, and like to manage multiple things. So to me, it seems like something I can handle. But it was complete naivety I saw. On my professional journey, I had done a few internships right. I had done a PR internship. I had done a newspaper internship. I dabbled in a few different areas still didn’t feel like I knew. Do I want to apply my writing skills in the world? And where’s that going to pay me and I couldn’t I couldn’t figure that out yet. Yeah. So I saw this posting on Craigslist that said, writers/marketers/ advertising/video scripts/social media, and I thought perfect. This is like a whole bunch of things I can try. Not realizing that maybe that was a little red flag but wasn’t very clear. Anyhow, I ended up working at this really small startup. I don’t want to get into like the details of that company too much. I was there for two years. It grew really fast and then shrunk a little and I got laid off. Okay. And that led me to a summer where I was at home, I was about to finish grad school and my thesis and I thought this is the first summer I’m going to take for myself. I’m going to take a break, I’m not going to work full time, I’m not going to stretch myself too thin. I’m going to regroup and sort of not jump into things because I kind of felt like at that point, I jumped into this job for a few years didn’t work out. I was feeling a little defeated too like, as that straight A student like, Oh, no, this was kind of like a moment of failure. Yeah. So that summer was really critical for me. And like personally had like broken up with that boyfriend that summer, all that stuff. So I took like a summer and sat at home and just worked on my writing, and actually explored and that summer, I started coming downtown and realizing how much was happening. And like, even though I was going to grad school at Wayne State nearby, I was starting to really get exposed to like that there was a really cool creative community here in Detroit, okay, that people were really creative and focused on building a more inclusive future and that all of that seemed really, really interesting to me. And so that’s Summer was really critical for me to take a break then to like pause, okay, and probably also realign with my values, right? Because I think I felt like I could work anywhere and apply skills now that I had that first real world job experience, but I wanted to do something and be somewhere impactful. And I think exploring and starting connecting and coming to events downtown led to me, you know, choosing to be in Detroit.
17:22 Okay, now, what around what time was all this going on? You said, right in the heart of recession was when you graduated from undergrad, so this would have been what 2011ish?
17:32 I think I graduated in 2010. And then finished my Masters degree in like 2012.
17:38 Got it. So things were sort of starting to shift and in.
17:41 Yeah, and this was when like, Dan Gilbert had just started moving things in. There was a lot of buzz, all that stuff was just kind of starting. And so it was really exciting to see and be a part of. But for me, it was realizing that there was a community and like a sense of community in Detroit and I wanted to be a part of that.
17:58 Now, you also mentioned too you had to like reevaluate your values. And you know, you could work with any startup based on or any company based on the skills you had. But you wanted to find the right fit based on your values.
18:10 Yeah, I definitely think the biggest takeaway I got from working in that startup was I was very value misaligned. And I think how I look at it now is that I learned I learned so much. It was. I always call it like the best and worst job I had. Because the best it taught me how to be entrepreneurial, like being behind the scenes that a startup teaches you so much. Yeah. But the entire time I was very value misaligned there. And so I was very unhappy. And I actually. I think, for some people, maybe this is the case, but like, I never had so much stress before. So I actually had like panic attacks and like, I felt like my body was rejecting me working there. And I would like go to happy hours, multiple times a week, which I don’t do normally. And so I realized now I have more like as I’ve evolved, I’ve realized that I really value flexibility and I really value creative excellence and community and I wasn’t getting those values from that work place. And so as I’ve evolved in like, my work style has evolved, I realized how much value you have for me has those values and anything that I try to do now moving forward I tried to align with those couple key values of my lifestyle. And I think too there was a little bit of that like millennial misconnection where that work culture was very old school. It was very all about the hours and not the results. All about doing what you were supposed to do and not necessarily what was most effective for the client and that was my personal perception of that job and jobs that I tried to move on to pass that. I tried to find things that you know, fit those values for me and that are serving others and also serving how I wanted to live my life.
19:53 Definitely. Okay, so now you’re you’re taking this time off. It’s the summer after you wrap up grad school, which I imagine was just a weight off your shoulders with like, no more school for a little while you said you might go back for a PhD. But what were you looking for next? You said you explored more the writing and that creative side. What came next for you?
20:14 Yeah, so I think next, I took an internship. Or I think they call it Fellows at a place called D:hive of which no longer exists. But it was a really cool nonprofit, right on Woodward. And it was run by Jeanette Pierce and April Boyle and a few leaders still doing some really great work right now in Detroit. And it was like a welcome center for Detroit and I got to do all the social media and communication. So someone like exploring the city and again, I think part of this is culturally growing up in Metro Detroit. Our generation was told not to go downtown that it wasn’t safe. And really like that was a stigma that I was excited to like break down and explore I think. And also having you know, finding more creative community people. But D:hive was really fun. And I really exposed me to a lot of things. And then that was only part time. And I was wrapping up grad school and all that stuff. I started freelancing think I was still waiting tables here and there and at some point was able to stop waiting tables and just freelance. But I didn’t know yet. So what I wanted to do and slowly it was interesting, slowly, my freelancing work started growing and I was able to make an income and that was my first realization that you can make an income on your own right, coming up from a blue collar family you’re told to go go to school, get a job. And that’s it. My mom’s worked at Wayne State actually like her entire life. So there is that culture, I think, and a lot of people who work at Ford and GM, you know, I think a lot of people, our parents’ generation, for me being a, you know, an older millennial, they do that. And for us, for me, it was it was interesting to break away from that and just realize, oh, okay, and I always had the sense that I wanted to be independent. But I didn’t know it was going to happen that quickly. And because I was able to get some traction from freelancing that I could pay bills and be out on my own. And granted, I think I in a different place doing it earlier, you have less responsibilities, right? You don’t have a mortgage yet, you might not have kids yet, or later that can be riskier. And then you don’t know as much yet. But you also don’t need to make as much, kind of like and you can kind of learn as you go. And so that’s the approach I took. But I had learned so much about client work at the at the ad agency, and I was able to help service a lot of small businesses, a couple of foundations, doing content writing, and social media and all that stuff, I was exposed to in that earlier program. So it was really fine. And then eventually doing that stuff. I met a couple friends and we started Bamboo. And at first it was just a place for me to work on my freelancing stuff. And then I quickly grew into my passion, and then what I’ve what’s now evolved to have one more of my full time job.
22:59 Okay, so now.
23:00 Sounds like I’m rambling a lot.
23:02 No. It’s good. It’s good.
23:03 But I think maybe everyone’s journey is a little messy and you try a lot of things along the way.
23:07 Yeah, definitely. It’s, it’s always fun kind of hearing the different paths and different ways people ended up, you know where they’re at now. So you were doing this freelancing, and you met with a couple friends. Where did the idea to start sort of a co working community come from?
23:23 Yeah, so at that time, when I was working at D:hive, there were a lot of events. So when I talk about there being a community in Detroit. There was a lot of really cool speaker series and networking and I was meeting a lot of people and I didn’t get that in the suburbs. The suburbs to me felt really disconnected and isolated. So I really loved that. But then there wasn’t like a place to go to continue those conversations, right. There was maybe like one coffee shop downtown at the time and no co-working spaces, no community spaces. There was a like an incubator program that Dan Gilbert ran called Bizdom U back in the day. But if you didn’t get in you didn’t get in. So it felt like something was missing. And then it was actually my two partners at the time Brian Davis and Dave Anderson came up with the idea. They said we need a space to go hang out and work on new ideas together. And so they approached my current partner, Mike Ferlito, whose dad was in real estate and owned a small building downtown. And we thought let’s test out this concept. At the time no one Detroit knew what co-working was. There’s no co-working space downtown. And so we convinced his dad to give us a $5,000 loan to buy IKEA furniture and paint this floor, in this loft like cool building. It was above a bells bomb and below music studio so probably not the best place to try to convince people to come like plug in with a laptop and work. But it was really Detroit. It was really hip and authentic. And you know, we were just. We were this diverse group of friends hanging out. We started hosting events and flying in really cool speakers and just making it a space where everybody was welcome. And everyone can plug in and work together. And as Bamboo grew and evolved, we’ve always tried to hold on to that culture, which has been really important. So, yeah, first being very naive again, we just thought, let’s try this. We told us that after you know, maybe six months of we’re getting traction, we’ll start paying rent, but at the same time, we could still show the space. Yeah. So for someone owning real estate, you know, in downtown until Dan Gilbert started moving his companies in and generating a lot of buzz. Even now today, there’s still a little doubt I think, in Metro Detroit on if Detroit’s at that tipping point, it gets more and more going away. But at that time, people still don’t believe it. And so that floor we activated in 2013, has been empty for 10 years. Wow. And it’s this like, small, beautiful floor. And so the market was really different. And we were really early. Now, I look back and I’m like we were early in the market. We were the first to do this. And it really authentically resonated with Detroit. And so but, you know, being naive and just be friends, we didn’t know what we were doing. We are working on all these other ideas. And eventually after a while I pointed out Bamboo got traction, like we have a lot of customers. And look, you know, we saw the WeWork model was growing. And so we also knew we were missing out on market opportunity. A lot of people would call us every day, can I take half your space, can I build an office in it? And we were just as one open room, right? So it really wasn’t, it didn’t serve everybody just people could drop in and hang out, but they couldn’t find private office space. So we knew we were missing some things and we then moved it over to our new location and just kept growing it. Our two partners move on to other opportunities. And Mike and I, Kate became the main operating partners. And we just evolved the brand to have more space to service more needs. But what was really critical was building that community from the beginning and then growing with it. And so I kind of now also say we took the lean startup approach to real estate, which is like, weird but and hard to do, but it kind of worked. We started very leanly, right that $5,000. And then just like a lot of time and like grit and energy, and now have grown it into a more viable business, that we’re hoping to expand in Metro Detroit.
27:19 Okay, so you, you used the resource that was abundant to you, which was your time, and you were able to leverage that against this one small $5,000 loan and a six month you know, open space commitment. And you were able to leverage that to build ultimately what Bamboo has become. So in those early days, what was your role in the original space?
27:43 Yeah, so when I first joined, it was their idea. And they brought me in, and I was supposed to do all the marketing for it, right, which when you have no money and you’re younger, and you’ve suddenly learned how to use social media, that is a really great way, brick and mortar small businesses can drive foot traffic and right. So we just created great events. Events that we would get someone to sponsor a pizza at, you know, like nothing big and fancy. But we would always have good content and good speakers and good networking. And I would do a lot of social media marketing and just lean marketing and it just kind of work. I mean, it took a while when you go down the path of bootstrapping, and now being a little bit more experienced, I know this, but you know, it’s slower. And the market was changing, which so we’re very lucky and happy we found the new building we did. We moved in. So this was about 2013. We started Bamboo and I think it was 2016, when we moved over to our new buildings, almost two and a half, three years in, we were able to say, look, this original sort of beta version has traction but it’s time to grow it and we opened a 6000 square foot space, we moved over from that location to the new building, and then every six to nine months have just added on more space to get to where we’re at. We’re now about 20,000-25,000 square feet spread out across a couple floors. And we have a variety of offices. And our culture is still very close to that same early culture. It’s very diverse. It’s very, you know, authentic, we have a lot of programs and speakers come through. We lean towards having a lot of that startup energy because that’s what we were interested in. And that was what was missing. And hope to keep evolving all of that to serve the Detroit community.
29:31 Definitely. And, and I know, I’ve seen it sort of in like the taglines that the space uses. I know one was grow fast, grow strong, which bamboo is one of the strongest and fastest growing grasses in the world. And then Detroit is for doers, which really kind of harks back to what you were saying earlier that you’re doing based learner and in. It’s really a different world than just sitting in academia when you’re actually in it. Actually taking action.
30:01 Yeah, definitely.
30:03 So a couple of questions sort of as we round out the first half of the show. You mentioned that you’re very, very comfortable working, you know, 40 plus hour work weeks, and you’ve always sort of had that, you know, keep yourself busy, and it’ll force you to do the best work possible. Where do you think that work ethic came from?
30:25 I think probably my growing up, you know, needing, like, when my parents got a divorce, and my mom went on her own, I just knew she needed help. So soon as I could get a job, I got a job and tried to help out of the house. And that kind of stuck with me. And so I’ve always been a hard worker. And I’ve always felt like that was really important. And I think, I think it is. I think what I now struggle with is also realizing that self-care is important. And then it’s, you know, it really isn’t about the number of hours you’re putting in, but if you’re passionate, you’re always going to be working and you’re always going to be thinking about it. Part of this new world where we have our phones and our laptops wherever we go means we’re always connected to our work. And there are days where people I’ll be on vacation for a week, though, like one week in a year. People will still Facebook messaged me about renting a room. And so there’s a lot. I think it’s hard now realizing, that is a strength. And I think if you’re going to start something, you have to be able to work hard at it, to get it to where it needs to be. But then you also need to realize how important it is to have some sort of self-care and balance as well.
31:29 Yeah, you need to balance that. Go, go go with taking the breath and refilling so that you can do it sustainably.
31:36 Yeah, yeah. And it’s not it’s also we’re about working smarter and figuring out what’s working as well.
31:42 Definitely. So you also pointed out how important it is to essentially value match with everything. In your story so far and in your life so far, have those values stayed the same? Or have you noticed things shifting as you grow and you learn and new things come up.
32:00 I think my values have stayed the same. For the most part, I think what shifted is just developing myself as a leader. And I don’t think we’ve touched on this yet. But you know, that community piece into trait. it’s important for anyone listening who’s a founder or a leader or trying to go out on their own, that you aren’t on your own. We have a really vibrant ecosystem. And so along the way, you know, knowing that I didn’t know a lot of things, right. Like I studied writing, how did I get into business? And it’s funny back then I used to be so judgmental, and never take a business class, I won’t need it. And then later on my own small business, but there’s so many resources in our ecosystem, I was able to, you know, go to business workshops, and I went through the 10,000 Small Business program and I went through an informal class where there was just other women leaders at the table supporting each other. And so I think what has changed is just realizing, I don’t know what I don’t know. And every day I try to be a better leader and a better business owner, that probably strive some like this want of excellence too that it may be, you know, trying to feel like that straight A like wanting to be perfect, you know, you’re never going to be perfect. And if you’re going to go your own route and start a company, you have to be willing to fail and learn from it. So that was something hard, I had to adapt a whole new mindset. But I do think that those couple, two to three core values have stayed the same for me.
33:29 Awesome. Now, one sort of last quick set of questions here and it has to do specifically with your experience storytelling. So you’re still an active author, you have a couple books, but they’re not published. So as an author first, what does your process look like? And then with with specifically telling a story for someone who’s never taken a creative writing class or never ventured outside of like, that traditional lit type class, what are some pro tips you can give someone ow to tell a story and how to kind of craft that narrative?
34:04 Yeah, I think that’s a great question.
34:08 I would start with if you’re just looking to write in general or process your thoughts, and I think no matter what kind of leader or person you are, journaling regularly is helpful. And there’s an exercise that I did especially out of grad school, even though I had now started writing more. Yeah, I felt I didn’t have that cohort around me all the time. So how do I hold myself accountable? Right? There’s a book called The Artist’s Way that I read that has a process where it’s called morning pages. So the first thing you do every morning is write two to three pages. And you just literally write what comes to mind first. And I did that for years, and that was very helpful at getting just I think it would be beneficial to anyone. It’s almost like therapy. If you’re stressed that morning, you wake up, it’s out. Yeah, and for other people. That could be other things like working out or running. But for me, that was helpful. And then it also helps you generate ideas and just keep an open mind. When it comes to telling your story, you know, I think it to me, it depends on the message and the audience and also what you want to get out there. As a person or a leader, or you know, starting a company. For Bamboo, I think, a lot of the general story we. I’m going to use Bamboo as an example to answer your question then. So if you’re looking at like business storytelling. First one was personal journal, second one business. Think about the larger story around you. Right. So Bamboo being a hyper local community, we’re tied to the story of Detroit and its revitalization. And that comes a lot. A lot comes packaged with that, right, the different communities impacted and how do we service those and what stories do we want to tell? So we try to be diverse and inclusive in the stories we’re highlighting on our podcast, on our blog, on our social, and tied to that to helping connect people to what’s happening in Detroit. We almost and maybe it’s some idea of experience, I almost think of ourselves as a welcome center. So the tone and everything we do with our brand content, I want to reflect that. Now we’re a small team. So we don’t have that much content. And it may not be perfect. But just having that thinking about what is the higher level story around you, that you want to tell. And sometimes it’s tied to the culture of a place or the context of where you’re at, or the audience you’re serving. And then those micro stories you want to tell whether that’s speaking at an event or blogging, or doing social media are kind of tied to those larger themes that you’re thinking about.
36:41 Got it.
36:42 I don’t know if that was helpful.
36:43 Oh, it was. So really kind of split it up into the message you want to tell, the audience you’re speaking to, and what portion of the overall story and the broader picture does it highlight?
36:55 Yeah, and I think some of that can be cultural context or play space or the time that we’re in, right. Like, you know, I think a lot of those things come into play.
37:06 Definitely. So with that, I think it’s, it’s a good spot to kind of leave off and pivot to the second portion of our show. So what do you think are some of the key takeaways from your career, your projects, your writing, so far that you really want to share?
37:22 Yeah, so I think, kind of looking back at the couple key stories I shared, I think one is that values, their personal but their professional, right. And for me, they apply to both like the people I want around me. I think, personally should support my values and my journey. And then the people I work with, I look to share those values too. I think that values influence a culture and so that startup job that had that culture that didn’t work for me, I didn’t know what was wrong until I could find a few key words and values to explain that. And so sometimes you don’t know those things until you try them right. You have to go out there and explore. My journey might have been up sounded like a little all over the place. So I think for me, too, it’s like follow your interests, those will lead to your passions. And then, you know, ask yourself what your values are and if the work you’re doing is aligned with that, because ultimately, that’s the life you want to build for yourself. I think those are probably the couple big takeaways. And then as you’re out there sharing your story, just be authentically who you are. Don’t try to be something else. I think people see through that nowadays. And, you know, maybe if you’re someone like me doesn’t feel like I have that great of a story to tell, or I’m just an average person, you still are impacting someone in that room, and you don’t know who you’re going to resonate with. And so being authentically yourself is helpful in some way.
38:47 Yeah. And off that. One other quick thing that you did mention is, it feels average and it feels like an average life because you’re in it constantly. But sometimes it takes just sharing that in whatever channel you can for others to resonate with it and really see that maybe I don’t have as much of a conventional life. So that’s definitely something interesting that you highlighted as well. So now what piece of advice if you had to give just one would you give to your 20 year old self?
39:18 My 20 year old self. I would not be so worried and so afraid. And maybe that was the time I was born into with the recession and like other things at play. But you will figure it out, you know. It’s gonna be okay. Keep going and try new things. And eventually, it’s all going to work out. And then I think now I mean, even now, how I try to develop that mindset is every day has its ups and downs, especially if you do choose to go on your own path as a creative or an entrepreneur. And so you just have to have this problem solving mentality, that no matter what you’re going to figure it out, and then you do. So I don’t know, I think it could have been being born in or being, you know, graduate in the recession, but it felt so like so much anxious and like pressure to succeed and do it for other people. And like, ultimately you figure it out along the way. And it all works out.
40:16 It’ll be okay. Awesome. And now, you mentioned The Artist’s Way. But what is one other book or resource that has helped you in your journey so far?
40:27 I read a ton. So I actually was looking at this question earlier. And I’m like, I can’t think of one book. I mean.
40:35 List a couple.
40:36 Shout out to my ninth grade English teacher for reading that poem that I wrote now. Right now, for me, it’s podcasts. I think also, I’m always looking to learn and being a small team and someone who’s trying to develop myself as a leader and always be better. There’s only so much you can learn from your ecosystem, your community around you. So I think we live in a great day and age in technology where you can subscribe to any podcast and listen to anybody story right. So a few that I always listen to are like How I built this, Masters of Scale. I listened to some writing ones. People are interested in writing. I think it’s a writers on writing as one I listened to and it’s just to me it’s so cool and I even listen to once I have nothing to do with my professional world because I just want to be influenced by new ideas. And so I just I love podcasts. I think they’re a great tool to learn from all kinds of people all around the world.
41:29 Definitely. And now where Amanda can people learn more about you and learn more about Bamboo?
41:36 Yeah, personally if you want to reach out to me, I’m on Twitter @amanda_jenn and my websites, https://www.amandalewan.com/ and Bamboo. Come say hi, anytime. We’re located at 1420 Washington Boulevard. It’s our main location now. We do tons of events. Anyone listening is welcome to drop in. Things will be slowing down for the year but will always have things going on and our website is https://www.bamboodetroit.com/. We have our own podcast too call The Doers Network Podcast where you can listen to other people in Detroit building, and growing, and making an impact. And we’re super active on social media. So we post. Pretty much everything we do is open to anyone to join. So come, get engaged, stop in. We’d love to see you.
42:28 Awesome. Well, Amanda Lewan is the co-founder of Bamboo. She’s a writer, storyteller, consultant. Amanda, thanks for coming on the show.
42:37 Thank you so much.
42:43 And that does it for our show with Amanda Lewan from Bamboo Detroit. Now there’s a lot of different stuff that I enjoyed about our conversation with Amanda. First and foremost, I haven’t had an author or a writer on the show yet and so that was a good perspective to have, especially from someone who went from focusing on writing full time to becoming essentially a business owner. And that’s an interesting pivot to kind of hear more about her perspective, her methodology, and just what was going through her head when she decided to make that transition. Amanda also talked about the importance of creating empathy through vulnerability. By being willing to open up to each other, we can understand more about each other’s motivations, and understand that there’s stuff going on beneath the surface within other people that we will never see. And so empathy is very important because number one it allows us to just be better people. But it also allows us to be more deliberate and more compassionate to other people, because we understand that there’s a narrative going on in their heads and in beneath the surface that we will never be able to see. Amanda also points out the importance of matching values with anybody that you’re working with. So you may not have the exact same set of values as a potential partner, either professionally or personally, or even your friend group. But at least understanding each other’s values so that you can encourage each other to live toward them is very, very important because otherwise, you’re not going to have a level of depth in your relationships, and you’re not going to push each other to reach your goals. Also, you have to understand like, what does someone value in order to determine whether or not you want them in your life? That’s a difficult decision to have to make. But Amanda, especially in her first job that she had within entrepreneurship, she really pointed out the fact that you have to have that value alignment, otherwise the relationship will not work, but in hearing the words authentic and authenticity thrown around a lot lately, and so I wanted to ask Amanda what her definition is, and ultimately she came up with a really, really good one. Being authentic means being honest with yourself about what you are and what you care about. And that’s generally a solid definition. Because you can’t be authentic in your true self, unless you know who that person actually is. And it’s an ever continuing process because our values and our perspectives do change over time as we grow and as we mature through different phases of our life. That’s all we got for this week’s show. I want to thank you guys a ton. We’ve been doing the show now for almost six or for over six months. This is show number 30. So seven months, so huge. Thank you to all of you guys for listening. It really means a lot. With that let’s get out of here from Taste for Tenacity show number 30. This is Ben Trela. Thanks for listening.