This month’s professional spotlight features Hellen Fissihaie. Hellen is CEO/Principal at F3 Global LLC. Read this month’s spotlight to learn more about Hellen, her work, and experience running her own business.
Could you briefly explain some of your responsibilities in your current career role.
F3 Global is a capacity building strategy firm and we work across the health, agriculture, and entrepreneurship sectors in the U.S., Africa, Gulf Region of the Middle East, and the Caribbean. So running a global business in all that it entails is what I am responsible for. In other words, my company is 2 years old so my role is to manage everything from sales/marketing, strategy/implementation, proposal writing, program design and implementation, to basically everything that needs to be done on a daily basis. I have a great team that includes an intern, some contractors that I hire based on projects and some additional support from partner companies, but I am solely responsible in assuring that my company is operating and closing deals.
How did you come to decide that this was the right career path for you?
Honestly, I have always been pretty entrepreneurial and rarely found it satisfying to work for others. I was blessed to have tried ownership 2x and failed with some level of success in between, so this is not a new process for me. I am just wiser and more confident this time around. After working at my last company for 2 and ½ years, feeling burned out by internal company challenges, and the lack of the company growth; I made a decision to quit, wrote my letter and showed up Friday to clean my desk, came in Monday to send in my letter of resignation and within less than week I was off to Tanzania on my first official work project as an owner for F3 Global. I pretty much jumped off the bridge and built wings on the way down. I was blessed to learn early on that true freedom exists in building your own doors and wealth. I wanted to the opportunity to be successful in my own right, build what I imagined, and set examples and this was the only path I saw for myself. So no plan A-Z, this was the only plan. So I leaped and I’m still building wings. I am still growing, failing, learning, and moving forward. God is good, so I am still at it.
Is there a philosophy that drives your career?
Yes, “Everything I do is greater than me.” In other words, I created my business to serve my community (Eritrean, Black Community, African Community, Community for women, Immigrant, etc.), build generational wealth in my family, and to serve God. I am not here just so that I can be rich, that is the byproduct but what drives me is the ability and vehicle to ensure that I can impact the world, community, and family in a way that is healthy and positive. That is what pushes me to keep moving forward when dealing with the setbacks, heartaches, and stresses that come with business ownership.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest professional accomplishment?
I’ve had a few that I am really proud of honestly. One of my favorites would be in successfully running a Women’s Life Skills program during my tenure at a Dallas non-profit. In this role, I was provided a limited budget to run a program for women without any clear direction on how or for who specifically. After having boon with my mom, I was inspired to take her regrets (all the things she wished she knew when she first came to the states) and created an opportunity for new immigrant women in the Dallas area. I designed and piloted a program that brought together 80+ new refugee women from Somalia, Sudan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc to a weekly Saturday class, where we taught them in lecture/workshop, and in application, the basic life skills that we (those who grew up here or have lived in the states for so long) often times neglect. For these women who speak limited English, are new to the states, and lack knowledge of basic how to, it limits their lives and potential greatly. This close to a year long program taught them everything from how to ride and use the Dallas bus systems, to opening a bank. They learned how to move from basic ESL classes to attaining their GED, how to enroll in a community college, how to participate in health screening, etc. What was unexpected and powerful was how they morphed from women across various countries who now share a new country together, into women who shared their fears, truths, and scars together. They celebrated each other’s success, encouraged each other’s growth, shared their customs and cultures, and worked towards a chance of a more informed and full life. A lot of these women lived in the same neighborhoods and communities isolated and lonely in their homes but after the program became friends and visited each other. I learned greatly about them, as well as about my own abilities. I was inspired and remain inspired. It’s that type of work that inspires my current work. I am interested and capable of teaching what I have learned. What people do with that information has amazed me.
What are some challenges and opportunities presented by running your own business?
There have been many great opportunities due to running my own business. The first would be access to new people, places, and learning. I’ve been blessed to travel a great deal internationally to host workshops, be a speaker and presenter at places like U.N. Africa, and work with amazing international organizations, etc. As far as challenges, they come daily. I would say because of the nature of my work in dealing with international governments and multi-nationals, the political climate of the time, the corruption and bureaucracy, navigating unknown systems, and generally finding key players and decision makers are usually the hardest challenges. At first, these specific challenges were a real headache but now, it’s almost comical and we just push forward. Some projects show real promise early but tend to fizzle or get revived when you least expect due to political climates, changes in leadership etc. It takes a lot of patience, strategy, and consistency to push projects forward in what we do. I focus on where I see the world going and making good bets, instead of the safest options. It is also a huge challenge as a small business to focus on pushing our large projects forward while keeping smaller projects on the table to ensure I can pay the bills and keep the doors open.
What advice do you have for those who want to start their own business?
Be ready to sacrifice. I think today the idea of being an entrepreneur has become sexy but the reality is completely the opposite. Before you become an entrepreneur, you need to be clear about a few things:
1) Ask yourself this question: Are you doing this because of yourself and what truly drives you or because you have a good idea, someone inspired you, IG and social media/movies like Facebook etc look enticing? This is important because before anyone sees your success, you will be/should be locked into the building stage which is not so sexy but instead emotionally, physically, and mentally the draining…so in essence learn your WHY and find something that is powerful enough to keep you trucking in the most desperate and disastrous of days, weeks, and months, because they will come..
2) Assess if you have the mental fortitude to dig deep, dig deeper, and give it 1000%, otherwise this is a hobby and that is cool too but be real. This is not for the weak or those who are afraid of rejection or allow their fears to dictate their next moves. Overtime you will get better at being stronger across the board and handling rejection and making moves from positions of power. Actually, I personally prefer the NO over any maybes or slow reactions, because I can move on or come back to that NO with a different approach at a different time. It takes time to get into a good mental place but you have to be willing to learn yourself, understand your fears, and be willing to grow regardless of how painful that can be and what that means.
3) Figure out if you are working to build a Business or are you an Independent consultant. There are real difference here. As far as I am concerned, most people are consultants which means they want to work on projects without the constraints of a set annoying boss, that’s cool and it can be a great life) while few want to BUILD a business, this means spending time to build the foundations, systems, processes, and teams to get your company into the next level. Building a business is much harder, takes longer, and requires more grit and belief in the future then being a consultant/advisor/etc. This new freelance economy is moving everyone into the consulting world but few are actually building businesses that will outlast themselves and time. I am oriented in building a business that is beyond me, so I get put into situations at times where I have to reject some offers in order to build systems and work on closing projects that have a long term return. That is hard for a small business.
4) Stop reading Entrepreneur Magazine or any other major publication and trying to adjust your model. The truth is that what works for one person/company will not work for another. What resources and tools are available to one, may not be for another. I always see African and Black entrepreneurs buying into hype then getting disappointed. Nope, you have a dream, goals, a business idea because God or inspiration gave it to you. Reading articles/books/magazines are important for how to potentially approach something, but the reality is that no two companies/people think or operate the same way. Focus instead on taking lessons learned and figuring out for yourself how best to pivot and work with what you have presently. Spending endless time trying to pursue and model other people’s success is fruitless and time consuming.
I could go on but I think being adaptable is critical and knowing how to work with others usually is what makes the difference. In the end, trying is better than wishing so go for whatever you aspire to do.
Outside of all of your hard work and efforts toward building your brand, what do you do for fun? Hobbies?
I love nature, so I walk a lot in order to clear my mind, get some exercise, see new areas, etc. Hangout with family and friends. Garden. Travel (I do a lot of solo travel these days). Read. Sleep. Enjoy Life.