Precision Health Club

Interview – Tatenda Musapatike from Voter Formation Project

Rachel: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining today’s a Fireside Chat. I’m just adding Tetendo to join us right now. Hello. How are you doing today? 

Tiki: I’m good, how are you? 

Rachel: Can you hear me? Robert, can you hear me now? 

Tiki: Yes, I can. So you came back a little bit just then. 

Rachel: Hello, everyone, I think we have our tech issues figured out, apologies about that. Tetendo, can you hear me? 

Tiki: I can. 

Rachel: Perfect. Okay, thank you so much, and apologies for that. Thank you so much for joining us today and for everyone here. And I just want to make sure can you pronounce your name for me, so I do not screw it up. 

Tiki: Tetendo Miss Appa Tiki. 

Rachel: Okay, perfect. Thank you so much for that. Well, yes. Welcome, everyone. We have Tetendo with us today. She’s the founder of the Voter Formation Project. She has previously worked to expand the electorate to Black and Latin-x voters, and spent time at Facebook as the Client Solutions Manager for democratic politics. And amongst all of that she’s also a yoga instructor, and really focuses on her health. Thank you so much for being here today. 

Tiki: Thank you for having me. This is so cool. I’ve never done Discord before. 

Rachel: Awesome. Well, yeah, I’d love to get started to just learn a little bit more about you. What is the Voter Formation Project and what gets you excited about working on it? 

Tiki: Sure. The Voter Formation Project is a 501 C3 nonprofit, which means that it is nonpartisan. We don’t speak about candidates or parties and very few issues. And with that, we try to get more people from disadvantaged communities and communities of color engaged in civic participation through using digital marketing. I came into this on accident, I still kind of wonder how I got here. But coming out of college I worked in a variety of jobs or really sitting at the intersection of topology and said politics and communications, mostly online to help inform either voters or constituents or people who might believe in an issue or two to become more engaged in the process. We’re engaged with the organizations. So we’re other 501 C3s that concern issues. I’ve worked at consultancies, doing ad campaigns, we’ve worked at Public Affairs companies, I’ve kind of run the gamut of kind of the expanse of ways that you can work in digital across different properties. But before I started the Voter Formation Project, I was a Client Solutions Manager at Facebook, which basically meant that I was on the sales team working with folks in democratic politics. So think campaigns, committees, candidates, and issue advocacy groups that were aligned with the left to help them with their Facebook presence, and their Facebook advertising and helping them create custom solutions to reach their goals i.e. win elections. I did that for a bit from 2015 to 2019. So if you’re familiar with the Facebook story I looked at very closely, and I then left to go run my own Voter Registration Project at a group called Acronym. That was also an experience, to say the least I tend to pick problematic tech companies to work for looking back. And so, through that last work, though, really realized, like I was able to start my own organization and able to do things in a way that I wanted to, not just from a strategic standpoint, but also from a people management standpoint. And, I think one of the reasons I really wanted to start my own organization is because I care so much about people’s health and wellbeing. I really wanted to change the paradigm of people working in politics, and demonstrate that you can do the best work, and not necessarily never sleep, rarely eat, drink too much, etc. And so yeah, that’s kind of a bit about my story. 

Rachel: Awesome. I mean, it definitely sounds like you’re making a huge impact in a really innovative way. I’d love to hear a little bit more about kind of what you last said, and how are you changing the way that people kind of work, do that work in politics? How are you changing the paradigm or the “what’s normal” I would say? 

Tiki: Yeah. So I guess I’ll start by framing what tends to be normal. It’s a very, almost I would say, similar to finance, like glorified culture of overwork. It’s the kind of place where, especially in the month or two leading up to elections, you are told to never take time off, you don’t get your weekends off. You are working until 11pm, even though you sometimes are wondering why people don’t take care of their health. And when you put people in high stress environments like that, and then you do have high stakes, these are elections and representatives. You know, for especially for presidential years, people feel there’s so much on the line. People have bad stress management habits, how they deal with all of that stress, you know, before COVID, people would leave the office and then you go to a bar, and Lord knows where people end up. And I know that for the last I would say six years, I had been trying to undo the learning that I learned from, even though I wasn’t on campaigns, necessarily even the supporting industry that did of, you know, managers, who I remember getting yelled at. And it was really 10pm, it was early. And thinking there has to be a better way. We can’t possibly be mandating that people operate like this and expect them to be effective people or be kind people or do their best work. And I would say Facebook is a huge part of how I started this journey. And also, my yoga practice, which I really started practicing regularly, I would say in 2012. And then after the 2014 midterms, which were like a personal disaster in terms of my health, decided, I want to become instructor. I actually decided to leave the industry. I do this every two years and like I’m leaving, place sucks. I’m never doing this again. And then find myself back in the ringer. But I found myself telling people, you know what I’m going to yoga, and I don’t. And Facebook really embraced it. They were like, you know what, if you need to go to a yoga audition to get a job, if you want to go to class in the morning, if you know, even during the election cycle, it was like, “No, you tell your clients you are unavailable in the mornings because you have this priority”. And then I just started learning more about how sleep impacts your work. And Facebook had a really great program for teaching people. They called it fuel and I became, “The fuelzer” because I can be very direct and bossy. I’ve been bossy my whole life, about how people view their work in life balance. I don’t like to use the word balance because it’s tradeoffs. And so I thought to myself as I was starting this organization, what would it look like if we implemented habits or policies that encourage people to take time off, that encouraged people to sleep, that encouraged people to pursue their hobbies. And I think one of the first ways you can do that is time off. So unlimited PTO is a thing that all people know. But oftentimes employees don’t take it, especially when they’re in highly motivated or driven jobs. So we have a mandatory 15-day minimum. And if you don’t take the minimum number of days, you’re not able to get a full performance review at your highest level. We have mandated that you don’t have work hours but rather we have meeting hours, those meeting hours are 10am to 4:30pm. Those are your meeting hours each department schedules there are no meeting days. That way people can do the actual work and be able to be flexible. We’re also remote. I think one thing that COVID helped me realize is that one, I was able to build a more diverse talent pool and get people from across the country in a diverse office in a remote office but also like you get all kinds of different people who may be not aren’t able to come into an office is because they have children or because [inaudible 10:03] disability. And we inserted a number of other policies, but those were like the biggest ones I can think of where it was truly to counteract all of the bad I have seen, and all the negative consequences I’ve experienced from kind of life in balance. And so thinking about how is it that we can promote health, through our policies was something I sat down with our head of people in culture to really talk about and figure out what can we learn from other companies who have done this in the private sector. 

Rachel: So inspiring to think about and really, the fact that you’ve taken the experiences that you’ve had and made such a cultural shift and really focused on building something that was anti that culture and something I also really resonate with. I come from that finance world that you kind of mentioned. In the beginning, I started my career in investment banking, and I think I’ve been trying to run away from it and dealing with the PTSD from it since then. But I agree that the future is really remote. It’s making a more inclusive workforce. I am a parent. And there are plenty of other kind of parents or people that have other responsibilities or goals that want to be able to work and want to be able to make an impact and building more inclusive workforces just enables that to happen. Which is, I think, going to be better for all of society. So, it’s super interesting to see that and love to see that you’re putting that foot forward as well. I’d love to dig a little bit more into this yoga practice. It sounds like you kind of came to yoga and came to this through a need and through like a need for an outlet. But how is that kind of expanded over time for you? And what does that look like today? 

Tiki: I feel like it looks like community and I’ll be honest, like COVID really messed with my practice. I live in a tiny apartment in Washington DC, like I don’t have enough room in this apartment as it’s currently configured to truly like practice headstand. And if I topple over not worry about damaging my property, you know. So, I have really struggled with not having a practice space. And I, you know, I fully support masks and vaccinations, but I really hate practicing masks. It’s something that I’ve had to, you know, really come to grips with. And so for like the like two and a half months of bliss, I was going to practice regularly in a studio and like, going upside down, it was so great. But it’s a lot it shifted. And I think also with the stress of it all, moving to more of a breath work of meditative practice has also been something that I’ve been very deliberate and conscious about, especially because starting a new organization is stressful. It’s certainly not the easiest thing I’ve done in the world. But I would say, one thing that us, like yoga teachers talk about is that when you teach, you tend to lose your practice. But you also tend to gain community. So I would say what I miss the most about, like, the pre COVID era, and I really hope we all left at the end of it is having that community of people who you get to give to when you teach, and you get to, you know, help grow in their practice. But then also having those same folks around you help you be accountable to go into your practice as well. I loved my yoga studio in DC, it shut down during COVID. So I found a new space to practice in. But the community was just incredible. The students I got to know were all in my neighborhood. And just completely lovely, wonderful, warm, happy people to see on Saturday mornings. And I taught the hard yoga class. Several students made it clear that they had to like, talk themselves into coming on Saturday. But the joy you get in watching a student get into a really hard pose for the first time or the sigh of relief when they realize that you’re moving into like the slower phase or practice and they’re done. They’re done with the hard part. All of those aspects of it, just, I do miss because we aren’t teaching in person right now in Washington DC, at least. 

Rachel: Yeah, that’s tough. And I think that that’s a problem that’s been echoed across a lot of people, especially when you think about kind of the health and wellness communities. It’s such a part of as you think about health and as you think about your overall physical and mental wellbeing and getting that taken away from us, all of us is definitely hard. So it’ll be exciting to see when and how that comes back. And I’m hopeful that it does. I’d love to learn, kind of where does nutrition fit in and how you think about health and how you think about productivity as a founder. 

Tiki: It does. I can tell when I’ve been eating like shit: I am foggy, I am not alert, my brain just moves slower. And I have experimented with different nutritionists to like, I feel like I’ve tried so many different types of diets to see like, what makes me feel best. And I would say that I have learned that I’ve done a couple of whole 30s, I am a huge fan of the protocol when done correctly, it annoys me when it is maligned as a bad diet and it’s not intended to be a diet forever, it’s intended to help you understand what works for you. The problem is one thing that doesn’t work for me that well is like gluten and pasta, and I love it. So trying to find the balance between not emotionally eating pasta every day, and actually fueling my body with the things that I know will make me perform best is always a balance. But I have gotten into this practice where if I know I need to be on so if I am doing fundraising calls all day, I know that I will, you know, not have the glass of wine before dinner like two, three days and make sure that I am getting my vegetables and actually having balanced meals. And just thinking very deliberatively about what is going to set me up for success so that I actually think about the words more clearly and I’m able to put my best foot forward. Because when you go into those types of meetings, it’s not just for you, you have to think about all of the people that you employ and support so that you don’t mess it up. 

Rachel: Definitely. It sounds like what you’re really focused on being intentional across your eating, across your exercise, across your overall health, and really paying attention to how it impacts your productivity and your success as the founder and kind of what you’re doing, which is important. And unfortunately, something that as we get older, we also need to pay attention to more in part because there’s more responsibilities, but also because our bodies just don’t work the way they did earlier. 

Tiki: They really, really don’t. And like these early 30s are taking me out, like what’s going on? But I will say one thing I’ve started because I used to have this blog about tech and fitness. I have always been like a wearables fitness nerd in this new uprising, I guess of wearables to help track people’s metabolic health and help track people’s glucose I have found fascinating. I am loving reading so much. I just read metabolic I think it’s called about like how people with stable glucose and like cellular health and metabolic health can impact so many facets of your life, it has been actually a fun research point for me. And kind of like what I have been reading in my spare time because I am so fascinated at this, the personalization of that kind of health and how nutrition is so personal to each person. Like there’s no one prescriptive diet that’s going to work best for you. 

Rachel: Yeah, exactly. And it’s something we’re all kind of seeing and it’s emerging research. And the technology is really here now to be able to help us really figure out what works for us as an individual versus what kind of works for the average that in the specific population that’s being tested in a given trial or something along those lines. I’d love to hear what is your, it sounds like you’ve done a lot or tried a lot of wearables. What would you say is your favorite or most insightful wearable today? 

Tiki: Right now I’m wearing a whoop and I love this thing. I signed up for a half marathon today because my 10 miler got cancelled, it was very sad. But I have been training, I haven’t run consistently in a few years, I’ve been injured on and off, I tore my ACL when I was 14, and like rehabbed it, but it’s just never worked the same. And so I’ve been training pretty intensely to make sure I don’t reinjure and the whoops insights on recovery are just I love it. I learned so much about how I train, I’ve never tracked my heart rate as much. But in reading more about how you can most effectively train for endurance running, I’ve been tracking that a lot. And until you know, lower my heart rate hasn’t running and see the insights of oh, if I’m doing intensity intervals, I should be able to see the peaks and valleys and my weight, or, oh, I did 300 workouts in a row. Maybe I should cool it because I’m in the yellow today. In terms of it shows you for your cardiovascular recovery, green, orange, or green, yellow, red. If I have two glasses of wine or two drinks, ever at happy hour, even if I am in bed at 8:30pm, I will never fully recover. So it just gives me so many different insights. And I’m high-key obsessed with it. 

Rachel: I love it. So it sounds like that’s the main metric you’re kind of looking at right now or at least all the metrics that you’re getting through whoop. 

Tiki: Yes, I have been in the yellow all week. I went to a wedding and I was just like, how am I still in the yellow? I’ve been sleeping nine hours a night. But…

Rachel: You went to a wedding. 

Tiki: I guess? 

Rachel: It sounds like that’s it. So I’d love to, we’re gonna get a bunch of questions from folks in the audience. I’d love to start to ask the questions here. And one of them is, if you’ve ever tried jujitsu or any kind of martial arts. 

Tiki: Yes, I practice Shihlin Kempo from when I was 4 until I was 13 years old. I got a black belt. And I wanted to quit several times, but my parents wouldn’t let me until I reached the goal so that I made sure to never tell them a bowl again. Because they weren’t going to let me not do it. And I loved it. I loved it. It’s like my secret fun fact. I feel like only people like Lily would know that this is something I used to do. But all of my friends I’ve met in college and in my adulthood, they’re like you did what? You like, hit other people? I’m like yeah. 

Rachel: Have you found it helpful in your adult life? 

Tiki: I would say yes. Because my neighborhood, let’s say it’s transitioning. Like I know how to defend myself should someone come up and try to harm me. In fact, two men in their lifetime have experienced this, and they were very taken aback and ran away. But yes, I just feel like it gives you a little bit of added protection, that like, you can stop someone potentially with like, knowledge of how they are attacking you. And I learned it so young, but it doesn’t go away. So, highly recommend putting very young children in any kind of martial art, like, the muscle memory cannot leave me. 

Rachel: It’s really good to know, it’s something my parents had suggested it to me. I did not do it, but I do have a young daughter who’s about to turn two in a couple of months. And it’s something I’ve thought about as well. So it’s good to hear that. That it has been helpful in those situations. And then just looking through these questions, so we have another question around how you think about kind of time management, any productivity hacks that you use, especially given everything that you do. 

Tiki: I saw this question, and I just laughed at myself, because my productivity hack is having people be accountable. And it’s so nice to be a CEO now, because people kind of feel like they have to. But I always joke with the folks who, you know, I need to do things where I’m like, “You need to help hold me accountable”. Like I also am a calendar, I live by my calendar, I take my calendar very seriously. So for things that I know will take more time, I actually calendar them. And I make it visible to everyone so that people can tell when I’m going to do their things. And I get fewer questions about when it will be done. And then I try and hold myself very strongly accountable to the calendar. I would say the other thing I do in terms of prioritization, this is one thing, another thing I learned from Facebook and the cult of personality, I guess that we all have is like ruthless prioritization is a thing. And if I am going to deprioritize someone or deprioritize a thing that I know is important, I communicate that properly. And I will explain generally. And usually, if I’m prioritizing something, it is to ensure that we are a nonprofit. So I beg rich people for money every day in order to run my organization. And that’s usually going to be the president. And then from there, I will just tell people, “Hey, I’m not going to get to this, I know you need to get this deadline, let’s come up with a plan or figure out how else it can get done”. But I’m very, very communicative with folks. Because that’s, if I do not talk to you folks, it is less likely that I am going to stay accountable to it. So I would say communicate and calendar are the two best things to do. And also with your prioritization, I don’t apologize. I tried that for a little bit, because I felt bad, and I realized if I said sorry, I made it worse. Like you’ve made the decision, it is what it is. And so trying to move around that instead of trying to communicate that you’re sorry about it, is more helpful. And also, like conveys a little bit more directness that like your mind is not going to change.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s such helpful advice and something you kind of hear overall as like female founders is people like research says that females say sorry, more often versus males don’t do it. And there’s some kind of ramifications of that whether it’s people don’t trust you as much or believe in you as much or think they can change your mind. So learning how to make that decision and not say it in the right situations. Obviously you need to know how to apologize but not in every day just in business decisions. So, that’s such a helpful piece of advice on that. Lilly also asked if you’ve experienced any bias as a female African American founder. 

Tiki: Oh gosh, yes, so much. I feel like there are really no female African American founders who do what I do in terms of digital strategy. And part of a driving force for me to do this work was so that one, no one else came up in the industry without seeing someone else who looks like them leading, you know, directing millions of dollars. That was important to me, but also just, I could talk all day about this. It’s been, I think, once I had gotten to this point where I was able to start the organization, I had built enough relationships, where, you know, it seemed like a natural progression. But I would say before that, which meaning like maybe my career up until 2020 truly like was me just trying to prove to people that I wasn’t stupid, and it was really exhausting. And one of the things that I think is the most insidious about bias is one, people don’t know that they’re doing it most of the time. And two, I struggle with people thinking like people, assuming I’m stupid, because I truly am not and I have no patience for it. So then people just think I mean. Because as black girls being mean to me, because I’m mean, and I’m just like, “No, you came to this conversation completely incorrect, and I don’t have patience”. So yes, so much. But the other good thing I would say is that because I went through all of that, you build a reputation in a way. And that’s been really helpful for the work that I’m doing now. But yeah, people either thought I was stupid or mean. And I still got remnants of it to this day. 

Rachel: Yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s very unfortunate situation in our society. How would you or what would you say to yourself, kind of as you were starting out early in your career, or someone, maybe looking to you as a mentor, what advice would you give to them to kind of fight through that and get to where you are today? 

Tiki: I don’t know if it’s like this in other industries, but particularly in politics, managers or people, especially the men tend to define what you’re capable of. They tend to assign based on an arbitrary assignment, or how they perceive you showing up to work because, you’re only going to get here, or you’re only going to get so far, or they’ll treat you as much. Whereas you’ll see other people being treated and given the benefit of the doubt, of success, or getting these promotions, or raises or getting paid more than you for doing the same. All sorts of things. And I’d say don’t ever accept the premise of what someone else has set out for you. Like if I had listened to people or trusted the managers, many of the managers, all men, the women never did this; telling me like, you’re never going to get to that position. No one’s ever going to pay you more than $60,000, I was told that. 

Rachel: That’s horrible. 

Tiki: Yes, I was very angry that day. I had a master’s degree too. And I was being told, “No one’s ever gonna pay you $60,000 to do this work”. And I was like, fuck you, was my actual response. I was fired from that job, in case you’re wondering. So yeah, don’t accept that premise, and take risks. Sometimes, jobs aren’t going to work out. Sometimes you might get fired, and it’s shitty, it does not feel good. But once you start internalizing the negative things that other folks are gonna say about you, you’re just not going to succeed at the level you could otherwise. 

Rachel: Yeah, no, that’s such good advice. So we have another question from Stephen on what operational or management lessons good or bad do you implement today, from your time at Facebook, that we could apply to our own companies? 

Tiki: I loved management at Facebook, because it prioritized taking care of your employees, it was an employee-first management system, which I love. So one thing I’ve internalized is one, making sure that managers are reviewed by their managees, I think is super, super important. And one of the things that we were measured on was perceived care for employees. Like what things did managers do to demonstrate that they cared about their employees as people? It doesn’t mean you like, go out and tell everybody like I care about you so much every day. But you know, for me, the way that I perceived care was that my manager listened to what I said in one on ones and provided. If I said I was really interested in learning about measurement, for example, which I really want to say I’m such a measurement nerd. She would provide opportunities for me to work with the measurement team so I could learn more about how it is that we do digital labs. So things like that. Another thing I really loved about how Facebook did management was that one on ones were forced so you always knew where you were and there were mid cycle review conversations where there was never a question about where you stood in terms of your performance. You had very direct conversations about you can improve here, you could not improve here. But management’s job wasn’t to necessarily help you improve your flaws but to figure out how is it that you can do more of the work you love? As opposed to doing or like spending all your time trying to be perfect all around candidate. We have our strengths, we have our weaknesses, how can you spend more time doing the things you’re good at? And management can build a diverse team to figure out what are the hire people who are good at the things that their team was currently bad at. And that was wonderful. They made us all take Strengths Finder, and I love that book. I think someone asked me about books. Love Strengths Finder. 

Rachel: Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. Are there any other books that you would recommend or that have been really influential to you? 

Tiki: Brene Brown, Dare to Lead? I love it. Strengths Finder was amazing. And honestly, I love the crazy rotation series. I think everyone should read it to just relax their brain if you’re into like gossip and salacious, just shows or salacious content, I loved it. Those are like my three books. 

Rachel: That’s great. I love it. Most people when asked about books in this type of situation will always talk about like business or management books. So I appreciate the break books as well, especially for something different. Awesome. So I’m just looking at the timer. We’re about to come up on time, but just want to ask one last question we have from IJ is what is one habit that you never fail to do every day? And I’m going to add that like leads to your success. 

Tiki: That’s such a good question. Gosh, what do I do every day? I go for a walk every day. And I have a dog, which is I think how I got in this habit. But on my walk, I legit think about my day, and it’s very meditative. And if my dog isn’t with me, I still walk. I think it just gives me time in the morning to almost do like a moving meditation of like, here’s what’s going on in my head, here’s how I’m showing up to things. You [unsure word 32:10] to a lot of therapy, I think a lot about what’s in my head and how I’m probably gonna show up to things. And it’s just nice to get some fresh air. The sunshine is good. It’s nice to know the weather. I try not to if it’s like raining outside, but I’ll still just sit there and think. I also have a cup of tea every morning. And I think it serves the same purpose of that. That’s the deliberative process in my head. 

Rachel: I love it. Yeah, just like finding a way to move or like sit still and think about what your day is gonna look like, think about how you can be successful or kind of what you have to do and give yourself some time to prepare or depending on when your walk is to take a mental break or allow yourself to process. 

Tiki: Yeah. 

Rachel: Awesome. All great things. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This was such a great conversation, so many insights across health, across management, across how you think about kind of your day, and the hacks that help you be successful. So, thank you for coming on. 

Tiki: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

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