Lisa Nicole Rosado of We Are Women Owned on putting your money where your values are

Image of Lisa Nicole Rosado.

Neurodiverse is a term for people with neurological differences, abilities and strengths. Neurodiverse people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways, and for Lisa Nicole Rosado, founder and CEO of We Are Women Owned, it’s her superpower. Diagnosed at age 32, she felt both relieved that she could start living her life entirely unmasked, but also weary of outsider’s perceptions. “I felt like people would think I was incapable of being a successful entrepreneur,” she said.

Likening herself to a bird who craves freedom, flexibility and adventure, Rosado launched We Are Women Owned (WAWO), a platform to discover, shop & support women-owned small businesses after starting her own product-based business and realizing there was a lack of a community of women entrepreneurs in the space. Existing communities did exist, but Rosado was discouraged to find that they required crazy qualifications, revenue streams and added fees — just to be a part of.

“I couldn’t find the community I was looking for, so I created it.”

-Lisa Nicole Rosado

We interviewed Rosado about what it means to be neurodiverse, how it helps her run her business, and how supporting others lead her to support herself.

How did WAWO come to be?

The business started as an online women’s boutique that went along with the blog I was running at the time — Style Theory Collective. I started doing pop-ups and I brought other women owned product-based businesses along with me. I started to think about what was in a name. Not that many women were really owning, celebrating, or making it known that they were a woman owned business. And so there was something really powerful to me about the name, We Are Woman Owned. It meant so many things.

Group shot of We Are Women Owned entrepreneurs.

Can you talk to your neurodiversity — and how that helps you run your business?

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD — at the age of 32. Although I've lived my entire life with it, after officially being diagnosed, it took me a little while to view my own personal ADHD symptoms as positive qualities. With time, I began to recognize that these traits were actually some of my superpowers.

For instance, my impulsivity. When I get excited about an idea (like starting my business) or project, I may be more likely to jump on the opportunity than most neurotypical people. With time, and the awareness I have surrounding how I experience impulsivity, I've really worked at creating space to flesh out these ideas and weigh the pros and cons of them to help me take calculated risks within my business.

Another symptom many women with ADHD are known to experience is being very sensitive and I am absolutely a very emotional, sensitive person. It's what's allowed me to connect with our community and our clients on a more humanistic level. I care so deeply and do think it's likely contributed to being the compassionate person that I am.

“There was this fear of people labeling me as not good enough.”

-Lisa Nicole Rosado

When I first found out, I thought I would be stigmatized — I had been masking my entire life up until then, and I wasn’t great at pretending. But I was scared I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

What made you open up about being neurodiverse?

I had a successful business, yet I was the one making myself feel less than and incapable. I was aware of the challenges that I was facing, and I've learned in the last year to give myself more grace and to have as much compassion for myself as I do for others — and so I do talk about it.

I started to receive countless messages from women stating, “This is me.” I’d get on the phone with them and have deep, honest conversations about our shared experiences, aspirations, and fears. I started to realize that we're all working towards something great and helping each other — there's nothing that I love more.

You run your own business. How do you stay motivated?

I’m passionate about our mission, our community and who we're serving. To me, it’s a bit of an addiction — I frequently get dopamine hits doing the work that I do because I genuinely love who we serve.

Since suddenly losing my mother a few months ago, my priorities have shifted toward finding ways to ensure that I’m truly running my business and that my business isn’t running me. That means I have more time to focus on nurturing my relationships with friends and family members and continue to nurture myself and my interests outside of my business.

This has been a great motivator for me to find ways to simplify our systems and processes while still providing the utmost value we can for our clients and community.

Image of Lisa Nicole Rosado on her laptop with stickers.

Do you think certain qualities push people towards entrepreneurialism?

I think there’s a whole spectrum of people — some thrive better working for others, some for themselves, and some are somewhere in the middle. The world and our businesses need people all over the spectrum to continue to survive & thrive.

I feel like I'm the type that is best suited working for myself and I also love partnering and collaborating with others through the work that I do. In my personal experience, I did find the thought of working for someone else's dream challenging and really felt as though what I needed and desired was more flexibility & freedom in my day-to-day life. It's also important to me that I am immersed in work that I am genuinely passionate about or else I can find myself easily depleted and unhappy.

At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, not having the structure I once had and someone to report to every workday when working for someone else eventually sent me spiraling.

Learning how to hold myself accountable or finding someone to help hold me accountable has been critical in making sure that even the least “sexy” tasks are getting done so we can continue to move the business forward.

What tips do you have for other women entrepreneurs?

For me it comes down to two main components. I need tools that work for me — my brain loves it and I need ease, dependability, and collaboration. Adobe Acrobat Fill and Sign checks all of those boxes — it’s my absolute favorite tool. We send agreements and contracts multiple times a week, sometimes daily because we accept new members into the We Are Women Small Business Directory on a rolling basis.

It’s really helpful to have that tool to make it seamless for the person on the receiving end to sign it. I also like the ability to edit agreements and contracts — indecisiveness happens, and it really does make everything easier.

I also need support and accountability. Having a person or a team in place to work alongside me to build WAWO and navigate the day-to-day operations is crucial. As more of a creative, visionary thinker, something I've recognized I can struggle with is implementing those small steps that bring us to achieving the greater goal. Having a team in place that really understands my heart, my vision, and how I work has been such an asset to me and to where WAWO is today.

How did the pandemic affect your business?

We've evolved a lot in the last two years. We were mainly known for in-person, pop-up shopping events, and once Covid hit, that wasn't happening. While a few of the ideas were put into action as a result of the pandemic, they were seeded prior to it. We'd already started to shift our focus away from the pop-up events because of the toll it was taking on myself and my small team. So, prior to COVID, I knew things had to change in order to ensure that I was taking better care of myself and our team.

I had my gears going, but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. Once the pandemic happened, I went into fight mode — I care so deeply about what I do, the people in our community, and the small businesses we had yet to support that at the time were struggling and really having a rough time amidst all the changes being thrown their way. As a result, we started to do virtual pop-ups and events, and started our paid membership community, the WAWO Sisterhood — a 24/7 supportive, uplifting space where members can ask questions, meet like-minded entrepreneurs, brainstorm and strategize, and share and learn from each other. We wanted to be a resource to these struggling small businesses

Image of Lisa Nicole Rosado and other women entrepreneurs around a conference room table having a conversation.

Is there a mantra you live by?

I often repeat, “The inner work is essential to the outer work”. I have a tendency to overdo it and have had a habit of giving to the point where my cup is nearing empty, which has prompted me to find a better work-life balance

I’ve realigned my thoughts to do the most I can with what I currently have — rather than live above my limit in all aspects of my life. As a woman, a lot of guilt is associated (and wrongly so) with us not showing up above and beyond every single time. Rather than being 100 percent dedicated to giving all the time, I'm also working on receiving

I constantly find myself wondering "Am I providing value?" One thing that I am coming to understand is that there's only so much that I can control and there is so much that is out of my control. While it might not always be apparent to those on the outside, as a team, we pour so much love, time, energy, attention, and resources into what we do. And, while at times, it can be overwhelming, we hang onto why it is that we do the work that we do, which continues to be our driving force, and do our best to carve out time to make sure we are nourishing ourselves in the process so that we can continue to do the work that we love to do and to do it well!

What would you tell your younger self?

That you will find the courage, that your voice will be heard, and that you're going to help so many people in a meaningful way. I've always felt like I had so much to share, but I was so introverted, and hid from the world. In college at Pace University, I majored in acting, which helped equip me with the tools I needed to put myself out there, share my story and find my voice.

You’re constantly evolving WAWO – what’s next?

I don’t like to feel pigeonholed in any way — I’m constantly changing and so is our community, so we find ways to be flexible and honor where we’re at in the present moment. I often do a temperature check, poll the community, and really listen to where we’re at. I always aim to find more ways to utilize our platform, our network, our resources, and our audience to help these businesses thrive and get more eyes on them. I truly love the evolution and the ebb and flow of it.

Down the road perhaps we focus on city guides in support of brick-and-mortar businesses, retreats, larger-scale events, or even our own space.