Life Post Kindred Fest
I have been dreading writing this piece since I realized it was something I had to do. Not because I don’t have plenty to say but maybe because the whole experience has just been that overwhelming that I have no idea where to start.
I, Leah Hill, a 23 year old from Detroit threw the Inaugural Kindred Music & Culture Festival. with the help of some amazing other Detroit-bred women. Chelsi Modest. Veniece Session. Tanee Anderson. Hattie McKinney. Hannah Morris.
No experience in my life has made me take as hard of a look at myself. Forced me to recognize my strengths and weaknesses as a daughter, sister, friend, leader, professional and a partner. There are innumerable things I would have done differently, if given the chance. Luckily, this past event was only the Inaugural and I will have many, many years and festivals to become a better version of me in all aspects. Naturally, I am very hard on myself so I often have to take a step back to develop an objective and a fair opinion.
Entrepreneurship, as I am sure many people reading this piece will agree, is the hardest and most fulfilling thing you can do. So in typical Leah fashion, I am going to try compartmentalize my experience and try to make sense of it all.
Planning, Learning & Research
Before doing anything I researched it to death (that’s the nerd and perfectionist in me). I became obsessed with the idea of throwing a festival halfway through my junior year at University of Michigan. Luckily for me, as a student at the Ross School of Business I had access to an abundance of industry and consumer reports. I would spend weekend nights ditching my friends so I could emerge myself with as much information as I could. Everything from information on the live event industry to market research on black-millennial-consumer and social sharing habits.
Closer to the launch, I was introduced to the Festival Thrower’s Bible and it really took it as so. A big “thank you” to the writer Tucker Gumber for providing a path through the logistics of throwing a festival for me. (You too can check out the resource here) It took me about a week to make it all the way through that Bible; highlighting and looking up other resources mentioned within. Had I not did my homework, executing the festival would not have went as well as it did.
Building A Team
In every interview I coordinated leading up to the festival, whenever I was asked what my advice to any entrepreneur listening, my answer was always the same:
CREATE A TEAM OF PEOPLE THAT ARE SMARTER THAN YOU!
Building a team was perhaps one of the hardest things for me to accept as necessary. I am a control freak, period. The idea of putting the success of my baby in other people's’ hands wasn’t something I could get with. My mother reminded me that as capable as a I was this was a huge task and I just couldn’t do it alone, and of course, she was right. Chelsi Modest was the first person I asked to join in on my efforts. She is by far one of the smartest people I know and the fact that she didn’t hesitate to take on throwing a startup festival with me just solidified her status of being the truest form of bad bitch. Venice Session was my next ask, a true production queen. I love to highlight that Venice was the first black woman to graduate with a Sound Engineering degree from the University of Michigan aka another bad bitch. With these two by my side I felt truly comfortable moving forward knowing that one of us would be able to hand any situation thrown at us. Once the festival was announced a few other amazing ladies, Tanee Anderson, Hattie McKinney, and Hannah Morris, volunteered their time and talents to the effort. Between the 6 of us we had a solid team made up of women with different skill sets that proved to be extremely effective in getting everything done.
While it was a hard step to take for me initially, there is now nothing I would do without a team beside me who share the same vision and goals!
Wheww chile…I have never felt the saying “it takes money to make money” as much as now. At Kindred Music & Culture Festival’s conception I saw myself walking away with a bag - a BIG bag. That wasn’t my reality but I’m okay with that. Very seldom does any business see profit in the first two years and that can still often be much longer. I had to wrap my head around the fact that I was making a big investment in myself.
I received initial investment money from family friends who believed and supported me. It was incredibly validating to have people who have know me since childhood believe in me enough to provide capital for my first endeavor. A couple that initially invested came to the festival and wrote me another check right there because they were so impressed by what I had done. I was truly taken aback.
Throughout the planning process every paycheck that didn’t go to my own bills went right into my business account. I believed in me. I believed that the money would work itself out. I’m not terribly in the hole. I call it manageable losses - losses that for a first year festival are extremely positive. However some days, your girl eats a nice plate of sleep for dinner.
*INSECURE SPOILER ALERT*
If you’ve watched this weeks episode of Insecure, you’d recall Issa reaching out to the City of Inglewood to get all the necessary papers that had to be completed for the block party she was hoping to throw. A stack of paperwork was handed to her by a young woman behind the desk who would further tell Issa to pretty much give it up. My eyes bugged out in recognition of that moment and understanding the discouragement that Issa felt.
Unfortunately, I didn’t receive a stack of all the necessary papers needed to throw a festival in the City of Detroit. More than a few times I received calls from people telling me I had to fill out more papers and pay for more things. This happened as close as 4 days away from the festival date. *looks into the camera secretly recording my life*
It was around February that I really started to feel discouragement. I was unable to get approved to hold the event in the initial spot I wanted and was having no luck location scouting. Everything was just swallowing me up. I was beginning to move like I would just try again next year; that it was too much; that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. There were a lot of tears during that time - a lot. A huge thank you is deserved to having my person who allowed me to cry and always reminded me that the only thing that could stop me was me. I was able to find my way through and get all necessary permitting turned in and an amazing location was soon secured.
As someone who already manages depression that comes and goes in waves, to say that my mood fluctuated these last seven months would really be an understatement. When I was up, I was UP and when I was down—it was a real low. On top of the festival, I was also balancing working my day job. Blessed I am to have an awesome boss who was super understanding of me having to take meetings and run out the office to turn something in. There was a lot on my plate, but I wanted to eat.
I was doing a lot of things I frankly didn’t know how to do yet. So there were these dramatic ass moments for me of feeling like I was failing at just about everything. The closer the festival got the harder it became for me to focus on anything without trying to figure out ten other problems in the back of my head. Sleep didn’t even help my constant state of exhaustion. I was simply on edge. Any little inconvenience would surface tears for me. A week after the festival my person came over to my place and said, “It feels light in here, I like it.”
Maintaining relationships has been the most challenging part of this whole experience for me. After putting in everything I had into this project, mentally, physically and financially, I was left with very little to put into the relationships I value the most. It doesn’t feel good to be distant from people you love and I really hope that I won’t be in the same space next year. There is a part of me that feels like this is the time in my life to really focus on myself. Every time I had to engage I would stop and ask myself if I felt like leaving my comfortable condo and if that would prevent me from finishing tasks on my to-do list. The answer was typically no. I did a poor job of watering relationships and I’m sad about it.
I seriously mismanaged balancing personal and professional relationships and almost lost the relationship that meant the most to me in the process. It’s scary to have to look at yourself and see the ugliest parts of you. Scarier to see how the ugliness can affect your relationships and your life moving forward. Achieving my goals in incredibly important to me, but having meaningful and loving relationships is necessary for me to be fulfilled in this life.
I’m entering this new phase of my life where I actually feel like I’m in control. So much of life prior was doing the requirements and now I’m trying to feel out what’s best for me, and that means focusing on me. The experience of throwing Kindred Fest matured me. I have had to make sense of both my strengths and weaknesses and I recognize I am better because of it. I now have experience in throwing an entire festival and leading a team. My focus has sharpened as it relates to achieving my goals. That first taste of success has made me want even more.
More than anything, I believe in myself more than I did when I stated this endeavor. I know what I’m capable of and I know the worth I bring. That confidence has allowed me to move with even more confidence and begin plotting on what’s next for Kindred Media & Entertainment. Overall, I feel like a better leader. Mistakes I’ve made have allowed me to see the potential. While this whole thing has tried me, I am so incredibly proud to have tried it, and succeeded.