Behind the #BBATX Grants: Meet Mélissa Peng of The Curly Executive
In April 2019, we launched a grants program, providing funding opportunities to businesses that uplift our core tenets of arts empowerment, diversity and equality, creative entrepreneurship, professional and personal curiosity and collaboration.
Since that launch, we’ve been collecting applications from women and nonbinary leaders across Texas for three $500 to $1,000 micro-grants, each funded by businesses in our community who want to offer others the opportunity to come up.
As applications come to a close tomorrow, we’re excited to introduce you to the voices behind this program who have made it possible. Meet Mélissa Peng, founder of The Curly Executive and the funder behind our craftHER Entrepreneur and Women of Color Entrepreneurs grant. (As a committee member at #BBATX, Mélissa has also been instrumental in the creation of this new program. Thank you, Mélissa!)
ABOUT THE FUNDER
The Curly Executive Grants are supported by Mélissa Peng aka Curly Executive a Texas-based Serial Entrepreneur, Business Coach, and YouTuber. Mélissa earned her MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and held roles with marketing behemoths including Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and NBC Universal. After 10 years of successfully climbing the corporate ladder and earning the title of Director of Marketing at the age of 30, she left corporate and her six-figure salary to build a lifestyle focused on pursuing her many passions and her newfound purpose of helping others do the same. Mélissa is a woman of color and the daughter of a lifelong entrepreneur, this grant’s purpose is to support fellow women of color entrepreneurs in pursuing their passions and taking strategic risks in business.
What were your motivations for contributing to the start of #BBATX's grant programs? What motivates you to invest in the community around you?
Mélissa Peng: For me the grants and grant program stem from a life-long practice of supporting women passed down by generations and came from a strong belief that the community can fund itself.
Supporting the community around you, and women in particular, has been a consistent thread throughout my whole life. Growing up, my mother was a virtual Mother Teresa, in my youth she supported several women struggling with disease, and three teens dealing with family issues. These women lived with us for most of my life—I was told they were my "aunts" or "cousins”—helping was just normal for us and "family" wasn't defined by race or blood. My grandmother, a reverend in the Episcopal church had done the same before her. I have over 50 "cousins" in Jamaica who at some point in time benefitted from aid or shelter in my grandmother's home.
Later in life, I'd see this same behavior mirrored in business as my mom devoted her time to helping her clients. She would always put helping before dollars (sometimes to her detriment). That approach opened my eyes to a more human approach to business and to the concept of bartering and collaboration, as she would often find innovative ways to pay the bills while still making it work for her clients.
On a whole, growing up with my mom and hearing stories of my grandmother cemented in my mind a notion that we could all help each other. We weren't well off, and the help was usually knowledge or resources 90% of the time, so that furthered this idea.
I went on to study at Wellesley College a women's college with a motto centered on being of service to the others and "making a difference in the world" and after going to business school at MIT, I left with a distinct understanding of privilege of just how different things were for small business owners versus the well connected, mostly male, mostly white entrepreneurs I was surrounded by there and in my future corporate career. I also learned about the concept of micro-loans and how a small cash infusion could change everything for folks in small business.
The grants, for me, are my way to help and impact my local community and to honor the legacy of helping bestowed upon me by the generations of women who came before me. It also stems from a very strong belief that, as entrepreneurs, small business owners and bossbabes, the community can fund itself rather than waiting for funds from sources who may or may not truly care or want to give.
Money ebbs and flows, and if we all could support one another, invest in one another when we're in flow, I truly believe that we will not only be doing a service to the community, but also a service to ourselves as I have found that investing in community yields a return every time.
which of #BBATX's tenets speak most to you? Why?
Peng: All of them! I truly believe in each and every one of the core tenets and that is the reason why I wanted to partner with #BBATX in launching this program. If I had to pick, I'd say diversity and equality and collaboration speak to me most.
Growing up, "community" never really came easy to me and fitting in everywhere but nowhere was a consistent trend. In adulthood I still feel the strong divisions between the different communities I am technically in. I think the more we focus on not just diversity but real equality and inclusion the more we can take advantage of all of the gems folks have to offer. If I had to pick one core tenet though it would be collaboration, because I believe if we can get that right everything else will come.
what kind of support do you wish you had had when you were just starting out?
Peng: Mentors! A non-judgmental, well-informed mentor would have been ideal.
Growing up as the child of immigrants, there were a lot of systems and networks I didn't have access to and that my parents didn't have immediate knowledge on. I learned early on how to fight for myself and learn systems as I went through life and I eventually made it through two top tier universities, eight years of climbing the corporate ladder, home ownership, purchasing an investment property, and other milestones.
All would have been so much easier if I had just a little more advice and a little more knowledge of how things work. Google combined with random tidbits from people doing the things I wanted to do have been my lifelong mentors. This is a core reason I wanted to make sure to include significant coaching and support as part of the grants.
you'll be advising the recipient of your grant. what are you hoping to share with that person? what can they learn from you?
Peng: I am hoping to share all the things, including some hardcore marketing techniques, action-planning methods, and a friendly ear from a fellow entrepreneur. I am excited to have another bossbabe to partner with and to be inspired by!
how do you exercise personal and professional patience?
Peng: In 2019, I am practicing being kind to myself, embracing my ebbs and flows, and eradicating my penchant for perfectionism while maintaining a high standard of quality in everything I do. I am also doing my best to give the same compassion to everyone I work with.
when do you know it's a "yes?" when do you know it's a "no?"
Peng: It's a yes when it 1.) aligns to my values, 2.) amplifies and aligns to my LONG-TERM goals and plans and 3.) works for my family and health.
It's a no when it's not something I want to do or when I just can't. I am spending a lot of time checking in with what I want to do versus don't want to do these days, and I am listening to my body a lot more.
As I hit my mid-30s I am finding my body says no a lot more than I want to and it rule. I have also had a string of "shit happens" moments in the last year and have learned that pushing through doesn't necessarily get you to your goals any faster and is often a short-term mindset rooted in trying to avoid judgement from others versus a long-term strategy that supports you.
All of this being said, I wasn't always in a position to be able to just do what I want and I understand it's not only a mindset but a privilege. My current rule is 90% what I want and 10% other but that's comes from being able to effectively monetize the things I love and from cashing in on 16 years of dedicated work and good investments in education, skill building, real-estate and developing a strong relationship with my partner.
what are your thoughts on concepts of work/life balance?
Peng: I don't love the term "work/life" balance. I have essentially monetized pretty much all aspects of my life—my creative pursuits, marketing talent, my travels, I even rent out and use my home for business at times, and we have a VLOG so my whole life is on film... which means I am technically working all the time.
The only thing I haven't monetized is binge-watching Korean drama and I am working on that, too! If you look up balance you will see definitions that say something like "different elements in the correct proportion." I think the challenge is finding YOUR correct proportion, communicating that effectively to the people it affects, and adjusting it as your life and circumstances change.
This year I have found myself resting more, investing in smaller scale higher impact pieces of what I originally planned as larger projects, and feeling the urge to travel more and just doing it. For me as long as you enjoy the things you are doing, check in regularly with your values, and can find moments to just stop everything, turn off the phone, maybe take a bath, maybe leave the country—you're good.
It's a mindset, a practice, and could be seen as a risk for some but the more I've built my own recipe for balance the more I have found peace with my current work/life setup.
how do you take care of yourself?
I have few core values, personal goals, and rules that I stick to. I check in with them regularly.
I say NO a lot, I even go back and say no at times after I've said yes if I realize it's not for me.
I turn off the ringer on my phone a LOT.
I schedule my personal life first and everything else around it.
I take cues from my cats. We nap together at times, and we have a little conversations (same goes for the dogs and my orchid collection).
I travel and get away as needed without guilt (I had to build up to this one).
I binge watch TV as needed.
Sometimes, wine happens. :)
what's something you've unlearned lately that you're grateful for?
Peng: I recently discovered that I suffer from perfectionism in my work and in certain areas of my personal life and that I hold myself to a somewhat unreasonable standard at times. I am great at amplifying others, but not so great when it comes to noticing the badass things about myself. I also surround myself with folks who push me to higher levels but who are not the best cheerleaders. It's something that has always worked in my favor in corporate and when I was younger and was able/willing to sacrifice more of my personal time and mental health, but it's poison to me as an entrepreneur and as a woman who is aging and taking on more and new life tasks.
I am still learning to balance very high standards versus nearly perfect standards because I still want to excel in my work and do things the "proper way," but coaching folks has been a welcomed daily reminder that I'm doing big and beautiful work across multiple channels and that I need to look at myself in the mirror and smile more frequently. I am grateful to be on this path and to have my daily work serve as a reminder to give myself a high five from time to time.