Once the concept for Kotezi had formed in my mind, it was difficult to ignore. I had multiple demanding jobs that required all of my attention. My regular, day job, busier than ever because the pandemic had sent it into a tailspin. My second job as a wife and mother - a job that almost nobody lists on their resume, is perhaps the most important job a woman holds. This left me with little time to put into Kotezi. I found the time, during my lunches and after the kids went to bed. But it was hard, I often had little energy left to give this new baby of mine. It had to be enough, because that's all my mental health could handle.
First, I built a presentation introducing the concept of Kotezi (it had a different name then, but that's a blog post for another time). This was something I had done several times before throughout my career in marketing, brand and category management. I had launched several brands: built their business case, named them, identified their target consumer group, developed pricing, go to market strategies etc. Kotezi was one of the easiest to come together. The mission drove this for me because it was honest and real.
Once I felt the "pitch deck" was in a good place, I started asking people to let me pitch it to them. At first, it was people I knew. I reached out to former colleagues, folks who knew about my penchant for side hustles and passion projects. Then I branched out to people who didn't know this side of me, they were surprised - but excited. After my courage built with friends and some family, I started reaching out to strangers. I sought founders I looked up to, and cold messaged them through social media, asking to pitch a brand idea to get their feedback. I found mental health advocates, and shared with them. So many of the people I reached out to, to my surprise, agreed to meet virtually to hear my story.
It was the same, almost every single time. My message of optimism, turned to sadness, turned back to optimism resonated with them. Most, if not all of the people had either suffered from mental health related conditions themselves, or supported a close friend or family member through their struggles. It was easy for about 98% of the people to identify with my story and my mission, and that gave me the drive to keep going. I gave myself a goal to make at least 10 pitches per month for 6 months. Many of the pitches happened during my lunch breaks, but some people I connected with lived over seas, so I woke up at 4 or 5 am to prep and share my story with them.
It was through these pitches that I found amazing resources that helped me build Kotezi. One of the people I spoke to, knew someone who could help me get the shoes built. When I reached out to pitch him, he gladly accepted because of the referral I gave to connect with him. Before I started, he gave me a warning. I remember it so clearly, because something similar actually happened with another person (and probably more, they just didn't tell me). What he said was, "I'm happy to listen and give you some feedback on your concept, but I'm really not sure how much I'll be able to help you." And that was OK, because that was all I wanted at the time. I just wanted to get my story in front of more people to see if I really had something. I guess I needed validation, or whatever the opposite of validation is to see if this was worth pursuing. As I delivered my "pitch" this person went still and silent and serious. He waited until I was finished and then told me how much this mission resonated with him based on his experiences. He said, he would do whatever he could to help and even offered a next meeting to discuss how to move forward with the shoes. The other former client who took my meeting worked for a very large and prestigious entertainment company. When she got onto the virtual meeting she seemed tired and uninterested, later I saw her change her scenery and become engaged, even taking notes. After I finished my story, she said, "Wow, I had no idea that was coming. I thought you were trying to pitch me to join an MLM". She then went on to explain why this mission resonated so much with her.
Every single time people opened up to me about their stories, it sent chills through my body, and further confirmed that I must follow through and make this happen.