Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari
April 12, 2022

Episode 6: Cindy Abel

Gandhi said "be the change you wish to see in the world" and Cindy Abel is doing just that. Former interim CEO of Hands on Atlanta, and Founder of Liv2Bme, Cindy grew frustrated with the negative impact that social media is having on young teen girls and decided a change was needed. As a mother of 3 children and co-founder of a technology company that she ran for more than 2 decades, Cindy put her resources and energy into creating a social media outlet that would encourage positivity and a healthy self-image for teen girls. Angela speaks with Cindy about her journey through VC fundraising, app development and focus groups.

Gandhi said "be the change you wish to see in the world" and Cindy Abel is doing just that. Former interim CEO of Hands on Atlanta, and Founder of Liv2Bme, Cindy grew frustrated with the negative impact that social media is having on young teen girls and decided a change was needed. As a mother of 3 children and co-founder of a technology company that she ran for more than 2 decades, Cindy put her resources and energy into creating a social media outlet that would encourage positivity and a healthy self-image for teen girls. Angela speaks with Cindy about her journey through VC fundraising, app development and focus groups.


Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari, Episode 6: Cindy Abel

Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast. Where powerful women are interviewed every week to share real inspiring stories and incredible insight to help women or anyone break the barriers, be a part of innovation, shatter the glass ceiling and dominate to the top of their sport industry or life's mission. Join us as we celebrate exceptional women and step into our power. And now here's your host. Angela Gennari.

Angela Gennari: Thank you for being here. This is the Pretty Powerful Podcast, and this is Angela Gennari, and I am sitting here with Cindy Abel. So, thank you so much for being here, Cindy. I am very excited to have you on because you are doing some really cool things for women and for young girls, and I really want to talk about that, but before I do that, let's introduce you properly. So, Cindy is the CEO and co-founder of Live to Be Me. The COO of Kevin Abel for Congress, or sorry, was the COO of Kevin Abel for Congress. The co-founder of Abel Solutions, which is an IT company that she started with her husband acquired in 2016. Congratulations on that.

Cindy Abel: Thank you.

Angela Gennari: And a manager at Anderson consulting international consulting firm. Personally, she is...

Cindy Abel: That's where I started.

Angela Gennari: That's where you started.

Cindy Abel: I'm sorry to interrupt. That's where I started my career.

Angela Gennari: Okay. And then a mom of three grown children, two girls, and a boy out in the world doing great things. That's amazing and passionate about the need to change the massive, big tech culture, making huge profits at the expense of our mental and physical health, and yes amen to that. Philanthropically she is active on voices for George's children and leadership, Sandy Springs, board, and active on the hands-on Atlanta and cares advisory boards, and you were the interim CEO of hands-on Atlanta and passport members. So, thank you for being here. You have a very impressive list of credentials and I'm super excited to talk to you because of all the great things that you're doing. So, you owned your it consulting company for about 20 years. Before it was acquired.

Cindy Abel: 23.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's amazing. So, tell me what led you into the IT industry? Because it is not normally a place where you see very many women. So, what exactly was it that led you to that industry and how did you get your start?

Cindy Abel: So, when I went to college, I went in as an undeclared business major. And my freshman year, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. My father really declared business just because my dad was a corporate person. He worked for Sears for 26 years and climbed up the corporate ladder and I just admired him and I didn't really know what else to do, to be honest. So, when I got there my freshman year, they had a brand-new program called Management Information Systems. And so, they called all the business majors in because they were trying to attract people into that major. And we went into an auditorium, we heard about it at the time I was taking a computer science class, I was taking a programming class, on the side. And I really liked it a lot, surprisingly. And so, I was really intrigued by it and I just kind of fell into it. So, that was my graduate degree in MIS. So, that's how I started. And then coming out of school I, again, I was kind of shooting in the dark. I didn't have a whole lot of support. I had support from my dad, but in the way back then that you received support was these are the things you got to go do, go do them.

Angela Gennari: I'm familiar.

Cindy Abel: I graduated from school. I didn't have a job when I graduated. I worked three jobs just to pay the rent. So, those kinds of things, but good lessons to be on your own and have to work 24 hours a day and menial jobs, and I'm not saying meaningless because there's a lot of people that have to do that in this world and it's a good way. And I made my kids all work in the service industry. So, they would have to understand how to treat each other, Treat other people with respect.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. I think it's essential. My son's the same, he's 15, as soon as he turned 15, he went and got a job at Chick-fil-A. Because I told him before he can do anything else, he has to work in the service industry. Because you have to know how to serve people and people are going to come to you in all kinds of different forms. Some of them are happy to see you and some of them are very angry and you have to know how to deal with all of that.

Cindy Abel: You do. And helps you understand later in life, I think that everybody's job is important and you need to treat people with respect.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely.

Cindy Abel: So, coming out of that, I was fortunate enough to, um, get a couple of consulting job offers. One was at Price Waterhouse Coopers at the time, and one was at Anderson Consulting in their IT Strategy Solutions Business, and I ended up taking a job at Anderson, where I worked for seven and a half, eight years. And I really just loved it. And so, I really consider myself as somebody that didn't know what they wanted to do going into college and then coming out and not really having any direction or mentors or anything like that. I really consider myself lucky to have fallen into something I actually love.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely well, that's wonderful. Yeah. And then you went and started your own IT consulting company. This is incredible because coming into IT I'm sure that was scary. It's a brand-new industry really. I mean, there, wasn't a lot of it going on at the time and now you're coming in and they're just trying to get this college program started, they're trying to kick it off. You are at the forefront of that. And then you take that experience and immediately, and you launch your own company. Which is another scary venture, but you jumped into it.

Cindy Abel: It was a very scary venture. So, how did that sort of transpire as I met my husband at Anderson Consulting? He left the firm a lot earlier than I did and worked at Bell South and some other big corporate entities in technology for several years. And then he comes from a background of entrepreneurs. His whole family is like his father, his stepfather, and his brother. So, he really wanted to get out on his own and do his own thing. And so, he approached me and said, I'd really like to start our own company, and I decided to help him. And so, we co-founded it together. I was still at Anderson at the time. So, the idea was that I wouldn't jump into the business until we kind of got off our feet because I was a manager at the time, and I was being offered part-time work. I was pregnant with my first child.

Angela Gennari: Oh wow.

Cindy Abel: And I would receive full benefits for working part-time but when I had the conversation coming out of maternity leave, the offer was yes, you can be part-time but you will be full-time travel to Chicago. And so, being a mother was really important to me, and being there for my kids was very important to both of us. So, we both, I just quit my job and we both took the plunge and started our company right out of the gate with no benefits and no salary to support us.

Angela Gennari: That's scary.

Cindy Abel: A lot of pressure being a young family. And then we hired our first employee the day after I had my second child at two and a half years later. So, that was kind of when, you know, but it was a struggle for many years in the early years.

Angela Gennari: Oh, I know. I've been there. It is scary. I mean, you leap and they say leap and the parachute will appear. It's not always that easy.

Cindy Abel: No, it's not. I remember...

Angela Gennari: As the parachute comes 50 feet from the ground, but you're there

Cindy Abel: Just I think back to just going to this store and buying diapers and wanting to get the Pampers, but having to go to. This other brand, because we couldn't afford it or so it was a lot of that kind of stuff early on.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. But then your kids were Abel to see their entrepreneurial parents. And I'm sure that's made a big impact on them, and I'm sure I know with me, my mother growing up was not entrepreneurial, but she was very much... she had worked three jobs and always grinding and just doing whatever she had to do. Which is a very entrepreneurial trait. So, even though she wasn't necessarily an entrepreneur, I learned entrepreneurship really from her. Because she had to make her own way, and that's what an entrepreneur does. And so, my son who like I said was 15 he's 15. The only thing he wants to do in life is be an entrepreneur. Because he sees that and he sees the grind and the hustle that comes with it, and now it becomes like a passion of, I love that, like I want that.

Cindy Abel: I agree.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. You wake up every day with this purpose, I don't know what today's going to bring, but I'm ready for it.

Cindy Abel: Yeah. And I'll be honest when my husband wanted to do this, I kind of looked at him and I said, really, I was nervous about it because that's not the background I came from. I came from my dad climbing the corporate executive ladder. And so, I kind of had always envisioned a business that way. I'd never really thought of entrepreneurship. So, very different mindset now.

Angela Gennari: Very yes. And now you almost want it for your children and you want to tell other people about how wonderful it is even, you know, but I say, it's not for everybody. If you really like knowing how much money is going to be in your account every week, entrepreneurship may not be for you.

Cindy Abel: So, risky.

Angela Gennari: You're taking your risk; you're trusting a process and you don't always know what the results are going to be. And it takes a lot of internal courage to constantly wake up every day and take the risks that you take. But I think it's more rewarding to me at least is the way you get out of it. I know that you have a lot of great philanthropic activities, and it's great that you're highly involved with hands-on Atlanta and voices for Georgia's children. So, tell me about what led you down that path? Why did you put so much time and effort especially as an entrepreneur, into giving back to your community?

Cindy Abel: That really goes back to my husband and one of our shared values early when we first met was, that he was actually a big brother at big brother's big sister. And when I met him, he was that, and I was a big sister. In the same organization, but we didn't know each other. So, we both kinds of had that desire to give back or help the young or so when we started our company, it was at very important, well, it was before that, because hands-on Atlanta started, I think it's 1989. I hope I'm not wrong on the year, but we actually, where it was before we got married and we were looking for something to do as busy corporate dinks, I guess back then is what they called us.

Angela Gennari: Yeah, and for those who are listening, who don't know it's double income, no kids. Because I remember yes.

Cindy Exactly, that was a famous word back then. So, we were looking for a way to volunteer, but with busy schedules and a corporate job, we both had to give up our big brothers', and big sisters' commitments because they were required us to be boots on the ground and we were traveling a lot. So, Han on Atlanta came out in the AJC with an article about this new organization that was started by this group of 12 young founders who are our age and calling everybody to come to the days in, it was over near Monroe somewhere. I can't even remember, and we all end up in this room that was packed full and they were offering opportunities to young professionals like us to go out and volunteer when you had the time and not necessarily commit yourself to one organization or one particular interest. But if you had a Saturday free, you could go out and volunteer.

So, my husband and I end up getting very involved with that organization over time. And I ended up doing it, they have a long-standing program there called Discovery. Where you would go into the different elementary schools that they had partnerships with on Saturday mornings, and you would build curriculum for the kids and kindergarten the fifth graders. And so, we just really enjoyed the opportunities the organization gave us back then. And we moved into being corporate sponsors as our business, and then I moved on to the board and I'm still on the advisory board today. So, I've been with the organization for many years in many capacities, but he and both shared back to that value system, the idea that as business owners, we were responsible for our community. And so, it was important to us to not only do it for ourselves but also give our employees, we did hands-on Dan Atlanta day, every year with our employees. And just give a role model type of sense to everybody that was around us, that giving back to the community from a corporate perspective was very important. So, corporate social responsibility, I guess, is very early on.

Angela Gennari: And I remember, um, back in my days of working in the corporate world, we did volunteer with hands-on land. I remember doing landscaping. At one point [Cross talking 14:00]. some landscaping for a few neighborhoods, and we would go and plant flowers for elderly citizens, and work at food banks and I love those opportunities, and I think when you're coming up into the corporate world, I think it's really important for corporations to do things like that with their employees, because it grounds their employees to know that there's a sense of community within that organization, and I think that that really shows that the corporations care about the communities that they're serving, and it's important for...

Cindy Abel: And I really think that back then that was starting to become something that was more realized, and today it's very much in many of the corporate cultures now thankfully. And I'm very happy to say hands-on Atlanta is still thriving today.

Angela Gennari: Yes. I know. I still see it. That's amazing. I love that. And so, tell me, I know that it's very challenging or it can be very challenging to get an opportunity to serve on a board of directors, and you are on several. And so, how do you get those opportunities? Because I know that there are people who are doing, you know, they're doing well in their careers, but they want to go to the next level and serve on a board of directors. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to serve on a board of directors for a nonprofit or an organization? What steps would they take to do something like that?

Cindy Abel: Well, so for me I was on the board of directors for hands-on Atlanta, pretty early on in the large part, we were monetary sponsors and those types of things. So, I think that gives you a sense of when you're involved as an entity or a corporation in something. A lot of times you're asked to be part of the leadership.

Angela Gennari: And you want your voice to be heard?

Cindy Abel: And you want your voice to be heard, but I think over the years, there are certain organizations for example care, and the one I'm really active in today is voicing for George's children. And a lot of times what I'll do now just use some of my connections and say, I haven't served in this capacity in a little while and I go and ask somebody and say, it's time for me to find the right role. And so, if you have your foot in the Atlanta philanthropic community, that's usually not a very hard task. So, I really feel like it's just a matter of them is people knowing that you're interested and then the people that helping you find those opportunities.

Angela Gennari: So, it really comes down to relationships and community building, and I think that's important for so many aspects of being an entrepreneur, and moving in your career is the relationships that you're building along the way.

Cindy Abel: A hundred percent,

Angela Gennari: And also, why it goes back to never burn bridges. Because you never know the hand you bite might be the hand that feeds you next week. So, always maintain those relationships and keep that network solid. So, that's great. So, both of those things, your entrepreneurial venture, and your community work have led you into life to be me and I'm really interested to talk to you about this. So, tell me a little bit about Live to Be Me and how you come up with the idea?

Cindy Abel: Okay. Well, I'll give you the high-level, one sentence. Live To Be Me is a positive, supportive of the social lab for teen girls that inspires healthy self-images. I always emphasize healthy these days, because we have all been around the news that is now telling us that there's plenty of research out there saying it's not so healthy, but we do that by having kind interactions, and meaningful connections within our app. So, that's very important to us.

Angela Gennari: So, how does that happen? Is it something where let's just say somebody, is it somebody posts a picture and then what, like how does your app differ from like an Instagram or a Snapchat and talk about how we can encourage girls to be kind to one another?

Cindy Abel: So, maybe I'll give you a little history. So, when we first started this venture, my co-founder and I, Tasha Marks. She's still, my co-founder still my business partner. She and I had daughters and they were young at the time they were both getting on social media, and this is back in about 2012. We were at that point called Live to Be Girl, and we were neighbors and we came together and said, we really don't like what we're seeing with our daughters, we don't like the exclusionary behaviors, we don't like the bullying that we're seeing. Whether it's intentional or just felt, we don't like the fact that some of the girls would put up a picture on Instagram, and if they didn't have a hundred likes in an hour would take it down. It was really our mom's gut that was feeding us to go out there and try this. So, we spent a couple of years doing that, we actually self-funded our fir our website at the time, and really spent a year looking at the type of features we should build in their behaviors on the website.

Anyway, so, we did that for a couple of years. What we found back then was we needed capital. It's a very risky technology business, and a lot of our conversations about it were following on deaf ears because there wasn't any data saying that there was really anything wrong. So, it was just our guts. There was really a lot of investment out there, but it wasn't for our type of company, nor did anybody that was the investor really understand social media or the concept of having a social enterprise or a social impact enterprise. So, anyway, for many reasons we put it to sleep for a little while. And then in 2020, we came together and I really wanted to see if we should just stop pursuing it or if we should if there was a reason to keep pursuing it.

So, I started doing a lot of research right then there was a nonprofit that had come out recently called Center for Humane Technology. And center for humane technology. When I found that website, somebody had sent it to me, it was a bunch of bus business ethicists from the Silicon Valley world, Google Facebook, the big monolithic companies are running all these media platforms. And they had a bunch of business ethicists that came together and said, we have an issue here. Social media is actually causing societal harm. And we need to come together and figure out a way to address that. And so, on their website what is called A Ledger of Harms and it not only talked about digital addiction and mental health issues for kids, but it also talked about things like political divisiveness and MIS disinformation that was being caused because the platforms aren't regulated at all.

Angela Gennari: Or what they call fact-checkers are actually opinionated people who are putting their own agendas in. So, there's no actual fact-checking going on.

Cindy Abel: So, you're right, because it's not media as the traditional media, and they didn't want to be media.

Angela Gennari: Right. They don't want to have the same regulation.

Cindy Abel: That's right. So, anybody that's out on these platforms, a lot of times can claim to be some sort of expert as we're all finding out now. And that's when the misinformation starts and that's when you start sharing things over multiple airways that are false. So, anyway, discovering that nonprofit and then seeing more data come out about the mental health issues, 152% increase in preteen suicide. I mean, just the statistics on it are very alarming from an anxiety, depression standpoint, and body image issues. I think we are all aware now that from the Facebook files that the internal organization of Facebook was doing their own research on mental health and teen girls, and they themselves identified that one in three teen girls has body image issues because they use Instagram app. And so, that's alarming.

Angela Gennari: It's very alarming.

Cindy Abel: And I think as parents, as citizens, we should all be nervous about this giant corporation that has created these algorithms that are purely for revenue, but are no good for you, me, especially our kids.

Angela Gennari: Well, and each time you have a new filter or some other way to disguise who you really are and create this unrealistic image of you. I think it leads to even worse problems because people aren't recognizing, that this isn't real... this isn't what you really look like in real life. And so, little girls aren't understanding that as much, like that's right. Even we can differentiate, we have that sense of like something doesn't seem quite right, but a girl who's maybe 11 or 12 isn't necessarily Abel to make those same judgments.

Cindy Abel: That's correct. So, with all this data and information we started asking some teenagers if they liked the idea of an alternative app. Yeah. Did a lot of research with groups of teenagers in early 2020 and found that they didn't like the life to be a girl. They thought that the word girl made a teenager, that was 16 feel too young. Didn't like our logo, it was too babyish. My niece was the most vocal about that. So, we went on a mission to rebrand. So, we hired a brand strategist to redo all the branding, in the meantime, I also went through a women's accelerator here in town called launchpad 2X. And I should have probably had that on my bio, but I immediately reached out to a woman Bernie Dixon, who started that organization.

And it's now the CEO is Christie Brown, but asking Bernie for advice on how I should move this forward. And she immediately encouraged me to apply for that accelerator. Which was in the fall of 2020.

Angela Gennari: Oh my gosh.

Cindy Abel: So, it was all virtual. It was all COVID. So, unfortunately, we weren't in person, but it was a great jump start for me. Gave me so much support, and gave me the courage to kind of move forward, because oftentimes I'll say this project is like a bull rolling, a Boulder uphill. It's just, it's gigantic, and I'm just me. So, anyway, we rebranded, and then my co-founder Tasha and I decided to invest in actually building the multiple it's called A Minimal Viable Product. So, in the startup world, if you're a technology company, they really want to see that you've got a product.

So, we invested to create an app and we hired a software company to help us do that. That was done at the end of August last year in the fall, and then in the meantime, we wanted to run, we wanted this to be different, right. So, everybody talks about differentiators. So, one of the reasons that we're different is that we every user that signs onto our platform has to sign a social contract and that social contract says we are positive and supportive, we are authentic and we are kind. And those are the guiding principles of the app. But beyond that, we wanted to make sure that the kids that came on the teenage girls that came on the app were really feeling better. As a result of being on the app. So, through some discussions with local university systems, I had already hired two University of Georgia marketing interns to take over my Instagram account.

And they've built it from 300 to 2,700 since they started. I had an inroad with the University of Georgia and had an introduction to Dr. H who is the person in charge of clinical internships for the department of public health there. And I had a long discussion with her and we decided to sign a memorandum of understanding which is a three-year deal where I get interns to help me do this research behind. Activities on the app. So, and also, we decided that the best people to be the community monitors or mentors were going to be college females because they have just come out of the experience. So, the interns started with me in January and I have three rockstar interns that are behavioral health and sciences majors.

Angela Gennari: That's amazing.

Cindy Abel: And they have been building the infrastructure around doing a beta test in April, which is just coming up. And essentially what that's going to be is 113 to 18-year-old girls and 20 mentors. And they also are creating a training program. Which will include mental health resources and mentoring best practices. So, the mentors that come on will be enabled with information on what to do, should they have warning signs or see things that indicate somebody's in crisis.

Angela Gennari: Well, that's incredible. It's great that you're Abel to develop those partnerships because...

Cindy Abel: The partnerships, the partnerships are really...

Angela Gennari: Going to make this because monitoring, because it's one thing to say, this is what I plan to do. This is what I'm setting out to do, but now you can actually track that and give it measurable results which is amazing. That's really helpful and I'm sure that's going to be great for the investors to see as well. So, tell me about the investor journey because obviously, you need to raise money for this, to make this come to fruition. So, tell me what it's like to go into the VC world, and if you are Abel to walk into a VC company, if you have mentors, if you know, what guidance you're receiving on that end.

Cindy Abel: So, that is a great question. As you know, that's a difficult question.

Angela Gennari: Very difficult. Yes.

Cindy Abel: We were talking before we started this about the small percentage of money that women typically get from ventures.

Angela Gennari: But it's under 3%.

Cindy Abel: Yes, so for me, the conversation is a little bit different because there are traditional venture capital companies. I really model live to be me as a B corporation. Which is a social enterprise and many things that traditional venture capitalists don't like to hear is that they're not going to receive a 150% return on their investment. So, the idea behind the social enterprise, and I've been studying this a lot and talking to a lot of people in the social impact space, which is starting to be a lot more relevant in the communities from a fundraising perspective. So, I'm not going to be attractive to a traditional VC.

I am really looking to engage with impact investors that want to see real change. They really want to see us move the needle on things we have to change in our social media environment. I mean, the way I look at it is that I could wait until regulations are put into place, but as a friend of mine, so eloquently said a 13-year-old girl is 13 years old for 365 days. Then she's 14 and the damage is done. So, I'm feeling a lot of pressure to get this in the public space as quickly as possible. And to that end, I'm really just networking with as many people as possible in this impact venture space. I am happy to say that in January I received my first a hundred thousand dollars investment from a private equity person. She is a woman, she does have three daughters, and she does not wish to publicly be named but a wonderful person that's investing in the mission.

Angela Gennari: Well, congratulations.

Cindy Abel: Thank you.

Angela Gennari: That's a huge hurdle. Let's just get that first investment. Because a lot of what the investors will say is, well, who else is in? Who else is going to take the risk? And so, they want to know that there's a company and what they're doing and that there's another interest in.

Cindy Abel: And I'm also trying to, I mean, we both talked about this earlier, too. Your network is very important. I'm reaching out, back out to everybody. I know, and I'm really a powerful believer that one conversation leads to two more. And then so on and so on and so on. And many of that cover I've been so fortunate that so many of those conversations have led to things that have really jump-started my efforts or moved me forward. Sometimes I'm kind of in awe it's all right.

Angela Gennari: Well, and you never know who you are inspiring along the way. You were brought to this podcast and to me, by somebody who has a tremendous amount of respect for you, and he told me this is somebody you need to talk to. She's doing great things out there in the world. And so, you never know the message you're putting out there and the legacy that you're leaving. And so, I think that what you're doing in this mission that you're on is incredibly important for women to obviously the entrepreneurialism, the giving back to your community, being a mom and saying this isn't right. We have to save our daughters. That's a really powerful message because as anyone who has children will say you live and breathe their happiness.

And so, ensuring that when you see them look at social media and they become depressed because they don't look like the other girls or even boys, am I as athletic? Am I as handsome? Am I as tall? Like whatever the boys are measuring themselves by and whatever the girls are measuring themselves by, there's a constant comparison of, am I good enough? And there's not enough kindness on social media. And there's a lot of divisiveness and the divisiveness scares me. Even as adults, it's shocking to me how divisive people are on social media, and I mean, unfriending people, because they don't believe what you believe politically. You support a cause that they don't support and suddenly they're criticizing you, and it's like, we have to do better for each other. We really do. And young girls, they can't make those same decisions about their own life. It's hard for them to pull away when they go to school. I was talking to somebody about how rumors can fly. You have a rumor that starts off on social media and its wildfire. And then they go to school the next day suddenly everybody knows. And it's so scary for these children. And I hate this for them because thank God I didn't grow up in that world.

Cindy Abel: Me too.

Angela Gennari: Thank God that when we went to school, people judged us for who we are at that moment. And not necessarily based on a rumor on social media that hit wildfire and suddenly they're hated by thousands of people and they're getting threats and it's just so unfair.

Cindy Abel: It is.

Angela Gennari: So, I applaud you for stepping up and doing something about it as a mom and as an entrepreneur, I think that's amazing.

Cindy Abel: It's especially important to me that we, the future women of the world are in this generation right now. And we already know that a ton of them have already been harmed. And so, it's our job to try to figure out a way to change the trajectory of that.

Angela Gennari: Yes, absolutely. And not enough is being done by the social media companies themselves.

Cindy Abel: They've ignored it. They've known, they've had the internal research to tell them that moves. They need to make it, and they've ignored it because it doesn't, it hurts the bottom line.

Angela Gennari: It doesn't make money to do the right thing. So, they're going to continue on the path that they're on and continue being divisive and continuing, to promote things that aren't necessarily healthy for us psychologically. So, it takes us stepping up and fighting against that to say, no, we demand better for ourselves. And we demand better for our children. And we're not going to stand for this anymore. So, I really, I'm just cheering you on because I really want this app to be something that comes about and helps girls. And then perhaps there'll be a version that will be encompassing of boys and girls and everybody can feel like this is something that we're all looking out for them because girls are, gosh their poor little self-esteem, they live and die on social media.

Cindy Abel: They do. I mean, it's changed. It's changed the way middle schoolers and teenagers socialize now. It's changed their whole social environment. It's no longer that you're popular in school or unpopular in school with the kids in school. It's now that your part of this mass culture of followers that are everywhere. I mean, it's amazing to me, how many kids, my kids know. Just because of the following.

Angela Gennari: Oh yeah. My son will tell me all the time. I'll say, oh, how do you know? So and so, oh, I don't know them in real life. I just know them on Instagram or Snapchat.

Cindy Abel: Exactly.

Angela Gennari: TikTok or whatever it is. But so...

Cindy Abel: There are positives to social media, there really are. We just have to get back to a point where the company is valuing the customer. In my case, the customer is a teenager, and I'm going to look at helping them or doing the right things for them first before I'm going to look at profit.

Angela Gennari: So, and that's the right thing to do. And you're going to need investors that understand that because, obviously as an investor, you want to make sure that what you're doing is making an impact. And we think we're seeing more of that, I think we are, I think we're seeing more investors who are understanding that it's beyond profits there's that whole planet, profit people, initiative. And I think people are understanding that sometimes you have to do right for the community in order to help your profits because if we can encourage young girls and we can build up their self-esteem and we can do what's right for them. Then one day they will become great adults who are consuming products. If we don't let them get to that point, if we have given them such self-esteem and suicide rates and everything else, it's just there's a lot of work to do.

Cindy Abel: There's a lot of work to do.

Angela Gennari: A lot of work to do. And I applaud you for everything that you're doing because not enough people are stepping up to the plate and saying, this needs to be fixed.

Cindy Abel: Well. And I consider myself very fortunate. My husband and I, we did have an acquisition of our company but neither of us was ready to stop moving. So, I just feel very grateful that I have the ability to spend every day doing this and dedicating myself to it. We're, pre-revenue, hopefully, we won't be pre-revenue within a year. We're going to work hard to try to figure out how to do that. But right now, I've just had so much help along this journey in the last couple of years with my network, with the people I've met along the way, women and men.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. And that's amazing because I think, I don't think this is something, I think every father is going to look at this and say, yes, this is overdue. Yes. And every mother is going to look at this and say, yes, my daughter absolutely needs this. And so, I think that this has it goes way across mother, father, male, female, this is something that really truly the world is recognizing needs to happen. So, I'm happy to hear that. And then you mentioned your company was acquired your consulting company. So, what was it that made you go into that mindset of, I think I'm ready to sell my company? And then here you are launching this one. So, was it had the plan been to sell it, or were you just ready? It was just time.

Cindy Abel: I think it was time. I mean, my husband at the time was really at the helm of it and he was tired and I had kind of stepped out to do the Live to Be Girl thing. Live To Be Me thing. So, he was really just thinking it was time to find somebody else to take it on. And it was really important to the two of us that, and it's still called Abel Solutions under the acquiring company, but it was really important to us that our employees have a pathway, a career pathway that we never grew past a certain number of employees 20 to 30, over the years. Which is great and what we wanted because we wanted that balance. However, we wanted to make sure that whatever happened, our employees weren't going to suffer for it. So, the large company that acquired us gave them more of a pathway in a career sense. So, I just think it was time.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. That's very fair. So, what or who inspires you?

Cindy Abel: There are so many people that inspire me. I have to say that the Young Generate, so, now my daughter Danielle is 27 and my daughter Juliana is 24 and they're both... my daughter is at my middle daughter's at school at Baylor, my older daughter is a doctor of physical therapy now and she works out in Tucson, but just watching the girls and all of their friends and their sense of themselves at this age does inspire me because I think about back when I was that age they're more inclined to understand the things that are going on in society. They're seeing what's happening from what we're this the culture that we're in now, where we're understanding that there's a lot of disparities that a lot of people haven't been recognizing for so long and they're speaking out and they're speaking up for those things, and I don't know that back when I was that age, I had any sense of those things. And so, I think the younger generation that I'm seeing, I really like that they're standing up and using their voices to help change things. Absolutely, and they seem to have a lot of confidence around that and they seem to have more of a voice than I might have had back then.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. I definitely see that too. I see that with my son, and I see that with their generation. That they're more vocal about the things that are wrong in the world or things that are unfair and things that need to be addressed, and I think that it's time.

Cindy Abel: And I think as I've gone into a couple of the university systems, I had the pleasure to speak to a business and society class at Emory, which was the most fun I've had in two years, honestly, because the kids were so engaged, kids, young adults were so engaged and had so many questions around this issue of the impact of social media and our world today that we're facing with all these questions, but they really want to get out and have a job, but not just any job they want to get out and have a job that's meaningful to them.

Angela Gennari: Making a difference.

Cindy Abel: It's very different, it's not just about the profit anymore.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Well, and I was reading a study during the whole great resignation and they put all this stuff on LinkedIn about how people are resigning. And so, people were asking like, is it money? Is it money? Is it money? Everybody assumed it was money. It's because of money, but the number one reason is purpose. They want to feel like when they wake up every day, they're doing something that they love or that's meaningful or the company cares and that there's community involvement. So, the purpose was number one. It was that they were looking for a greater purpose, and that was it. So, it wasn't money, it wasn't. And so, all of this talk about, well, we just need to pay people more. No, we need better balance, they need life balance, we can't work people 18 hours a day and expect to show up, ready to go every single day. We have to provide a reasonable solution for life balance for purpose, for the community, and for giving back. And so, until we address all of those, we're going to keep continuing [inaudible 48:55] ...

Cindy Abel: Yeah. And that's inspiring in itself.

Angela Gennari: So, tell me about a time when you like women, we give away our power a lot. We tend to it's because my spouse did this and it's because my children it's because my coworkers it's because we give our power away because we don't feel comfortable stepping into our power as women. So, tell me about a time that you did step into your power and what that meant to you?

Cindy Abel: Well, I think over the years, being in it as a woman, at the beginning of my career was very daunting and a lot of times I didn't have the voice within me to write. Stand up. I mean, I was mostly working with males in my roles, and absolutely it was hard for me to stand up for myself back then. I think I have found my power now. And most recently, probably in the last 6, 7, and 8 years, it was really powerful for me to get involved and figure out how to do this. And take charge of it in a way that even back in 20 12, 20 14, I didn't. I was intimidated by the investors I was talking to, which were mostly, and I say this with no ill intent, but right. We're mostly older white guys. That just kind of laughed at us or the intake think we were crazy or our idea was crazy.

Angela Gennari: Well, and they weren't relatable. They're not relating to you. They may not face the same challenges. So, your audience sometimes needs to change.

Cindy Abel: And men and women, as I said before earlier, have really empowered me over the last two years in a way I've become more vocal about where I'm going with this, and I'm not changing course on that just because somebody tells me that it's not going to work, that it's too risky. It just takes one person to try to move the needle forward, and if you just act every day with that purpose and mission, then I think. All of us can achieve great things.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely, and I think people look at they advise you from their standpoint. So, they say it's too risky. What they're really saying is it's too risky for me. And so, they show you, their limitations. It's not necessarily your limitations. So, people have no idea what you're capable of and the fire that's in you. And so, but when we give advice to somebody or we say I think that's a crazy idea. That's because it's crazy to them, but our journey is different. And so, a crazy idea of starting a social media platform might have sounded crazy to somebody before Facebook happened, and then look at it now. And so, everything is crazy until it's done.

Cindy Abel: And I've been lucky I have a business partnership with this woman that I met. Her name is Robin Farrell through launchpad. And she has the whole company around mental health she's been studying and has mental health resources, and her energy, and just having that connection with her has really helped my voice too, in this and that we not only want to make people feel better on this platform, but we also want to make sure that we bring in her mental health resources onto the platform. So, the girls are getting that without knowing that they're getting resiliency stuff. My voice has just become more powerful also because there's been a lot of people surrounding me with these great resources and ideas.

Angela Gennari: Awesome. I like that a lot. So, what advice would you give to an 18-year-old? Are you sitting out on your journey?

Cindy Abel: I would say have a voice, be confident express yourself. Don't be afraid to speak up. I definitely wasn't that back when I was 18.

Angela Gennari: I wasn't either.

Cindy Abel: I think surround yourself with women that can help you with peers that think like you. Be supportive of them, just create a network and safe space around you of people that you love and care about that can help you and guide you along the way and let you have that voice.

Angela Gennari: I love it. And then the last question. What do you wish more people knew?

Cindy Abel: I wish more, I'm not sure that people don't know it, but I wish we all walked around every day, woke up with an awareness that what you're in and what I'm walking in is different and you could be walking through something very bad. And so, this idea that you're in the grocery store and you're just impatient and you don't have time. And somebody in front of yours can't find their money or is taking too long. We all just need to be empathetic and know that that person in front of you has maybe a real issue going on that you don't understand. Absolutely, just like I might have a real issue that somebody might not understand. It's challenging.

Angela Gennari: It's very challenging you have no idea what somebody else is going through. We teach in our training with our employees all the time, we teach empathy because being in the hospitality industry I own a security and event staffing company, and we deal sometimes with people who are very irate, and I tell people if somebody is really mad at you, it's probably not about you at all. And so, give grace. You have no idea.

Cindy Abel: Give grace. I love that. That's exactly right.

Angela Gennari: I mean, you, somebody may have gotten, you know, somebody has a sick child or a marriage where they're going through something or a parent who just passed away. I mean, you have no idea what somebody's journey is and what their day is. So, give grace whether it's a cashier at a store or an employee or somebody meets along the way, just give grace because you have no idea what their journey's like.

Cindy Abel: So, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Angela Gennari: So, thank you so much for being here. This was really enjoyable and I'm so inspired by you.

Cindy Abel: Thank you.

Angela Gennari: And what you're creating. I mean, I know it's not easy to come out and say, I'm going to develop an app and we're going to make a change, and I applaud everything that you're doing because I think it's amazing.

Cindy Abel: Thank you, Angela.

Angela Gennari: Thank you. Have a great day.

Thank you for joining our guests on the Pretty Powerful Podcast and we hope you've gained new insight and learned from exceptional women. Remember to subscribe or check out this and all episodes on prettypowerfulpodcast.com visit us next time and until then step into your own power.

Cindy AbelProfile Photo

Cindy Abel

CEO / Changemaker / But First a MOM

⚬ CEO and Co-Founder Liv2BMe
⚬ COO of Kevin Abel for Congress
⚬ Co-Founder Abel Solutions, a technology services company she started with her husband, acquired in 2016
⚬ Manager at Andersen Consulting / Accenture, International IT Consulting Firm

⚬ Mom of 3 grown children, 2 girls and a boy, out in the world doing great things
⚬ Passionate about the need to change the massive Big Tech culture making huge profits at the expense of our mental and physical health

⚬ Active on Voices for Georgia’s Children and Leadership Sandy Springs Boards
⚬ Active on Hands on Atlanta and CARE Advisory Boards
⚬ Past Board member and Interim CEO Hands on Atlanta