Career Fulfillment

Hosted By Lauren Conaway

InnovateHER KC

See All Episodes With Lauren Conaway

Deborah Gladney

Today's Guest: Deborah Gladney

Co-founder and CEO - WorkTorch

Wichita, KS

Ep. #1102 - Career Fulfillment

In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, we’re getting to the bottom of career fulfillment. Lauren Conaway asks Deborah Gladney, co-founder and CEO of Worktorch, the right questions on how to feel fulfilled with your professional journey. They talk about taking a leap of faith and controlling your career. And how a woman of color can find capital funding in this cutthroat market.

Covered In This Episode

Don’t wait for the “right time” to follow a career you love or start a business because it doesn’t exist. According to Lauren and Deborah’s conversation, your decision on when to do it is all that matters.

Want more tips on how to achieve career fulfillment? How can you find capital funding if you’re an underserved founder? Where do you even start when it comes to career fulfillment? These two founders discuss these topics as well.

Get Started with Full Scale

It’s a must-listen episode to inspire you to start a fulfilling career. Tune in to this Startup Hustle episode now.

Listen to Best Entrepreneurship Podcast in the US!


  • Deborah’s career and journey (02:14)
  • Fact: there’s no “right time” to start your business (05:32)
  • The idea that started it all (09:31)
  • College isn’t for everybody (10:54)
  • What does QuickHire (WorkTorch) do? (15:08)
  • On helping people find the right career path (21:19)
  • Changing how long people stay in the service industry (25:38)
  • Deborah’s advice to have a fulfilling career (27:54)
  • Acquiring capital funding as a woman of color (29:12)
  • Thanking VCs and investors that helped underserved founders (38:38)
  • What does the future of WorkTorch look like? (39:40)

Key Quotes

There is never going to be the right time to start your business. There’s never gonna be time to have kids . . . you’re not going to find the most opportune time. But the fact is, if you can find the face and take that leap, you can achieve so many incredible things.

– Lauren Conaway

A lot of people do need some help. I don’t know about you, but I kind of needed some help navigating what I wanted to do. And I had a college counselor and all those things. So that’s really kind of where the genesis of the idea came about to want to help people going into hourly work, hourly positions. And wanting to help them find the right job. And not just a job but more of a career.

– Deborah Gladney

At the end of the day, you have to do the work. You have to show up, and you have to advocate for yourself. And the people who do that best are the ones that succeed the most.

– Deborah Gladney

Sponsor Highlight

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Need more solutions for your business? Our Startup Hustle partners are ready to assist with your needs.

Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Lauren Conaway 00:01
And we’re back! Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host, Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHer KC. And friends, I got to tell you about Full Scale. Today’s episode of Startup Hustle was powered by Hiring software developers is difficult. We all know that. But Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit to learn more. All right, friends, today we’ll be talking about hiring, which I know can be the bane of every startup founder’s existence. It is so hard to get the right people in the right place. And we have with us today, Deborah Gladney. And Deborah is the co-founder and CEO of WorkTorch. We’re gonna be talking about a lot of cool stuff. And I’m really, really excited. I think y’all know that we do some pre-show prep before we hit record. And I have to tell you, Deborah has been wonderful and charming. And I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation now that we’ve hit the record button. Deborah, thank you so much for being on the show.

Deborah Gladney 01:11
Thank you so much. I definitely think that’s the first time I’ve been described as wonderful and charming.

Lauren Conaway 01:20
And I don’t know who you are.

Deborah Gladney 01:23
I’ll receive it.

Lauren Conaway 01:25
But we’re so glad to have you today. And I’m gonna go ahead and just jump right in. I would love to hear about your journey. Tell us about it.

Deborah Gladney 01:34
Oh, well. Thanks again so much for having me today. My journey there are so many different elements to my journey. But I think, first and foremost, I’m a child of African immigrants. And that’s a big part of my journey and who I am. My parents really kind of instilled in us the scrappiness that is necessary to be an entrepreneur. Because, I mean, they came to this country with nothing, no generational infrastructure built in this country, really no money, nothing. They came on a scholarship for school. So they worked really, really hard to get here. And they really struggled to find jobs. They picked strawberries. They worked all kinds of odd jobs. And they already had two children at the time. And then they had the rest of us here and never had any excuses. They just fought and worked really, really hard. And as I said, that’s really a kind of how I learned to be tenacious and to not have excuses. So that’s a big part of my journey. I’m the fourth of five children, co-founded the business with my baby sister. So we’ve always been super close. That’s a part of my journey. I am a wife and a mother of three boys. And I am worn out. But I wouldn’t change it any other way. I have two baseball practices to get to this evening and for the world. It’s so much fun.

Lauren Conaway 03:24
But that’s always why I’m losing my voice, and you guys can hear, but it’s, are you one of the loud moms at the dais?

Deborah Gladney 03:27
Oh, totally. I am so obnoxious. You do not want to sit next to me at any sporting event. And I don’t apologize for who I am and how I am.

Lauren Conaway 03:37
I don’t know if you can tell. But I have a reputation around town for being loud. And I’m just like, hey, you know, you don’t like it, you probably want to stand a little bit further away.

Deborah Gladney 03:46
Exactly. There are options. There are options, and I love them. So yeah, I mean, that’s really a big part that’s all a part of my story and who I am, and finding this, this business with my sister is just such a joy to me. So yeah, that’s me.

Lauren Conaway 04:06
And I love how the family has influenced how you greet the world. You know, you’re talking about your parents who maybe weren’t entrepreneurs in the traditional sense that we automatically think of like they didn’t have a brick-and-mortar business or they didn’t have a high-growth startup. But what they had and what I was hearing is that they had an entrepreneurial spirit. Yeah, I know. Definitely look at challenges in the face and try to find ways to move around them or over them rather than just accepting the status quo. That’s really inspiring. Did your parents have any words of wisdom for you when you started with your sister? I feel like having kids involved in an endeavor that they had to have some advice on.

Deborah Gladney 04:52
You know, it’s interesting because my, my parents and specifically my dad had always encouraged me to consider entrepreneurship, and I wanted nothing to do with it for most of my life hasn’t No, you know, I have that, that stereotypical outlook of entrepreneurship of like, Oh, I just need a steady job. And it’s any paycheck. But we all know that nothing is steady. You never are. But, you know, I had that mindset for most of my life. But he was always planting that seed. And part of it could be because of, like, the American dream that he wanted to see his kids live out, you know, he never really had the opportunity to start his business and didn’t really have the capital to do it. And by the time he says, you know, that that season has passed. And so I think that he was just always, he always saw that for me. And so when we finally decided to go into entrepreneurship, it was almost like, again, he was, it’s almost like, he was like, finally doing this. So he was just really, really excited. And, you know, I didn’t really have too much advice, but I kind of didn’t need it because, at the time, I think I really just needed encouragement because it was scary. I have three kids. When we started the business and everything. And I felt like I had every reason not to do it. And so really, the thing that I needed the most at the time was encouragement. And that’s what they gave me.

Lauren Conaway 06:20
Well, so really quick, I’m gonna, I’m going to ask you to back me up on this, and we’re going to give a little bit of encouragement to the entrepreneurs to be out their friends. There is never going to be the right time to start your business, there’s never gonna be a time to have kids, and there’s never going to be the right time to buy a hat. Like, none of those big life-changing things are going. You’re not going to find the most opportune time. But the fact is, if you can find the face and take that leap, you can achieve so many incredible things. So that is the encouragement that I have for our entrepreneurs playing at home. How about you, Deborah, you got anything for him?

Deborah Gladney 06:58
Love it? Yes. And, you know, I think the encouragement would be, honestly, if I can do it, you totally get. I mean, when we started the business, I was eight months pregnant with our third son, and, you know, terrified, walked away from a six-figure salary. Didn’t have any capital to start, besides, you know, just the work that I had put in, you know, no tech background. Yeah. Yes. All of it. You know, I didn’t have a tech background. I didn’t have a business background. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t know anything. And so I really do truly believe in my goodness if I can be doing what I’m doing today. If anybody can, it’s all about just how hard are you willing to work?

Lauren Conaway 07:49
That’s right. Well, and I find it really interesting, you know, I’m sure that to your parents and your family, entrepreneurship can be a really fantastic equalizer. You know, there is an opportunity available, but it’s one of the quickest ways to build generational wealth, it’s one of the quickest ways to elevate within the hierarchy of jobs, and in all of that good stuff. And so I’m sure that your parents, and maybe most specifically to your dad, like they looked at you and they were like, hey, you know, we have our first generation daughter, and she’s doing the thing. She’s, she’s doing it, and she’s creating this, not just creating the product, but you’re creating a system and a culture that can build on your experience and can really add to your life. You know, I mean, it must have been very cool for them to watch, I imagine.

Deborah Gladney 08:44
I think so. I hope so.

Lauren Conaway 08:47
We’ll see. So tell me this, why hire.

Deborah Gladney 08:51
So our company is an idea that my sister has had for quite some time, my sister and co-founder. So she spent some time living in Los Angeles and worked in inner-city schools. And for us, it just, we just noticed the massive disparities between kids who are college-bound and kids who aren’t. So the kids who were going to college had a ton of resources, you know, college prep, you know, career prep, all these things. But the kids who were going straight into the workforce really didn’t have many resources. It was kind of like just, you know, kind of go online and figure it out yourself. Yeah. When you know, a lot of people, they kind of do need some help. I don’t know about you, but I kind of needed some help navigating what I wanted to do, and you know, I had a college counselor and all those things. And so that’s really kind of where the genesis of the idea came about to want to help people going into hourly work hourly positions and wanting to Help them find the right job. And not just a job but more of like a career. Okay, you know, if you’re going into this position, how can this get you to your end goal? So that’s really where when we thought of it?

Lauren Conaway 10:14
Well, so we’re going to talk about the quick-hire platform here in just a minute. But one of the things, I think you’re saying some really profound things. And I think one of the, the issues at play here is the fact that college isn’t for everybody, you know, whether you are not a natural student, or can’t afford to go or the fact is, I think that I think and correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But I feel as though there’s kind of this dawning consciousness, this realization that not everybody has to go to college. Right, right. And I feel like we’re kind of in a renaissance of opportunity, like once you leave K 12. Education, what’s next? For the longest time, I feel like the only really acceptable Avenue was going to a college or a university. And now, we’re seeing that I mean, not only is that an impossibility for some people, but it’s also not seen as a requirement anymore. Are you finding that to be the case?

Deborah Gladney 11:12
Yeah, absolutely. You know, when I went to college, and fortunately, there were quite a few friends that I had, that were in college and didn’t really want to be there. But they were there, because their parents told them that the only thing that they could do, they wanted to have, you know, life. And you know, most of them have just a whole bunch of college debt. And either a job that has nothing to do with their degree or you know, are still kind of floundering around. But now we’re starting to see quite a shift. And I think we’ve been starting to see a shift for a little while. But I’ve got to tell you about COVID. Although it had a negative impact, in a lot of ways, the one positive thing that I do think that came out of COVID is that it kind of redefined what essential work looks like. And also just kind of it, you know, people had a new respect for certain jobs that they didn’t have respect for,

Lauren Conaway 12:11
like my elite. So I’ve worked in the service industry for many years at the beginning of my career. And so I always had a healthy respect, but survived a pandemic as a service worker and truck driver. That was the other one where it was one of those things where I didn’t really have much feeling about truck drivers in one way or another except for Hey, get away from my car on the highway you’re making right? Now, like post pandemic, I’m like you, you’re the real MVP.

Deborah Gladney 12:41
Exactly. And that really, really, like I said, there were many things that really made COVID hard, but that was probably the one of the greatest benefits for the people that we serve on our platform. Yeah, you know, you know, when you don’t have toilet paper, you know, and the people who are, yeah, the big deal when you have a stay at home order, and you can’t leave your house, and you have to have somebody deliver your food to you, you know, so it’s all these things that we and these in these jobs and these careers that we kind of took for granted. And even the employers took for granted how critical those employees were as fall. So now you’re starting to see, you know, obviously increased wages, but better, better packages and benefits, things that were never offered to this segment of the workforce before. So it’s definitely been a positive shift.

Lauren Conaway 13:32
Yeah, I mean, if you have to point to something positive that came out of the pandemic, and I mean, honestly, like, I think it would be, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the pandemic was really, really, really hard on Wednesday of society. But there were a few good things that came out. And I think people value work life balance, more valuing those people facing service based rules, like there are some good things that came out of it. Yes. So I love the ethos that you just shared with us the fact that you’re trying to support a previously unseen, very unsupported segment of society, like folks who just the traditional college route might not work for them for whatever reason, and you’re trying to provide a platform and you’re trying to provide assistance. But talk to us about how to quickly hire, does that talk about the tactics?

Deborah Gladney 14:28
Absolutely. So just so the audience knows we launched the company in 2020 as quick hire and so you might see that you know, we’ve recently rebranded to work torch but quick hire is definitely you know, how we were born. And that and the reason why we started off that way is because we wanted to first get good at figuring out how we put people into the right job as efficiently and effectively as possible. And so the way Didn’t do that. And the way that we focused on doing that was we put job seekers through an onboarding process where we got to know who they are, what they do, what they love all of these things so that we can best match them with the right job with the right career path and with the right people on our platform, who can help them get to their end goal. And so that’s really how we focused on doing that. Then, last year, we said, Hey, okay, we’ve gotten really good at the, you know, a quick, quickly hiring part. But now we want to focus on how we know what happens to people after that, you know, the attrition problem in the service industry is so Oh, it’s so problematic.

Lauren Conaway 15:50
It’s horrible, transcends industry. Like if you’re in the service sector, the fact is, you’re probably going to experience a ton of turnover. Oh, 100% 100%. Oh, is it could be restaurants, anything?

Deborah Gladney 16:04
Yes. All of those things. And so, you know, we were like, Okay, we were finding that, gosh, we had to keep filling roles, filling roles, filling roles, because people weren’t saying, and so that’s when we really dark started to focus on how can we, okay, yes, we want to keep helping people get in the right jobs and help employers find the right talent. But once they get them, what are they doing to keep them? And so that’s why we started really leaning into trying to build out some retention tools and some more career development tools. And we wanted to choose a name that shows that we did more than just hiring. In November of 2022, we rebranded to work torch that quick fire is still the heart of who we are.

Lauren Conaway 16:51
Okay. Well, so your work torch, I’m going to explore this name a little bit. But when I think of a torch, I think of something that illuminates Yes. It’s that kind of what you were shooting for. On her ability, no, that’s great. I love that it’s well done. The name. Thank you. Now, one of the things that you said that was super interesting to me. And I think that this would have been really helpful when I was in the service industry. You know, I feel like there are a lot of transferable skills that play well in the service space, you know, customer service orientation, friendliness, attention to detail. And the fact is, like somebody who possesses these characteristics, could probably do well, in many different different books, you know, but you are trying to help folks find which will work which position would work best for them, right.

Deborah Gladney 17:47
Get your absolute right.

Lauren Conaway 17:49
Okay, good. I’m glad you’re picking up on it.

Deborah Gladney 17:51
Yes, it’s, you’re absolutely right. Because, you know, it’s interesting, it’s kind of my story. So I have a background of I did a lot of customer service roles, you know, throughout high school. And I loved it. I did a lot of retail, and I really, really loved it. But, you know, I kind of went down that path of like, well, I have to go to college, because if I want to be successful, bla bla bla, like we talked about earlier. And so then I didn’t know what to do. And I was like, Well, I kind of liked computers. So maybe I’ll go into computer science. I had no idea what I meant, I had no idea what I was.

Lauren Conaway 18:34
Like, at that age, who the hell knows what we want to be when we grow up.

Deborah Gladney 18:40
And I’m like, computer science, okay, so I like putting together PowerPoints, that has nothing to do with being a computer science major. So I anyway, it’s that major. And then I was sitting there . It was in one of my algebra classes, and I was in calculus classes, and I was really struggling with it. And I just was like, I just don’t think this was for me and talking to my friend. And she saw something in me, she was like, you know, what, Deborah, you know, you have such great communication skills, you can do this, this and that. Have you ever thought about, you know, studying, you know, journalism and mass communications. And for me, I didn’t even I didn’t even know that. That could be a major. I didn’t, I didn’t even think about that. But had she not planted that seed or seen like the different skills that I had that can lend to a particular career. I probably would have just you know, flunked through you know, this computer science sad because I had no idea what it was, you know, doing.

Lauren Conaway 19:40
Do you think you would have been miserable?

Deborah Gladney 19:42
I would have been absolutely miserable. I am so not a tech, like even leading a tech person at a company. Yes, I I love the idea of how technology can help people. But as far as writing code and all of that, you know, that is definitely a gift that I think is better suited with other people. And so I would have been miserable. And I. So I want a platform to be able to do that, you know, to be able to say, hey, you may not know what you want to do, but you have these skills and these things that you have acquired, you’re really good at X, Y, and Z. Have you ever considered pursuing a career and this, you want? You’re, you know, if you’ve been in the service industry, you’ve been a server, did you know that if you keep down this path, and eventually be no GM, or what have you, and so just showing people what is possible is really what we’re about?

Lauren Conaway 20:39
Yeah. Well, I love that so much. And something else that I love is my friends. I don’t know if you know this, but I love Full Scale. Finding experts, software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit, where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers, testers, and leaders are ready to join your team. Visit to learn more. Now friends, we are here today with Deborah Gladney founder and co founder and CEO, excuse me, of work torch. And we’re talking about like, right now we’re talking about people finding jobs that they are aligned with, you know, and I mean, the fact is like, turnover is a huge problem within many, many industries, many of them service based. And so the work that Deborah is doing through work torch, you know, trying to make sure that the right people are within the right jobs, and that they have a very clear path to success. Because I think that that’s another thing that we kind of lose out on. When we’re talking about service industry roles. You know, you might take a job as a waitress, or a waiter or a server of some kind, but then there has to be a future forward motion is what I’m going to call it, you know, what’s the next step? Do you become an AGM? Do you become an expediter? Will you become a GM someday? Do you work out of the corporate office? What do the next 10 years, 20 years look like? If you’re aligning yourself with an industry? Are you finding that you’re able to help your users kind of parse through all the noise and kind of figure out a very clear destination? Is that that part of the puzzle?

Deborah Gladney 22:26
Yeah, so what’s cool is that even though we haven’t been around super long, we’re seeing that, you know, we’re able to suggest a particular career path. And there are different things that they can do to help them get to the next level. And some of that includes taking some training or, you know, prep courses, etc. And what we’re seeing is that one in three of our job seekers take an upskilling action on our platform. And so that tells us that, you know, people are interested in getting to the next level, and they seem to be excited about the opportunity to continue to grow in the industry. It’s interesting, because, you know, there’s this myth that everyone sees these as a means to an end or just a job to just pay their card, you know, or get them through college. And that is the case for a lot of people. Absolutely. But there are many people who love being in the service industry who love being in the industries that they’re in. And for them, it’s just a matter of trying to figure out, well, how do I have a Y, like you said, get that forward motion. And so that is the thing that we have finally been able to take the veil off is, what does career progression look like in the service industry? Because that’s something that has never really been discussed before.

Lauren Conaway 23:46
Yeah, and I mean, I think I think as with any job, there are certain key components that contribute to job satisfaction, right? You want to feel as though you’re valued. You want to feel as though your strengths are an integral piece of the machine, you want to have managers and bosses and team members who have created a respectful environment of psychological safety, like there are all of these things, but one of the big things is knowing that you’re working toward a goal. Right? And so and the fact is, like, I think that you know, and I know, you know, with the hindsight of, or I guess, with the power of hindsight, knowing that, you know, you make a plan, and then you’re gonna see your plan, blow up like five times a day, probably, like, as long as you have a target or some goalposts to move toward you, you feel a lot more grounded in the work that you do day to day, right. So even just having that plan, understanding that it’s going to, it’s probably going to change, but having that plan can create a real sense of security. Right? Yeah. That the feedback that you’ve been getting,

Deborah Gladney 24:58
yeah, absolutely. Do you know and work? We know that too, because you know, our data is showing it. So the average service industry worker stays about 56 days. At their job, the average? Yeah, 56 days on is the average length of time.

Lauren Conaway 25:16
I’m trying to, like, I mean, I know like when I was in the service industry a couple of times, we would have folks who would like to come in for a couple hours and then just bounce and like, yeah, come back. And I’m like, Yeah, surely that must be dragging down the app?

Deborah Gladney 25:28
Yeah, for sure. And that’s that, definitely. And as you know, the no call, no show problem is another beast that happens in the industry as well. But we’re seeing on our platform that our candidates are staying, on average, three months or more so that people are or are now approaching their jobs differently, like now that they see that, okay. According to this platform, yes, I am a host today. But if I stay on this path, if I work in this job for a certain amount of time, then I can qualify for this position and qualify for this. And this could lead to that. And so it’s shifting the way that people are looking at these jobs. And yeah, I’m excited about it. And I’m excited to keep building so that we can continue to see how this can continue to impact people.

Lauren Conaway 26:21
Well, I can’t wait to see. I’m really curious. So we might have some listeners Out in the great wide world who they’re contemplating a career in the service industry, or they’re already working in the service industry. So what advice would you give to them, you know, what we’re speaking to, and we’re talking about a lot of different associated topics, but what we’re speaking to is is job satisfaction, getting the right people into the right roles in which they will feel fulfilled, you know, the kind of role that will make them feel as though they have a goal that they can work for, like there any number of reasons that work torch can be a really, really valuable thing for service workers. But talk to us a little bit about advice, like if you are looking to find a fulfilling career path, what does that look like to Deborah Gladney?

Deborah Gladney 27:14
Yeah, I think the biggest piece of advice that I would give people in regards to that, especially when it comes to the service industry, is to really take ownership of your life and of your career. Because what we found is that, prior to a platform, it’s as if employees in this industry were kind of waiting for the employer to act, or were afraid to advocate for themselves or afraid to say, hey, yes, I’m a line cook. But I would really love to be a restaurant manager at some point, what does that look like for me? And, and so that would be, that’s why you tend to see the attrition because people weren’t fulfilled. Or people saw like, okay, they’re okay, I will forever be a line cook, and I got to do something else with my life. But that doesn’t have to be the case. And so, you know, really taking ownership of your career. And, you know, on our platform, we could show you what that looks like. But at the end of the day, you have to do the work, right, you have to do the work, you have to show up, you have to advocate for yourself. And the people who do that the best are the ones that succeed the most.

Lauren Conaway 28:32
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I firmly believe that and I love that you have created a tool and a platform to help people kind of work through it. I see. I wish, like I look back at when I was like, in my early 20s in the service industry. And I really wish that I had had a torch. I feel like I probably would have progressed in my career so much more quickly. Had I mean, my life would look very different at this point, I’m sure but you know, being able to, early on, put some thoughtfulness around around my role and what I wanted to do and what I wanted to grow be when I grew up, you know, it would have been hugely helpful to me. Yeah. Now, Deborah, I’m gonna, I’m gonna build you up a little bit. Because you have done, you’ve done something, I’m going to switch or switch conversational tactics right now. You’ve done something really, really difficult. And friends, I’m going to put some context around this situation before I ask Deborah about it. But the fact is, there is a ridiculous statistic out there. Women as startup founders average I think about 2.2% of gain in venture capital funding 2.2% of all of the venture capital funds that are dispersed out there go to female founders. And when you look at female founders of color, that number gets even more and more sad, so sad. And I Can I I’m gonna be really honest with you, I can’t remember how many zeros it is if it’s two zeros or three zeros, but something like point 00 6% of venture capital funds go to women of color. And hey, Deborah, you have gotten yourself some venture capital funds as a woman of color. And I would love to explore that with you. Can you talk to us a little bit about that experience? Yeah.

Deborah Gladney 30:23
Well, first off, I gotta tell you that I just appreciate you bringing up this topic and shedding light on it, because I think that the more that we talk about it, I think the more that we’ll continue to see change, because a lot of times when you don’t really realize how how unfair it is, or even when you hear the statistics, it does sound alarming. And so we’re starting to see that more people want to be a part of the solution, which is great. But guess my experience raising venture dollars, you know, it was definitely a journey. What I found out quickly is that it’s very much a connection, relationship based industry. And my sister and I, we have no relations or connection to the industry. And so that was our first thing. You know, we reached out in the beginning to over 100 investors, and all of them were nose or they just didn’t respond. And so we found out very quickly that it wasn’t going to be as easy as some people made it sound like, you know, I would listen to certain stories and founder stories, and they made it sound like it was so easy. But that wasn’t. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be our story. And so what we did is that we just focused on what we could control.

Lauren Conaway 31:47
Unfortunately, we had to pull money from our phone case, because we didn’t have a lot and what a hug you because we just did that. Here’s what stroke your heart. Like, Wow, looks like I’m not retiring telling me now. Exactly. Right?

Deborah Gladney 32:03
Oh my gosh, like we were just like, okay, the goal is to be able to build this thing to where we can make way more than 401 K’s.

Lauren Conaway 32:14
But yeah, leap of faith, if you’re lucky tomorrow for what you believe you can build today. And that’s a cool thing. It’s a powerful thing. It’s also a very soul sucking thing.

Deborah Gladney 32:24
Oh, percent 100%. It was difficult. But I mean, it was either we do that, or we just didn’t let the idea die. And so we did that to get the thing off the ground. And we didn’t have to put in much. But just enough to get a beta out there. And it was ugly. But we’re like, okay, if we can get something out there and start getting traction, then maybe, you know, yeah, so we did that and we started getting some traction, still, nobody was interested in us. We were like, gosh, like we have more progress than a lot of people who are getting funded. I don’t, I don’t understand it, it was so frustrating. So we just kept building. And you know, my background in journalism came in handy because I was like, as we build up, I want us to tell our story. And so as we did that, please we were telling our story. And that’s candidly how we got our first investor, they read one of our articles and reached out to us and that kind of started kick starting the process for us.

Lauren Conaway 33:36
And so, you know, once you start getting some, some outside investors in, it definitely doesn’t get easy, but it definitely gets a little bit of their money.

Deborah Gladney 33:39
It’s still gonna be brutal, but it definitely is a like maybe a centimeter easier, because at least now we can say that so and so has invested in us and so and so, that person comes with connections who can connect us to somebody else. So, that was kind of how we started going well and from what so from what I have found in being in this space, you know, in a lot of cases, action begets action in the venture capital space like once one part what you can get one person to invest or one VC funds to invest and then all of a sudden you have legitimacy and credibility that you didn’t have before and people become much more interested in.

Lauren Conaway 33:59
They don’t want to miss out like you’re channeling FOMO I think a little bit that VC funds to get the huge payout like without and so so I hope that that happened for you, but just just really quickly for our VCs out there and investors and and even our entrepreneurs like just please know that diverse founders the system is stacked against diverse founders and I’m talking women and I’m talking about bipoc individuals. I’m talking about, you know, those of marginalized gender. The fact is there are a lot of factors at play, you know, things like unconscious bias, things like a lack of understanding around products. You know, I cannot tell you how many VCs I’ve heard say, well, we don’t really understand what this is for. And it’s like, well, it’s probably because you’re, you’re not the target audience. Exactly. Here we have situations where I would imagine as in your case, you in, I say this frequently, you know, as a woman, I have to work three times harder, but a woman of color has to work 20 times harder. So you had to do things that the next, you know, sis hat, white dude, next to you probably didn’t have to do to get that funding. And that’s really frustrating. So I just want to shine a light on it. And I want to add, like, we have got to fix this system. And I’m gonna give a really quick example. And then we’re going to continue on Deborah. But one of the things that a lot of venture capitalists do is they ask about the friends and family round, like, why not invest unless you join the friends and family round? And it’s like, well, if you come from socio economically depressed. Your family and friends don’t have any money. No, you didn’t ask friends and family around you and glad you brought that up?

Deborah Gladney 36:20
Honestly, that is probably one of the biggest things that drives my sister and I crazy, because we got that so much. In the beginning, we were just trying to raise like 200k. But they were like, You need to go find friends and family, friends and family, like, what friends and family do you have? Oh, no. My friends do not have Okay, most of them probably don’t even have a comma in their baby cow is just one of those things where like there is an assumption.

Lauren Conaway 36:51
And this is when we like white supremacy culture. And we talk about the fact that either we have a diversity issue within startups and venture capitalists. It’s a problem.

Deborah Gladney 37:05
It is a problem. But I got to just really quickly before you move on to say, I am so grateful because we have been able to partner with some amazing investors. Yeah, who are really trying to change this. And I really do think that it’s also really important that the few that are out there doing the work that they get supported as well, because there are very few venture capitalists who are really doing the right thing. And even their dollars are limited as well. So that’s important.

Lauren Conaway 37:39
Well remind me when we get off line I’m gonna I want to connect you to aperture venture capital. They’re one of my favorites, and I’m sure that they would love to hear about you, but I’m not going to do it because I know that VCs can be a little bit cagey. But is there anybody you’d specifically like to call out? If not, that’s okay. I’m just curious.

Deborah Gladney 37:58
There’s so many people. Oh my gosh, honestly, everybody on my cat cap table. I mean, just starting with Kansas City, the Casey rice folks are so amazing. There’s great funds focused on minority founders like 60 capital, as well. Have great folks in Wichita where we’re based who are supporting us. Josh, owning the Trish brand said, you know, there’s just so many people who are out there doing really great work, ruthless for good. Yeah. Oh, of course, Rise of the rest. They are amazing. The rest, yes. Rise of the rest. They were really out there doing the work. And they I just really, I really respect what they do for underserved founders, for sure. But yet the list can go on and on as far as people who are out there doing amazing work. Also Graham and Walker for women. They’re amazing also,

Lauren Conaway 39:00
yeah. Well, well, thank you. If you know, it’s one of those things where it’s like, you definitely want to recognize the folks who were doing the work who are in it. So thank you for that. Now talk to us. Talk to us about the future of work torch like what in that can be for you is one of the founders like what does, what does the future look like for you?

Deborah Gladney 39:26
It is, it is and you know, as much as I get asked about it, I never have an answer.

Lauren Conaway 39:33
But another one of those situations where it’s like how do you make God laugh? You make a plan. But yeah, exactly.

Deborah Gladney 39:38
Exactly. You know, what the future holds for us is we want to just continue to amplify and we want to help more people really, and so we have a lot more work to do as far as you know our reach and continuing to expand. We are building out new Do parts of our product, especially for employers, so we’re really building out additional retention and engagement and career development tools for them. And so we’re excited about that, because that should be out late April, early May. And so that’s a really big part. And then, you know, really continue, like I said, really kind of continuing to expand. You know, we want to continue to expand more in Kansas City and in the Midwest. And, you know, just within the service industry as a whole.

Lauren Conaway 40:35
Yeah. Well, I have to tell you, Deborah, I cannot wait to see all of that come to fruition. You know, you’re definitely doing really, really incredible things. And now, I have a human question for you. Are you ready? I think so. Honestly, I’ve been kind of looking around the office trying to find it because like, I don’t often know what the question is before. What can we ask about? And I’m gonna ask you, you know, I’m feeling in a travel mood today. And I don’t think I’ve asked this one for a while. But if you could travel anywhere in the world, right now, money is no object, you can do anything you want, where would you go? And what would you do?

Deborah Gladney 41:16
Oh, I would probably so my parents are from Uganda. Okay, I went for the first time only a few years ago. And it was before and then COVID hit and then you know, we kind of step travel and all that. So if I could go anywhere, I would go back to Uganda, and I would see all of my family again. And I would want to look at potentially how we can build a home in Uganda for our family? Is that what I would want to do?

Lauren Conaway 41:46
Well, that would be absolutely lovely. Would it answer? I am really well. I think one of the things that I even don’t know well, but I think one of the things that I like about you most thus far is how rooted in your family values you are. It just comes through all over the place.

Deborah Gladney 42:04
And I love that. Well. Thank you. Yes, my family is so important to me. And so I’m glad that that comes through.

Lauren Conaway 42:09
Well, and I mean honestly clear. Clearly, they’re an amazing family because they produced an amazing you. Thank you. So another amazing thing, my friends. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Full Scale is pretty amazing. Do you need to hire software engineers? Testers are leaders who let Full Scale help. They have the people on the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit All you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers, and leaders. At Full Scale, they specialize in building long-term teams that work only for you. Learn more when you visit And friends, I’m going to point you out. I know that I’ve been pushing this for the past few episodes ever recorded. But I’m going to do it again because I think it’s really important. But I’m going to invite you. So listen, give a listen to Founder Fridays with Frank Keck. We recently had a guest host by the name of Frank Keck. He’s known in the Kansas City area for being a culture leader, helping businesses, and helping individuals ask the really pertinent questions to help them create a strong and vibrant culture wherever they want that culture to be. His intentionality is pretty impressive. And he got to the interview, but he interviewed the Startup Hustle hosts, myself, including Andrew Morgans, Matt Watson, and Matt DeCoursey. And we talked about culture and how we build a culture within our organizations. And he’s just asking really great questions. So I would highly recommend that you listen to Founder Fridays with Frank. If you do that, you’re gonna get a lot of really amazing insight. And of course, friends, we are very, very grateful that you come and listen to us week after week. We invite you to keep doing so, and we will catch you next time.