Rhonda Sciortino is a successful author and founder. Her book 30 Days to Happiness has been featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and included in her Kind Box.
As an author, Rhonda Sciortino “used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success.”
As a founder, Rhonda Sciortino has also “built two successful businesses.” Later on, she would turn her attention to “helping others find their purpose and their authentic success.”
Rhonda Sciortino founded Successful Survivors Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that “exists to help survivors of trauma to mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through and to use those ‘assets’ to create their own successful lives.”
Likewise, Rhonda Sciortino also “launched the Love Is Action Community Initiative.”
As Rhonda Sciortino tells it, the organization is a “collective impact initiative that brings together community stakeholders to create connections that help to eliminate social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it.”
To empower more women to become founders, Rhonda Sciortino also “created a curriculum called Your Real Success.”
With Rhonda Sciortino and her curriculum, participants can “find and fulfill their purpose.” She believes that “there is nothing more empowering than finding that thing at which we are genius.”
Check out more interviews with women founders here. You can also watch Rhonda Sciortino in conversation here:
I built my personal and professional success on Zig’s saying, “You can get anything in life you want if you’ll help enough other people get what they want.” Rhonda Sciortino
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Rhonda Sciortino: I would have had to fold my tent and go home in defeat when the insurance company that was my primary partner filed bankruptcy if it wasn’t for Tom Mulligan, then the president of Western World Insurance Company.
My primary partner had been an insurance company that had been in business for over 300 years when they suddenly closed their doors.
I had a very short time to replace all the insurance policies with another company before all my clients left me, so I pulled out my list of all the insurance companies in the United States and started calling the CEO’s.
I was literally cold calling insurance company presidents to ask if they would consider insuring homes and services for abused children.
After several days of leaving messages (with no returned calls), being hung up on, and a couple of “Don’t call again” responses, I was completely dejected.
I was profoundly sad at the thought of having to lay off my employees who had done absolutely nothing to deserve losing their jobs.
I felt like a complete failure at the thought of closing my doors, especially after having worked so hard to create the only insurance organization in the United States that existed solely to protect the good people and organizations that were dedicated to caring for children who had been abused.
I felt angry that the insurance companies and brokers who had taken advantage of these non-profit, child-caring organizations were going to get the clients back from me and go right back to charging exorbitant premiums.
The thought disgusted me. So I knew I couldn’t stop trying.
I kept making calls, and finally I saw a tiny ray of hope.
I learned that there was going to be a meeting of insurance company executives the following week on the other side of the country.
I wasn’t invited, and I certainly wasn’t welcome to this closed, members-only event. But I decided to go anyway.
I bought a plane ticket (you know, the “full price” kind of ticket that’s your only choice when you’re buying just days before the flight), I packed my best power suit, and I flew off to crash the party.
There was security everywhere.
No one was allowed to enter any of the meeting rooms without the requisite badge, which I didn’t have.
You couldn’t even enter an elevator without a room key, which I didn’t have (because I was at the Motel 6 several miles away).
I tried to enter meeting rooms by saying, “Oh, I must have left my badge in my room.” No luck. The security people told me to go get it.
I tried to walk in with a group to one of the main meeting rooms, but drat! Every badge was being checked at the door. I even wandered around the lobby surreptitiously glancing into trash cans to see if anyone who had to leave early had thrown a badge away. Nothing.
I finally flopped down in the lobby completely deflated. I’d paid money that I didn’t have for a plane ticket only to be blocked at every turn.
The clock was ticking, and I knew that every moment that went by was a moment I was closer to losing all of my clients and my business.
As I sat there thinking about this dismal future, I watched the elevator doors open and close several times with people coming and going in and out of the elevator.
Suddenly it hit me. The security guard who had been stationed in front of the bank of elevators checking room keys wasn’t there.
I looked around, but I didn’t see him anywhere.
I waited for a group of three or four people to gather in front of the elevator, and I went over and stood among them like I was with them. Boom — I was in!
I had seen signs in the lobby that said that the hospitality suites were located on the 10th floor, so I got off on the 10th floor and tried to walk purposefully down the hall, as if I knew where I was going.
Door after door was closed.
I walked down that hallway all the way, turning at each dead end, hoping to see an open door.
As I approached the elevators, I realized that I had walked in a circle around the entire floor of the hotel.
The scheduled time for the hospitality suites had just ended. Everyone was gone.
I couldn’t believe it.
This was how it was going to end — the trip, my business, and my career.
I stood there (in 3-inch heels), trying to decide what to do, when I thought, “I’m here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get up to this level again, so I’m going to walk around one more time before I throw in the towel.”
As I made my way around the long circle of hallways again, I saw a door open.
I watched as the man who opened it put the little door stop down so that the door would remain open.
Whew, I thought I was going to have to run in heels to try to get in that door before it closed.
When I got to the open door, I put on my best fake smile and leaned in and said, “Hello, may I have a moment of your time?”
The man who had opened the door was clearly expecting someone else. He had a meeting.
He didn’t have time for me.
I said, “I’ll make it quick! I’m here to give you an amazing opportunity to take over my entire book of business of private, non-profit child welfare organizations.
They are a great risk with a low loss ratio, run by some of the best people in the world, doing some of the most significant work anyone can do.
Your company will do well while doing good! Will you give me a chance to show you how profitable this could be for you?”
The person whom Tom Mulligan had been waiting for never showed up, and he did give me the opportunity to make my pitch.
He chose to take a chance on me, and that day we launched a business relationship that was beneficial to everyone concerned.
My business survived, my employees kept their jobs, and we continued for many years to protect some of the best people in the world. (Tom tells the story slightly differently — he remembers me leaning in and saying, “You don’t want to insure homes for abused children, do you?”)
Jerome Knyszewski: Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Rhonda Sciortino: See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar was one of many books that made a powerful impression on me.
I built my personal and professional success on Zig’s saying, “You can get anything in life you want if you’ll help enough other people get what they want.”
It’s true, and I’ve never forgotten that.
Jerome Knyszewski: How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I founded a non-profit organization called Successful Survivors Foundation, which exists to help survivors of trauma to mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through and to use those “assets” to create their own successful lives.
I also launched the Love Is Action Community Initiative, which is a collective impact initiative that brings together community stakeholders to create connections that help to eliminate social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Rhonda Sciortino: I suspect that fear of failure is the single, greatest issue that holds anyone back, but especially women because there are still people in practically every industry who expect us to bail out to focus on marriage and family.
When I met with the boss at my last employer to give notice that I was leaving to start my own company, he told me that if I was lucky, he’d give me a job when I “fell on my face.” He proceeded to list all the things that I didn’t know about running a business.
I sat quietly with a fake smile on my face until he was done.
The entire time I was thinking, “I’ll dig ditches or wash dishes before I’ll ever come crawling back here looking for a job!”
I thanked him for the opportunity to learn so much, wished him well, and left with my fake smile intact.
My boss was absolutely right.
I didn’t know anything about running a business; but I knew that I would do it or die trying to do it. I never looked back.
No employer wants a good employee to leave to become a competitor, but hopefully most aren’t so discouraging as my boss was.
In addition to concerns about having help raising our children, getting financing, hoping we’ll have emotional support from family and friends, finding good employees, dealing with regulatory issues, and meeting every other challenge faced by entrepreneurs, there will always be people, like my ex-boss, who secretly (or openly) hope for our failure.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Rhonda Sciortino: I created a curriculum called Your Real Success that helps participants find and fulfill their purpose.
There is nothing more empowering than finding that thing at which we are genius. We each have it. Sadly, most people never find it, much less fulfill it.
I’m living out my authentically successful life, doing what I know I was born to do, and I want to help as many other people do the same before I leave this life.
I hope that I am empowering every woman within my influence.
I’m grateful to be included in this article because I hope it will help expand that empowering influence to many more women who haven’t yet found their purpose.
I didn’t know anything about running a business; but I knew that I would do it or die trying to do it. I never looked back.
Jerome Knyszewski: This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Rhonda Sciortino: We need more women founders of businesses because women are more likely to launch businesses to fulfill a mission that does a noble good in the world.
That’s not to say that women don’t seek wealth, fame, or power. I’m simply saying that these things frequently aren’t their first concern.
Also, I’m not saying that men do not launch businesses that do noble good in the world; they do. I just think those motives are more prevalent and primary in women business founders.
My story of quitting my job and starting my company is probably a fairly common one for women.
I made a lot of lifestyle changes in order to follow my dreams.
I sold my house and downsized into a tiny condo. I sold my Mercedes and bought a Subaru. I even sold my furniture, including my fridge. (That last decision wasn’t well thought out — I don’t recommend selling the fridge.)
I made all of these huge life changes so that I could combine my professional expertise with my passion for protecting people who protect children who have been abused.
I wasn’t chasing wealth or fame or power.
I was on a mission.
My mission was to help kids like I used to be.
I had been in the child welfare system for the first 16 years of my life. Once I was in the system, I was forgotten.
No one made sure I was OK. And I was not OK. I was emotionally and physically abused by caregivers.
I was willing to turn my comfortable life upside down because I believed passionately in what I was hoping to achieve, which was:
- To put millions of dollars back into the budgets of non-profit child welfare organizations that they had been sending to ridiculously profitable insurance companies.
- To make sure that the child welfare organizations were properly insured and that their claims would be handled appropriately and not mismanaged by people who didn’t understand their operations, thereby creating dangerous precedents.
It was a noble mission that was driven by my life experience and — at the risk of sounding braggadocious — I accomplished it!
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Rhonda Sciortino: I’m hoping that the LOVE IS ACTION COMMUNITY INITIATIVE will do just that.
Love Is Action is a collective impact initiative that brings together community stakeholders for the purpose of eradicating social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it — societal ills that include depression and suicide, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and everything else that harms children and families and communities.
It seems that an epidemic greater even than the COVID-19 pandemic is that of social isolation. The good news is, we can cure it.
My mission was to help kids like I used to be. Rhonda Sciortino
Jerome Knyszewski: We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Rhonda Sciortino: I would love to meet with Melinda Gates, Susan Wojcicki, Kamala Harris, Sheryl Sandberg, Michelle Obama, or any other woman who has the gravitas and the desire to help make the only truly sustainable change agent, LOVE, a priority in our world.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow your work online?
Rhonda Sciortino: You can learn more about me and my work on my website.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.