Inspirational Woman Interview: Paula Okonneh
Paula Okonneh is a mobile marketing consultant based in Charlotte, NC. She is the Founder and CEO of Computer and Database Solutions, a company that helps entrepreneurs and professionals scale their businesses online. Paula also hosts Chatting with the Experts, a podcast series which showcases the experiences and successes of entrepreneurs and business owners to national audiences. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the University of Benin and an Associate’s Degree in Information Systems from Central Piedmont Community College.
What is your background?
Paula Okonneh: I am a Mathematician and an Accountant. I am also a certified Oracle DBA with an associate’s degree in Information Systems.
Math was not something that I ever thought that I would do, as it was my worst subject in high school. However I had a very supportive mom who saw my struggles. She contacted one of her friends who was a Math professor at one of the local universities and “Aunty Veda “ as I called her, made Math come alive. I credit her with making me go from being one of the worst students to actually becoming a top pupil in the class and ultimately a Math graduate.
You are the CEO of Computer and Database Solutions in Charlotte, NC, where you work with entrepreneurs and professionals who scale their businesses online. What inspired you to join Computer and Database Solutions, and can you share some of your experiences?
Paula Okonneh: I am the founder of Computer & Database Solutions LLC a web design and development company. When I became certified as a DBA all prospective employees asked for 3-5 years experience, which I of course didn’t have. I did notice that there was a need for web development; thus, Computer & Database Solutions LLC was birthed. Computer & Database Solutions LLC gave me the luxury of being able to work remotely while raising my family.
You also host a podcast series called Chatting with the Experts, which encourages entrepreneurs to share their successes and challenges to a national audience. Can you tell us more about Chatting with the Experts and its impact?
Paula Okonneh: Chatting with the Experts was created primarily as a tool for other small business owners. As a solopreneur you wear many hats, you’re the accountant, the attorney, the virtual assistant, the marketing and digital expert, and lots more. I was fascinated with business successes and wanted to know the story behind the business. I knew that behind every success there was a failure or two or three. I felt that by asking business owners to share their stories of triumphs and failures, I would be able to let other small business owners that were experiencing the same things know that they were not alone.
What motivates you to continue spotlighting the stories of entrepreneurs?
Paula Okonneh: The feedback has been phenomenal. In addition, I have been able to develop and maintain many relationships along the way. It thrills me to know how creating awareness to a cause or even a business can change opinions, change towns, cities, nations and ultimately the world. I know a handful of guests who have also been able to develop lucrative business relationships / jobs after being featured on my podcast.
In your opinion, why are podcasts and online marketing crucial to instigating social improvement?
Paula Okonneh: Podcasts have become immensely popular because they are so easily accessible. Essentially, people can listen to, learn from and subscribe to podcasts while on the go. Unlike radio, TV and video, podcasts do not restrict listeners to specific devices, so it is possible to spread awareness of a cause without inconveniencing the audience. In order to have social improvement the audience needs to be made aware of issues continuously. Podcasts have the unique advantage of being an audio show with subscribers Social improvement comes through having a dedicated following of people invested in a cause – some thing that a podcast does!
What is unique about the podcast medium?
Paula Okonneh: It’s unique because there’s possibility of having access to information while you’re on the go. Because you can subscribe to a program, you don’t have to remember to tune in or download information that you are interested in but rather have it delivered to your device daily, weekly or monthly.
What have been your biggest takeaways about the opportunities and challenges facing women’s entrepreneurship in the near future?
Paula Okonneh: The opportunities for women abound. The challenges are not being able to recognize these opportunities and capitalizing on them. Being relatively new to the entrepreneurial world, women do not have as many role models or mentors to guide them along the way and sometimes make mistakes that may have been apparent to a man. Where a male entrepreneur may have a lot more resources to tap on such as male mentors, colleagues and even competitors to shadow or use as examples, many women entrepreneurs lack this. Take technology for example, it is essentially a male dominated industry which intimidates many women. However, by showcasing women leaders, women CEOs in technology, women who have used technology to succeed, female podcasters are able to help other women to become unstuck. Women need to know that it is okay to ask for help, it is also okay to fail. With more women becoming mentors we are on the right track.
On a personal level, what does women’s empowerment mean to you?
Paula Okonneh: Empowerment in general means many things depending on where you are in the world and in your journey. For some it may simply mean being able to go to school while others it may be being given the opportunity to aspire and run for the highest political office in the land. For me personally it is getting up every day knowing that what I am doing is an encouragement to other women especially women who look and sound different from the general populace. I have had not 1 or 2 or 3 women who immigrated to the US call or meet me and ask me if “Chatting with The Experts” is mine and then when I say yes, have them say “Well if you can do it so can I!”
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Paula Okonneh: Yes, my mom. My mother was a pioneer in many ways. She was the first in her nuclear family to go to the UK, the first to marry a foreigner, the first to have a TV program, the first to sew wedding dresses… the list goes on and on and on. She was a hero to my siblings and me. We believed that she was fearless. It was only in my late thirties that I knew that she actually did a lot of this with trepidation and fear because she spent a lot of her life away form her family and had to adopt to new cultures and norms while launching ahead. She is now almost 80 and still going strong. She indeed impacted my life in a very profound and meaningful way. Having seen my mom launch TV shows, create businesses that empowered women, reach into her community and seek out women who were overlooked and forgotten and enable them to rise above their circumstances while living in a foreign country, has encouraged me daily to go forth fearlessly.
Having a different accent can be a deterrent in wanting to speak publicly much less do a show that is listened to locally, regionally as well as nationally so. Having seen her overcome these obstacles has made me feel that I can too!
What advice do you have for people interested in leveraging media marketing for social impact?
Paula Okonneh: Be patient and passionate. Do your homework and make sure that it is indeed what you want to do. There are lots of resources out there that may or may not be capital intensive and of course if you decide to do it yourself be prepared to work hard on producing the content, marketing it etc. However, if you are passionate about it and you know that you have a message, then go for it!
What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources related to women’s empowerment, international development and social impact?
Paula Okonneh: I tend to like technology and so I am geared towards that. I love listening to podcasts run by women like Randi Zukerburg (Dot Complicated), Sirius Radio powered by the Wharton School ([email protected]) etc.
When I wanted to start my podcast I was very encouraged by the guests Randi had on her program. Most of them were women who had done amazing things. Women at Work, which is geared towards having women lead, succeed, join and stay in the workplaces, has also a great inspiration.
I must admit that I have transitioned from regular books to audio books and love listening to them while driving between appointments. One book that really impacted my life was Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim. It taught me how to be unique, to stand out in a crowded market space and make competition irrelevant. It has certainly paid off.