Make It Black

How this founder and CEO found success through embracing imperfection: ‘It's about releasing unrealistic expectations’

CEO of The Cru and Author of Drop The Ball
Tiffany Dufu

Women in the workforce often feel pressure to excel both personally and professionally. However, in actuality, juggling careers, motherhood, and other obligations can be really difficult, and may not leave time for necessities like self-care and fellowship. 

That's why Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru, dedicated her life's work to helping women and girls cultivate their personal and professional goals. The Cru, founded in 2018, is an online platform where women are matched based on their personalities, values, and goals. Once matched with their "cru" these women help coach one another to achieve their aspirations. 

Dufu credits her love for uplifting and propelling women to the support she received from her mother growing up.

"She gave me everything she could possibly give to me," she shares with CNBC Make It. "And she looked at me every day and told me, "Tiffany, you're so smart, you're so beautiful, you're so loved"… she would say it as if it was the first time that she was ever telling it to me. And every day I wake up in gratitude to my mom for what she did in breaking the cycle for me. And I try to get to as many women as I can and I try to whisper in their ear, "you're so smart, you're so beautiful, you can totally do this."

It started as a vision

Prior to her entrepreneurship journey, Tiffany worked as the chief leadership officer of Levo, an online professional networking startup. She was also president of The White House Project, a non-profit dedicated to increasing women's representation in American institutions.

In April 2017, Dufu had her first spark of inspiration for what would become The Cru.

"I woke up one morning. And there was this vision of myself and four other women sitting on a sofa. And we were communing and supporting each other," she says. "It was so simple, but so profound. It was as if we were all tethered to one another, kind of like if you're climbing a mountain, and you're tethered to the other people so that you all move together. But if one person falls, everybody else's strength is going to catch that person. That's what I felt when seeing that vision. I woke up my daughter, who loves drawing, and described the vision to her. And when she finally showed me the image, I felt at the time that I knew who the people were. It was a huge inspiration for The Cru."

Today, that vision has come to fruition tenfold, as women have been able to start businesses, negotiate salary increases, and launch non-profits with the support of their "cru." Dufu says that The Cru currently has 1,800 members and is projected to grow to 6,000 members this year.

"Our future plans are to leverage our insights to curate a personalized experience to help women meet their life goals."

Her journey to embracing imperfection

Though Dufu has achieved so much during her career, she says that she struggled with letting go of the guilt that came with imperfection. She tried to accomplish everything she thought would allow her to "have it all", but found that living under constant stress to overperform was unsustainable. 

"I used to be someone who was terrified of ever dropping a ball," she shares. "I felt that dropping the ball meant that I was failing to take timely action and I was being irresponsible. It meant that I was disappointing myself, my family, my community, in my case, as dramatic as this sounds, the entire Black race. As in, if I mess this up, they're never going to hire another black person again."

In her memoir and manifesto "Drop the Ball," Dufu explains that it's okay to reevaluate what success looks like for you. She also recounts how she was able to lessen her to-do list, ask others for assistance and redefine what it means to drop the ball.

"I basically reappropriated the term. For me, dropping the ball means that I've gotten clear about what matters most to Tiffany. I've figured out my highest and best use for achieving what matters most. I figured out, how do I meaningfully engage other people? How do I ask for help when I'm somebody who wants to appear as if I have it all together? How do I develop the vulnerability? That whole process is what I call dropping the ball. It's about releasing unrealistic expectations in order for us to all create lives that we're passionate about."

For women who may be struggling with their self-confidence, or battle with their identity, Dufu reassures that those hardships will one day become strengths. 

"Back in college, I wish that I had known that all of the things that I was insecure about would become my superpower. Today, those same things have turned into my capital. I was self-conscious about coming off as a nerd, but my intellect would actually be my superpower. People calling me a bookworm turned into me being an author. I spent so much time worrying about those things, and now they're important parts of who I am and my livelihood."

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