The Female Focus: Mérida Miller

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Introducing Mérida Miller

One of our favourite clients to date this wonder woman is set to take the world by storm with her social enterprise Project Fearless. We talked to Mérida about how she got her business off the ground, female role models, the importance of branding and marketing when starting from scratch and why it’s important to fight the fear and do it anyway.

We were so excited to sit down and talk to the incredible Mérida Miller to find out more about her new start-up business Project Fearless. For anyone who doesn’t know, Project Fearless (you should by now because we can’t STOP talking about it!) is a workshop and project-based learning space for any girl aged 9-14 in the Netherlands to get hands-on, break stereotypes, find her voice and create an impact launching in September 2019. We were lucky enough to work alongside Mérida and design partner Maddy Russell on the visual identity, brand strategy and launch which, in part, resulted in her winning the Impact Hub Amsterdam Business Model challenge in June. Currently working on opening the doors for the first time this September we are so excited to share this incredible woman’s story and advice to any female entrepreneurs looking to get fearless.

What gave you the push to set-up on your own and make your idea a reality?

I remember the day clearly. Last year at this time I was numb, I hit a low emotionally and mentally. All the thoughts of "Who am I? What am I doing with my life? What do I have to offer, does it matter? Who cares? Am I good enough, what am I good at? I'm wasting time, life, space." were constantly twirling in my head. I felt like someone had kicked the air out of my soul and was just a shell of who I once was.

So I joined a workshop that was described as "Learn to formulate your own ideas and create a plan of action to implement". Desperate to have a breakthrough and think of SOMETHING, ANYTHING that would be my next stepping stone.  I started to panic when I realised that I was in a class of people who not only had an idea but the majority were well on their way and either had an idea and knew how to execute or were already busy running their own business. It was toward the end of the day and people were raising their hands asking things like, "What do I do when my customer does this?" or "How do I handle conflict between two of my employees." The tears started to rise in my throat and reach the tip of my nose when I realised "Shit I am so out of my league."

So I leaned in.

I raised my hand and said, quivering, "What do I do if all I want in life is to help others and be happy?"

The class went silent... and awkward... and then (thank f**king God) the head of the workshop, a female entrepreneur, took a pause, and then said "What is the first thing they always tell you when you get on a plane? Put on your mask before helping others. If your end goal is to help others, then you will... but first, you have to take care of yourself."

And like that the weight was lifted. She then told her honest story of how she went through her own personally painful deep dive (a path that sounded so similar to mine I wanted to laugh) and came out on the other side to create AKKA Architects. That night I went home and wrote out the framework for what is now Project Fearless.

Bringing to life the Project Fearless vision alongside designer Maddy Russell

Bringing to life the Project Fearless vision alongside designer Maddy Russell

What have you learned so far?

 To trust the process, no matter how painful or *gasp* boring it is. When you're truly ready for it... it will come.  I know that sounds so hippy-dippy but you asked.

Growing up did you have any female role models? If yes how did you benefit from having them? If no what do you think you missed out on?

Honestly? It was Ms. Frizzle from the animated tv show, A Magic School Bus. Not sure if that was only an American phenomenon. She taught science and helped kids get out of their comfort zones and had the best quote of all time.

“Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

Although she was animated she helped me identify the key traits in people I gravitated toward and wanted to embody myself (gonna be honest, I never took a deep dive into this until now but it’s all making sense). She was always a cheerleader and made you feel at home even if you were inside the human body, never questioned what was possible or impossible, created adventures out of something "scary", and had fun ALWAYS.

"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" - Ms. Frizzle

"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" - Ms. Frizzle

Who are your current day female role models and why?

I have an ever growing list. I feel like I'm meeting new ones every day. So far one of the best things about setting up Project Fearless has been how many incredible women have shared their stories with me. Every single one of them has influenced how I approach life, all have struggles they overcame to be where they are now.

Maggie Rogers is pretty great too, watching her on stage just let loose, sing her story, and stay authentic to herself is so powerful to see in person.

 How important were marketing and design when establishing the Project Fearless brand?

Marketing and design were paramount. It’s one thing to have a great idea swirling in your head but if you can’t express it properly no one else will see it! So to have a marketing and brand team who helped get the ideas out of my head and conceptualised in a way that I always knew but struggled with showing what Project Fearless is and could be gave me the confidence to launch and the back bone to tell my story. Biggest shout out and thank you to Mac&Moore for this!

Female-led businesses are few and far between. What's your take on this and what advice would you give to budding female entrepreneurs trying to make it?

I often find I try to predict the future and this usually ends up holding me back. I think many women have this "syndrome" if you will, and it keeps them from reaching their full potential. I get caught up in my own thoughts and start spinning out of control. I found it helps to just talk it out, find someone you trust (or more importantly listens and makes you laugh)  and ask if you can mind map with them. Just word vomiting it out and rearranging things with someone can be such a help to reset you back on the right track. Sometimes it's not even about "can you help me organise my finances" but more "can you help me organise my thoughts because right now I feel like a fraud".

And tell your story, tell your story, tell your GOD DAMN BADASS STORY BECAUSE IT'S VALUABLE! Don't ever for a second be ashamed or nervous someone won't get it or think it's dumb because the truth is they might... but who cares, it's your story! So rearrange your words and tell it again and again and again. You   ARE the solution to someone's problem and you never know who is listening,

What's the legacy you want to leave behind as a result of the work you do?

I hope I'm some girl’s Ms. Frizzle. With Project Fearless I hope after sharing experiences in our courses, our girls leave standing taller and approach every problem/hurdle as an adventure. And that she never apologises or feels lesser for being her true self.

Patiently waiting to get our hands on one of these INCREDIBLE t-shirts. Project Fearless for the win!

Patiently waiting to get our hands on one of these INCREDIBLE t-shirts. Project Fearless for the win!

 What's a quote/words you live by and why?

Freak what you feel and don’t judge others when they do the same. It’s essentially saying be yourself and do what makes you happy, no matter what others think. And in turn, allow others to be themselves.

 I just read in this great little book called "Confidence Code for Girls" (I highly recommend for girls of ALL ages) and they broke down the secret to building confidence was:

Risk + Action= Confidence

So simple and so powerful! And so spot on. Seeing a risk and taking the action anyway, no matter even if you "fail" you are starting to build your confidence.

Bravery is learned, and like anything learned, it needs to be practised
— Caroline Paul

Visit Project Fearless today and see how Mérida is empowering young girls to build, make, be.