By Jewelle Saunders
2018 YLAI fellow Kenishia Mais is the founder of ThrivingDollars, a financial education platform empowering young adults with the tools and resources they need to make smarter decisions, create their ideal financial lives, and gain the freedom to pursue more of what they love.
In celebration of Kenishia’s accomplishments and her encouragement to fellow young leaders to make their money count, we asked her to answer a few questions about her journey to entrepreneurship.
Why do you believe it is important to be financially literate?
Being financially literate gives you freedom of choice. When you are able to understand, evaluate, and apply key financial principles to your particular circumstances, it can, for example, be the difference between you choosing to pursue a new career path or feeling stuck in your current role.
What is the role that ThrivingDollars plays within your community?
In order for a country to thrive, its citizens must learn the type of personal fiscal responsibility that will allow them to avoid the cycle of poor financial habits. With this in mind, ThrivingDollars has been addressing the need for financial literacy in Jamaica by simplifying and disseminating quality financial education that covers key topics such as budgeting, saving, debt management, and elimination, investing, insurance, and retirement and estate planning.
Our offerings, whether it be financial coaching, an online course, event, or workshop, are all geared towards helping Jamaicans make smarter decisions and create thriving financial lives.
Can you expand on where you got your passion for personal finance management?
After leaving my first job at age 20, I attempted to start two small businesses, but both failed miserably before even getting off the ground because of the high costs of importing goods to Jamaica. I had no guidance at the time, so I didn’t know my ideas weren’t feasible and it was a very expensive lesson learned.
I put my ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur on pause for a couple of years until finally walking away from the corporate world in March 2014. I had no game plan and barely any money left in savings, but I was determined to take another chance on myself.
I started an e-commerce boutique, Accessories & Essentials — Jamaica’s first full-service online boutique. Accessories & Essentials was almost an exact replica of one of the earlier businesses I had attempted to start prior that had failed.
I bootstrapped and ran Accessories & Essentials for almost two years, and it actually did really well. However, fashion wasn’t something I was passionate about and so normal daily operations felt more and more draining as time went on.
At the age of 21, with a nudge from my mentor, I started teaching myself how to invest in the local stock market and, as I was learning, shared my knowledge with others through a blog. This entire journey helped me to uncover my love for personal finance and I wanted to help others do the same.
My heart was set on teaching financial literacy, though I wasn’t yet certain how to make a business out of it since it had never been done in Jamaica before. At the beginning of 2015, I started a “figure-it-out fund” and used a percentage of Accessories & Essentials’ sales over the next few months to finance it. Doing this gave me a six-month cash runway that was crucial in me being able to close Accessories & Essentials and transition into working full time on ThrivingDollars in September 2015. I booked my first two coaching clients five months later — exactly a month shy of running out of savings.
How has YLAI helped you achieve your mission?
YLAI has given me the tremendous opportunity to connect to a global network of entrepreneurs as well as gain firsthand work experience in the United States within my field. Since returning home from my fellowship in Denver, Colorado, I’ve been able to incorporate the knowledge and best practices I learned during my placement, in addition to pulling on support and resources from entrepreneurs within the YLAI Network — both of which have been instrumental to the growth of my company over the past year and a half.
Additionally, I was awarded a travel grant in 2019 to attend a major financial conference in the United States. This experience has allowed me the opportunity to tap into a wide network of international personal finance professionals with whom I am forging collaborations, and which will inevitably elevate the work I have been doing with ThrivingDollars over the last four years and result in an expansion of our reach and impact, both in Jamaica and the United States.
Is there any advice that you would give to other YLAI Network members regarding entrepreneurship?
Create community. Entrepreneurship can be isolating and lonely, especially when you work mostly solo. Create or join spaces where you can freely share your thoughts, goals, and challenges. Doing this will help you to uncover and receive the support you need, which can impact your business exponentially.
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The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.