Jodianne Beckford Talks Diversity, Podcasts and Entrepreneurship

Welcome to Press Pillay Chats, where we feature stories from social entrepreneurs, fearless founders and all-around awesome humans.

Meet Jodianne Beckford, photographer, creative entrepreneur and host of the podcast The E Project, where she highlights local stories of people pursuing their passions in a bid to encourage others to do the same. We sit down with Jodianne to talk about how it all started, the best inspiration from all the entrepreneurs she's interviewed, and the state of diversity in entrepreneurship in the local scene today.

 Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

How did The E Project come about?

I started The E Project during a time when I felt really low and really sad. I was at a point when I felt like I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do for myself. I’ve always been weirdly too much of a people-pleaser. One night, I was really upset, crying and thinking really negative thoughts, and then I said to myself, "You know what? I need to do something that makes me happy. I need to meet more people, more creative people."

I thought about it and realized that I really like taking portraits of people and asking questions. I’ve always been a very inquisitive person, I love asking questions. So, I was like, “Okay, maybe if I find some people that I’ve recently met, maybe I can ask them what they’re doing in life, why they’re doing it and that’ll kind of help me.”

Long story short, that’s the origin. It was a project. And that’s why I called it The E-Project—the “E” stands for "entrepreneur". I wanted a project to keep my mind busy for a little bit and to have something for myself that I could call mine and nobody else’s. So that’s what I did.

At that point, I had already met a couple of really great people in Ottawa so I called them up, saying, “Do you mind if I do a free portrait session with you and also asked you some questions?”

Everyone was very receptive, very open. And they weren’t like super deep questions—they were just like, “why do you love what you do?" "Why are you doing this?" "What tips can you give for people that are coiling in this field or want to go in this field?” 

I just wanted something to help encourage me. So, people did it, and like I started feeling like I had something for myself again. People were really receptive and reading back their answers really encouraged me and helped me with what I was going through

How did you move from a blog to a podcast?

That was super scary because I’m actually a very shy person, super introverted.

So, honestly, I didn’t want to do it. But because I listened to so many podcasts myself, I thought it would be cool if The E Project had an audio component. I didn’t know how accessible the website was to people because we’re always so on-the-go—we’re always listening to stuff on our phones anyway. My thought was that it would be kind of cool if people could listen to people that I interview rather than just reading—because I already connected with that.

After I had the idea, I talked to a couple of friends who were totally supportive, and I just went for it. I needed so much courage to overcome my first episode—I interviewed Mike Rousseau for my first one, the maker of this card game called AUXGOD.  

And it just kind of went from there. I was blessed enough to go record in an actual studio—it was through a friend’s recommendation. The studio had actually never done podcasts before, but they were very receptive and they loved the first episode and basically, I got approved to do it continually.  

The transition was very scary and hard at the beginning but just literally forcing myself to just do it made it easier every time. It was uncomfortable at first but now it’s this beautiful thing and I don’t regret it at all. I’m so happy I pushed myself and that I had people encouraging me along the way.

Why did you choose to frame the focus on entrepreneurs?

I chose entrepreneurs because I felt we are the generation bringing back entrepreneurship.

You know, the baby boomers were entrepreneurs. They had the mom-and-pop shops, their own small businesses and everything. And then it started shifting towards factory jobs, and then corporate, and then it was like, go to school, get a degree, get a high-paying office job with a pension, and so on.

But now I feel like there’s a shift. There are so many people who want to work for themselves now. So for me, it was a very natural thing to cater to this to entrepreneurs. Even for me, it felt like I was on my own entrepreneurial journey. And not everyone I interviewed was an entrepreneur full-time, they were either part-time or it was a side hustle. 

What’s one thing you’ve seen in common with all the entrepreneurs you’ve interviewed?

One thing that stands out is that almost everyone I’ve interviewed has said to ‘just do it.’ That’s the ongoing theme. Don’t look back, don’t worry too much about what people say or how.

Also, believe in yourself. As cliche as it sounds, I find we put so much pressure on ourselves that we don’t realize how easy it is for us to just do what we want to do. Especially in this economy, everything is accessible to us.

So, I find the common thread is to just go for it—don’t look back and just keep pushing and being consistent. And that’s another thing. Mostly everyone has said that them being consistent in what they’re doing has gotten them to where they are now. Consistency is key.

 Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

As an entrepreneur, how do you balance between consistently creating and consistently improving?

I feel like it’s trial and error, to be honest. No matter what, you’re going to make mistakes, but those screw-ups help you along the way because you grow. So although people are always pushing for consistency, I would say don’t drive yourself crazy being consistent and perfect because that can also burn you out.

Also, don’t be scared of failure. If you make a mistake, take from it what you’re supposed to and keep moving. A lot of the times, you just have to ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen?

After having talked to so many entrepreneurs, how can you speak to the power of social entrepreneurship—how entrepreneurs can make a positive social change?

I think in a way, it’s a fine line—because anything that someone makes or does as an entrepreneur is catered to helping other people.

Anyone can be a social entrepreneur—for example, an author. Whatever book they’re writing is going to help someone. Whether it’s a self-help book, or even if it’s a fictional book, it can bring you into this new world—people can connect with it.

There’s this artist I interviewed before, Benny Bing. I consider him to be a creative entrepreneur—his whole thing is painting women of colour and highlighting them in a really positive, beautiful, different way. Instead of using brown or skin-coloured paints, he uses patches of different colours. So I feel like his positive impact is showing women that aren’t always looked at as positive in society, in a new light that’s beautiful and encouraging for women of colour.  They see it, and they're like, "Wow, it empowers me. I feel special. I feel needed. I feel wanted.” And that’s impacting someone.

How do you believe you and your work are making the world a better place?

I don’t want to sound too tacky, but honestly, I hope what I’m creating can help and encourage people—because that’s the way it’s helped me. If they’re feeling down, or if they have doubts or questions about whether or not they want to pursue what they’re doing or if they’re thinking “hey, I want to do this”. I hope what I’m doing is just encouraging them.

I feel by listening to stories, like real stories, and hearing people’s struggles—a lot of people I interviewed will talk about times that they want to give up, and everyone has those days but they don’t give up, they learn from it again. So, I think, even by hearing that alone helps people because it shows them they’re not alone. And, that even as successful as someone may look, they may still mess up all the time. And, that’s okay. Will Smith fails, all the time. He even talks about it and I love his platform. He even says like “fail forward, fail faster” or something like that.

So, I guess, long story short I would just say I think my podcast helps people because it just reminds them that they’re not alone and that they can do anything they put their minds to.

How do you see your podcast evolving?

I would love to be able to travel, to bring The E Project abroad. Every country has their own thing—not every country or place does the same thing when it comes to entrepreneurship or handles it the same way.

I want to broaden it the conversation and see, globally, what impact it could have by interviewing all these different types of people.

How do you ensure that you have different perspectives in your podcast?

I try to mix it up and choose people that aren’t too similar. I wouldn’t interview five photographers in a row, for example. When I look for people, I look for people that I'm naturally interested in and connect with. I also don’t interview people for the sake of having a bunch of followers—because that’s cool, but what’s their impact? Integrity is huge for me. I try to really make sure that I connect with their brand, and that I really believe in what they’re doing.

I also want to mention though, in terms of background or culture—my podcast is very open to everybody. I’m not going to not interview somebody because they’re this or that. However, as a person of colour, I am naturally drawn to other people of colour. That’s what I see. I am not opposed to or closed off to someone of different backgrounds—but, a lot of people on my podcast, yes, I will admit, a lot of them are black. As a black person, I’m naturally drawn to other black people. I always have to clarify that because people will be like, “Oh so you only interview black people, there’s a lot of black people in your podcast”. And, my reply is, “I mean, I’m black so like I naturally just, you know, I see them”.

That’s because of the society we live in—where when you see a lot of brown faces, you will automatically categorize it as such. But, when it comes to my branding and my aesthetic, I have never gone out of my way to make it look super “urban” or “black”. And the thing is, black is not just urban—it’s so many different things, it’s multi-faceted. I don’t fall under the stereotype of “it looks urban”. It is what it is. I wanted to clarify that because I get that question a lot, like “oh, it’s a black podcast?”. It’s just a podcast.

 Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

Photo courtesy of Jodianne Beckford

On that note, do you feel like there’s a problem of representation with entrepreneurs today?

Oh, 100 per cent—it’s definitely not representative enough. It’s interesting because for a lot the people I’ve interviewed, I’ve gotten so many messages from people—people who aren’t just black, you know—and they’ll say things like, “I didn’t know that this person was in the city doing this. They’re really dope. And the quality and the branding is on point.”

And I appreciate that—for someone who’s not black to say that—it makes me really happy but also makes me sad at the same time, because it shows that like we’re really not represented well and we’re not exposed or highlighted enough. It’s nice to be praised, of course, but it shouldn’t be so much of shock that there are other people out there doing these things. Especially in Toronto.

Toronto has sort of this “screwface capital” culture, where if you’re in the ‘in crowd’, people don’t necessarily want to talk to you. It’s just known for being stuck up. And in such a diverse city, it would be nice to hear a different perspective.

But, like, honestly, I want to add that different perspective and give something a little different to “Screwface Capital”. And the funny thing is, I’m not even from Toronto, I’m from Oshawa. I get this a lot, where the response is, “You’re from Oshawa and you’re highlighting Toronto people. There are people born and raised in Toronto that are in similar industries, who are doing a lot of creative stuff, they don’t even want to highlight their own Toronto people.”

A lot of times, they’ll only highlight a Toronto person if they’re super popular and I don’t go for the millions of followers and likes. I just want to know that you have good content, good quality, that your branding is on point, you’re doing something that’s influential to society, and you are kicking ass at what you’re trying to do.

And now for a couple of quick-fire questions. What are your favourite podcasts to listen to, when you're not making your own? 

Oh, I have so many! To list them off... 

  • Myleik Teele’s Podcast by Myleik Teele 
  • The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes
  • The #AskGaryVee Show by Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The Jilliam Michaels Show by Jillian Michaels
  • The CourageCast by Andrea Crisp

What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed in the morning?

If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m on my phone. I’m not even going to lie, I’m not even going to be like “I pray, I meditate”. I wish. If you asked what I wished I did, I wished I meditated and prayed and listened to sombre music. But, I don’t. It’s bad. I look at my phone. What I actually do is I look at my phone to change my clock alarm for an extra fifteen minutes and I go back to sleep.

What’s your favourite personal routine?

I love music. Music has always been a huge comfort for me. I love listening to music because I love listening to all genres. It’s very relaxing for me. Reading is very relaxing even though I don’t get to do it as much but I love reading. Poetry, specifically.

Any favourite authors?

Pablo Neruda. I love Pablo. I love Alex L. Of course, Rupi Kaur, love her. And, also, my friend Joanne Santos. Walt Whitman—he’s mentioned in The Notebook.  And, of course, Maya Angelou. I just love poetry, in general.

And then, if you could have dinner with someone, anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Ooh, that’s hard. Can I pick more than one? Like if I were to host a dinner party--Maya Angelou, Tupac, Josephine Baker. Sydney Poitier. And, Oprah. I love Oprah.

Why do you love what you do?

This is going to sound very selfish, but I love what I do because it saved me. It literally saved my life. I was really, really depressed. And if I were to have some encouraging words for someone else, I would say again, don’t be afraid of failure. And, don’t be too hard on yourself. Learn from your mistakes and keep pushing. Don’t worry about failing. Fail and learn from it. Keep it moving.

Discover The E Project online and follow them and Jodianne on Instagram.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.