In a world where modern women are often pigeonholed as “beauty” or “brains,” Anna Wood is here to share a different story of female empowerment. A tall, slim, blonde young woman, Anna frequently felt like she had to make a choice between femininity and success — particularly while working at Google and attending Stanford Business School.
Today, Anna is dedicating her career to redefining what it means to have a feminine spirit and showing how it can lead to success. With her lifestyle website and blog Brains over Blonde, she is shifting the conversation to keep women from losing sight of who they are as empowered females entering the workplace and school.
We sat down with Anna to hear more about her career and how she’s shattering the idea of femininity versus success.
Tell us about yourself. How has your life path led you to where you are today?
I grew up in Silicon Valley, so the entrepreneurial spirit is in my blood. In kindergarten, my dream job was simply to be “the boss.” As a kid, I never saw a connection between my gender and what I was capable of. As I got older, that started to change, which spawned my passion for female empowerment.
In undergrad at UC Berkeley, I designed my own major — hippie school alert — and wrote my honors thesis on “making diversity in the workplace a strategic advantage.” I thought about taking my whole career down the diversity training path right out of college, but decided instead that I could learn the most at Google. For four years I learned, created, hustled, and had a lot of success there. But I wasn’t exactly passionate about online advertising, and I’m a very passion-driven person. So on the side, I began coaching and facilitating Google’s Unconscious Bias course, but was disappointed by outcomes, which were ambiguous at best.
I left Google to pursue my MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, with the intention of starting a business that embraced diversity and empowered women. I took every entrepreneurship class I could. I trained to be a personal and professional coach. I worked on personal branding with Tyra Banks. I traveled the world and made lifelong friends.
Business School was a transformative experience for me. That said, I was struck by how nearly all of the leadership techniques were taught by and for men, and would often suppress or dismiss characteristically “feminine” qualities. After doing my MBA internship at the dating app The League, I started an “equal partnerships” blog that started to go viral. I thought, “Wow, this is the business!” I realized I could reach more women through blogging, video, coaching, and social media than I ever could with corporate diversity training programs. This is how young women are absorbing information. That night I started creating the business plan for what is now Brains over Blonde — and it’s been a wild ride ever since.
How did Google and Stanford Business School help prepare you to become an entrepreneur?
At Google, I learned how a well-oiled machine is run. I practiced navigating ambiguity — there’s very little hand-holding there.
At Stanford, I learned the power of vulnerability. Most people don’t like feeling emotionally exposed or at risk. On Brains over Blonde, I share my deepest, most personal struggles, from getting a breast reduction to taking antidepressants. It’s never easy baring my soul, but it’s well worth the risk. Sharing vulnerabilities allows people to form a bond with me, and I’m blown away by the number of women I’ve connected with and helped by sharing my stories. Starting a company and putting yourself out there is scary. By being vulnerable and embracing discomfort, I am able to grow in meaningful ways.
Walk us through Brains over Blonde’s evolution.
A year ago, I was in my last quarter of business school at Stanford, and Brains over Blonde was just a budding idea. I treated it like a real business: I made a business plan and self-studied on everything I needed to make this a successful business, including social media, female empowerment, and coaching.
After a wild summer of graduating from business school, getting engaged, moving to LA, and building my website, I was ready to launch in late August.
Out of the gate, 1:1 coaching was my main revenue stream (I started coaching at Google and formally trained to be a coach while at Stanford). That said, building my audience and providing value to them was my number one priority — and it paid off. Now, I have a loyal and growing audience and community that has opened up many different revenue streams.
Ultimately, I want to reach as many women as possible — through podcasting, video, courses, and more.
How do you intend to change the conversation about femininity and overcome the “femininity vs. success” stigma?
Women’s power and femininity are too often misunderstood and misrepresented. Emotions are seen as fragility. Feminism is seen as overly aggressive. Beauty and style are seen as vanity. My mission is to redefine the way the world sees femininity. As women, our femininity is part of what makes us powerful.
Your line of work is very independent and autonomous. How do you structure your day-to-day?
I’m big on task batching. Forcing my brain to rapidly switch gears between a brand call, and then 1:1 coaching, and then content creation is exhausting — so I bucket similar tasks together. For instance, Tuesday is for blogging and I’ll get a bunch of articles written all at once.
Walk us through a day in your shoes.
8:30 a.m.: wake up (I’m not a morning person)
9:00 a.m.: drink coffee while setting three intentions for today, 90 days from now, and 1 year from now
9:30 a.m.: email
10:30 a.m.: yoga
12:00 p.m.: coaching calls
3:00 p.m.: email
4:00 p.m.: content creation and planning
7:00 p.m.: dinner date
9:00 p.m.: strategy/ planning/ email (while watching Real Housewives)
1:00 a.m.: bed (I’m such a night owl, but trying to work on this!)
During those darker and more discouraging moments, what drives you?
Emails, messages, and comments from women whose lives I’ve changed or inspired.
Tell us about a time when someone made all the difference in your career journey.
Clearly, I chose a pretty unconventional career path out of business school, and to say my family was skeptical and concerned is an understatement. My Stanford branding professor Allison Kluger believed in me, and her confidence and encouragement made all the difference as I took a major risk and turned down other more traditional career paths.
How should women ask for mentors? How would a woman be able to approach someone like you to be her mentor?
First, I always tell women I coach that you have to be your own best advocate: no one is going to look out for you and your career better than yourself. Second, peers can be excellent mentors. I’ve learned and grown most by surrounding myself with badass female peers, and we’ve risen through the ranks together.
As far as a more traditional mentorship goes, I never suggest “asking” for one. Put yourself out there, go on lots of coffee dates, and meet lots of people. When you have a connection with someone, set up another date. And then another. If it’s a great fit, a mentorship relationship will evolve naturally.
What advice would you give to other people wanting to get their feet wet in entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship chooses you. I started my company Brains over Blonde less than a year ago, but I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life. I love building things, creating, doing something different every day, solving problems, navigating ambiguity. I think most entrepreneurs would say the same. Entrepreneurship is more than a profession, and it’s not just a choice: it’s an inner drive and personality type that’s a common thread throughout one’s life. If you’re truly an entrepreneur, I don’t think you can do anything else — sometimes to your own detriment!
If you do have that inner drive, my advice is to wait to find the idea you’re so passionate about that you can’t think about anything else and it keeps you up at night. I see a lot of entrepreneur hopefuls searching for an idea and forcing something that they don’t have a passionate connection to. Starting a company is like a marriage — it consumes your life — and it’s also really, really hard. The passion has to be there to carry you through the hard days — and there will be hard days! Until you know what that passion is, focus on being entrepreneurial at other jobs where you can learn a lot and make mistakes. Then, when you know what you want to do, you’ll be ready.
How has the power of community impacted your life as an entrepreneur?
Brains over Blonde would be nothing without community. What started as a personal brand is now so much more: the women in the community are supporting one another, answering each others’ questions, and meeting up in real life.
Personally, my best friends from business school are like my board of directors. We all have different areas of expertise and bounce ideas off each other. We’re stronger together.
What aspect about IVY resonates with you?
Connection. When you bring brilliant minds together, the possibilities for growth and innovation are endless.
What’s next? Anything you would like to share with us?