Become the Fire with Elisa Schmitz

Reading Time: 13 Minutes

A trailblazing Latina entrepreneur, Elisa Schmitz shows how to turn the obstacles that can especially block the progress of women and BIPOC into the unstoppable fuel of fulfillment, accomplishment, and success.

About Elisa Schmitz

Elisa A. Schmitz is an award-winning Latina entrepreneur and journalist. She is the founder and CEO of, with millions of unique users every month. She is also the founder of iParenting, a “Best of the Web” digital media company that was acquired by the Walt Disney Company. She lives in the Chicago area. More information at and

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and Executive Coach Allison Dunn. Today we have with us Elisa Schmitz. She is an award-winning Latina entrepreneur and a journalist. She is the founder and CEO of 30, with millions of unique users every month. She is also the founder of I parenting, a best of the web digital media company that was acquired by Walt Disney. How cool is that? Our episode today we’re going to be focusing on Become the Fire. Elisa, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Elisa: Oh, thank you for having me. Alli. It’s great to be here.

Allison: Absolutely. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation, what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?

Elisa: Oh, my gosh, I have lots to say about that. But I’ll try to boil it down, I think I talked about this in my book Become the Fire. Actually, for me, the number one trait that a leader must have is empathy. I believe that without empathy, it’s very, very hard to lead. Because you have to have a relationship with your team that’s based on mutual respect. And one, you’re able to lead with empathy and kind of put yourself in the shoes of your team members, you are better able to, you know, form those relationships, use your emotional intelligence, not just your other, you know, skill set as a leader. But that’s how you form the relationship that you need in order to kind of get that team that is willing to, you know, do what it takes to get the job done and to go above and beyond.

Empathy fuels inspiration – the ability to inspire and also be inspired.

Allison: I’m naturally an empath. So it’s one of those things where I think it’s hard for me to explain so how, how could How would you explain to someone how to be empathetic?

Elisa: Okay, that’s a great question, right? Because I think to some people to your point, it comes naturally, it’s just, you know, you naturally will put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and, and feel their pain or feel their emotion, whatever it is that they’re going through. But if I had to explain it, I would say that, you know, you really do need to practice it, if it doesn’t come naturally…

Empathy is something that you need to hone like a skill. So practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

And what I mean by that is, you know, think about what it is that they’re going through. So if you know that you have an employee on your team, that, you know, they’re going through a health challenge, or their parent is, you know, they’re moving them into a nursing home, or their kids are, you know, at home sick with the flu, or whatever it is, you know, and understanding the challenges that that person is going through, kind of kind of on a, you know, person to person level, rather than an employee to an employer level, you know, enables you to feel and then respond according to that person’s needs.

So, I think by using those kind of, you know, emotional intelligence skills and feeling, you know, and even if you don’t feel it, understanding what the other person is going through, and then kind of adjusting your behavior accordingly. Go, it takes you miles in the relationship, you know, just that little thing of the employee, knowing that you understand, okay, this is all that stuff that’s going on in my life, and so therefore, maybe I’ll be late, or maybe I need a day off or, you know, whatever it is that the issue is, I think, you know, by being empathetic and adjusting kind of what your mindset or your expectation is of that person improves the relationship and then pays off volumes with that person’s ability to then say, wow, my boss was great, you know, and, and I’m willing to now go through walls for this person, because they get it and they are, you know, they understand me as a person and not just as a tool, you know?

Allison: I think you just described it perfectly. I would, I would describe it as how you build that connection with someone else. And it is by coming to their side and understanding where they’re coming from.

Elisa: Yes. And you said it much more concisely than I did, well done.

Allison : But necessarily. So behind you, you have become the fire. So my question is, What do you mean by become the fire?

Elisa: Okay, so yes, the book is, you know, it’s like this years of thinking put into this one, you know, sort of place and what become the fire means is that, you know, all of us go through chaos, I call it, you know, chaos, challenges, friction, life just throws this at you all the time, no matter who you are, where you’re from you, we all deal with chaos. And so I have this code word that I use for the chaos, which is fire, we all battle fires in our lives. And, you know, as we battle, the fire, the fires, my sort of thought became, as I was battling, and sort of fighting these fires, you know, trying to get myself out of fires, I started to realize…

Every single time I was confronted by fire in my life, I actually became stronger as I overcame it or fought it.

And so I started to think about fire in a different way. Not necessarily about battling or fighting, or confronting, but rather becoming.

So it became, you know, instead of a negative, I tried to, in my mind, my mindset shift, feel that the fire was helping me to become stronger, smarter, wiser, so I was becoming the fire, rather than, you know, being burned alive.

Because that’s, it’s very easy to feel that way. Right? When fire keeps coming at you, it’s like, oh, my gosh, you know, or waves keep coming at you, I’m going to drown, the fire keeps coming at you, I’m going to get burned. So it was a mindset shift in thinking about the fire in a positive way, and actually taking on the fire strength and becoming the fire.

Allison: I love the idea that you become something and then you use it, you mean you use it to for good as a tool? In your book Become the Fire, you’re helping guide people to really kind of lean into their dreams? Is that correct?

Elisa:  Oh, my gosh, absolutely. That’s one of my biggest messages, I guess is that, you know taking it from a dream to an action. So, you know, take it, you know, I think I use the phrase, go from dreaming to doing or, you know, becoming a maker, you know, actually ideating and putting your ideas into action?

Allison: Absolutely. Is that who you wrote the book for?

Elisa: Yes, it’s for the dreamers who want to be doers, and the doers who want to do more. And there’s just so many people in the world that that covers, right. It was actually, through a mentoring organization that I’m a part of, through my alma mater, Northwestern University. I was mentoring young students and young alumni from Northwestern. And you know, you go to these events, and you tell your story. And at one of these events, a young woman asked me after I was done speaking, she said, How did you do it? That’s what you wanted to know, how did how did you do it? And you know, I had to stop being completely honest. I was like, Well, I don’t know. I mean, how do you answer that question? Right?

There’s no real quick, easy answer to how you how you do something. So that’s actually where the seed for the book was planted. And I thought, gosh, I have to really, you know, I whipped off a quick answer in the moment, but it wasn’t, I don’t feel like I did it justice. So I took this, you know, many years to think about, you know, not only my story and how I got to where I got to, but then I interviewed, you know, 10 other leaders and found out how they got to where they had to, and it turned out that there were you know, very similar themes that emerged, whether you talk about resilience, or authenticity, or, you know, grit and, and learning to be friends with failure, all of these themes really resonated throughout all of their stories. And so then it became, you know, putting them all together in a series of lessons that made a lot of sense. You know, that was and that was the real challenge. But I think, I hope I got it right.

Allison: Well, you’re at least you’re providing a framework for someone to be able to even be confident about moving forward and having a blueprint on how to do it. Right.

Elisa: Yeah, that was the goal is to just really make it something that was actionable, rather than kind of a you know, a flip or a quick response. I wanted to make it okay, you want to know how I did it? Here’s how I how I believe I did it. And here’s what I think it takes to do it, whatever it means in your life.

Allison: In it, one of the questions that I want to kind of dive a little bit into because I feel like you focus on, you know, bipoc black, Indigenous and People of Color, specifically women, correct? Yeah. In this current climate as they’re becoming the fire and you know, become, you know, making their dreams come alive, what are some of the challenges and things that they you believe they need to be taking into consideration?

Elisa: Yeah, I think this is a really interesting time in the world, right, and there’s so many things going on. But the thing that when I think about women, and bipoc, I think about, you know, the fact that there’s all of this stuff going on, that we’re all dealing with, and then the fact that women and bipoc kind of have it a little bit more, you know, more intensely, because, you know, there’s, there’s just so much that’s been sort of stacked against that. And so I try to, again, like kind of with, with the flipping fire on its head, that message, you know, you’re not being burned, we’re becoming a fire, it’s sort of a similar thing.

All of those differences that can be perceived as weaknesses – whether because we’re women, we’re first generation Americans, whether it’s because of socioeconomic status, our religion, or our race – all of these things that can be considered disadvantages, we can also look at them as strengths. Not only weaknesses, but strengths. Because we’ve been through so many experiences.

The challenges that have confronted us as fires in our lives have been difficult to overcome, but they have also made us stronger, wiser, and more resilient. This is the message I share with women and BIPOC, whether they are young or going through a transition in their life. The pandemic has caused many changes, and it’s a great time to think about what you want to do and use the strengths gained from these challenges as superpowers to launch your next chapter.

Allison: What would you say are the barriers women and bipoc are facing that, when they six seek success? And how are they overcoming those?

Elisa: Well, the overcoming is what I was just talking about, you know, and I think that the challenge is, you know, it’s, there’s so many studies, I mentioned in my book from, you know, women and bipoc not feeling like they can achieve the American dream. From the McKinsey study, that kind of shows that there’s a broken rung on the way toward manager, you know, every I think they said from 2016, every single year, it’s shown this, you know, trend of, you know, women not in bipoc, not being able to kind of move up the ladder, at the same rates as, as, you know, their, their white or male counterparts.

The challenge is that women and bipoc are not moving up the ladder at the same rate as their white or male counterparts, and there’s so much work that has to be done as a society to get to parity and equality.

That’s just completely ongoing, and it’s not going to happen overnight.

So I’m trying to my message is that we have to, you know, use the tools that we have now. And the tools are the strengths that we’ve gained from our sort of outsider status, and sort of using those as these almost stealth superpowers, you know, and, and that perspective that we bring, is so valuable, um, you know, from, you know, there’s again, I’m not going to remember the source of the moment, but there’s so many studies that show:

Companies with gender diverse management teams, and gender diverse boards, outperform other companies.

So it not only makes sense to have these diverse teams, and, you know, I think women and bipoc can take advantage of the, you know, these these opportunities to showcase their knowledge and their perspectives. But it makes perfect business sense.

Coming to the table with your strengths – not only gained from work experience, but also life experience – can help companies win in today’s economic climate.

Allison: And what would you consider to be your stealth superpower?

Elisa: Oh, my gosh. Um, I you know, I write about it in the book, I think it’s this leadership style that I was able to cultivate that I call “sunshine on the outside with a stealth bomber core”. I radiate positivity – this is easy for me, because this is genuinely who I am. I talk about authenticity and being who you truly are. So I find it much more effective to go through my life feeling positive and doing things to make life better.

That’s been my whole mantra for decades: How can I make life better? That’s driven so much of what I’ve done in business and in my personal life… finding solutions, improving situations, making life better, not only for myself, but for other people. And so that’s driven my success 100%.

So I think I would say that, leveraging my ability to, you know, put that sunshine out there if you will be radiating positivity, seeing problems finding solutions, but then also relying on that inner strength that I was talking about. So as you go through fire, as you overcome these challenges, you develop that inner strength, and knowing when to deploy that inner strength as a, you know, I call it the stealth bomber, like because, you know, looking at me on a normal day, and I’m just out there putting out you know, this good energy, you’re not going to necessarily think, Oh, she’s super strong inside or whatever. But when you need to be when I need to be it comes out and you take care of business and stuff gets done, you know, stuff gets resolved. Like that’s just that’s the sort of balance that I walk all the time, right is between that sort of outward, you know, sunshine and that in inside, you know, burning hot for this like the sun. Cool.

Allison: Thanks for sharing that. In Insite have become the fire you talk a lot about curiosity. Why is that important?

Elisa: Oh my gosh. So another theme:

Curiosity is everything. It’s what drove my first business.

It’s the seed of the first business on my company was called I parenting. But it didn’t start out that way. It started out as a pregnancy newsletter. I was expecting my first child, I was insatiably curious about what was going on with this new life stage, you know, what’s going on in my body? What’s going on with the baby, I was just so curious. And so looking around, I couldn’t find a pregnancy magazine newsletter at the time. And so I decided to go, you know, do a survey found that find out if other pregnant women also wanted this information, they resoundingly did. And so I decided I’m going to make one. No, no, no, you know how to do it. But I just did it, I figured it out on my, you know, sort of on the way to doing it. And so that drove the idea that drove the first iteration.

And then as things progressed, and I realized, well, my pregnant users aren’t going to be pregnant forever, I’m going to need somewhere if I want to keep my customers, right, like I have to evolve with them. So I did, and that became, you know, the, the baby site, and then the toddler site. And then I realized, okay, this is an entire lifecycle thing. So it became my parenting, which then, you know, became, as you mentioned, you know, best to the web company that drew the attention of much larger media companies, and eventually, was acquired by Disney.

And then while I was at Disney, my curiosity, again, sort of served me a second time, when I started to notice the prolific proliferation of mobile phones, and, you know, the iPhone, and the smartphone, all of these things that were happening. And I thought, this is the next opportunity, because we’re all sort of glued to our phones, you know, and my lens was, was looking at it through, you know, the lens of motherhood and how all moms were, you know, glued to their phones looking for expert advice, or a coupon or a recipe or all of these things. And so I thought, if I can create a destination where moms can get great, you know, quick information with in the same amount of time it takes to watch an ad on TV 30 seconds, then I think that we really have something so. So that’s that mission, you know, drove me and it you know that that site has now evolved from what was first called 32nd. Mom, it’s now called 30 And it’s a complete lifestyle destination. That’s not only for mothers, but you know, for dads and for those who are interested in health and food and travel content. So it’s again, all driven by curiosity and providing answers and solutions. You know, are we Originally, from my own life, and then for other parents around the world.

Allison: And that is the tie back to that 30 seconds that is now back. I can see that mind you too. All right. Can you quickly share what would be one major success 3o seconds story?

Elisa: Oh, whoo. Um, there’s a bunch that come to mind. But one that is kind of recent. And very exciting is just last year, 30 seconds was selected by Google to represent the state of Illinois in its economic impact report. So that was super cool. Just again, because Thank you, based on our growth, and so we were actually, you know, in their economic impact report for the state of Illinois. But there’s, you know, lots of stories like even from earlier on I, you know, selected for a Mondelez International, which is the food giant food company. They had a program called Mobile futures and they were looking for the best mobile focused companies to come and present and possibly work with them on mobile ventures. I was the only female founded company that was able that was selected to go present. Thank you at their at their headquarters in New Jersey. So things like that, you know, that have really enabled our business to stand out from the crowd.

Allison: Very nice. Excellent. Thank you for sharing those. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us here and deliberate leaders. I’ve appreciated your sharing and wish you continued success.

Elisa: Thank you right back at you. Thanks so much for having me.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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