Life Stories, Life

Why I really started The Tempest

Where would I find those who accepted me for who I was, quirks and all?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve been asked the question a time too many: what made you decide to start The Tempest? It’s an answer that still takes me aback for a brief second, causes me to flip back through my rolodex of memories, fitting the right one into place.  

There’s always a pause before I answer – but the funny thing is, my decision to start the company came without a second thought – it just was, and it began. The inception came with a question: why weren’t we hearing about the world and all of its intricacies from the vibrant, authentic and varied women from underrepresented backgrounds? Why is it so hard to push beyond what we’re expected to talk about, to what we truly want to discuss?

Figuring out what led me to that decision, though, always takes me back to being that awkward, slightly pudgy, verbose self that I was at fourteen years old. Always on the fringe of the social circle, I spent much of my childhood moving around the Northeast and struggling to find friends who accepted me for what I was: homeschooled, feminist, independent, and always coming up with the next idea to change the world.

I remember reading about the once-elegant and internationally renowned World Fairs that took place all over the world, bringing in the latest in progress and innovation to the fair-goers. So I decided to start my own in my family’s garage. I had a fire for figuring out the gaps in the market, which led to my starting a multi-location operation at my local faith centers, selling craft supplies to the bored but voracious consumers while the adults attended spiritual lectures.  

It was with that kind of “what if?” attitude that I approached every initiative I undertook. There were no limits, as long as I believed in the potential impact and had the fire underneath me.

Yet there was a constant current running throughout: where would I find those who accepted me for who I was, quirks and all? As a teenager, I vowed never to allow those who felt out of place to sit alone once I was older.  Too often growing up, I found my heart speeding up entering a center where I didn’t know if I would find someone who I could call a friend, a feeling I learned later in life simply to embrace.

But it wasn’t a feeling I ever wished upon anyone else. That lack of community, people who understood you, empathized with where you were coming from – if not with where you were going – all of those factors influenced the decisions I made in life. As a visible minority, an American Muslim woman who had chosen to cover from ten years old as a bet with my mom, I found that there were layers to my identity and life experience that took years to begin unpacking. On top of that were the boxes those around me put me in: boxes that were difficult to break out of, but boxes that I simply refused to operate within.

It all led back to the question: why did I begin a media company that had now morphed into an international movement for diverse millennial women to be exactly who they wanted to be – themselves? Crazy as it sounds, I did it because it needed to be done. The Tempest –formerly known as Coming of Faith – began out of a lifetime of personal experiences, experiences that I saw reflected too often in those around me, time and time again. It was a battle getting the first submission – five weeks and a whole lot of pushing – but the responses from our audience were almost immediate. I knew, no matter what struggle lay ahead of us, that we’d hit upon the pot of gold.

Instead of speaking for diverse millennial women, we were giving them the chance – finally – to tell their own stories through writing, videos, audio and music, and the results have been inspiring – in growth and in reach. Rather than creating a set narrative and fitting different people into what we deemed “the right box,” we were giving them the ability to own their experiences, voices and stories.

Now, I wake up every morning full of fire for something greater.  With more than 300 writers in more than fifteen countries, the articles flowing out of our space are fresh, engaging and truly unconventional. Our content isn’t found anywhere else. Why?

Simple: we’ve tapped into a core of unmatched diversity, made up of a team of passionate, dedicated staff and writers telling the most impactful stories, creating incredibly authentic conversations, and representing the wide range of voices that make up today’s world. Headed by my co-founder and myself, the company brings in millions monthly, powered by a shoe-string budget and a national team dedicated to the vision of something bigger and better for millennials and women. Rather than paying lip service to minorities, millennials, and women like many networks and media properties tend to do, The Tempest talks the talk – and walks the walk. We mean business.

I think a lot about whether my younger self would befriend the person I am now. I believe she’d give me a chance.

Laila Alawa

Laila Alawa

Laila Alawa is the CEO and Founder of The Tempest, a leading media company where the world goes to hear the stories of diverse millennial women. She is also the host for The Expose, a weekly podcast tackling tough topics with snark and wit. Her work has been mentioned in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Mashable, Color Lines, Bustle, Feministing, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. She's also appeared on Al-Jazeera America, BBC World News, NPR, and Huffington Post Live.

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