Monique Idlett-Mosley is working to change the narrative around success.
8 min read
When Monique Idlett-Mosley was 22 years old, a woman gave her the chance to interview for a job that required 20 years of experience, even though she had zero.
It was a senior executive ad sales job at USA Today. This was back in the 90s, during the color-printed national newspaper’s heyday. Idlett-Mosley was already at the paper to interview for a lower-ranking job, but when she heard about the ad sales exec opening, she blurted, “Oh my god, I want that job!”
The VP interviewing her (a woman) laughed, but Idlett-Mosley doubled down, “No, I really want that job.” The VP realized she was serious.
“Just because you had the audacity to ask me for this,” the VP told her, “I know you’ll go out here and ask the clients for everything that you need.”
At the time, the 22-year-old had a 3-year-old toddler of her own and was caring for her father’s two preteen children after his passing the year prior. She was just about to finish college, against all odds, as a teen mom who’d grown up in low-income housing. She traveled to the paper’s corporate offices, interviewed with six VPs over three days, and they gave her the job.
“See how a woman can help change another woman’s life?” Idlett-Mosley said in an interview with Entrepreneur. It was this experience that propelled her career. She went on to start her own marketing agency from within the USA Today offices, where she worked for seven years before officially striking out on her own.
In the 2000s, she married Tim “Timbaland” Mosley and served as CEO of Mosley Brands and Mosley Music Group, during which time she represented One Republic, Nelly Furtado and other chart-topping artists. Then, seven years ago, she went back to school to get her MBA. She’d seen how the advent of iTunes and other technologies disrupted the music industry, and she wanted to brush up her skills in this new era.
In business school, she met her business partner, Erica Duignan Minnihan, who was already active in angel investing and involved with 1000 Angels. Their early conversations led Idlett-Mosley down the path of investing and founding her early-stage VC firm, Reign Ventures, a $25 million fund focused on women- and minority-led tech startups.
Reign Ventures operates in a world in which black women have received .0006 percent of all tech venture funding since 2009, and it’s trying to change the narrative around what a successful entrepreneur looks like. To that end, it also serves as a mentorship network.
Idlett-Mosley spoke with Entrepreneur about the duty women have to use their means to support other women, as well as resist urges to compete with one another or accept that there only needs to be one woman in the boardroom. Her goal is to provide examples for younger generations of what success can look like, outside of being famous entertainers or running billion-dollar companies.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s a major flaw in the narrative around women’s success today?
There’s room for all of us. That’s still a concept that women are learning to embrace, because we’ve been taught to compete against each other — that there is only one slot. When we work together, there are a ton more slots, because we create them. We have to start using our resources together.
Why is Reign Ventures early-stage?
Women need to invest early so that we can have a voice. When we don’t play early, financially, we risk that there’s no representation on a board. I wanted to be able to sit with the guys. If I’m sitting there, I can be like, “Why are there no top executive females? I don’t want to hear that you can’t find them. I need you to go get some, like right now. And why am I still the only female board member?”
I would love one day for our fund to be a $200 million fund, but because we made a real impact. Because companies have been able to grow, employ and change communities, and until then, I’m so happy at this size. This is where we get to be a part of the ground level.
I have a leg up with entrepreneurs just starting out, because I understand the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. That’s what me and Tim did for all those years. Every day there wasn’t a No. 1 song on radio, but it didn’t mean that we didn’t have to keep fighting.
With investing, you’re taking a risk. And so many investors don’t take a risk. They invest in the safe thing that looks exactly like everything else that has already worked.
Any investment is a risk. That’s OK. We have to take more risks. I mean, look at the little girl who sold the lemonade to Whole Foods. It’s our job to find these people. We owe that to our communities to invest in these concepts. You cannot tell me that you can only live one type of life or come from one type of neighborhood to be successful as an entrepreneur.
You have to bet on people when you see a skill set or a talent that maybe they’re not even aware of yet. You have to go bet on them and educate them and train them.
I don’t know a lot of women who people can relate to right now. We have to find girls that other girls can look up to who aren’t singers or performers. We just need more narratives.
What’s been challenging about your career change to the mentoring and investing world so far?
Everything is measured off of social media. My Instagram is private, because it has a different meaning to me than what everyone else uses it for. But that’s where everyone is trying to see what you have done.
I’ve built my entire career around building other people and being behind the scenes. This is a new thing for me. But the message is so important and the work is so important that I’m willing to come out of my comfort zone. I want to invest in more women founders and raise awareness.
What did you learn from your first boss at USA Today?
She was so tough on me. She was mean, actually. She was the only female vice president of the company, and she had all the pressures that the men didn’t have. In turn, she put all those pressures on us. Working for someone like her, you become non-emotional. It’s business. I could receive that treatment, but we don’t have to be like that as women.
But she forever changed my life in a positive way, because I had the audacity to ask her if I could have a job that required 20 years experience, and she had the audacity to say, you can.
She gave you a chance, and it just snowballed from there.
There have been so many important women in my life, and that’s why I know that it doesn’t just have to be one. We are so amazing together as women. That’s how my business partner Erica and I work. Our strengths and talents are not the same. It’s OK to be in a room full of women complementing one another.
It won’t change until we as women demand, together, something different — but not through complaining. Complaining doesn’t solve anything. We need to have real case studies of how we work together, what we did and the results.
There are so many stories out here about women supporting women. We have to be curious enough to go find them, and then we have to get the people to realize how important they are.