Yemi Penn hit rock bottom aged 24 when she was kicked out of home by her parents, whose traditional Nigerian values disapproved of her falling pregnant whilst unmarried, and she found herself homeless, in an unsafe, violent environment in South London.
She had a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but found herself sleeping on a doorstep while all of her university peers were progressing the corporate ladder.
“On the day I found out I was pregnant, my parents said ‘you need to pack your stuff and find a home,” Yemi said.
“I was only 24 and thought ‘s***, I literally have nowhere to go’. I thought she would come around at some point, but she didn’t.”
Surrounded by an environment where drugs and violence were a daily occurence, Yemi knew things had to change. After finally securing housing and having her daughter, her new family dynamic forced her to stand tall, rewrite her plans and power through to make life work for her and her little family.
Yemi refused to be another statistic, and through sheer grit and determination got her life back on track.
Thirteen years on, much has changed in Penn’s life. Penn owns three successful businesses and pulls in over AUD 1.6 million a year:
- An Engineering Consultancy:based in London and Sydney
- A F45 Gym: in Brixton, South London
- W Squared Coaching: Yemi’s business coaching agency
She only recently launched W Squared Coaching, working with businesses, giving clients’ the tools to be ‘on purpose’ at both work and home – living a life that suits them rather than what society tells them they should be doing. She seeks to empower those that have lost their power sometime in their life and are seeking to get it back.
In 2019, Yemi now lives between the UK and Sydney Australia with her two children and her partner.
Dynamic Business spoke to Yemi about her life now, and how she managed to turn it all around. We discuss her idea of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur (hint: tenacity is key!) and the need for mindset/life coaching now more than ever.
DB: How do you manage to live in two cities, and operate businesses across such distances?
Yemi: By honing in on a growth mindset, by modelling some of the greats out there who spent years and sometimes decades building businesses. I think it is a missed opportunity when we do not stop and reflect on things that have been done before, in an age where there was significantly less access to information and slower technological speed.
I leverage off the different time zones and model what I teach in my coaching sessions when building high performing teams, which is to quickly establish those activities that zap my energy and determine if it’s worth the hassle or the hustle.
I recently started Transcendental meditation with my partner and that has been a game changer. My mind is like that of a cat in a room with about ten mice (exactly!) and the thought of being stilled twice a day for 20mins each would have made no sense. However, it actually creates space and almost like Tom Cruise deleting a minority report dashboard, it groups activities for me that needs doing and afterwards I’m on fire.
Being a coach helps with managing my businesses remotely, as it allows me to support the people who give me their time and effort to build the businesses I run.
DB: Did you always envision becoming an entrepreneur? Even at 24 when pregnant, sofa surfing – did you have the belief you would own 3 successful business just 13 years later?
Yemi: I have recently completed my first book, which I will be self publishing in the coming months. As I was writing about my entrepreneurial journey, it became apparent that I’d always had this hunger to own my journey by unapologetically doing whatever set my soul on fire. Although, saying that I wasn’t exactly thrilled about my newspaper round job at 13 but I loved the freedom it gave me with my $10 a week earnings. I guess without knowing the meaning of being an entrepreneur I was drawn to creating waves and paths to something better.
At 24 without any real roots by way of a home I was just in survival mode and dared not even dream about being successful. My focus was on keeping my job while I tried to secure housing to live out this memo called life. There was no way back then I would have believed it was possible to own one thriving business, talk less of three. I feel I had more access to inspirational and motivational people similar to me and this is one of many reasons why I’ve gone into coaching and speaking.
DB: Do you think there is a common ‘trait’ successful entrepreneurs share, such as determination for example, which guarantees their success?
Yemi: 100%, tenacity is right up there. I appreciate things may have been slightly different decades and even centuries ago but having a transformed, growth mindset literally puts you leaps ahead of the status quo. The true fun is in the journey to realising dreams, desires and goals and I truly believe that a successful and sustainable entrepreneur bares this in mind.
If you are not connected to why you started a business, it’s difficult to stay anchored to it and then it will be extremely hard to keep it running. When I look back, I didn’t wait for my National Insurance (UK unique ID number to start working) card to come through to say I could start officially making money, I went out and looked for outlets that paid me money without an NI card. This is tenacity. Successful entrepreneurs know what they want, why they want it and then take massive action, which is the final piece of the puzzle.
DB: What kept you positive/driven in the times of most challenge?
Yemi: Until recently I had always been a straight black and white person, rarely had a grey area and this probably limited me in some instances. However, it helped me through challenges as I saw these periods as a ‘sink or swim’ situation. I guess I had a ‘want for living’, so during these difficult times, treaded that water like my life and that of my daughter at the time depended on it.
I also have to say that my mother set the tone for dealing with challenges as she herself had been faced with situations that required her to dig deep and I guess from watching her in the shadows I knew what grit looked like.
DB: There is a lot of life/mindset coaching at the moment, the culture is growing. Why do you think this is and how to attract clients to you in an increasingly difficult and niche market?
Yemi: I think it’s growing because we are in a time and era where it is needed the most. There is a subtle yet strong shift in the use of more feminine approaches to dealing with issues and challenges. This doesn’t just represent women as all sexes hold elements of masculine and feminine energy.
However, we as a human race are acknowledging a diversity in thinking and coaches are creating this platform.
I think if you are in the coaching space, to solely focus on making the $$$ stack up quick then it is likely to become unsustainable in the long run. However, a coach who focuses on contributing to others progression will have the right tribe gravitate towards them and as we all know word of mouth is powerful. I think the challenge/opportunity (depends on how you look at it) for me in this instance is finding the platforms and space for me to speak my story so others feel that little but more comfortable in joining in on the story.
DB: Where do you see yourself in the future? More businesses – more of a coaching emphasis?
Yemi: Oooh, this is a good question! I am now learning to be comfortable with my desires and need for growth by way of mental stimulation and contribution. The truth is that I am busy enough as it is managing three companies, however I have side projects that I am passionate about. I am currently designing an application that connects people to service providers in the minority demographic. I will also be launching a product in the female hygiene space in the coming months as I truly believe this is a vital sector that just hasn’t seen enough innovation in decades.
Ultimately, my aim through my work is to offer coaching services to individuals and corporations through medium to large scale workshop events and seminars. I truly believe we have an underlying, untapped capability to be powerful co-creators of our own destiny, I want to coach people through the journey of unleashing it.
DB: What three pieces of advice would you give your former 24 year old self, or do you people in a similar situation right now, to lead yourself/them into the success you have now?
Don’t rush– know what you want and why you know it. Using your gut and instinct to enhance things that get you truly excited, whether it be sport or solving a mathematical conundrum. Stay attached to the ‘feeling and emotion’ the activity presents and do more things that produce that emotion. It eventually will lead you to the thing(s) that make you successful, whatever that means for you.
Know yourself – this memo called ‘life’ suggests finding the ‘right’ partner by a certain age is one of the critical foundations for purpose. I now challenge this boldly in my podcast and upcoming book. I say focus on getting to know you and the way you change over time. Yes, form relationships but make sure the most important one (the one with yourself) is your priority because it is difficult to give from a depleted source.
Pretend as if you have one life – once you get comfortable with this notion, you can begin to dare greatly about the possibilities to be, do and have anything you want. Just ask yourself, ‘what is the worst that could happen?’ and if it doesn’t result in death or anything mildly similar then go for it!
DB: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Yemi: Honestly? Keeping two human beings alive outside of myself. It is one of the best jobs on offer, however one of the toughest as you are having to navigate your own self and carry the space for those who depend on you (heavily) to form part of their own identity and existence.
On the basis the above response is a cop-out… the next greatest achievement would have to be opening a fitness studio remotely, financial challenges aside; it was more of a mental battle as I had to believe that I could pull this off without breaking and to have done it in the midst of losing my Dad, it was time to put on my ‘sink or swim’ shorts. The gym was opened on my Dad’s birthday, 8th September.
I share my story, coach and speak to motivate others in creating their reality.