I'm building the first private social and wellness club designed for people of color to thrive – Naj Austin, Founder & CEO of Ethel’s ClubFeatured

Hi Elphas –I’m the founder & CEO of Ethel’s Club – the first private social and wellness club designed for people of color to thrive. I created Ethel’s Club because I believe there is both power and safety in shared, collective experience. The creative, professional and social potential that comes with being able to bring your full self to the table is what I hope our members can access and achieve through our club. Since I founded the company eleven months ago, we’ve had a feature in the New York Times, garnered a waitlist of over 4,000 people and opened our very first clubhouse in Brooklyn, New York.Before founding Ethel’s Club, I was Head of Growth at a real estate asset management company and Head of Product at a furnished rental startup. Spending the last five years of my career in the real estate and hospitality tech industry has armed me with a lot of knowledge on how to make the world a more inclusive and equitable space. Ask me anything about creating intentional spaces for communities of color, fundraising as a black woman, getting your startup off the ground, or anything else!
Thanks so much for joining us, Naj!!Elphas – please reply in the comments with your questions before this Thursday. Naj may not have time for all your questions, so please emoji the ones you'd most like her to answer.
Read about Ethel's last week and found it to be fantastic. I hope to one day swing by. My questions are: 1) How did you balance building Ethel's Club alongside your day job? 2) How did you land your first 10, 100, 1000+ interested people? Would love to learn about growing that initial base and keeping it going. 4,000 waitlisted folks is incredible. Congrats!Irma
Hi Irma,Thanks for the question! I actually decided to quit my job before jumping full-time into Ethel's Club. I had enough conviction from early customer discovery, press and investor conversations that I was onto something. I decided to use my savings to float myself for four months as I built out the product and vision, before raising capital. We were able to find a void in the market that no one else was paying attention to. When you build a product that doesn't exist for an audience who is hungry for it, magic happens. For many people of color, we rarely have access to own spaces, from our work spaces to restaurants, let alone social venues. Once I put the idea out there through our Instagram account, it organically spread like wildfire. Once the interested audience was there, we remained consistent in engaging with them online, being transparent about our journey, and maintaining some playfulness along the way.
Hi Naj! Thanks for making yourself available to us. What you are doing at Ethel's Club is so necessary, especially when you consider how wellness, physical exercise, and beauty/hair play together when it comes to women of color. In a similar fashion, the company I have started with my two sisters - Kazmaleje (pronounced: cosmology) - was brought to life in order to address a need as we create innovative hair tools and accessories that are designed for the textured hair care market. Since wellness is a core element of Ethel's Club, I would love to know if you are exploring any partnerships and/or collaborations with other companies that reflect the same values and target market? The opportunity for collaborative economics and creating a true ecosystem must be thrilling.
Hi Latoya! We absolutely are! We’ve already partnered with a handful of people of color owned wellness brands and individuals to offer products and services that mutually align with our audiences. Feel free to message me privately!
Thanks for the response. That’s great to hear. Will do!
Nice focus! Wellness is such an important topic and wonder about your thoughts for those of us who have been through all the healing modalities to create mental and emotional freedom for ourselves and how we could be of support to other women? We may need to schedule a call since this is such an important topic to raising women up.💗
Hi Carenna, Well I think there aren’t enough healing modalities for women, especially women of color, or even access to them! It’s super important to me and close to my heart, which is why we were so intentional about embedding wellness into the club. I believe we can’t celebrate and uplift one another without healing one another as well. At Ethel’s Club, we try to support one another through yoga, meditation, reiki, therapy consultations, group therapy sessions and more.
That is wonderful. I did a lot of neuroscience research to help myself heal and have since developed a tool to uncover underlying beliefs about money and family of origins stories. Delinking ideas has been really powerful for me. Happy to talk further.
Hi,Thank you for sharing your story and being available for questions.I'm still in the ideation stage of a startup. I want to develop an online platform for people of color that focuses on hiring and belonging in tech work environments.What are your suggestions on moving from ideation stage? Should I focus on getting the platform created or getting a technical cofounder to help create the platform? I would also like to learn about your experience fundraising as a woman of color. For our previous startup for hiring Veterans, we faced many challenges as women of color and it was discouraging. It's made me apprehensive about even trying again.
Hi! The biggest way to move from ideation is to get started and began iterating. Remember, it's your MVP -- the most important thing is to enter the discovery process so you can begin tweaking and perfecting. I think it depends on how skilled you are at putting together an MVP, but if you think you need a technical co-founder to help, now would be the time to bring them on and help you begin building. This will also give you time to learn how to work and create together.Fundraising was difficult in the beginning because I did not have a clear focus as to who I wanted to bring onto our cap table. After a few conversations and meetings, the right investor for Ethel's Club began to crystallize -- we needed investors who believed in radical change and diligently worked towards an inclusive and equitable future. For every startup and founder, these requirements are different, but I think it's important to take the time and think about who you want to build your company with for the long haul.
This is awesome - congratulations! Do you plan on expanding to other cities? I live in Seattle and our city would really benefit from this. Also, I recommend going to SxSW ( to pitch your club/ bring awareness. I checked out your website and it looks like it could fall under the media/music/entertainment space that SxSW offers.
I'll be speaking there :)
Sweet, congrats! Let me know when you expand to Seattle! Would love to be on your mailing list if you have one :)
Thank you for joining Naj! I just have a few questions: 1. Did you have a formal business plan together before pitching to investors? 2. And about fundraising: did you do crowdfunding or a seed round etc and what was that like?3. How many slides are in your pitch deck? I've been to a few workshops where the instructors said less than 12 for the initial pitch and more than that for the second round. Thank you again!!
Hi Shenae!1. While we didn’t have a “formal” business plan, we did have a pitch deck, mood boards for the space, sample programming and a variety of other documents that we were able to use to clearly share the vision of Ethel’s Club.2. I initially crowdfunded because I wanted to involve people who believed in us very early. Once I was able to close that amount ($25,000), we began to raise a pre-seed round from traditional investors to help secure our lease, build out and ultimately launch the club. Our fundraising was a positive experience once we identified who the right people were! We did receive a lot of inbound interest from investors who believed in the vision, mission, and grand potential of the company, which helped get things started.3. 16 slides, but we felt we owed it to the product to delve in a lot on the audience's size, experience and interest in what we were building.
Thanks for doing this, Naj! I would love to hear about how you selected which investors you were interested in. I think building products specifically for people of color means that there’s an added level of responsibility when fundraising — you have to be mindful that the folks you’re bringing in share your vision and respect for your target demo. What was it like identifying who did/ didn’t share that vision?-Faith
Hi Faith! Thanks for the question. I mentioned this above, but we sought out investors who believed in radical change and diligently worked towards an inclusive and equitable future. We looked for investors who would have had shared experiences with our members -- many of our investors identify as people of color, women and non-binary. It was important to me that the minds and dollars behind the company reflect our values and culture. This usually made itself evident in the first conversation! :)
How do I join??!!!
Hi Tiffany! You can apply for membership here: :)
When can we expect y'all in the Bay Area?! Would switch from my co-working space to yours in a heartbeat.