Can The Art of Negotiation Actually Save Your Startup? — digitalundivided

Image courtesy via Dr. Christina Campbell

When first-generation college student Dr. Christina Campbell graduated from Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, she was close to six figures in debt. Dr. Campbell knew that navigating her first job offer was key to set herself up for financial success, and actively discussed this with her peers.

The peer group quickly realized Dr. Campbell understood techniques and strategies that could help them gain substantial ground on their first job offer. At Dr. Campbell’s guidance, the 12 women-of-color PhDs collectively negotiated a little over half a million dollars more than the initial base salaries and research start-up funds they were offered.

Dr. Campbell graduated from Yale University into her first academic position, realizing she had two zones of genius leading to two viable career paths. The beginnings of her company, Academe180 — a professional development service and digital platform teaching career professionals and individuals at academic institutions how to negotiate — was born.

Read this week’s Founder Feature to discover learn all about the art of negotiation — and how it could save your startup.

digitalundivided: Tell us more about Academe180’s origin story. What inspired you to create your company?

Christina Campbell: I was a first-generation college student, and it took me about 13 years to finish school. By the time I finished with my postdoctoral degree from Yale School of Medicine, Department of
Psychiatry, I was close to six figures in debt. On the one hand, I was celebrating. But on the other hand, I was in a crisis. I was very educated. But I was also very broke and very confused about this next stage of life.

I remember sitting in this particular negotiations workshop. All my colleagues sat around the table. We had just applied for a loan repayment program. Collectively, we’re millions of dollars in debt. We’re sitting here having a conversation about all the other things that we can negotiate besides salary. I remember raising my hand and saying, “You know what, I hear you, but I can’t eat a computer.” The room was silent, and all of a sudden, everyone broke out in laughter. A few other postdocs followed me (to my office). They were like, “I’m going to do whatever you do. Whatever you do in terms of negotiating, I want to do exactly that.”

I was able to successfully navigate my very first job offer. I was making at an associate level what more senior-level professors were making when starting out. From that experience, I then went on to help 12 other Black women PhDs also transitioning into academia. We collectively negotiated a little over half a million dollars more than the initial base salary and research startup. That’s when I knew a business was born.

digitalundivided: Why is your product necessary for its market?

Christina Campbell: Negotiation is a life skill. It’s people who look like me — women, people of color, people from first-generation college backgrounds, people who grew up in socioeconomically marginalized situations (who will be) told to be grateful or to be surprised or shocked that any offer is given, unfortunately.

Negotiating is a path to freedom. One form of freedom is financial freedom. When I decided on the name of the organization, I was trying to encompass the spirit of what I wanted the business to represent. I called it Academe180 because one of my own personal heroine’s home address is “180”. It’s Harriet Tubman’s address. For me, she was the epitome of helping people get free.

I believe that negotiating and being a good negotiator is one path to being financially and spiritually, and mentally free. I believe that in addition to freedom, when you negotiate, you actually increase your capacity to just be more in alignment with your purpose.

digitalundivided: What has been the biggest struggle you’ve had to overcome to build your business?

Christina Campbell: I am currently looking into becoming more knowledgeable on what are the qualities of a good team member and really thinking about identifying individuals who would be a good fit for the business. I have had some trial and error in identifying team members. However, I have also made some progress through referrals. I do believe that as we increase in our capacity and have more budgets, we’re going to be able to maximize the talent we will be able to recruit to really allow this business to grow and expand.

Image courtesy via Dr. Christina Campbell

digitalundivided: How did your participation in digitalundivided’s BIG program help you navigate your founder journey?

Christina Campbell: It was a game-changer for me in terms of establishing a community with other entrepreneurs as a full-time tenured associate professor. I’m around a culture where there’s just a focus on grant writing, mentoring, teaching, and research — the entrepreneurial part isn’t necessarily prioritized in the setting that I’m in. It’s nice to be surrounded by people who were solving some really cool problems, and I was able to get some peer mentorship along the way.

digitalundivided: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs on their journey?

Christina Campbell: My advice to other entrepreneurs is pretty simple. It’s two words: keep going. Along the way, there will be challenges. You’ll have some confusion, but the goal is to just lean into whatever small step or habit that you can accomplish and know that the vision is going to work out.

Is your startup ready to go to market? BIG is a free 12-week program providing Latina and Black women entrepreneurs with the network, know-how, and scalable revenue model to get there. Apply to digitalundivided’s BIG program today! Applications close on April 27th.

[Editor’s note]: This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcription.