Anastasia Chernikova has been working as a business journalist interviewing leaders like TechCrunch founder, Michael Arrington, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, and Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, before starting her own media, The Vivid Minds. Her idea is to create a space for vulnerable conversations and mental health to help others embark on their entrepreneurial journey as they overcome challenges more easily and push forward.
Grit Daily: You say the Vivid Minds is a space for doers. What do they find there?
Anastasia Chernikova: Ever since the inception of The Vivid Minds (VM), we were dedicated to telling human stories. We talk with leaders, and by that I mean entrepreneurs, artists, filmmakers and other creative people, who can share interesting and unique insights. They all go to our three sections – Creator Economy, Mental Health and Career Pivots – which are pretty interweaved, if you think about it.
We aim to uncover vulnerabilities and talk about challenges rather than digits and achievements. We talk about mental health and what exactly they had to trade for success, where they got the energy to achieve those things, and what they have come through. During my eight years of journalism and when interviewing entrepreneurs for business magazines, I realized that’s the most interesting part, though people feel bad about talking about mental health, burnouts etc. all the time, since they are afraid of being perceived weak. One founder I interviewed for VM was very open during our over 2 hour long conversation and said he felt so good telling me stories, like in a therapist session.
However, after we published the story, he started bombarding us with messages saying that we should remove everything or he would not raise another round from angel investors. I even had to consult with one angel investor who gave him money and who turned out to be a friend of mine and his investor to see if such an interview may really affect the decision.
So, answering your question – we are building a safe environment for leaders who share their stories from the human angle – we publish their stories and host webinars and meetups for them. Right now we are working on one together with Columbia Business School in Manhattan.
Grit Daily: You arrived in New York in 2016. Where did you leave to come to New York? Why New York?
Anastasia Chernikova: I was a liberal journalist back in Moscow and in 2016 I felt it was getting harder to look for inspiring self made entrepreneurs. Many of my friends started leaving the country, ruble collapsed, and I felt that my freedom was sweeping away from me. Before that, I used to come to New York every now and then, because I loved the city; the energy was unique. I romanticized the city at first, as many do, and based my impressions on Woody Allen movies, Leonard Cohen songs etc, but six years later, I still feel that drive. I’d say people have always inspired me the most, and I’m surrounded by the most unique characters here.
Grit Daily: Entrepreneurs have to live up to a legend, don’t they? Unfazed by any problem, never daunted, required to always own every problem and put themselves last behind customers, employees and vendors. Why do people choose to accept those pressures? How do founders cope with those pressures?
Anastasia Chernikova: These are exactly the sentiments that we are trying to fight with the Vivid Minds. Sure, being an entrepreneur is hard and you have a lot of responsibilities. But you always choose what you dislike more – being intimidated by routine tasks and your boss that you have to be accountable to, or being able to lead things on your own. I’ve been surrounded by entrepreneurs for a long time now, and they are just people who like doing things on their own. They trade corporate benefits of health care insurance, free lunch and wellness gift cards for freedom. I don’t think all entrepreneurs have to live up to a legend; the same as not everyone wants to become Elon Musk. It’s just that people want to live on their terms and not necessarily build a unicorn or even invest venture capital. Especially now with the rise of the creator economy, solo entrepreneurship has become so prominent – you get likes on your instagram account and post paid partnerships – and here it goes, you are an entrepreneur. I’m not saying that is easy of course, as any job or career path is, just different and there are different types of pressure. So I’m very interested in exploring how entrepreneurs deal with it.
Grit Daily: What are some memorable interviews that you have conducted for Vivid Minds?
Anastasia Chernikova: We are just in the beginning and right now I’m overseeing the editorial part and don’t conduct interviews myself that much. During my career as a journalist I’ve done some memorable interviews – with Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, Jan Koum, the founder of Whatsapp, and most recently, Metakovan, the founder of Metapurse and the most well known investor in the NFT space. Every time I was interested in what stood behind their accomplishments and what kind of people they were. Especially with Vitalik, it was really hard to get through – he is probably the most nerdy guy that I’ve ever interviewed and he seemed to be interested only in the development side of his protocol.
Grit Daily: How does Vivid Minds encourage real-world connections?
Anastasia Chernikova: We are hosting online and offline events for our subscribers, currently in New York as it is where most of the team is. But we are planning on going as a couple in Europe, in Berlin and Rome. We love these cities and work with freelance journalists there. Our Executive Editor, Sasha, is based in Rome.
We are growing a supportive community, so people can shoot me an email and ask me to introduce someone who has been featured on the website, and we will try to make it happen.
Grit Daily: How do you make money to sustain The Vivid Minds?
Anastasia Chernikova: That’s not easy since, as you can imagine, media companies don’t bring much money even for big brands that have been around for decades. We don’t do any of the ads or posts. I’m talking with potential sponsors now who would be supporting a series of our events. We’ll be creating a special series of articles for them under the sponsor’s logo. As of now, I’m sponsoring it myself by pulling out money from my marketing agency, where we help startups and tech companies to grow on the US market. My dream is to fully switch to The Vivid Minds and be able to only work on the stories around creator economy and mental health.