Lajuanda Asemota

CEO and Co-Founder of Second Chance Studios

With nearly two decades of experience creating impact across sectors, Oakland native Lajuanda M. Asemota specializes in grassroots program design, diversity and inclusion in educational spaces, and technology for good.

Currently, she is the Chief Executive Officer & Cofounder of Second Chance Studios, a nonprofit digital media company that trains and employs people who were formerly incarcerated. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of /dev/color, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Black software engineers to help one another grow into industry leaders. Lajuanda also led Diversity & Inclusion, as well as Program Operations, at Singularity University (SU), working with thousands of global leaders to fuel innovation at the intersection of technology and social impact. At SU, she successfully launched numerous initiatives, including the Future of Virtual Reality, Exponential Youth Camp, Impact Fellows, and SU’s first employee resource group, the Women’s Impact Network. Led by her passion for innovation in emerging markets, Lajuanda co-organized both SingularityU West Africa Global Impact Challenge and SpeedUpAfrica, a startup bootcamp convening the top 100 African entrepreneurs with investors and mentors from Africa, Silicon Valley, and beyond.

For much of her career, Lajuanda has worked extensively on empowering communities with equitable and inclusive access to resources. This work has included roles as Executive Director for the Black Recruitment & Retention Center at UC Berkeley, as well as Head of Marketing & Development for World Bridges, a nonprofit dedicated to providing low-income youth with international opportunities.

Lajuanda is also passionate about community building and cultural expression. This passion has led her to organize hundreds of spaces, events, retreats, workshops, and conferences to this end, including the Empowering Women of Color Conference, the Western Regional LGBTQIA Conference, and a lecture series entitled “Oral Histories and Traditions” at the Multicultural Community Center, where she also co-founded an art gallery space.

Lajuanda has served on the Board of Trustees for Leadership High School in San Francisco and advises young entrepreneurs. She attended the University of California, Berkeley to study both African American Studies and Advertising & Consumer Behavior. In her leisure, Lajuanda enjoys reading Spanish-language literature, traveling, and playing volleyball.

Where did the idea for Second Chance Studios come from?

The idea for Second Chance Studios emerged in 2019 from a conversation that our Cofounders Coss Marte, Ravi Gupta, and Alfred Johnson had about creating opportunities for second chances. They were familiar with the growth of new media and realized that there was an unmet need — and great opportunity — for a model that could address an urgent social need with a truly innovative solution: placing formerly incarcerated people in digital media professions such as podcasting and video editing, where employment opportunities are forecasted to grow up to 3x the average of all occupations in the next decade. This is where the seed was planted for Second Chance Studios, a nonprofit digital media studio that trains and employs people who were formerly incarcerated.

After a successful Kickstarter in Summer 2020 and an influx of applications, I joined the founding team in 2021 to guide the organization to get the program off the ground in the launch phase and beyond.

Now, we’re building both a holistic training program that combines experiential learning, mentorship, and job placement and a foundation for a video and audio production business. Ultimately, we’re positioning ourselves to be the preeminent digital media training ground for former inmates as well as a transformative model for decreasing recidivism through employment in high-growth industries.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Eventually, when things reopen post-COVID, some of my days will include commuting to New York (from DC) to go into the studio, meet with clients, and deliver programming. For now, no two days are alike for me, so I’m not sure I can describe a typical day. Instead, I’ll share my ideal day. First, it involves waking up between 6 and 7am, checking my calendar, meditating, working out, and having a smoothie for breakfast while I listen to the Morning Rhythm playlist on Spotify. From there, I will sit on the couch while I scroll through the news, including my four favorite newsletters (New York Times The Morning, NYT Dealbook, 730DC, and Blavity:News) and of course Instagram. Then around 8 or 9am, I’ll get my workspace set up at the dining table, the couch, or our conference table in the office, put in my headphones and crank up the Focus Flow playlist on Spotify, and start working on my “frogs” for the day. The morning is my production work time, so I try not to schedule meetings before 10am, which allows me to get 1-2 hours of creative time in before the day starts. Then I go in between meetings and working on the most critical tasks at-hand, grabbing lunch in between and taking an extended break around 4pm. During my break, I might take a nap, workout, or walk the dog before restarting work around 5 or 6pm. Dinner is usually between 7:30 and 8:30pm, and I either return to work until 10pm, fit in a late workout with my partner if I missed mine in the morning, or settle into a date night activity if it’s Friday. Every so often, I work late, like until 12midnight or 1am, but usually I try to get 8 hours of sleep if I can. For me, I rely on my calendar, Todoist, and my notebook to keep me productive throughout the day, until it’s time to go to bed, wake up, and start all over again.

How do you bring ideas to life?

After bubbling up in my head, ideas start to take shape in my notebook. I just received the reMarkable tablet for note-taking as a gift— it digitizes your handwritten notes and syncs across devices. Before this, I just used a pen and paper/notebook. This is where I jot down ideas, map out plans, and try to get things to make sense. From here, I’m able to transfer more complete ideas to slides and documents or marshall resources in real life to make things happen.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The increasing visibility around the rise of Black women leaders in positions of power.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I live by my calendar, and enter time for everything be it working out or making a phone call. As such, I refuse to go back and forth over email about scheduling. I simply drop my calendaring link and let people find a time that works best for them. This increases my productivity by using automation to cut out wasted time. From here, meetings populate my calendar, and I can just prepare and show up. There are fewer missed opportunities from balls being dropped in long email threads about scheduling.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be faithful to the journey— not so-called progress or outcomes. Your value is not based on how much you produce. Wake up every day and commit to living on purpose. The rest will fall into place.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Sauces suck, and ketchup is repulsive. I can do without salad dressing and most condiments. I just can’t get with the texture — not quite liquid and not quite solid. Unless it’s squarely a liquid or the taste is out of this world amazing, I will do without.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I schedule everything, minor and important, including date nights, workouts, and meals. Then I can rework the time in my day as needed without losing sight of what keeps me at my best.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I lead a nonprofit. Whereas most nonprofits rely solely on foundation grants (a great source of support), I’ve borrowed learning from my experience in the for-profit sector to diversify the revenue model to include earned revenue and other streams of income. Having a balanced revenue model (or getting creative and seeking ideas outside of your traditional line of business) makes the business more sustainable. That way, when there’s a lull in one area, you can rely on other income.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest failure has been working to burnout multiple times. There is a common narrative that working until you drop is part of the journey, and I’m glad that we’re starting to see that shift. I’ve worked the 100 hour weeks, showed up when I didn’t feel well, and flat out didn’t take good care of my health. After years of doing that, it eventually resulted in me needing to take medical leave and an 8-month sabbatical to reset. When I finally reemerged, I used what I know best to overcome this issue — planning. I created structure around self-care by tracking it in a spreadsheet the same way you would track a project. I built in rewards for achieving my goals until they became habits. This really made self-care a focal point instead of an afterthought.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Extra-large oil blotting sheets! The standard ones are tiny when they really should be large enough to cover your whole face so you can do one blot and be done. Plus, there’s a big market for large oily faces, especially in the era of video calls.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Hands down plants and candles. They bring me fresh air and joy. It doesn’t get much better than that especially during winter in a pandemic. 🙂

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The software that most helps me be productive would have to be automated scheduling software. As mentioned, I live by my calendar, so making sure it’s accurate and well-managed is critical to my productivity. I primarily use Calendly — automated scheduling software that helps you customize the scheduling experience — as well as Mixmax — an overall productivity supercharger that allows you to add calendar polls and availability among other things directly to emails.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom is my favorite book and I highly recommend it to everyone. The story follows the life and death of a ride mechanic who is killed in an amusement park accident and sent to heaven, where he encounters five people who had a significant impact on him while he was alive. Overall, it’s a great reminder that your life is connected to everyone else’s in infinite and often invisible ways.

What is your favorite quote?

“It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.” — Audre Lorde

Key Learnings:

  • Live a purposeful and connected life.
  • Create business opportunities by helping others. It’s a more sustainable way to do business.
  • Automate and delegate whatever you can that’s not the most critical place for you to spend your time.
  • Self-care is critical to being the best version of yourself, and therefore a better leader.