She should have been sipping a beer, eating wings and pretending to watch the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Denver Broncos in the 2014 Super Bowl (while she was really just in it for the commercials).
Instead, Hannah Kay Herdlinger, founder of Thread Talk, was in the emergency room, after a brutal blow from her then-husband that nearly killed her.
Her world changed that night. In the weeks and months that followed, she divorced her husband, donated 90 percent of her belongings to a domestic violence shelter in the small Georgia town where she lived, and moved to California to work directly under Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.
That job would launch her into even greater opportunities, with powerful women. She became the director of operations for Sandberg’s global mentorship nonprofit, Lean In. She worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and she helped Arianna Huffington launch her latest venture, Thrive Global.
That night in 2014, Herdlinger could have become a statistic. Instead, she’s a survivor.
Now she’s helping other women (and men) like her with her new company, Thread Talk, a for-profit, for-purpose company she founded right here in Charlotte. Thread Talk sells blankets designed around four key themes: confidence, love, serenity and hope. And a portion of the proceeds of each sale goes to DomesticShelters.org, a network of more than 2,600 domestic violence shelters across the country.
Herdlinger has learned a lot in the year since she put pen to paper and created Thread Talk. Here are few of her biggest takeaways:
Don’t give in to fear: “It probably goes without saying, but domestic violence is a terrifying experience. Some women are abused physically, verbally and financially — meaning that are essentially held hostage by their partner or spouse. Their confidence is shattered, and it’s hard to envision a life outside your abusive relationship. I had no idea what I would do when I left my husband, but I knew I had people around me who supported me and believed in me. That gave me the strength I needed to walk away, and walking away is what put me on this crazy entrepreneurial path. It’s easier said than done, but you can’t give in to fear. It exists to hold you back, and it’s how abusers thrive. Fear also keeps a lot of people from pursuing their passions. I was terrified to launch Thread Talk — I still am, some days — but I hate to think what would have happened if I had let the fear win. I might still have a great job with Sheryl Sandberg — who is amazing, by the way. But I wouldn’t have gone on this incredible journey to create a company that could change the lives of domestic violence victims across the country.
Don’t sweat the unknown: “This plays into the whole ‘fear’ thing, too. If you’ve never started a business before, you are understandably ignorant to all the intricacies of it. That fish-out-of-water feeling is so hard — especially for women. But you can use that ignorance to your advantage. That’s what I did. I knew NOTHING about running an ecommerce business. So when I needed a manufacturer, I would call the random companies I came across and tell them exactly that: I was a total novice. They took pity on me and answered all my questions and taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about retail. Own your ignorance!”
Ask for meetings – with everyone: “Charlotte is an amazing place to start a business — period. I moved here knowing nobody, and this community has completely embraced me. I’ll be forever grateful for that. But it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take some initiative. When I got here, I asked everyone I met for a meeting — a coffee, a phone call, a lunch. Then I would ask each of those people to introduce me to someone else who would be good to know. I met with all of them — even the ones I thought wouldn’t be helpful to my business — because everyone has something to offer, if you’re willing to listen. The caveat to this is, you’ve got to return the favor. When someone asks to meet with you or pick your brain or throw an idea past you, do it. I’m not saying you have to be at the beck and call of everyone who crosses your path, but pay it forward. It always pays off.”
Money follows purpose: “My work at Thread Talk gives me so many amazing opportunities — but my favorite is the opportunity to meet other survivors of domestic violence and share their stories. Thread Talk is a blanket company, but we are so much more than that. Our blankets bring a little light into the lives of our customers, and allow them to change the lives of women and men around the country. That’s pretty amazing. And when I started this, I had no idea if it was going to work, if people were going to respond to our mission the way I hoped. But they did — because money follows purpose. If you follow your passion — as cheesy as it sounds — the money will come. Now, hard work plays a pretty important role in the equation. But when your work and your passion are intertwined, it’s infectious. People want to be involved. They want to help. They want to buy blankets. It was the most incredible revelation of my professional life.”
Want to support Thread Talk and its mission? Shop them here.
About the Writer: