You are using an outdated browser.
For a better experience, please upgrade your browser here.

Vanessa Loder

Founder & CEO

San Francisco, CA

For the first time in my life, I followed my heart and my intuition, not my ego, my mind or my wallet.

My whole life I've been an overachiever in the traditional ways: I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude from Columbia University and upon graduation, I thought about joining the Peace Corps, but instead, I drove myself to take the most prestigious job I could find. I started working in investment banking on Wall Street, putting in really long hours, coming home and drinking a little too much wine or zoning out in front of the television because I felt so drained and exhausted from work. I applied to business school and was accepted to both Harvard and Stanford. I had my whole perfect life planned out.

Then my mom got sick. She was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. I took time off work to take care of her and then deferred business school one year. After she finished her chemo, she encouraged me to do something for myself before heading off to Stanford, so I followed my heart and went to live in a remote village in Ghana, West Africa, to volunteer as a teacher.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that trip changed my life. I ended up raising money to build a school, and my former colleagues from Wall Street helped fund the project. In that moment I knew I wanted to do something to change the world and that people in the business world had the resources to support positive change. But it took me more time to make it a reality.

Upon graduating from Stanford, I was scared to start my own business. I told myself I was scared because of all the debt and expenses I had incurred as a student. I told myself it would be more “responsible” to take a job working in private equity to pay off my loans. I told myself, and everyone else, I would only stay in that job one year. Those were all lies. It took me over three years to realize that was just the fear—my fear of failure—talking.

I made a lot of money at the private equity firm and was on track to be a partner. Everything looked great on paper, and yet inside, I was miserable and unfulfilled. But this was the path I had mapped out for my life. I had followed my plan for success perfectly. So why wasn’t I happy?

I realized that I had been following my mind, my ego and my wallet instead of my heart or my intuition. That needed to change, but I was so turned around, I didn’t know how to begin to follow my heart.

I started with one question: What is it I really want? That question turned into more questions. I started working with a coach and learned what it means to take responsibility for my life, my happiness and my career.

To me, taking responsibility means asking that question, “What is it I really want?” and not letting the fear stop me. It means making a big commitment to doing whatever it takes to create the change I deeply desire.

So that’s what I did. I quit my high-paying job in finance and started my own business. I realized that what I am most passionate about is supporting other people, especially women, in learning how to take responsibility for THEIR lives. I want everyone to experience the happiness that I’ve now created in my life. I want everyone to have these tools.

I’ve made it my life’s mission to empower other women. I founded Akoya (, a transformation and empowerment business, where I run group coaching programs, retreats and corporate workshops to support other people who are ready to make this leap, the leap into a life of meaning.

I could have played it safe. Instead, I’m living my dream. It took some scary steps to get here, and it was so worth the journey. So now I ask you, what is it you really want? And what are you willing to do to have it?