Rani Robinson-Kiganda: How The Real Olivia Pope Inspired My Business
Words: mater mea
Some wise words from the inspiration behind Scandal gave one woman the courage to start her own company.
Rani Robinson-Kiganda has spent more than a decade in the world of digital media, working her way up from dutiful photo intern to managing producer of the Travel Channel. But it wasn't until recently that she realized she could use those talents to help others beyond Travel Channel's viewers.
After hearing some inspirational words from Judy Smith, the real-life inspiration behind Scandal's fixer Olivia Pope, Robinson-Kiganda decided to be a fixer in her own way by starting Craft Web Solutions, a boutique consultancy firm that helps small-business and entrepreneurs figure out their online presence.
With the help of American Public Media's Public Insight Network, Robinson-Kiganda tells mater mea what Judy Smith said that made her want to start her own business, and also shares who the most important person in her career development has been.
You have quite a lot on your plate! Can you tell us about what you do?
God has blessed me with three jobs: mother, managing producer, and founder/digital content producer of Craft Web Solutions, which I started on July 12, 2013, one week after my son was born. In March 2013, I attended the Get Radical Women’s Conference—now called the Radical Success Institute—led by Doreen Rainey. During that conference, Judy Smith—the inspiration behind ABC’s Scandal—talked about gifts, talents, and experiences that have been given to us. [They're] not [there] to hold onto or hoard, but to share/to transfer to other people who are in need of the knowledge we now have. That spoke to me in a profound way.
Later that night, I knew that I was going to start a company. [A] small but effective company that would focus on working with small-business owners and entrepreneurs who needed an online presence. That was something I not only knew how to do but did on a daily basis. And it wasn’t just about building websites—it was about understanding how to choose the right photos, to write the right copy, placement, layout, what works and doesn’t work, etc. Everything that, at the time, I had learned in the past 11 years, was amazing. It was incredible and I knew I had an obligation to share it. So I started Craft Web Solutions and almost two years later, with again the incredible support of my husband, we’ve made this thing tick and tick well!
How did you first get into your current career as a managing producer?
Networking at a reception. My father's nonprofit The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa had partnered with Discovery Communications, Inc. to do a series of documentaries on a handful of African countries. I attended the event last minute. I remember my father telling me, "Talk to people. You never know. You might land a job working for Discovery!" I was extremely shy at the time, but I knew, as a junior at Marymount University [in] Arlington, Virginia that I needed to do an internship in order to graduate. After speaking to about three different people, I was eventually introduced to the president of Discovery Communications, at the time who was Judith McHale. She offered me an internship right there, on the spot!
How did that internship lead you to your career?
I started my internship June 2002, editing photos for Discovery.com, TLC.com, TravelChannel.com, AnimalPlanet.com, and DiscoveryHealth.com. I graduated from Marymount University [May 2003] and transitioned from an intern to a contract worker, still photo editing for the same networks I worked on as an intern. In 2004, I continued as a contract worker/photo editor and part-time video editor. I had an interest in editing video, so the video director instructed me when he could.
Eventually, I learned enough to help out in the evenings. After completing my photo editing tasks during the day, I would arrive at Discovery at 4 p.m. and stay until about 8 p.m., editing video for AnimalPlanet.com and TLC.com. In 2005, I became a full-time interactive producer as lead for FitTV.com and lending a hand to DiscoveryHealth.com. My experiences increased greatly at this point. I started to supervise and lead photo and video shoots in the Silver Spring, Maryland area as well as having the opportunity to travel to California.
You had a major event change the course of your career. Can you talk to us about that?
[In] July of 2006, my father passed away suddenly. My father instilled in me the sense of and the opportunity to travel. He was stationed in India for four years with the Peace Corps and traveled to nearly every country in Africa except [for] one. That December of 2006, we were planning [to take] our first trip to India [in December 2006]—I still have the itinerary.
During my bereavement, one of my colleagues emailed me, asking me to join her at TravelChannel.com full-time. I wasn't 100 percent happy working on DiscoveryHealth.com/FitTV.com, so when my colleague offered to take me with her to Travel Channel, I KNEW that it was a blessing. I knew that was my father smiling down on me, saying that everything was going to be okay. Before that call, I had no clue how I was supposed to return to work, after not only losing my dad but one of my best friends, and return to a job that didn't get me excited the way travel did. And here I am, almost 13 years later; I’m still managing producer of TravelChannel.com and enjoying every minute of it.
What's the most surprising thing about your job?
The most surprising thing about my job is probably the highs and lows of show ratings. Shows that you just KNOW are going to blow it out the water but then don't. Or shows that you're not 100% certain about that DO end up blowing it out the water. It tells a lot about our audience, what they want and ultimately, thanks to research, what kind of content they want to see online.
What's the most gratifying part of your job? What's the most challenging aspect?
The most gratifying part of my job is creating content for a show that I know would do well on our network and does! Especially when I’m able to get outside of the office, in the field, and working with talent. It’s amazing how many great ideas can come from one-to-one interaction, whether out in the field or in a meeting. The most challenging aspect of my job is being a manager. I relate it a lot to being a parent, but at work. You want so much for your team to come to work with the same passion and intensity as you do, but that’s not realistic. Getting my team to think outside of the box, to brainstorm incredible ideas on how to build an extension from the TV screen to online is a challenge, but it’s our job, so we take it in stride.
How do you balance your career with the demands of being a parent?
I have an amazing husband who is an outstanding father. I could have never dreamed of such a thing. Both of my parents worked a lot. My husband was a freelance web developer and he’d work part-time when our daughter was born in 2011. Eventually he transitioned to [being] a full-time stay-at-home dad with the assistance of one of his five sisters.
But from Day 1, I wanted to be there, more than my parents were for me. I accepted the fact that I was going to be the breadwinner, but that wasn’t going to mean that I’d have to go to work early and come back late. It just wasn’t an option. Thankfully my work environment at Travel Channel has always been flexible. I arrive at work about 9:30 a.m. and I leave between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Unless there is a fire to put out, I’m out the door, no later than 5:30 p.m. And what’s wonderful about the nature of my job is that I can easily work from home. When I’m home, I’m home. Not until the kids are in bed do I hop on the computer or check emails. I miss my kids—our son was born in 2013—too much to be distracted by anything else.
What are your hopes and goals for your career?
My goal for my career is to stay the course, for however long God allows. He has a plan and I just continue to sit back and watch it unfold.
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