Nastassia Ponomarenko: Founder of Connectful and Nasty Fit Apparel

Nastassia Ponomarenko is, by nature and by reputation, the ultimate Girl Boss. Nastassia has already made a name for herself as an inspirational young entrepreneur, fitness guru, author, and mental health activist. And as the CEO & Founder of the successful fitness apparel company Nasty Fit, which she started at just 18-years old, Nastassia is proving that you’re never too young to accomplish your dreams.

The now 20-year old entrepreneur has built up an expansive digital footprint. Her media presence began with vlogs on her YouTube channel in 2013, and has grown exponentially from there. Nastassia’s positive attitude, realness, and determination to succeed is what truly resonates with her audience. Her 720,000 YouTube followers tune in to learn about her fitness routines, business advice, motivational talks, daily struggles, adorable corgi dog Bobo, and more. Born to two Belarusian parents, the San Jose, CA native is also fluent in Russian and has built up an international fanbase there as well.

Nastassia uses her platform to encourage other young women and men to maximize their full potential. This inspired her to write the self-improvement book “From Dust To Discipline: Achieve Your Fullest Potential”. The book aims to help readers learn how to be disciplined, overcome fears/self-doubt, and leave mediocrity behind. Nastassia uses her own life experiences to teach readers how to attain self-worth, self-love, and overall happiness.

She recently launched her new networking app, Connectful, which is now available for download across all platforms. After experiencing a lack of community and age discrimination as a young entrepreneur, Nastassia created the Connectful app as a space where other young business owners can find the support, advice and guidance that she felt was missing from her personal path to becoming a CEO. The app is a new way for young adults to network with like-minded people they don’t already know. Users can find friends, business partners, mentors, mentees and influencers to collaborate with in a safe, empowering, and meaningful way. The app also includes the ‘Get Connected’ Podcast, where Nastassia will interview successful business owners and CEOs in order to provide insight and inspiration to the Connectful community.

Our Interview with Nastassia Ponomarenko, Founder of Connectful and Nasty Fit Apparel

Tell us about your professional journey. What led you to found Connectful?

Ever since I started my first business (Nasty Fit – a fitness apparel brand) at age 18, it has been a lonely journey being a solo founder. Connectful came from my own personal void of never having any like-minded and entrepreneurial female friends my age. It was such a battle of loneliness, all the way to the extent of me going on Google and trying to find an event or platform that I could join to fulfill this void.

I couldn’t find a platform out there that helped solve my needs, and a few days later, an idea came to me to start my own like-minded community/platform. That’s essentially how the seed was planted into my own head.

Why are you passionate about Connectful? And what should people know about the company/app?

First and foremost, Connectful came from a deeply personal struggle. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m passionate about it.

Recently, I have been absolutely loving to hear the success stories that some of our users tell me. We’ve had a couple of gals meet up for coffee, some over Zoom and some at bookstores. It makes me jump with excitement every single time, I never thought I’d enjoy hearing that as much as I do now.

On top of that, I want to see more female leaders and women do better when they have an ambitious fellowship that supports them. Having a support system of like-minded individuals is probably one of the best things that one can have on earth. I want to create more of that through the Connectful app.

If there’s one great thing to know about Connectful, it’s that we are a company made of young adults and our app focuses on young adults too. It’s the best of both worlds. #foundermarketfit

Connectful isn’t the only business you have. You also have NastyFit, you have a podcast, and you have a self-improvement book that you’ve written – how do you balance everything? What is your daily/weekly schedule like?

I spend most of my days on Connectful, so that’s what takes the most amount of my time.

As for Nasty Fit, I have to say, it’s fairly sustainable without me needing to put many hours towards it. We have a lovely assistant who helps out with anything backend related, so I probably spend about 30 minutes to an hour per day, depending on the day.

As for the book I’ve written, From Dust to Discipline, that was a very time-consuming project, but also something that was more of a “one and done” type of thing. I published it in March, and I believe that it took me a few hours a day of writing, revising, and editing – but I probably worked on it about 4-5x a week. I don’t fully remember.

Here’s my typical schedule (on a good day):

  • 5:30am: wake up
  • 6:00am – 11am: work
  • 11-12: rest a bit and eat food
  • 12-3pm: work
  • 3-5pm: go on the phone to create content for social media, consume a bit of content myself, reply to people and overall just do typical phone “stuff.”
  • 3-4pm: eat + work
  • 4-7pm: work
  • 7-8pm: workout
  • 9-11pm: work

Has the COVID-19 climate affected your businesses? Or affected your launch plan for Connectful?

Luckily and gratefully, COVID-19 actually hasn’t impacted or slowed down any of my businesses, especially the launch of Connectful. Connectful took 8 months to develop more so because of micro mistakes that I’ve made as a first-time “startup” founder, as well as mindset faults that I’ve learned from.

I wanted to start big in the beginning, but then I quickly realized that that wasn’t the right thing to do. It is better to start with 1 feature that solves people’s pain points, launch the product/service, get feedback, and reiterate until you find a market fit. I wish I knew this in the very beginning!

What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome it?

When I think about it, no huge challenge comes to me, but I constantly struggle with (for short sparks at a time) is discouragement. I just recently became aware of this too – this feeling that I get a couple of times a day and almost on a daily basis. I think the main reason I feel this way is because I am a solo founder, and it is difficult not having someone as equally dedicated alongside me in making Connectful’s mission come true.

You learn to be very, very independent. Dealing with a failure? Deal with it yourself. Dealing with a mistake? You’re the one to blame. Having frustration? All on you. Feeling discouraged? Deal with it quietly to yourself. Who takes care of growing the product? You. Who is in charge of almost everything? You.

I haven’t quite yet overcome this, but I know that I will do so in time. I’ve gotten much better at dealing with these negative emotions as they come, so that’s good.

As a young CEO and founder – how have you navigated working with older employees? Whether it’s been hiring/firing them – or even just managing them?

Wow! That’s a really great question, and the first time that I’ve been asked this too. It’s difficult, but it was more difficult in the beginning because I had to get rid of the “people-pleasing” attitude and realize that even thinking “oh, I want to fire this person” for the first time is enough. Meaning, I don’t need the thought of firing someone to come up 10+ times for me to take action.

Anyway, that’s just the natural discomfort of firing people. In terms of just working with older people in general, it actually doesn’t really affect me. People are people at the end of the day, and I have a mission to get to. It took a little bit of time for me, but the more people you talk to who are older than you, the more accustomed you get to it.

For other young entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer them about financing a startup?

This is definitely a hard one because there isn’t just one way. I personally only have experience with running a bootstrap startup, and I’m lucky enough to do so since the money that I make from Nasty Fit gets put into Connectful. However, I believe that there’s an abundance of money for those who strongly desire it and will take action to get it. Here are some tips:

  • Save, save and save. The more money that you save, the more of it you can invest into your business.
  • Crowdfunding. Look into some crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
  • Start talking to VC’s and/or Angel Investors. I recommend Google searching about these people and then reaching out to many of them with a personalized cold email. If the email is “good enough,” then you will certainly get a few responses.</liL
  • Ask your family to chip in. If you are really in need of financial support for your startup, then I do recommend asking your family to chip in anything that they can. But first, make sure that you sell your idea well to them so that they become more invested.
Nastassia Ponomarenko: Founder of Connectful and Nasty Fit Apparel

For entrepreneurs that are younger or perhaps just look younger, what advice would you offer them about dealing with age discrimination?

It sometimes can be difficult, for sure. My honest advice is not to pay much attention to it. Just like there are people who won’t like you for your taste in music, political views, or perhaps the way you look externally, likewise, not everyone will “like” you because of your age. It’s just the way life works. There are people who will like you and those who won’t. Just focus on those people who accept your age and see it as a strength and an opportunity.

What does success mean to you?

Great question! Right now, success for me is winning both internally and externally. It’s feeling fulfilled, at peace, and happy internally while doing what I love to do externally (and making a good amount of money from it). I don’t think I’ve reached that quite yet… but I do get glimpses of it here and there. Internal fulfillment is a daily “thing” that I strive towards every day because of how much I value it.

How do you practice self-care?

My #1 thing is being aware. This is extremely important for entrepreneurs as well, so we avoid burnout. It’s being aware when your body is tired or is simply just feeling “off” and then taking the right action steps to fix that feeling.

For me, it’s reading a self-improvement book, doing some meditation, or taking a hike/walk. I love reading Deepak Chopra, Oprah, or Eckhart Tolle in times where I’m not doing my best.

What single word or saying do you identify most with? Why?

Haha, there’s a couple. I love using the phrase, “it’s a waste of time” because when you really value your time and energy, many things you get presented with just literally become a waste of time.

Whenever a friend invites me somewhere, most times, I already know that this isn’t where I will be fulfilled. Of course, this is all situational, but if the event or action won’t make either me or my business “better,” then there isn’t much of a point to put your time into it.

It all depends on the context, however!

What’s next for you and your brands?

Present moment, I’m focusing most of my time on growing Connectful and our user retention. We are expanding our marketing efforts and are trying out to see how influencer marketing works for us. Very excited for that! I’m also trying my best to simplify the user experience as a whole, that’s very important for us.

As for Nasty Fit, we are currently getting some new designs for 2021. I hope to possibly start a new hobby or add something else new and fulfilling to my plate next year.

The opportunities are endless, and I honestly don’t even know what will happen in 2021 because everything has been changing so much! Change is good though, and I love reflecting on it.

Published in Featured Articles, Featured Women
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Emily Sprinkle, also known as Emma Loggins, is a designer, marketer, blogger, and speaker. She is the Editor-In-Chief for Women's Business Daily where she pulls from her experience as the CEO and Director of Strategy for Excite Creative Studios, where she specializes in web development, UI/UX design, social media marketing, and overall strategy for her clients.

Emily has also written for CNN, Autotrader, The Guardian, and is also the Editor-In-Chief for the geek lifestyle site