Vondell Burns: The Life-Changing Journey From Wall Street To Tulsa

October 13, 2022

From a small town to a big city, and now planted in a place she never even intended to visit, Vondell Burns is the definition of thriving! After battling with imposter syndrome, she decided to leave her Wall Street career to pursue full-time entrepreneurship and built her business Thankless Productions LLC. Not only is she consulting creatives, building her business, and *loving* life in Tulsa, but she currently serves as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Atento Capital, a Tulsa-based Venture Capital firm. Oh, and Vondell is also in the process of launching a virtual accelerator for creative entrepreneurs looking to overcome their own imposter syndrome and launch their projects. Spend a few minutes with us as we learn more about Vondell and what she’s up to! Catch her popUP session on October 25- 5 Steps to Getting out of Your Own Way and Launching your Creative Side-Project. Sign up here!

Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? 

I’m a small town girl with dreams to mobilize a city. My story starts in rural Belleville, Illinois. That’s where my love for the arts, community engagement and entrepreneurship was born (modeled after my mom). At 18, I moved to Washington DC to attend Howard University where I was admitted to the School of Business Executive Leadership Honors Program. At my HBCU, I unlearned everything I thought I knew about my people, I experienced an abundance of international travel which helped me find my place in the world, and I began understanding the mechanics of an entrepreneurial mindset which watered the seed that had been planted in me as a child. Post graduation, I started my career on Wall St. at a Fortune 500 company where I honed my skills in strategy, brand, video production and internal/external marketing communications. This led to me co-founding a fiscally sponsored non-profit focused on arts entrepreneurship and sparked the creation of my business Thankless Production LLC. I now serve as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Atento Capital, a Tulsa-based Venture Capital firm, and I’m excited to continue to help entrepreneurs within the company. 

What has your Tulsa experience been like so far?

People’s eyes always get wide when I tell them I came here from a big city. My friends can’t wrap their heads around why I would leave the big city for a place many had never intended to visit. My response? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what Tulsa has to offer, and I’ve narrowed in on the three things Tulsa has provided me that bigger cities haven’t. 

In big cities, my neighbors were all transplants, and there were little to no opportunities for real community engagement. I lived in New York for four years but I couldn’t tell you what issues were most important to the residents who were raised there. In Tulsa, I’ve been able to connect with people who have  lived here most of their lives, understand the issues they care about and used my lived experience to make a positive impact. 

I moved to Tulsa through the Tulsa Remote program and remember thinking “wow, a city that actually wants me to be there.” Big cities made me feel like I had to earn my keep and that if I couldn’t keep up I’d be forced out. Through Tulsa Remote, I received a $10K investment, free coworking space at 36°N, abundant networking opportunities and more letting me know I was not only wanted here but welcomed. 

Before moving to Tulsa, I couldn’t tell you the last time a stranger looked me in the eye and smiled. I forgot what it felt like to be regarded as a human being worthy of such gentleness. It’s the little things we go without for so long that can shift an entire outlook on the day, set us in the right mood for a meeting and shift the atmosphere. In Tulsa, people are nice. Such an underrated value-add worthy of the headline given the times. 

Tell us about Thankless Production LLC - what do you do every day? How did you end up doing this?

In 2019, I made the decision that 2020 was going to be the year that I left my job in New York city to travel the world and pursue entrepreneurship full-time. I had been consulting creative entrepreneurs for years but felt like a bit of an imposter given I’d never pursued it full-time myself.  I couldn't have predicted a global pandemic would shift those plans. I became a digital nomad and traveled to Mexico City where I launched the beta version of my accelerator.

Now, my day looks like creative consultations, coaching calls, and creative project management with a sprinkle of live video production.  

How do you navigate helping others’ build their own business while also doing it yourself?

I help creative entrepreneurs with their businesses by positioning myself as a resource through one-on -one consultations/coaching and on-demand learnings. I know what it feels like to lack motivation or creative inspiration from the people around you, so I extend myself as a sounding board who talks back. Someone that gives feedback to propel your projects forward and keep your momentum going. There’s value in the initial conversation alone and sometimes only one conversation is all a creative needs to launch. 

With that in mind, I created Let’s Launch, a virtual accelerator for creative entrepreneurs looking to overcome imposter syndrome and launch their creative projects. I used my lived experience overcoming imposter syndrome to walk through the steps I took to launch on my own and teach creatives looking to do the same over a 5 week period. I’m in the process of relaunching the virtual accelerator which gives me new relevant case studies to pull from.

Additionally, I produced a YouTube series called Pros on Process, that provides tangible insights covering a range of topics from film production and how to start a creative business to creative event management and how to maintain good mental health through it all. It serves as an opportunity for the “Thankless Pros” to promote any upcoming projects they have in the works. I want the series to grow into a mechanism that markets creative entrepreneurs to an engaged audience. 

What do you feel has been your biggest win so far?

Personally, I started a group called Create in 918 for Tulsa-based story tellers who are in film or interested in it and we've already shot three projects together! We launched in the Tulsa Remote slack channel #Tulsa-Film-Industry and have since expanded via Google form submissions. Creating is a release for many, and I’m excited to continue nurturing creation for creation’s sake through this medium. Professionally, my biggest wins are my clients’ wins. Seeing people who have gone through my accelerator and successfully launched is the biggest blessing.

What are you most looking forward to in the near future?

I’m launching the on-demand version of the Let’s Launch accelerator in Q1 of 2023 and can’t wait to see how many more creative projects are launched from it. I also look forward to finding more ways to engage the youth in visual storytelling through film. It’s such a powerful medium to connect and collaborate and can be used as a tool to transform a generation. 
What is the best way our community can support you?

  • I will be hosting a popUP session on October 25 called Let's Launch - 5 Steps to Getting out of Your Own Way and Launching your Creative Side-Project. Make sure to sign up here!
  • In advance of the session, I’m hosting a panel on October 18 with past participants of the Let’s Launch accelerator to explore their progress since launching through the course. I’d love to invite you to attend.
  • I’m always providing helpful resources on social media. Subscribe to Thankless Pro on Youtube and Instagram to stay in the know on the latest.