“People don’t realize how much money there is to be made,” Windy said, explaining that everyone else involved in the loan process depends on the loan signing agent or notary to tie up the loose ends before closing. Loan signing agents and notaries are hired by mortgage companies, escrow companies, title companies, and signing services to identify loan documents, obtain signatures, or deliver the documents to the borrower. A loan cannot close without a signing agent or notary, so employees know they’re valuable.
“Eighty percent of the notaries and attorneys at Genie Notary Inc. are women and minorities,” Windy said, not shying away from the fact she consciously seeks to hire minorities and women. “I’m not ashamed to say I go out of my way to do this. This is a very white industry — I mean you go to conferences around the country and look around — it’s very apparent. I want to bring in more people like me, who are ambitious.”
When Windy travels around the country to attend conferences for entrepreneurs, agents, and mortgage professionals, she sees only a few other Black people in a sea of white. “It’s very lonely and it’s heartbreaking when you walk into a room and you don’t know anyone and you are the minority. My hair looks different, my clothes are way too bright. Apparently, I didn’t get the ‘black and blue dress’ memo. My words sound different because of my accent. People would look at me strange because English isn’t my first language.”
Luckily, Windy has met a few people who have become mentors along the way to help quell her self-doubts, including the CEO of Dynex Capital Inc, Bryon Boston; the founder of Equilibrium Mortgage, Paul Campbell; the president and partner of American Finance Resources, Laura J. Brandao, and vice president of residential lending at IberiaBank, Tim Allen. Windy met most of her mentors by reaching out to them on LinkedIn, and these people were kind enough to respond and help guide her through her entrepreneurial journey.
“I was talking to a group of loan officers at a conference one time when my mentor, Tim Allen, grabbed my hand to drag me away from them. ‘You don’t need to talk to those people,’ he said, then started to introduce me to someone else. He always pushed me in a good way, and I’m so grateful,” Windy said.
Of course, being a female Haitain immigrant and aspiring entrepreneur in an industry dominated by white males comes with a few challenges. In Windy’s own experience, she said the racial tension could be felt at some conferences in the Sunbelt states, where her appearance truly stands out in the crowd. “You can’t hide big curly hair, dark skin, and the overwhelming differences between us,” Windy said. “This industry is somewhat appearance-based, and in this particular area, it’s hard to fit in.”
While attending one of these southern conferences, Windy met a man whom she described as very articulate. He wore a navy blue suit that conveyed an air of professionalism. He spoke how she wanted to speak; he had connections she wanted to have; he exuded a confidence she wanted to harness in herself. He also happened to be white.
After talking to each other for quite some time, the two decided to head to the bar, where Windy explained her company’s mission: she wanted to become the preferred loan signing agency for all major U.S. banks. The man showed interest and listened attentively before telling her: “I think you need me.”
He explained how he had connections with bankers and potentially could help her reach her goals, if he could own 25% of the company. “When people see you, they won’t take you seriously,” he said. “I’m older, I’m white, and these people are more welcoming to that.”
Windy took in the man’s words without getting defensive. He was saying things she had thought about a million times before, and she could not deny that she was different from most of the people in the industry. It would be harder to relate to them and build a lasting relationship. At the same time, it’s never fun to have someone put down your culture and identity, saying you cannot succeed in your goals because of your appearance.
Windy spoke to her mentors; they reminded her that she did not need anyone like that working for her, that she could make it on her own. They reminded her to “follow the path of least resistance” and go along with the original plan of making it by herself. “I could see what the man said was somewhat truthful. It’s going to be harder for me, and I accept that,” she said.
Today, Genie Notary Inc. is a 100% minority and women-owned small business (WOSB) that employs 70,000 remote agents and notaries (80% being minorities or women) and has partnered with hundreds of title companies, escrow officers, loan officers, lenders and banks thus far. Genie Notary Inc. was officially established in January 2021, and became classified as a WOSB eight months later.
Looking to the future, Windy said she sees herself married, “with beautiful chocolate babies.” But unlike her mother, she plans to enjoy life and watch her babies grow and thrive. Ultimately, she wants to live life, enjoy it, and hire people who want the same things for themselves.
“I still struggle with self-doubt,” Windy said.” Once a month, I take an hour-long drive. I don’t know where I’m going. Sometimes I end up in New Hampshire, sometimes it’s Maine or Connecticut or western Massachusetts, and I just cry. I allow myself one hour a month to drive somewhere and just cry. After 30 minutes to one hour of crying, I say, ‘Enough Windy, it’s time to move on.’”
That is the kind of fortitude and strength it takes to be a business owner, and if anyone has it, it’s Windy Lafond.
Those of you pursuing the same journey as Windy should perhaps consider these wise words from millionaire Robert Kiyosaki: “I wish I could say it was easy. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t hard either. But without a strong reason or purpose, anything in life is hard.”