With a superpower for sparking thought-provoking conversation, Flex Mami has become an internationally renowned cultural icon. We talk to the creative powerhouse to learn how she built her online empire.
Flex Mami – AKA Lillian Ahenkan – is an internationally recognized author, media personality, radio host, DJ, podcaster, business owner, CEO, entrepreneur, award-winning Influencer, and an all-round cultural icon. Known for sparking challenging and thought-provoking conversations online, Flex has cultivated an engaged community centered around critical thinking and self-awareness.
Named Instagram Australia’s #YoungEntrepreneur 2020, Lillian is also the Founder and CEO of Flex Factory and the creator of the popular conversation card game, ReFlex – designed to facilitate deep, meaningful, and unconventional conversations and deep dialogue.
With a superpower for asking the difficult questions, she’s breaking the ‘influencer‘ mold by continually speaking her mind and encouraging her community to do the same. We sat down for a heart-to-heart with this expert entrepreneur and creative powerhouse to learn how she built her thriving online empire, and get her best advice for cultivating a stand-out brand and highly engaged online community.
Sitting at a round table with some of my close friends, brainstorming what “would be a good DJ name.” Flex was a colloquial word used a decade ago, and Mami was a suffix because the username Flex had already been taken by the yoga and chiropractic community.
Making content is my job, so I try not to over-intellectualize what I create and why. It’s an income stream and an opportunity to create financial stability for myself. Since my content is often an extension of my being (i.e., my thoughts, identity, and interests), it’s essential to create boundaries with myself to avoid believing that my content is part of me, as opposed to the manifestation of my skills.
We must all be empowered, informed, and equipped with the skills to express ourselves and our interests. Once I started sharing mine, I noticed that many of my audience found the process alienating because they hadn’t explored or unpacked what they believed and why. I quickly understood that if I wanted to have practical, mutually beneficial discussions with my audience, we, at the very least, needed a baseline understanding of the content’s context. This inadvertently turned into an education of sorts, which I now try to avoid as the responsibility quickly became burnout-inducing.
The most challenging part of speaking your mind online is being misunderstood, feeling solely accountable for the education of your audience, and not being able to maintain personal boundaries. The most rewarding part is noticing how empowered people feel to challenge their beliefs and remain open to hearing other perspectives.
I’m not actively trying to make a difference in the world by using my career – I think it’s been a gratifying and illuminating byproduct, though. You have to understand that I started my career DJing and playing music in clubs for young partiers, so it would be remiss of me to give the impression that that was an altruistic platform. My priority is not simply “doing good”; it’s to show the breadth, depth, and diversity of what it is to be me. To integrate intersectionality identity, culture, ethics, philosophy, and pop culture.
It’s coming up on almost ten years of content creation, and the landscape has changed so much. I transitioned from a casual Instagram user to a specialist, strategist, and content creator. Growing an online following can be done in two ways: replication or innovation. Do what every else does and do it well, or try something vastly different and hope it resonates with your audience.
Learn how to get your audience to perceive you as a person, not an object in their phone, made for entertaining them. People resonate with emotions and relatable experiences, so to build a responsive community, you need to create content with them in mind. Ask yourself, “Why would this content be helpful, interesting, inspiring, or relatable to someone?” Are you creating something intentional, or could your audience simply Google it? Is the integration of your content adding value?
Flex Factory, the company, was developed after I created our first product, ReFlex: The Conversation Card Game. The concept of ReFlex started as an idea for my merchandise in 2017. I wanted something unique and wholly relevant to my brand – not just another cut-and-paste, generic item.
By building my platform via Instagram, I became known for facilitating deep, insightful, and memorable conversations with my audience using the Instagram Question function. It wasn’t my intention to be “deep”; it was simply how I was perceived. I was starting discourse that encouraged people to dig deeper.
My audience became obsessed and wanted to know how to replicate conversations like this with their friends. Fast forward a couple of months, and I decided to turn the questions I had published almost daily into a physical card game.
I then spent the next few months selling the game through limited drops, packing orders on the couch with my business partner, Grace, and selling out within 24 hours every time. Long story short, one game became two, two games became three, and we decided we should create a legitimate store – enter Flex Factory.
Our mission is to show people the power of intimacy and deep connection through memorable, enlightening, empowering, exciting, and game-changing conversations. As of 2022, we’re an online store with five employees and products stocked in Sportsgirl, General Pants, Goop, Tibbs and Bones, Gertrude, and Alice.
As Gretta Rose Van Riel says, create solutions to problems, not just stuff. We already have so much stuff. It also helps to understand the industry you’re trying to enter and the pain points your ideal customer is experiencing. Too many of us cannot see our business from
the perspective of peers versus competitors versus consumers, and this critical thinking makes a business stick. Cultivating an Instagram audience and validating our potential products by playing the game on the app before we went into production was a huge component of getting the business off the ground, as we already had proof of concept, an engaged audience, and a direct marketing channel.
And that’s a wrap on our chat with Flex Mami! For more inspiring interviews, check out our Community Stories section.