Made in USA / Women Entrepeneurs with JJ Ramberg, Jory des Jardins, Marshall and Megan Dostal and Mikaila Ulmer
- [Chase] I wanted to take a second and ask each of you to briefly introduce yourself, a little bit of back story for the folks here in the in-studio audience and the folks at home on the internet. And when we get to the end, this screen here has a person in it. It's going to be exciting to hear from you remotely, but before we do, please start down here and just tell us little bit about who you are and what you care about. - [Jory] Well, my name is Jory Des Jardin and in 2005, I co-founded a company called BlogHer with two other fabulous co-founders. We sold the company in 2014, and since then I have been advising other startups and working on a passion project called Virago. And it's an advisory for female founders helping them get their businesses off the ground. - Great. Can you spell Virago for us and... - V-I-R-A-G-O. And I would like to just share what the meaning of that word is. So virago is a woman of excellence, but over time it's become synonymous with a shrew or a bossy la...
dy. We are taking the meaning of the word back to woman of excellence. - Nice. Rightly so. Well done. Thank you very much. And you. - [JJ] I am JJ Ramberg and I'm actually going to be at BlogHer this year, but I co-founded a company with my brother 11 years ago called Goodshop. And you were talking before about scratch your itch and we founded it because we were scratching an itch. I was obsessed with socially responsible business from when I was a kid when I had my first Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream cone. And so, we created a company where every time you shop, a percentage of what you spend goes back to your cause, your favorite cause, whatever your cause, whether it's the ASPCA or a local playground, but we also added something to it that people got something else out of it, so it's coupons. So it's a browser extension Goodshop where you add it and every time you go to a store, the best coupons automatically activate and a percentage goes to your cause. But in addition, if I can just do one other thing, I host a show on MSNBC called
Your Business. And so I speak to entrepreneurs like you guys do all day long. - Excellent, thank you so much. And you all? Welcome. - [Megan] Hi, I'm Megan Dostal. This is my husband Marshall and we are the founders of Further Products. So if you didn't see the piece earlier, we collect waste crates from restaurants all over the country, we convert that into biodiesel, and it fuels our factory vehicles, our family vehicles. Then when you make biodiesel, your byproduct is glycerin. We take the glycerin, we purify it, we make soap, lotion, candles. The soap goes back to the restaurants, zero waste, fully sustainable. We also sell to retailers all over the country, hotels, universities. And so, that's us. - Marshall got anything to add? I know she's, obviously, well-spoken about that. - [Marshall] She summed it up perfectly. - Excellent. And then, Mikaila joining us remotely. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you care about. - [Mikaila] Yeah, so my name is Mikaila and I'm from Austin, Texas. And I'm the founding CEO of Me & the Bees Lemonade. And so what I care about is that my business actually helps save the bees so that's definitely a passion of mine. I like saving the bees and encourage any other people (inaudible) since that's what I'm interested about. - Incredible. Is it true that you introduced former president Obama? Is that what I heard? That rumor made its way to my ears. - Yes, it was at the Dell Woman... It was actually at the… - Women's Summit. - Yeah, Women's Summit. - Women's Summit, you got to introduce the former president, incredible. - Yes. - Congratulations on that one. All right, Scott. - [Scott] I'm curious, Mikaila, you were on ABC
Shark Tank and Daymond John got behind you. And I'm curious, what have you found the role of having a great mentor like Daymond to be in your business? - Well, it's not only Daymond, it's Microsoft also, but it's really important to have a good mentor and a good partner because each mentor and each partner brings different ideas and it's very creative in different perspectives. So it's important to have different people who are educated in different fields. So everybody has something to bring to the table. - Incredible. Me & the Bees Lemonade founded in 2009. What were you? Three? How did this happen? - I was four and a half. - Sorry, I vastly underestimated you. - And look at that smile. - Incredible, congratulations on building that business. Go ahead, Scott. - Jory, with your work at BlogHer and with what you're doing now at Virago. I have a question, you see so many women on businesses, what are some of the trends that you see in women on businesses today? - Well, we know that women on businesses are the fastest growing businesses. There are so many of them. What I think is a little troubling, but also well misunderstood is that female-founded companies also do not get venture capital at the same rate as male-founded companies. And we see all of these statistics about why that is and it's anywhere between 3% and 7% of VC funds go to a woman-owned or founded company. And actually, it doesn't tell the whole story because there are so many women getting funded and there's a whole other side to how women are developing their businesses that the VC world and I with a VC-funded company. Virago was a VC-funded company, we benefited from that, but there are so many other ways that women are developing their companies and so many other sources and so many other ways that they see scale. - Yeah, just to give us a couple of bullet points on that, what are some of the ways, again, we're trying to add value to the audience who are tuning in, tactically, talk to us about just a couple of different ways besides trying to go to one of the big Silicon Valley venture folks. What are some other opportunities for women in business? - Well, women are automatically amazing connectors. There is a reason why we started BlogHer because women are natural…we don't just talk about things, we blog and share. We were natural bloggers to begin with, we just didn't know it yet. So women do this for each other all the time. And we created an event, my Virago co-founder Steph Agresta and I called the scaled collective. And the whole point of that was to just put women together and see what would come out of that. And some of them met with investors, some of them met with advisors. All of them came out of that with funding, a meeting, an advisor that they were going to hire. It's just something that we do naturally, new contacts, oh, by the way, here's my designer. In fact, our designer for the event got three new clients out of it. Just immediately, people started to share resources. We're natural sharers and that's how we're building our businesses now. - I think it's a really neat time to be a woman founder right now. So I started my company and the show about 11 years ago, both, and it was an entirely different world back then. There was not nearly as much attention focused on women who were founders and women didn't talk to each other as much about it. And maybe the ones who are out there couldn't find each other, but there were not the same networks there are now. And I am constantly going to or being invited to or holding women events, either women founders or women who are doing other things who can help each other. And without question, at the end of everyone, there's always this moment where, "Okay, everyone go around the room, who needs help, and what can we help you with?" And someone says, "I need funding, I need an intro to this person. Does anyone know someone at the journal because I need an article? And everyone is out there helping each in a way that I think people were inclined to 11 years ago, but it wasn't as institutional or even as casually institutional as it is now. - Excellent. Yeah, go ahead, Scott. - And I'm curious, in your experience, what would you say are some of the biggest challenge or obstacles that you guys had to overcome when building your business? - I think for us in the beginning was our concept is admittedly a little bit different. It's a little bit out there. People when we were trying to explain I think Meg and I always laugh about when we were trying to explain our process to our families, they were shaking their heads a little bit saying… - We had really good normal jobs with benefits and all the stuff. - And it was like, "You can take greens and turn it into fuel, and then soap and what?" It just... They didn't get it but then when you explain the process and follow through, we created I think a superior product. So I know some of the guys earlier were talking about, and I think it's really true, is that business, a lot of it is about solving problems. So entrepreneurship is about finding a problem for us. There was a lot of waste in the restaurant industry, so we were trying to solve that problem. So that was a hurdle of trying to convince people that our product was the right product for them. - I love the story and I think to reference the earlier panel on innovation, I wanted to direct a question to Mikaila, part of getting people excited about what you've built is a good narrative, a good story behind your business. So I was wondering just as a test case, could you share with us a little bit about the story behind your business and how you get other people excited about what you've built? - Yeah. So my story is actually a really unexpected one because even though right now I'm saving bees, I actually got started in all of this by getting stung by bees. And I actually started when I was four and my Great Aunt Caitlyn sent me a notebook with (inaudible). And I also got stung…one week, and I really... So what my parents wanted me to do was research on them. And I did that research, I found out how incredibly important (inaudible). And then I also decided to help save the bees, and that's my story, and I guess that's why people (inaudible) and I'm a kid and I'm not like other (inaudible). - That it's unexpected I think is part of the beauty and the opportunity today because it is easier now than ever before to start a business. The resources are wildly available for free or inexpensive. Companies like Microsoft providing tools for us to do that, and the fact that you've got a compelling narrative, that is the thing. Everybody's story, if you can individualize it, you started around your bees and trying to solve problems around that, I'll never forget that story. I will remember this conversation and you and your business because there's something that's magnetic about the story behind why we do what we do as entrepreneurs. And if you're thinking about starting a business, whether you're here in the in-studio audience or at home, what is your narrative? What is the story that you can tell to get other people excited about the things that you want to bring, the change that you want to be in the world? - JJ, you not only have a show on MSNBC, you not only have a business in the Goodshop, you're a mom as well. - Yes. - How do you balance everything? - I wish I had the video for you guys that I show sometimes, which is all three of my children on my stairs basically in their underwear howling at the same time, which happens all the time. I don't know, balance, we're all doing it, right, men and women. There is so much going on that I try not to think about it that much, I don't think big-picture, I think in the moment, right? I can either stay at work another hour and get this done or I can get home and go get my kids, and today, which one do I want to do? And I also try and keep it in perspective. We are lucky. If we are worried about balance, we are lucky people. There are a zillion people out there who don't have the liberty of worrying about that because they are working six jobs just to put food on their plate. And so, instead of thinking of it as a burden, I try and think of it as something that, "Thank goodness I'm in this position." And don't get stressed out about it, just do what feels right at the moment. - Jory, what would you say are one or two of the biggest competitive advantages that women have in the workplace over men? - Well, it depends on who you're asking. I would say one of the big bragging points that I and my co-founders had when we were fundraising for BlogHer is how scrappy we were. We loved that we didn't need to raise a ton of money and we did so much with so little and were able to get a lot done on just a shoestring. I think that that's an advantage. I think for anyone who is not necessarily going up for VC capital, that is an advantage. Sometimes, it would come off to VCs as you don't know how to scale. So I think it's something that you have to keep in perspective when you're going out and talking about how scrappy you are. I think another thing is that now we have an exception here with the man on the panel who has created a business around a solution, but I think we are much more solution-based. We're not looking just to build stuff in AI, we're looking to solve a problem and we'll figure out the technology that will enable that. So it gets us from point A to point B, and I think our minds go in that direction. I think it's a total advantage to building very functional companies. - Let's talk about working with your partner. Can you give us a little bit of insight about that? As the Dostals have built this business together, what are some potential opportunities and upsides and a couple of pitfalls that you can share with the folks at home? - I think any time you work with anybody, you tend to recognize your co-worker's strengths and your own strengths and weakness, and I think we were husband and wife well before Further. And so we already knew going into it, my passion is how it looks, how it feels, how it smells, where it's being sold, where it's being featured. Marshall loves to make it and have it made and deal with the people that are now making it and figure out the bottles and how do I get 25,000 and where am I going to put it? I'm not into that. And he's not into what I'm into. So I think it's finding your strength and respecting it because we are a small business, we don't have teams. So it's very much a go-for-it, we trust each other, we're married almost 15 years. So it really hasn't been hard. I have friends that are like, "I couldn't live with my husband if I worked with him all day." And I think that's sad. But it's been so far so good, I guess. - If you have disagreements, how do you break a tie? - Honestly, it sounds ridiculous. - Ro-Sham-Bo? - Arm wrestle. - I can't think of one, I can't think of an instance. Our areas of interest are so different and we have full... - We trust each other to know who's good at what they do. So I think that's important not just obviously in a marriage or a relationship, but business partners as respecting and understanding what someone's good at and their strength and letting them run with that and then. So she does all the things that I can't do and vice-versa. - I think there might be a message embedded in there of go to your strengths rather than try and improve all of your weaknesses. I think sometimes in a small shop, in a one or two-person shop, when you have to do it all, it can be a little bit challenging. But finding partners and leaning into your strength, that's a thing that I hear over and over as I talk to entrepreneurs all over the world is finding the things that you care about, that you're good at and then maybe finding a partner or outsourcing some of the things that are your struggles. So I would like to direct a question again to Mikaila, what are your strengths as a young entrepreneur? And what do you manage? And are there any things that you outsource or seek advice or support from others on? - Yeah, so some of the things that I'm good at and that, I guess, I inherited from my parents was that I like to work with numbers a lot. So that part probably came from my dad because he (inaudible) all the finance of my business, and then marketing and that came from my mom. But some of the things that I do need help with in that we had to outsource from different mentors and partners was that we did not have, we didn't have the materials that were needed to scale the business. So we were already in a couple of local stores and a couple of Whole Foods, but we wanted to be national or even international. And so, we needed to have a more automated system in order to do so. So what we did is we looked for a partner and that was Microsoft and they helped us do that. Now that's one of our main goals and that's what we're looking forward to doing in the future. And then, we also needed someone to help with sales because not any of us are very experienced in sales and so that was definitely one of the things that we all had to learn and then we also had someone come in to help us with doing so. - Your self-awareness is absolutely mind-blowing [crosstalk]. You're on that screen, and I want to come hug you right now. I don't know if that's... Congratulations, your self-awareness is world-class. - And the way that Mikaila lives the brand with the board in the back, and the yellow shirt, and the yellow bow, and just ties it all together. - Yeah, for sure. And it's just been piped into my ear here that there's going to be 20/20 special on you on February 24th, so if you're... - Tonight? - Is that tonight? - It's tonight. - Tell you where my head's at right now. - I've been preparing for this for a long time, but tonight 20/20 on ABC is going to do a special. So we'll tune into that for sure. Congratulations. - Thank you. - Scott, keep the questions alive. - Jory, where are some of the best places that women can go to find great mentors? And how do they ask? - Oh, well, asking is half the problem, right? We're not that good at asking, but I find that someone reached out to me on Facebook and I wrote to her and I said, "You just did the best job of asking for a mentor." There's, of course, the emails and they don't feel that good, you could tell that you're one of many, but this was a very heartfelt note about why she went into business, how she did it, what she's struggling with, and just would you have time to have a conversation with me? And how could I say no to that? That's it, that's it. Anyone who's gone through this struggle, how could you say no to someone else who's going through that? I feel like that's part of what I need to be doing, is giving back. We learn so much when we struggle. And one of the challenges going through it back in '05 and '06 was that we didn't have a whole lot of people who were also going through it the way we were. So that's how you do it. - JJ, what would you say are some of the common themes or trends that you see on your show where entrepreneurs are taking action around building great companies? - You touched a lot about this on the innovation panel. It is a finding a problem, and if you feel it deeply and you can solve it, and then scratching that problem, finding an answer to that problem. Again, for me, it was, I hate going to look for coupons, right, it's a pain in the butt, so here's an extension that makes the coupons come up and you get to give to a cause, but that's personal to me. And then, you get to build something around it. I think where people fail, again, to reiterate what said before, is, you don't talk to your customers enough. So I'd say, this was my problem, now does anyone have else this out there? It's really easy to think everyone lives in your world when you're a focus group of one. But the more you go back and forth talking to people, the more you get excited about it, the more you can get your team excited about it. That's where I see people really succeed. And it's not always passion for the project or the actual product, it is passion for the whole thing. You can have passion for springs that go in mattresses if you're just excited about building something and working with the team to build it. - Fantastic. Before I go to the audience, I'd like you all to think of a question if you can because I'll be going to you in just a short minute. But keep it alive, Scott. - Megan and Marshall, what is one thing that you wish, maybe that you wish you knew before you got into the business? - Or just one, right? Just one. - Or aren't you so happy you didn't know that? - Yeah, right. - That's a very good question. Right now we're…I wish I had known a little bit more about how the industry worked before we got into it. We went into it just blindly, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs do, you've got an idea, "Hey, I think this could be a really good product." So I think I had…I think I wish maybe we had spent a little bit more time understanding how the industry worked because I think that's really valuable doing some research beforehand, but unfortunately, a lot of times entrepreneurs just, they want to jump in the water and so. - I believe you have to be somewhat blind. Otherwise, you wouldn't do it. - Yeah, so you probably wouldn't go for it, but it's one of those things where, you jump in the water, but thinking now about it, I might say to somebody, try to do a little bit of research and understand what's going on in the industry. - And maybe a good strategy is to also build a great team of advisers that come from that industry. So you can bring maybe what you don't know about it, and that passion and enthusiasm, and that innovative mindset, but you still have people that can teach you some of the ins and outs that only somebody with a lot of experience would know in that space. - Or other industries, too, right? It doesn't have to necessarily be just from your industry. - Sure. - I've taken a question from the internet that I'll fire off in just a second, but I noticed that we do have a question from the in-studio audience. Here we've got a mic coming your way, tell us who you are and feel free to ask a question these smart folks. - [August] Hi, I'm August Graube with Fort Boards and we do fort building for kids. I think a lot of entrepreneurs when they start out think that everybody... - That business sound so fun. - Fort building? - Can I have that? - It is. - Fort building, oh my gosh. - We build forts all day long. So I think when entrepreneurs are starting out, they assume that everybody is going to love their product or service because this is their baby, do you guys have a process for recommending on how to find the right initial target market for that? - First of all, let's be clear, everyone loves a fort, right? But I think it was a great question, is it product market fit that your question is about? How do you know the product is going to be suitable for the market? - Yeah, instead of casting too wide of a net, how do you narrow that down to the right group? - Yeah, any of you all interested to take on that question? - I think we found a lot of first retail success, in my head I knew there's one store in Los Angeles, that if we could get into that store, all the buyers from all the boutiques shop that store, basically, and they go, "This brand got to sign off from them, we're going to buy them, too." And that was because it's the opinion leader, it's where everyone goes, and so if you can lock into who that is in your industry, it took time and we still have the rejection letter, but we did get in, and this is a long time ago, and literally the second (inaudible) the shops we had people calling us, "Hi, I'm in Southern Lake. Hi, I'm in Echo Park. Hi, I'm in Brooklyn." But they knew we were in this one store, and that trickled down, blew us up, that's great. - I think when you get it in people's hands, you have an idea of here's your market, it's either person A, B, C, D, E, or F, and you get it in their hands either collectively, individually, depending on your budget, you'll start to see where it's resonating and once you see where it's resonating and why, you can build on that. - Yeah, what about you, Mikaila? Tell us about some of your vision on that. - I think that you can't expect people to just come to you with your opinions, you have to actually go out there and whether it's in the beverage industry like me when you're going to do demos and asking people to fill out pieces of paper that tell you what their favorite flavor would be. You have to actually go out there and collect that information and so you really need to know what your customers want and what they think is interesting, and so, that's what I think. - Great. I promised one question from the internet and that question is back to mentorship. I didn't get a name on this question, but question's back to mentorship. How have you been successful at seeking mentors that can actually change your business? Because I think there's...the common knowledge is that if you ask your parents or friends or people that are close to you, you're going to get a thousand opinions, many of which aren't the right ones for you. So how have you all, any stories on finding, where did you go to find people who are actually willing to give you advice? Feel free to jump in. - We have to make it easy, for one thing. So I'm part of a network for women who have done…exited their company or maybe they were CEO of a company and they're figuring out what's next. And I thought, why would a bunch of women like us have trouble asking for help? We all have trouble asking for help. We literally had them sit in the session and be taught how to properly ask and what I realized is that we tend to suggest, and maybe it's just me, but I suspect that a lot of women suggest they might want help, like, "Hey, I'd love coffee, if you want to just grab coffee, that would be great." No, you need to say, "I am thinking about moving into this field. I think you know something that I want to know, would you sit down with me and have coffee with me? Would you sponsor me?" That's the other thing, is that we find great ways to connect with each other, but I think we could do a much better job of being very specific about what we need and saying, "I need you to go to that person and tell them to hire me." - Great advice. - I echo that and I find people are very willing to help you if you give them something specific. Everyone's busy, right? If you just say, "I need your help," people don't know what to do with that even… - It sounds like a cry for help, like, "I'm drowning." - But yeah, if you're really specific, I find people are really excited to help and one thing about the word "mentor," I was asked for NBC to write this thing on LinkedIn about who was your mentor and I broke out in hives because I felt like I've always felt really terrible that I never had a mentor, that person who identified you in college and shepherded you along, and I didn't have that and I didn't want to write a whole public thing on LinkedIn about how I never had a mentor. I'm the loser who nobody wanted to pick up and mentor. And I realized it's not about a mentor, it is about many advisers. And if all of us looked through, everyone here… - That's a great point. Great point. - …in this room is successful, everyone has had people who have mentored them in certain ways, whether it's been formalized or not. And so, if you just think back on those people, what made you connect with them, I think you can learn, take something from that about who you can get mentors in areas that you don't have right now. - There is a book, a fantastic book I can recommend called
How to Get a
Mentor As a Designer. You can just cross off the "designer" part because it's just fantastic. It's by a man named Ram Castillo, I think he's down in Australia. It was a fantastic book and it talks about asking, instead of asking for a mentor which has got all this heavy weight behind it, it sounds like the person signing up for a lifetime of servitude, how about asking for advice? - Exactly. - Advice sounds much lightweighter and Mikaila's like, "Yup, that's how I'd do it." - That's how we found ours. We asked around and we don't know. We got connected with this man and the best about our connection with him, not only his small-business retail experience, he grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and our son is now growing up in a family of entrepreneurs and so sometimes when we get a little down, he's like, "Keep going. You have to keep going. My parents did it, you guys can do it." And so, it's not only personal advice, but it's also the professional advice. And if you can get a mentor that gives you both, you are very lucky. - Amazing. Well, sadly, we are out of time. I wanted to thank all of the panelists for supporting what it is that we're trying to build here at CreativeLive and through the partnership with Microsoft and today's event. Mikaila, a special shout-out to you on your 20/20 special tonight. - Tonight! - Tonight. We'll all be watching. Congratulations, and if I could ask you all to join us in a warm round of applause for our panelists. Thank you so much. - Thank you, guys. - Thank you, guys, appreciate it.