I get contacted by a lot of publicists to feature their clients on the podcast. For the most part, all the pitches sound the same. It takes something really unique to catch my attention and prompt me to give the pitch more attention. Over time, I started getting a lot of pitches from different publicists from one firm, Jennifer Bett Communications. All of the intrigued me and made me want to learn more about the founders. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to hear how this unique firm got started.
I get contacted by a lot of publicists to feature their clients on the podcast. For the most part, all the pitches sound the same. It takes something really unique to catch my attention and prompt me to give the pitch more attention. Over time, I started getting a lot of pitches from different publicists from one firm, Jennifer Bett Communications. All of the intrigued me and made me want to learn more about the founder. That’s why I thought it would be interesting to hear how this unique firm got started.
Jennifer Bett Meyer and Melissa Duren Conner are the co-founders of Jennifer Bett Communications. They are part of the reason many of our previous guests have made their way onto the show. Tune in to hear the unique startup story of their firm, including the journey of both founders from their beginnings to where they are today.
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The Startup Story - Jennifer Bett Meyer and Melissa Duren Conner
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I'm Jennifer Bett Meyer…
Melissa Duren Conner: … and I'm Melissa Duren Conner. We're partners at JBC.
Jennifer Better Meyer: And this is OUR startup.
Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. But before we jump into this week's episode, I have an incredibly exciting announcement to make. After 90 plus episodes and close to 1 million downloads, The Startup Story is extending our reach into the subscription box space. You heard that correctly. We are bringing all the tools, resources, discovery tactics, founder access, and coffee to you via a new subscription brand called Grindology. Everything we do is about understanding what it takes to endure the many challenges that entrepreneur will throw at you. And in essence, The Startup Story has always been about the study of the grind. That is why we thought now is the time to launch Grindology. See what we did there? Study of the grind? Grindology? Come on, the name is fricking brilliant, right?
Look, every week The Startup Story podcast unpacks the entrepreneurial journey of a successful founder so that you can learn from them and bring some of those tactics into your business. Well, if you become a Grindology member every quarter you'll receive a shipment carefully crafted to help support and fuel your entrepreneurial journey. Every shipment will include two bags of some amazing coffee specifically crafted for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. Each shipment will also include an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur. You know as well as we do that we are just wired differently and most people simply don't understand why we're willing to take the risks we do, but we get it because we're just like you. And that is also why every single Grindology shipment will be full of content from key brand partners offering you additional resources to help you in your entrepreneurial journey.
Look, not all entrepreneurial journeys are the same and we fully understand that your journey is unique to you. Grindology was simply created to help fuel your journey. You can visit grindology.com today to learn more and pre-order your Q4 box. We'll also include a link to grindology.com in our show notes for easy access. Our very first shipment will be an exclusive run so secure your box today. Now let's jump into this week's episode.
Over the last few months we've had some incredibly impressive founders join The Startup Story podcast and even attend Startup Story LIVE. I mean Christina Stembel of Farm Girl Flowers and Julie Bornstein of The YES are the first two that come to mind. Well part of the reason the level of founders on the show has risen is because of the hustle and grind of Jennifer Bett Meyer and Melissa Duren Conner, the founding partners of Jennifer Bett Communications. But let me be clear, they are not my publicists. They just happen to represent some of the amazing founders I've had on the show. But I want to lay something out from the get go. I get hit up a lot by publicists to feature their clients on The Startup Story. And for the most part, all pitches sound the same so it really does take something unique to catch my attention and prompt me to give the pitch a bit more consideration.
Well over time I started seeing pitches from various publicists from one firm, Jennifer Bett Communications, and all those pitches intrigued me to want to learn more about that founder that they were presenting to me. For that reason, I thought it might be interesting to hear how this unique firm got started and what makes them so different. Now, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know I've never interviewed cofounders or partners, it's always been just one founder story. Well, if the uniqueness of the firm was the reason for wanting to understand the story behind Jennifer Bett Communications, then it only seemed right to tell the story in a unique way, by allowing both founding partners to unpack that story. But like all Startup Story stories, even when there are two, we need to start at the very beginning.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Both of my parents have like they both always wanted to start their own businesses and they both kind of went through various businesses, especially my dad and then my dad ended up having to go into the family business. But I was surrounded by a lot of women in my family that were really tough and very kind of ferocious and very stubborn, and would often carve out their own rules and ways. So from a very early age I kind of, I want to say like aunts and cousins and grandmothers and my mother, it was kind of like if you couldn't find a way to do it the way you wanted to do it, figure it out. And so from a very early age I kind of just figured things out the way I wanted things done, which was good and bad as a kid. I got in a lot of trouble. I was punished often. But if I wanted to do something and I had my heart set on it, I would figure out a way to get it done even if it meant making it up myself.
So I grew up in a very kind of traditional house. I had a younger brother, a dad, a mom, a dog, right outside of New York City in Westchester County. I am one of those kids who had a really great childhood. I actually like loved growing up there. I have the same childhood friends to this day. But it was very kind of simple and very sweet, and I didn't have a lot of real issues or anything to deal with until later on in my life when I got to college and I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut where I quickly realized I was the dumbest person there. By day one. I thought I was super smart, I did so well in high school, and I walked into Wesleyan and it was like nope, you are at the bottom of our list here. And so very quickly I kind of figured out if I'm going to find my footing, I'm going to have to create classes that I love and create groups and clubs that I love. So in college I did a lot of that. I couldn't find a certain writing course I wanted to take my senior year so I created it. And I could find a certain club I wanted to join so I started one. That was when I kind of think I got bit by that bug. I knew that if I couldn't find something I wanted to do that I would have to figure out a way to do it myself.
James McKinney: I love it and that's so reminiscent of an earlier episode we had with Julie Bornstein, founder of The YES. She had very much in her high school years had created multiple clubs to really help find her community and really surround herself by people that were like her because of some uniqueness that she had as well, so I love that story. But now Melissa, what was your early days? Were you surround by entrepreneurs or were you just surrounded by some really powerful women that just led the way for you?
Melissa Duren Conner: My parents were not entrepreneurs, but I think they are incredibly hard working people and they basically said my sister and I could do anything we wanted to do and they would give us and set us up to be able to do that. So make sure we had a great education, make sure we were supported in whatever sports we wanted to do, teams. We were given all the resources. It was really like do with it what you will, and I think also I just naturally have this gene of wanting to do something and be something. So in school I was the one who was always joining every team council and on three sports a year nonstop. I was like the head camp counselor. I was always looking for more to do. I loved being around people. I'm not a solitary person so the more group and community activities I could do the better, and it really was from parents who said you can do anything you want, so your only limit is yourself.
I mean my mom didn't grow up with much. She didn't have the opportunity to go to college but ended up being a really successful woman in the business world, and I grew up with that kind of a role model. It's hard to not be motivated by that because if I have all of these things at my fingertips that she didn't and she's done what she's done, then I have no excuse. I think I was really lucky. I went to a great college. I went to Fordham University and had one of the best experiences of my young life, and that school is right outside of New York City so now you're an 18 year old kid with this huge city at your fingertips, and it's like what are you going to do? So I think I started interning when I was a sophomore and most of my college friends were like you are crazy, why aren't you just partying.
James McKinney: But real quick, what did you, going into college what did you think you wanted to do?
Melissa Duren Conner: I truly had no idea. I knew I wanted to be… All I knew is I wanted to be in New York City, which is funny because we didn't spend a ton of time in the city despite the fact that I grew up in Connecticut. I very much like Jen grew up a very beautiful, nice suburban life with team sports and going to the mall. But for whatever reason when I turned 12 I was like, "I'm going to live in New York City, mom." And she's like, "Okay."
James McKinney: I think it's funny how New York is like that one place, that and maybe Paris, where the career aspirations are just a location. It's like I mean-
Melissa Duren Conner: 100%.
James McKinney: … I've heard I just want to live in New York, I just want to live in Paris, maybe Italy but like those are the places people are like that's what I want for my life.
Melissa Duren Conner: Right, right. And I needed to find a school that would be the right fit for me, and Fordham ended up being the perfect fit because it had that feeling of suburban campus life because of where it's located and how it's set up, right in the city or right in the Bronx. They had these Ram Vans that would take us down to the city which were great, and I started interning like my second year. I was like there's no way I'm going to not take advantage of this opportunity to figure out what I want to do. Being a young person and a girl, I was like, "I want to work in fashion." So I just tried to find whatever fashion internship I could and kind of fell into the PR world. I didn't even know what PR was when I was interning.
James McKinney: Now similar question for you, Jennifer, what did you think you wanted to do going into your college career?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I wanted to be a writer. So in high school I studied creative writing. I went to Wesleyan to study writing. I took as many writing classes as I humanly could. All of my internships as opposed to Melissa were at magazines. So I interned at Elle magazine and just wanted to write. And then when I was at Wesleyan I became very passionate about women's studies. So my first job was, I was an assistant at Marie Claire magazine, and the reason I took that job was at that time under Glenda Bailey Marie Claire was doing an enormous amount of human rights and women interest stories, an enormous amount. They were exposing a lot of kind of travesties around the world and I thought I could marry my love of writing with supporting women. To be honest, it was like a dream come true when I got that assistant job. I'll be honest with you I didn't even know what PR was. I really hadn't heard about it. I didn't know anyone who was in PR. I just wanted to write and I wrote all day long, and I did that for quite a few years before I even considered moving into PR.
James McKinney: So-
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Melissa was like a born publicist.
James McKinney: But she didn't know what it was though.
Melissa Duren Conner: I didn't and it was fate. It was truly fate. I had two internship offers. One was at a bridal magazine and one was at a PR firm. I just knew they were both in the fashion world but the magazine did pay and the PR agency was paying. I was like I need money to go out, so I took the PR firm internship and it ended up being that moment that changed my life. It kind of dropped me into the career that I… It's funny, I agree with Jen I was literally made for it, just had no idea what it was at that time.
James McKinney: So let me ask this question Jennifer, why do you say Melissa was a born publicist?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Because she has like a fire in her gut. Melissa, there's two reasons. First of all, she will convince you of anything. She's kind of like a sophisticated car salesman in that if you walk into a room and you say, "Oh, that couch is blue," and the couch is green, you will leave knowing the actual color because Melissa will convince you of what it is. She is so convincing and so smart and so creative. But she also had this like fire in her gut where she doesn't give up. You have to be super persistent to be a publicist. You can't have that attitude where you're like oh well they said no to my story, they said no to my banter, they don't like that idea. You have to be able to go back to the drawing board 15 to 20 times to tweak things to make it work. Melissa has that in her. We'll get to this I'm sure but Melissa convinced me to make her a partner after only knowing her for a few weeks, and before she was even 30 years old.
James McKinney: I love it.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: She PR's herself.
James McKinney: Yeah, I love it. Now real quick, there's something about the personalities that I always find interesting when it comes to how opposites attract. And maybe I'm assuming there's some part of your natures that are opposite, but Melissa came out the gate talking about how she loves people, she's an extrovert. I get that energy right away. What about you, Jennifer? Do you find yourself to be an extrovert or are you more on the introvert side?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I'm very good at kind of playing both roles. I'm like a chameleon, I kind of fit into wherever I need to be at the time. But on a given day we're similar in that we kind of like to hunker down with our families. But when we are put in a social atmosphere we both can turn it on in like two seconds. Like we will be having a day where everything is going wrong and we're exhausted and we haven't had time to eat, and it's raining outside and we're running around the city. We'll walk into a pitch meeting and it's like lights, camera, action and we're ready to go.
James McKinney: I love it, I love it.
Melissa Duren Conner: But Jen is a very charming person. She definitely, when she turns it on it's on, and it allows me a minute to breathe sometimes which is great. I'm like okay you can do this, and I will kind of take a step back. So it's really nice to have… I understand her personality so well that I know when I can just relax for a minute and be a little bit quieter, when I'm normally so on all the time which is nice, and that's why having a partner matters and is so important for us. I don't think we'd want to do this by ourselves ever.
James McKinney: So tell us how we get to Jennifer Bett Communications so that we can find out one along that journey I know you guys meet, obviously we get there, but talk about Jennifer how you got there and how did your paths cross, and then how did the partnership begin.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I had been working in PR at that point for about 12 years and I had worked in house and hired a bunch of external agencies, different PR agencies. Frankly after a while I found that I couldn't find an agency that was kind of addressing the needs of these kind of newer, cooler startups. I frankly thought the entire agency model was super antiquated. I thought it was run by a lot of really old white dudes and I didn't think anyone really was doing it in a very unique or creative way, which is how I think PR needs to be done. So I started consulting and I just started working with various brands I had worked with in my past lives. I would come in, I would put together an entire press strategy for them or a press plan that really was fundamentally based on storytelling because I told you I was a writer and I love writing. I think the best pitches and the best stories come out of really beautiful writing, evocative writing. And so I started putting together strategies for these brands. Before I knew it, I had too many brands. I couldn't keep up. I was a one woman machine. I loved it because I was working from my couch, which now looking back on it I'm like dying for an office, but I couldn't keep up.
A few years prior to that, I was running the PR division at a company called Star Works which has since folded. But I had about 35 people on the PR team. We had at last I want to say 40 to 50 clients and in its heyday was super successful. While I was at Star Works, I interviewed this girl and her name was Melissa. She was coming from HL group which is a very fantastic firms. And she was young. I think she was maybe 26 at the time.
Melissa Duren Conner: I think younger. I think I was 24.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: She was such a know it all. So she came in-
James McKinney: As she just corrects you right there. "She was such a know it all." Timing was perfect on that one.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: And she came in and she basically convinced me to hire her on the spot. I don't even know if I had a position open, okay? But she was so convincing and so smart. I was like she doesn't have tons of experience, she's still young, but there's something about this girl. I couldn't put my finger on it. It was almost like I was like… I fell in love at first site and it was one of those moments. She came to work at Star Works and then two weeks later after she joined Star Works I resigned. I got a better opportunity somewhere, I moved on. So I only worked with her for about two weeks and we lost touch, that was it. I was like two weeks with this rock star publicist, but I'm moving on.
And then when I started consulting, fast forward about five years, and my personal business was growing I sent out an email to a bunch of old colleagues and I said, "Does anybody know any publicist I can kind of bring on to help support me that really think differently, that are great writers, that are super creative?" And I got one email, and it just said, "Have you spoken to Melissa Duren lately?" It was almost like a lightbulb went off and I said, "Melissa Duren's available? That girl that I hired that I thought was brilliant? And that was that. That was truly as simply as it was. She came on to support me and business took off. We went from having like three clients or four clients, to ten clients within a matter of months or maybe two months. I'll let Melissa tell you the story of how she went from just being like my employee to a partner, but it was truly that simple. I didn't really know her that well. I just knew that she was pretty much the most talented publicist I had ever met.
James McKinney: Now those are some high marks right there, Melissa. So I do want to ask, I mean-
Melissa Duren Conner: I pay Jen to be my publicist.
James McKinney: I love it. So you start off as an employee and quickly become a partner. How did you navigate that? Because I will say as a founder, as a cofounder, sometimes giving up that slice is really hard. Honestly I want to hear from Jen as well what that conversation was like, but let's start with you first. How did you approach that conversation?
Melissa Duren Conner: Yeah, of course. So I have to go back a little bit to then answer that question. So like Jen mentioned we met at Star Works. Also, I eventually left after about a year and tried other things. I went in house to brands but quickly realized that I was getting very bored with A. I didn't want to work in house anymore because working with one brand isn't super exciting when you're someone who has this kind of energy that you need to be working on a lot at once. But there was no agency that I wanted to go to. I wasn't impressed by any of the agencies or the approach anymore, and I was like Jen independently also seeing there was a new wave of brands that were launching, and there was a new way that you needed to approach PR to properly service those brands.
So I ended up leaving my in house job and freelancing. Well my husband, well he's my now husband, he was my boyfriend at the time, and said, "We don't have kids, we don't have a mortgage, this is the time to take a risk so if you want to go and freelance and see how it does for you, go for it." That's when I felt my biggest itch to work more independently and create my own rules around what I was going to be doing for a living. Literally three months into that, I get a note from Jen because of an old colleague of ours had recommended that she reach out to me. So we started working together because I always respected her so much. When I went to Star Works I was so excited to work with her and then she decided to leave, so I was like this is great. And always had my eye and kept seeing what she was up to and where she was going so it was really cool for her to reach out and say, "Hey, I started this consultancy. Would you want to work with me and come on board?" And of course I said yes.
I also had just started freelancing so I'm like this is great injection of new work. And it just was great. We just naturally work so well together without ever saying you do this, and you're in charge of this, and you're in charge of that. We just do it and it just works. There's no real answer to how do you do it, because we just naturally just have it with each other. But after, I was getting busier and busier with Jen, and she was like, "I want you to be with me fulltime," and I said hm, okay, I love this what we're doing and it's very fresh. I know we're changing PR but I can't ignore that I always wanted to own something and be, whether it's my own agency or something, have my own business, but I didn't want to leave Jen to do that.
So I literally just said, "Yeah, I'll come on fulltime and drop all the other things I'm doing if you make me a partner." And that's literally all I said. It took her about two seconds… and the great thing is it's not just me and I know you'll get into her reason why she said okay, but it says a lot about Jen. She took two minutes and said okay, and we figured out the details and went about our business, and started growing this thing.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I think I said, "Do you want to be the managing director?" Like I gave you a title, and you wrote back and you said, "Yes, but I also would like to be a partner."
Melissa Duren Conner: Yeah.
James McKinney: And is that hard for you at all, Jen? To give up something that you had built that was yours fully?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I mean I'll be honest with you at that time it wasn't very much, you know? We maybe had seven to ten clients. We didn't have an office space. We didn't have employees. I knew that we were on to something big. I knew that we had the potential to be really a game changing agency, but I also knew I couldn't do it without Melissa so I kind of said to myself… I think it might have taken me a little bit longer than two minutes, but I basically sat down and I said can I do this alone, can I execute this vision I have to really be a game changing media relations agency on my own? And the answer was no, and I knew that I didn't just need a partner, I needed Melissa. So I went back to her and I said yes. It was a very quick negotiation and I'll be honest, we've been together now about seven years, almost seven years, and there hasn't been even a minute where I've regretted my decision.
James McKinney: one of the things when we talk about partnerships, and again you are the first partners that we've had on The Startup Story and so I think there's a lot of things specific to partnerships. Because I know I have a lot of early stage startups and wantrepreneurs in my listening audience, and so when they're thinking about bringing on cofounders there's some really great applications and tips that can come from the two of you with regards to this. And so when we reflect back on your we'll say year one of JBC, when we reflect back to when Melissa became a partner, what were some of the discussions you had and how did you set up boundaries and roles and responsibilities so that you both constantly keep the mission aligned?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I don't know if you're going to like this answer and I don't know, it's probably you've never heard it before, but we didn't. We did not have that discussion. As Melissa said, something about the way we work, we fell into a groove from day one. It's funny because we have interviewed a lot of cofounders and a lot of our clients are cofounders and we always ask them, "So who does what? How do you divvy up the work and responsibilities?" And I'm not kidding, to this day Melissa and I have never sat down and said, "Okay, you're going to do this and I'm going to do this." Everything has come unbelievably organically to us because we have similar skillsets, but we also enjoy doing different things.
So we kind of fell into those roles quickly. The more obvious thing is Melissa was also the managing director. She's not just my partner. So in being a managing director, she manages the team so that's, I mean Melissa can speak for herself but a good portion of her job. Whereas from a very early point I really loved doing new business, and I love talking to new brands. She kind of would focus on the staff and the current roster and allow me the opportunity to go out there and network, and found out who was interested in our approach.
Melissa Duren Conner: That's a great reflection and a great description of how we do it, but I think over time we definitely have learned that we do need to have some sort of formal conversations around certain things. But the most important thing, and we say this 100 times, the reason why it works the way it does with us and why it did from day one is because A, we implicitly trust each other. I know her intentions with everything she says and does is for A, for me because I'm her partner and we're building this together and for the team. And more than that, we have the same values. We live by the same set of rules around right and wrong, what feels good and what doesn't. Those two things together allow this to work the way it does without super formal constructs if that makes sense.
James McKinney: You know I think that obviously has worked well for you two. If you were giving a class on Partnerships 101, and I know you have a podcast called The Partnership, if you were giving a class on Partnerships 101 I suspect that probably wouldn't be the guidance you give that was like don't have the conversation, let it all work out organically. Just as I wouldn't tell my kids, "Hey, just figure out what to eat," without some guidance on how to work the stove and the dishwasher and all that stuff. So what guidance would you give to a listening audience on how to navigate those partnership discussions?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: The first and foremost, and in our podcast we've talked a lot about this and the cofounders of Chief brought this up a lot too is your value system has to be aligned. You can't have a separate set of values, and if you do truly I think the partnership is doomed. You can't have one person who is in it for the fame, and one person who is in it for the money. You have to have common goals and communication values, and both Melissa and I are we're very focused on our families, we're very focused on doing the right thing, we're very focused on voting, like things like that are very important. And then as Melissa said, honesty and trust.
But I do think and I don't remember who said this, maybe Melissa does, in our partnership podcast someone gave us great advice and it was find someone who's better at the things that you're not good at. For instance, Melissa and you can speak for yourself again, she cannot stand at looking at kind of the back end of the business. She doesn't want to look at the P&L report, she doesn't like looking at the numbers. She does, but she doesn't enjoy it. She doesn't enjoy looking at our budgets. I love it. I find nothing more energizing than looking at a budget and figuring out where to cut money. Or how to improve our P&L report.
I love numbers, I love charts, I love things like that. Things like that are important. When it comes down to the black and white responsibilities of business owners, you do need to carve out who is doing what to keep the business moving forward. But fundamentally your value system has to be aligned. It has to. Melissa, we know a lot of cofounders that launch brands together and then one left, or one got bought out, and now we're working with the solo founder. You hear these stories all the time. And I really think it always comes down to a different set of goals or a different value system.
Melissa Duren Conner: Having a really clear shared vision from day one is really important. Jen and I always knew we wanted to change the way PR is done and that never has changed from day one until year seven. We've seen founders that work together and you can tell that they don't have the same vision for what their brand should be right now, and how it's going to evolve, and that's going to break down over time. So if you know who you want to be day one, day 100 and in 10 years and you both believe in that, that's the foundation because then every decision that you make is always going to be working towards that shared goal. It will completely break down if that's not the case.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: One more thing too is we always have the same number one priority from day one, which is to take care of our team. It's never faltered. Our team comes first, our team comes before our clients, our team comes before ourselves, our strategic partners. If we take care of our team we will do the best work possible. I think that's another area that you've seen a lot of breakdown with partnerships, especially now with COVID and layoffs and things like that. We are just unbelievably protective of our team.
James McKinney: Let me ask this question, has that ever, has that principle, has that tenant ever been tested? And the reason I'm asking that question is because especially in the early days of a business when you're growing, you said your team comes before your customers, your clients. I have heard time and time again where they had a principle, they gave into it because of a significant invoice or contract that came up, and it obviously did not… well not always, sometimes it does work out well, sometimes it doesn't, but has that ever been tested within your guys' partnership?
Melissa Duren Conner: For sure.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: We've let go of clients because those clients had made our team so unhappy. I'll be completely candid with you. During the beginning of COVID and this pandemic, it was a trying time for our agency. A lot of these brands and the DTC, the brands you're talking to all the time and these awesome startups, a lot of the first things to get cut in their budget was external agencies. It was scary those first two months, I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to sit here and say, "We've been prospering, it's been an amazing few months for us." It's been tricky. And I looked out at a lot of other agencies and I saw that they were all immediately doing layoffs and kind of moving forward. And Melissa and I sat down and we basically said to each other, "Whatever it takes, we're going to keep this team. If that means we don't take salaries for as long as need be, if that means restructuring some of the client support, if that means getting rid of our office spaces, we need to keep this team functioning and keep them employed. And it was not easy. Melissa had just had a baby. It was a really trying time but I really truly believe this, and I learned this the hard way because I worked for a lot of people that frankly didn't give a crap about their teams, if you treat your team well and you kind of encourage them and you're positive, and you push them in a really powerful way, the work they will do will be 10 times better than anyone else.
Melissa Duren Conner: I definitely give that credit to Jen for sure because when I met her, it was the beginning of my career so I hadn't managed more than one person outside of what I did with my team sports and at school and whatnot. So in the real world, I had only really officially managed maybe up to one person by the time I met her, and then obviously grew into other management roles. But she was always steadfast in protecting the team. I've had bosses that would to a client maybe say, "Well that person messed up so well take care of it." But you could always say, "No, we messed up as a team, we're going to fix it together," without throwing a one person under the bus, and I never really respected that approach from leadership.
Jen was the first person who said, "No, no, no, that's not how that's done. You don't do that. You stand by your team and you deal with it internally and that's fine, but you protect your team and you take care of them." So I learned that very early on from her, so taking that into other roles. It makes me sad when I see these great companies with these great teams, but then you hear the negativity from a culture perspective and how it's broken down. So for us, we have always put the team first and I've learned that from Jen. And that's not just now when we're a little bit healthier and stronger as an agency. We've been doing that since year one. Letting go of a client in year one or two when you're starting a business because they were not healthy partners is scary. I think a lot of people would choose to keep them and have their team suffer through it, but we just said no.
One of my favorite things and the reasons why I love what we do so much and feel so liberated by our work is we don't have to work with anyone. So we choose who we want to work with because we believe A, we believe in their vision. We believe in their team, their founders, and we want to buy into that, and we believe that they're the right people. And at the end of the day, fundamentally they're nice. I think that's just as important. It doesn't matter how big your company is or is not, you still want to work with nice people. So that ultimately then makes our team happy when they're feeling very inspired by the clients they're serving. What better situation to put your team in for them to be so happy and so inspired? So it works for you as a founder, right, when your team is that happy and excited.
James McKinney: You know we've had a few founders during this COVID season, in fact we had a two day livestream where I had 13 founders. Christina Stembel of Farm Girl flowers, which I actually think is a client of JBC as well. It's crazy how small this world is.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Is she not the best?
Melissa Duren Conner: She's literally my favorite human in the entire world.
James McKinney: I came home after that livestream day one where she kind of closed it out for us. My wife was like, "Oh, how was day one?" I'm like, "I'm pretty sure Christina and I could be best friends." It was awesome. But in that two day livestream, we talked about some of the challenges that each founder was going through because of COVID. Multiple times, when it came to communication and trust with team, in one way or another the phrase was stated that if you fight for them they're going to fight for you. And we just continue to see it out.
I think that's exactly what you were saying right here and how much of a priority you place on your team. And it's apparent that JBC is different. But let's talk about from a product and service perspective. For those that maybe have an idea of what PR is, you keep saying JBC is different so I want to give you this chance to kind of reframe what it is that you do that is different than everything else that my listener may be think when they think of PR.
Melissa Duren Conner: We have built a PR model that is built on storytelling. What we knew about the consumer is A, they have so many more options than they did because of the internet. Now there's so many new brands that have their barriers to entry are zero basically, so they can then launch online after they've had the idea three months ago. So now when you're a consumer being bombarded by options, the only way you're going to make a decision and decide who you're investing with is who do you feel the most connected to, which brand speaks to you the best, and that you can then go story tell because everything you do and buy in your life you want to tell your friends about it. When they come to your house, you're like, "Where'd you get that couch?" "Oh, I got it from Floyd. It's this really cool direct to consumer furniture brand." You want to have that kind of excitement.
The only way it's going to happen is if we are finding you where you're consuming media and telling you about the story of those brands, and about the founders. So it's two fundamental things. How do we serve the brands and tell their story to consumers? So what podcast, broadcast, what print media is that consumer reading every day? Where are they online and how do we tell the best stories over and over and over again to keep them excited? But then also how do we help serve the business of the brand? These are all fast growing startups that we're working with and they have a lot to do in a short amount of time, so we need to build thought leaders out of the brand itself against their competitors and whatever incumbents they're competing with, but we also need to create thought leadership around the founders because we know VC firms are investing in the founder. They believe in that person.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: And you know that better than anyone.
Melissa Duren Conner: Exactly.
James McKinney: Yes, yes.
Melissa Duren Conner: Of course. So we need to make sure that voice of the brand, the voice of those founders are the strongest. Not just in their endemic market, but beyond that, in ecommerce and retail as a whole. And that's what our team does every single day is rewriting their stories and re packaging them for new media outlets on a regular basis. And I have to say the way we do it, it's exhausting, it's so much harder. You have to be fervent and crazy every single day getting that story out there to be keeping up the kind of pace that we're keeping up for our brands. The traditional approach was okay, what news do you have? We can do PR around news and then it's quiet in- between, or you launch a brand and you don't know how to keep that momentum going. That doesn't work and that's not going to help these brands grow and evolve and eventually scale, so you have to keep the pace. You have to keep the momentum and it has to be a diverse set of media on a regular basis, and that is exhausting and something that we've become known for.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: But super fun.
Melissa Duren Conner: No, it's in a really great way exhausting but that's why we protect our team so much because they are the reason we can continue to sign business. They are the reason why when we launch a brand like Magic Spoon and we blow it out of the water, but then three months later they're still the number one brand you're talking about, and then six months later people are still talking about them, that's why we do better. And that's why we can keep this pace because the team is just after it all the time.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Our team is also different, and I'll explain it in that Melissa and I basically looked at every PR agency we had worked at or retained, and figured out what did we do wrong there? And then how can we make it right? And one commonality we would hear from every brand and every agency is that they would meet with the founder, they'd meet with the VP, then they'd sign with the agency and then five days later they'd be working with an assistant or an associate. That's not to say that level employee is not super valuable. When you're dealing with the type of brands we're dealing with, you really need significant experience and kind of a senior level expertise who really understands all of retail, all of tech.
So we kind of turned that pyramid on its head so instead of having a company that has 60 employees and 30 assistants, and only a few VPs, we have a very senior heavy agency. So every single client is matched with a VP who has at least 12 to 15 years of experience which is, you can ask anyone in kind of PR land, almost unheard of. We've grown slower because of that. Do I think we could have been double the size and had double the amount of clients by now if we had hired a lot of more junior talent and signed a lot more clients? 100% but the quality of our clients are so great and they stay for so long, and our team is so solid, that we've been able to kind of put together this magic formula that's really worked for us.
James McKinney: You know one of the things you mentioned and maybe this is a question for you, Jennifer, because I know you said you love numbers and data. When you look at a successful I'm going to say campaign because that's my normal PR nomenclature but maybe there's something different that you call it, but when you look at a successful engagement with a client how do you measure success on your side? And the reason I'm asking this question is you mentioned in the midst of COVID one of the first things that people tend to trim are outside resources because they want to kind of keep things tight and internal and lean. But if you're constantly proving value and are able to show that value the trim becomes a lot harder to justify.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Right.
James McKinney: Right? For example one of the things I cannot still understand or comprehend is how in the midst of COVID big brands were shutting down their Facebook ad campaigns, which is great because I was getting cost per clicks at an all-time low. I was getting all kinds of acquisition.
Melissa Duren Conner: Absolutely.
James McKinney: But they just said, they stopped. Well if you can see that $1 produces $8, why would you stop it? And so how do you measure success?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Well we were lucky in that we didn't lose a lot of clients because we have been very focused on proving that our results convert from a very early stage. So the way that we look at it, there's a few different buckets we kind of measured in. first one is just conversion. You look at the analytics and you can kind of tell if we have a story on Vogue.com and someone clicks and buys a beautiful parachute bedding from that, that's great. Your PR converted. That's the most obviously obvious way that you can measure it. But there are other ways to.
To me I always say are the right people talking about your brand, so here's an example. You're a podcast. You've had you said 95 founders on it. On our podcast right now you referenced Julie Bornstein from The YES, Christina Stembel from Farm Girl Flowers. You are the right person and you are talking about two of our brands. So are people in kind of our world that are bombarded with different founders and different startups, and different DMVB brands, and different DTC brands, you must get I'm guessing many pitches every single day, but for some reason those two founders stood out to you to reference on this podcast. That means we're doing our job.
James McKinney: Thank you for connecting those dots. But I will say specifically, and I think it piggy backs what Melissa was saying, the reason that I was so passionate about having Christina Stembel and Julie Bornstein is because of their story.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Yeah.
Melissa Duren Conner: Absolutely.
James McKinney: I myself am story driven, hence The Startup Story. So I know Christina's story even long before I was pitched on it, and so as soon as someone from your firm said, "Do you want Christina?" Um, yes, of course I do. But it's right, it's a story. It matters.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Or say you go to a conference or used to go to a conference and you have four people on the panel up there, and they're talking about the best good for you brands in the breakfast category. We want Magic Spoon to be referenced, so it's the right people kind of talking about your brand. Then the other thing is really investor interest. A lot of our brands are raising a lot. They get an enormous amount of inbound requests that start with, "I've read a lot about your brand," or, "I keep seeing your brand in the media." That's how we know we're doing our job well. So we kind of look at it in those three buckets.
I would say 10 years ago I remember I would have Lucky Magazine and I would see a sweater I loved, and I would turn down the page or I'd rip it out and I'd bring it into a boutique, and I'd show them the page and say, "Do you have this?" That was the only way to figure out if PR worked. No one knew who was doing that. Now, we have a sense of what works. And we also work with our clients every single day to figure out if it's working. So if they come back to us and say, "Listen, you guys had eight hits this week and we saw very little conversion on our site," we know we're hitting the wrong places. So we're constantly tweaking our PR plans to make sure that we're hitting, as Melissa said at the beginning of this conversation, their consumer where it matters. So I think all of those things are really important and I think we're constantly holding ourselves accountable. Melissa has crazy KPI's for the entire team to meet every single month.
Melissa Duren Conner: Yeah, I was going to say so I will not look at a P&L report, or I'll glance at it the way Jen mentioned earlier. That's not an Excel I like to look at, but the Excel I love to look at is our company wide KPI Excel. I know the VPs cringe when I say, "Hey, can I check our KPIs?" But that's me. I'm going through every single client and every category that we've carved out from a media perspective, and checking our numbers. These aren't things that our clients ask for. We don't see KPI's formally with our brands, but we've set kind of an internal formula for what is success, and how are we going to keep up this pace or what is the right mix that's going to make a difference for the brand, and these KPI's are different per brand per category.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: The KPI's are also Melissa is mentioning it's not just the number of hits, it's the variety of hits. So when Melissa put together the KPI's for a brand, it's not just did you get 10 press sets this week. It's did you get a podcast, did you get a founder feature, did you get a consumer hit, did you get a business story, did you get a data story.
Melissa Duren Conner: Like where are they speaking, what conferences are we seeing them pop in. it's literally every single platform or an opportunity to tell their story we're measuring against. That's how we know, because everyone says, "Well what is that perfect mix?" It's different for every brand, but we kind of figured it out. It's kind of this secret sauce internally of what's the right mix per brand that we know is going to move the needle, coupled with what Jen was saying around is it actually converting, are we driving traffic, did we see an increase of investor interest for that brand, do we see an increase of influencers wanting to work with the brand. Do we see an increase of other brands saying hey let's do a partnership together? All of that is a direct result from a really, really strong PR campaign and when we say campaign, that's over years. That's not one moment, that's over time and you want to feel that momentum, and feel that energy inbound because of the storytelling that's happening on the outside.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Two other quick things, because I think as PR agencies have evolved over the years a lot of PR agencies have moved into kind of celebs and influencers, and that's how they've stayed relevant. What we decided to focus on instead of that is thought leadership and content. We started two different divisions over the past few years. One is our thought leadership department, which again you understand well, but we put together a team that solely focuses on speaking opportunities, conferences, panels, podcasts that are specific to founders, and Op Eds so that we can really position our founders as the stars and the voices behind the brand.
It really has to be a separate division because it's so much work just weeding through all the different opportunities right now, especially with live streams and Insta Lives and Zooms, so making sure that our founders are positioned correctly. And then we hired Maura Radigan I guess a year ago now, Melissa, maybe a little bit more. She is the editor at large of Fashionista, and an unbelievable writer. She's kind of built out this content arm for JBC where we work with our brands to develop content. I think that's been another really important kind of path for us as an agency.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So being that you are PR experts, you're changing the game, you understand the power of story, you're working with some amazing D to C brands, what are and again my audience probably consists of a broad spectrum of D to C startups that I may not even know about. In fact, I don't know about all of them. But also I do know many of them leverage Shopify because of how great things are. Now we're not going to talk the technical side of starting a brand, but just from an expertise and guidance what are top five considerations that D to C brands need to think of when they're building a product and launching? All that runway leading up to launch, what are things that they need to be thinking of besides the operational side that they are thinking of?
Melissa Duren Conner: So we've seen a lot of brands and we have the luxury of getting a lot of inbound so we get to see kind of what categories we are seeing more brands popping up in and what not. And what we believe is going to work and what's not going to work. So I think what we realized there needs to be a few things. One, the product itself has to stand up to whatever your claims are. It has to be beautiful, it has to be easy, it has to be well priced. So it doesn't actually matter if you get the branding right, the founder story right, any of the other stuff right if the product itself can't live and stand on its own. So we really do analyze that pretty critically when we're getting a product based business coming our way.
Then there's the founder. We just truly, truly believe in founder backed stories and founder backed brands. That is how we've built our business is on brands that have a connection to the consumer that you're buying into it. So Farm Girl Flowers are the most stunning online flowers on the market, and I can say that, my friends say it, everyone says it. But I spend even more money there because of Christina and her story and the CEO. So yes would I be a customer of them no matter what because I believe they have the best product? For sure, but you are now an evangelist for that brand because of the founder and her story. So that's really, really important.
Then great branding is kind of like the third thing. It has to look beautiful, be exciting. We believe in build a community around brands. So if you have a brand that's going to build a really strong community base and it feels like you're interacting and there's something else going on, whether you have a blog or a really interesting Insta Live series that I'm constantly going back to. Community is really important because A, for investors you've now proven that you have an active following. You've proven that this community will go with you wherever you go, or anytime you launch something they're going to follow.
I guess the last thing and it's not as important but definitely important is that there's something bigger than just you and your brand, whether it's a mission. And I say a mission because it could be a small, we're sustainable. That's not small but we care about something other than just selling product. So we're trying to reduce our plastic use, we are sustainable, we give back half of our proceeds to XYZ. People want to know that you care more about than just making money and are giving back to the world in some way.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: The ultimate goal needs to be bigger than the conversion, that's what we say. At the end of the day, we like to work with brands and I think consumers respond to brands that believe in something more than the transaction.
Melissa Duren Conner: And it does, again I want to say it does not have to be a give back. It doesn't have to be something that is you're changing the world, you're trying to be an activist. But you have to have something that matters to you. Maybe the brand in and of itself is what's changing the world. So we have a client called Branch Basics that has reimagined the at home cleaning approach. So it's one concentrate completely void of any chemicals, but what they're trying to tell you is that there's a lot of pollution in your home and it actually affects your health.
So they actually have the one product but they have built this huge content hub just educating you on so many things that have nothing to do with your cleaning product, but that's why people love the brand because they're learning, they're educating, and they're cleaning up their homes, cleaning up their lives, and they feel like this brand provided what they needed objectively for them to do that versus building this huge suite of products to cover everything in your home. They really just believe in this one thing but they're going to teach you so much more. So that matters, having that larger vision or that larger story that you want to give to the world, that expertise.
James McKinney: Now let me ask you a couple more questions around the idea of the importance of storytelling. When I started The Startup Story, it was an imperative that I have equal representation of male and female founders. Part of it comes from an experience at a conference where a VC panelist had said they looked at a portfolio and it was less than 2% female founders, and they did a blind investment study and they ended up with like a 47% investment pool of female founders because they weren't identifying who the founders were, it was more about their story. And when I heard that I was just appalled. I'm like I can't believe at this time, I think it was 2017 I think it was, I just couldn't believe that that's where we were when it comes to the evaluation and validation of whether a business is investable or not.
Melissa Duren Conner: Absolutely.
James McKinney: And it drives me nuts that Christina Stembel has had the challenges that she's had.
Melissa Duren Conner: You and me both.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: And I mean honestly she's one of many.
James McKinney: I know, I know she is. And I also know that you are as female founders, you're equally passionate about this. And so with the tips and tactics that you just talked about, does anything need to become stronger or is there a different… would you augment in some way if it is a female founder or now founded by a person of color?
Melissa Duren Conner: So I have my answer. Jen probably has her answer. So mine is no. I do not believe any founder should have to augment. If they have these things already in their vision, it should not matter if they're a woman, it should not matter if they're a minority. What needs to change and be augmented is the VC community and their approach to who they give money to. And also the media as well, because if you're looking at the media and the stories, and who's getting covered and who's not, it's just as much a responsibility of the media as it is the VC world because the founders exist.
James McKinney: Yes. The stories are there.
Melissa Duren Conner: They are there.
James McKinney: The stories are there.
Melissa Duren Conner: And these are people who they're going to build something amazing. It's going to be harder for them to get there, it's going to take them longer because they're not getting the cash they need or the coverage, so I really for me I put the pressure on the VC community and the media to do better.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: I agree with you, but I think in that we have a responsibility as a PR agency, and we've talked about this a lot recently, to adjust things like our pricing or our fees to reflect the needs of these brands that aren't getting the VC funding. So for instance our roster, and Melissa correct me if I'm wrong, I think about like 80% female founded and we are very, very passionate about female founders. We posted conferences for female founders, we do office hours for young female founders. We are all about strong women business leaders, we love them. But over the past few months we've really looked internally at the fact that we did not have enough brands that were owned by women of color.
Melissa Duren Conner: Or even men of color to be honest. I think Jen's getting at it. We didn't even do a good enough job of making sure. We were so focused on women that we were like, "We've done it." And it's our fault. I totally am like it's nice to have our eyes open now and we're totally kind of refocused.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: But I think it was our fault but I think also it's exactly what you said, Melissa, which is the VC's aren't pouring money into these brands so they can't afford us. It's plain and simple. We have a relatively strong retainer, a monthly retainer, that our brands need to pay and if they can't pay those retainers then we usually don't entertain the new business opportunity. But in doing this we had to kind of take a step back and say are there certain brands out there that can't afford us because they're not rewarded the same opportunities as these white male founders, that maybe can't afford us but we still really want to work with them because we want to support their mission, we want to support what they're doing, we want to get them to a place where the VCs are taking interest. Because if we can get them press, if we can get them that storytelling moment, they're that much more attractive to the VCs.
So yes, the responsibility is in my opinion on all of us but I think there's a fundamental issue when it comes to VCs and media. We work with Female Founder Fund. We work with Anu Duggal and she has been fantastic, and she was one of the first women to step up and say, "Listen, brands that are owned by women are not getting funded. They are just not getting funded." And she setup an entire organization to fund these brands, and she's seeing some serious significant exits, but she's also really inspired us to kind of look internally and figure out what do we need to do as an agency to make sure that our roster has the proper representation and we're supporting the brands that we really believe in.
James McKinney: You know that I believe part of being a founder, you're always learning.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Yeah.
James McKinney: I'm coming at you from left field on this one. This was not something that I submitted to your team that I was going to be asking, but just because I want to learn. If you look at my 95 founders, I have one black female founder, Denise Woodard Partake Foods. And it drives me nuts that's the case. But here's the challenge that I have and maybe you can give me some guidance on how to navigate this. I have no problem getting male founders on the show. And for all my male listeners, we have no problem talking about ourselves. We could have produced nothing in life and we think our story is worth telling. Getting female founders is exponentially harder than getting a male founder, but not impossible. Getting a black female founder is almost near impossible for me, and my approach and tactics between a female founder and a black female founder are no different. I just can't get anyone to commit to the show. How can those who want to support black female founded businesses and brands be part of that solution?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Well first off I'm going to send you a list-
James McKinney: Please!
Jennifer Bett Meyer: … because we know quite a few. Nicole Gibbons of Clare Paint is a total badass. We launched her brand and her brand, I think she was just on the Today Show last week. She is unbelievably impressive.
James McKinney: Did she make the Inc. List, the top 40?
Melissa Duren Conner: She did, yes.
James McKinney: Okay. I reached out. Her people said no.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Hmm.
Melissa Duren Conner: I will text her myself.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: We will text her. But I truly also think it's about working with different types of PR firms. I think a lot of these brands that don't have a PR agency you do have to kind of reach out to directly, and hope they say yes. I don't quite understand why people would say no unless they have an absolutely crazy schedule because you have a great roster of founders that you've featured and to me, in my experience, having a founder on a nice podcast is a win/win. But sometimes listen if you don't have a publicist and you don't have someone to kind of educate you about PR it is daunting. If you want to connect us with anyone that's saying no, we can be pretty persuasive. But in the meantime, we have a great list of female founders of all different backgrounds and ethnicities. We can share that. Most of them aren't even our clients, but we just so believe in supporting these women that we're happy to send it your way.
James McKinney: I think it's interesting when we peel back some of the challenges of elevating the female founder story, and then when you start niching down to the black female founder story, there are some internal battles that have to be played with why those stories aren't getting told as well. I 100% agree VCs and media need to change the narrative completely. I love what you said about approaching how you can help those brands that are underrepresented and are not getting the founding. I love that tactic and that approach. And then two just the idea of collaborating like here's a list of black female founders that you could help bring into this space, because I want to tell these stories. I want to elevate them. I don't know if it's because media is not telling these stories, therefore they are processing their story as not worthy enough to be alongside Randi Zuckerberg or Larry Namer or Ben Chestnut or even yourselves.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: There is media right now that I think has taken a step in the right direction in terms of kind of shifting the narrative away from these traditional Warby Parker startups. I think Fashionista does a very nice job of highlighting these women. There are outlets that I have I think Allure, Michelle Lee is the editor in chief. She's done a phenomenal job at highlighting these women. So I think a lot of it too is looking at media that you may not normally look at for your inspiration.
Melissa Duren Conner: Absolutely.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: So these might not be the women that are in Entrepreneur or Inc. or even on Forbes, but there is some media out there that's really doing a good job in terms of representation.
James McKinney: I love it. Rebecca Minkoff with Female Founder Collective, like I'm such a fan of what is being done there. But again as a white male, I want to be helping to share and elevate those stories too, it's just there's some challenges within certain types of communities. But never the less, it's been an unbelievable time sitting with the both of you, to hear how you got to JBC, how you grew JBC, what makes JBC different. Some tactics for all the brands and the entrepreneurs that are listening. But as our time is coming to an end, I want to ask the three questions that I ask every single founder that's on this show. The first one being do you believe that anybody can be an entrepreneur? Not want to be, because not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, but do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur?
Melissa Duren Conner: Yes. I say yes. I'm a really optimistic person. I think if you want to be an entrepreneur, then you have it in you to do it. So I think it's just the desire has to be there, because no one can do anything they fundamentally don't want to do. If you're forced into anything or you feel pressure to do something you will never succeed doing it. But if you just have that little inkling of a desire and you try, you'll make it in some way, shape or form.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Yeah, I mean I think yes too because I think the definition of entrepreneur is so wide and so vast. You look at these kids these days and they have their own YouTube channels. In some way they're entrepreneurs too. You look at Etsy. Everyone on Etsy is an entrepreneur, so I think big and small there's different ways to be an entrepreneur. I look at a lot of stay at home moms that are like home schooling right now and doing all that, they're running businesses too. So yes, I think everyone has it in them but I do agree with Melissa. You need to be passionate about what you're doing. If you don't have that passion you cannot make it up. You cannot fake passion.
James McKinney: Oh, absolutely love that. Absolutely love it. So now one of the questions that I ask every founder as well is about gratitude. So Jennifer, when we think of your story, one of the reasons I ask this question about gratitude is I believe if we begin to think in any way, shape or form that we got to where we are today on our own without the support of all the people across our entire life span that they didn't contribute, we begin to isolate ourselves and that isolation will always lead to our failure. So when you look back across your entrepreneurial journey, who are all the people that poured into you to support you to where you are today?
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Just so you know, I could answer for Melissa too but I will answer for me. Mine starts with my parents. To this day they're very involved in our business. My mother actually runs our operations and so we wouldn't have JBC without my mother. My father has been instrumental in growing our business. My brother helps me with our business. My husband helps me with our business. But in terms of really paving the way and giving me the space, it was really my parents.
I didn't unfortunately have a lot of super supportive bosses or mentors. It's something that I really regret, but I did work at one company called Star Works where I was surrounded by a few people that had quite entrepreneurial spirits. They've all gone on to start their own businesses. Sharon and Allison who went on to start Showing Co., Roman and Jess who started RJK and Partner, and Tony King who started King and Partners. Being at Star Works I was exposed to some of the smartest, most passionate people. It was sad because it took until I was 30 years old to find these mentors, but they've really inspired me in amazing ways.
I'd be amiss to say Melissa hasn't been a large part of this, because I think as I've said a few times I wouldn't be doing this without her, and she pushes me to be I think the best founder I can be, and she challenges me and drives me absolutely insane, but I would never be doing what I'm doing if it weren't for her.
James McKinney: I love it. What about you Melissa? Who are the people that you look back with such incredible gratitude for their contribution?
Melissa Duren Conner: 100% my parents. I mentioned this earlier. They provided what I needed to be who I am with a lot of sacrifice and hard work. They sent me to the private school I wanted to go to because I knew that would be where I would flourish. They made sure I went to whatever college I wanted to go to. Truly 100%. And to this day, they still are my husband and my biggest support system. They help us with everything. They let us quarantine with them for four months with a toddler and I was pregnant. So 100% my parents. They gave me the safety I needed, that I know I needed behind me, to take risks and I take that lesson into raising my own girls that if they feel safe and they always have something to fall back on, and they always have that safety net, they're going to feel like they can take those risks because they know they have something that will catch them if they fall. And I'm3 4 years old and I still rely on them as that safety net too. But also my husband. He was the one who said go freelance and try working independently, we're fine, I'll take care of us if you make no money, everything will be fine. And if he hadn't done that, then I don't know if I would be where I am.
And then obviously, and we're cheesy because we're going to say love letters to each other, but Jen. We're doing something together that we did not anticipate doing ever in our lives until we kind of found each other. The fact that she said yes when I asked her to be a partner and we've been doing this for seven years, and it's been awesome. The little fights we have we call them non-fights because we talk two seconds later and are laughing. So I've built a life that I'm so proud of and those four people are the people who made it happen fundamentally.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Also Michelle Obama.
Melissa Duren Conner: And Michelle Obama.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: Michelle Obama.
Melissa Duren Conner: Always be grateful for her, no matter what.
James McKinney: For Christina Stembel it was Oprah, so there we go. That's awesome. So as our final question of The Startup Story. We've been talking to 65,000 plus people at a high level of your journey. I want to take this conversation down to the one, where it's just the two of you and just one person around a coffee shop enjoying a cappuccino, maybe in a street in New York somewhere not now but maybe six months ago. This is that mentoring minute that I provide for all of my listeners. Maybe the person you want to talk to is the entrepreneur who's just frustrated. They've been at this for some length of time, cash flow continues to be an issue, COVID is jacking everything up for them, and they just aren't quite sure if they have what it takes to keep going. Or maybe it's the wantrepreneur who's got a 9 to 5 and a book full of dreams and ideas and just hesitant to move forward because maybe they think they aren't capable of it. Maybe they think the responsibilities they have can't warrant them to take that risk. Maybe they think they're 60 years and old and they're too old to be starting their own venture. Whatever the case may be, what of those personas would you like to speak to, to give them this mentoring minute?
Melissa Duren Conner: For the founder who doesn't know they're a founder yet, they're sitting at their desk with all those ideas, and unsure about moving forward. I always live by the idea that if you don't ask you will not get, so if you don't ask or do you will not get or do. I think having the confidence to get up and try is all you need to do. Taking the first step is the hardest one, but after that you can start sprinting so just get up and take a step.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Jennifer and Melissa brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. Lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So for that reason, take a moment and visit jenniferbett.com to see if they might be a good fit to help elevate your brand's visibility. Another way to support them is to connect with them on Instagram @jbettcomm on Instagram. Again, we'll have links in the show notes so you have easy access for it. I say it all the time because I truly believe it, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs so let's show up for Jennifer and Melissa by moving on those two simple asks. Visit the website jenniferbett.com and follow them on Instagram, @jbettcomm. Those two small actions truly can communicate tremendous appreciation. And now for my personal ask.
The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.
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If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.