About this episode

I’d like to introduce you to Marika Meeks, founder of IncredibullStella, a nonprofit whose mission is to help rescue dogs (with an affinity towards Pit Bulls) and place them in their forever homes. With a name like IncredibullStella, you may be wondering who Stella is, right? Well, Stella is a Pit Bull that came into Marika’s life when she was recovering from Stage 3 Breast Cancer.

In this episode, Marika will unashamedly share how Stella saved her life and now, having fully recovered, how her non-profit (inspired by Stella) helps to save as many animals as possible. In honor of Breast Cancer awareness, I thought it would be appropriate to unpack an entrepreneurial journey of a founder that had to battle through a Stage 3 Breast Cancer diagnosis and come out on the other side of her journey as a cancer survivor and non-profit founder.

IncredibullStella is Marika’s first non-profit, but it is not her first venture. Previously she had an incredibly successful chain of sandwich shops, which was expanding up until her cancer diagnosis. Part of the reason I wanted to share Marika’s story is because of the power of her perspective through her battle with cancer.

And while the tone of this episode starts off a little heavier than usual, I assure you this episode is one that will encourage and inspire you, assuming you allow yourself to hear about lessons learned from someone who came face to face with her own mortality. This is Marika Meek’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • How Marika’s mom and dad were very instrumental in her desire to not only do my own thing, selling Bubblelicious at school, and her desire to always have a hot dog stand
  • Immigrating to America at the age of 6 with her family, how her mom and dad provided the opportunity to live in the U.S., plus the trials, tribulations, and successes of starting a new life in the States
  • Her interest in becoming a creative entrepreneur, feeling really lost after high school and her short stint at Community College
  • Leaving college after only the first semester and realizing (now) that you don’t have to have it all figured out right out of high school
  • Getting married at 19 and realizing that marriage is not a career path, but it did lead her to start her first business, which she worked in for a year
  • Moving on from her first business to working for the family business, how doing so made her feel like a fraud, the anxiety she felt, and what she learned during that time
  • All leading up to her next venture, a sandwich shop franchise
  • The difficulty she had when telling her parents she wanted to follow her passion and learning this very important life lesson: When you’re feeling fearful, that's what makes you brave because you're doing it anyway
  • Being diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer, navigating life during that time, and how getting cancer at 41 woke her up to understand what was really important
  • The inspiration behind IncredibullStella, how it got started, unpacking everything it is today, and Marika’s vision for the future

“There is nothing you can ever do that would actually be considered a failure. Every single step or misstep is setting you up for a new opportunity. It’s preparation and not failure.”
—Marika Meeks, IncrediBullStella

Resources from this episode

IncredibullStella: https://www.incredibullstella.com/
IncredibullStella (the book): https://amzn.to/2nbK6rE
IncredibullStella on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/incredibullstella/?hl=en
Marika Meeks on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marika-meeks-9169b814/
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory/
Alina Vandenberghe, founder of Chili Piper & GipsyBot: https://www.thestartupstory.co/chilipiper
10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, Wayne Dyer: https://amzn.to/2lDI5nD
Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches: https://www.jimmyjohns.com/

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Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: Marika Meeks.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - Marika Meeks

Marika Meeks: Hi, this is Marika Meeks, founder of IncredibullStella, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: 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: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to read a review from Zach who gives the podcast five stars and writes, "Really appreciate the love and inspiration this podcast is trying to put back into the founder universe. Just tuning into it now and loving it so far. I'm a cofounder at Foodie, an online platform that connects restaurants with Instagram influencers to trade free food for content and exposure on Instagram. You can learn more at FudiApp.com." Thank you so much, Zach, for the incredible review and please keep listening to the show and welcome to The Startup Story community. Make sure you stay connected. I'm looking forward to getting updates on Foodie's progress. For all of you listening, check out FudiApp.com. That's F-U-D-I-A-P-P.com. If you have found any value in The Startup Story podcast, please leave a written review on iTunes and plug your brand, URL, or social media accounts. Just like Zach experienced when he plugged Fudi. It becomes a mini ad and it's just my way of saying thank you for taking the time to leave a review. The written reviews mean a ton for being discovered within the iTunes platform.

And now, let's jump into this week's episode. Across the world, every October is dedicated as Breast Cancer Awareness month. Throughout the month, you will see pink ribbons as a symbol from a supporter. The National Football League in fact has an entire campaign called Crucial Catch that elevates the awareness of importance for screenings. This is a global topic and globally, breast cancer represents 1 in 4 of all cancers within women. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries worldwide. In the US, over 42,000 women will lose their battle with breast cancer this year, and 500 men will die from breast cancer as well.

I'm sharing all of this with you, not to set a tone of despair for the episode, but to help all of us how critical this is. I know for myself, it is easy to become numb to social issues like this when we're accustom to seeing the messaging. We know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and a lot of times we become numb to these things. But under the vein of The Startup Story, I want to talk about this under the entrepreneurship umbrella. The Startup Story is not a social issue podcast, but what we are about is unpacking real life entrepreneurial journeys, and hearing from people that have overcome some remarkable challenges.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, I thought it would be appropriate to unpack an entrepreneurial journey of a founder that had to battle through a stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. Her story really was a matter of life and death. Our guest today is Marika Meeks, founder of IncredibullStella. IncredibullStella is a nonprofit that Marika started to help rescue dogs and place them in their forever homes. Stella is a pit bull that came into Marika's life while she was recovering from stage 3 breast cancer. Marika will unashamedly share how Stella saved her life and now, having fully recovered from breast cancer, wants to help save as many animals as possible, with a special affinity for pit bulls. While IncredibullStella is Marika's first nonprofit, it is not her first venture. She actually had an incredibly successful chain of sandwich shops and was expanding up until her cancer diagnosis. Part of the reason I wanted to share Marika's story is because of the power of her perspective through her battle with cancer.

Marika Meeks: I think of cancer this way. I wouldn't wish it on anybody else. I wouldn't want to do it again. But I wouldn't undo anything I've been through, because for me, cancer has been a gift. It's been a catalyst to finally wake up and start living life authentically as Marika Meeks, and I've never done that before. I'm so grateful for the opportunity. What would have happened to my life if I had been diagnosed at 81 instead of 41? Too late to make changes at that point, for the most part. But I had the gift of cancer when I was early forties.

James McKinney: While the tone of this episode starts off a little heavier than usual just because of the nature of the battle Marika had to face, I assure you, this episode is one that will encourage and inspire you, assuming you allow yourself to hear about lessons learned from someone who came face to face with her own mortality.

Marika Meeks: I think my mom and dad were very instrumental in my desire to not only do my own thing, but I always had this like vision in my mind of… In fact, I remember making one of these but we were still living in England at the time, and it was just a little made out of cardboard boxes, but in my mind it was a little machine where you put raw ingredients in the top and you turned the handle, and out would come a product and then you could sell that. That was from when I was five years old. That was just sort of in me. I have to say, I read your bio. One of the things that really struck me is that you and I share something a little bizarre in common, and maybe I'm a little bit older so inflation has crept in, but I also used to sell Bubblicious in middle school, I kid you not. I would sell it for 25¢ apiece and I would make pretty good money selling candy.

That was the thing for me. I would actually go on the school bus in the morning, because that's when the kids still had their lunch money with the Rolex watches, with the jacket opening up, who wants a candy bar, who wants some gum. That was sort of my beginning venture into the process of buying and selling, and then making hopefully in that transaction a little bit of profit for me. So that's kind of how I'm wired. If I have to tell you or you can ask my husband, one of the things I always dream about is having a hot dog stand, and I can't even tell you why. But someday I'll have a hot dog stand.

Yeah, so my mom and dad are very courageous people. They just turned 80, both of them. We immigrated here from England in the late seventies, so I was just a little girl at that time. My dad travelled to America quite frequently. He had British security clearance and worked in the aerospace industry.

James McKinney: Oh wow.

Marika Meeks: At that time, things were pretty brutal in England with inflation and everything else, and it was a hard place to raise a family and keep up with the mortgage payments and everything else, because inflation was 20%. Their mortgage rates were like 20%. And my dad had an opportunity and he went home to my mom and he said, "How would you feel about moving to America?" My mom just simply said, "Where are the suitcases?" And so for them, the opportunity to move to this country was such a liberating and at the same time terrifying experience, because they literally were either getting rid of everything, because there was very little things we could actually get to America furniture wise and things like that. Take three small girls, myself and my two sisters, and really start life over again in America.

It was… it's such a gift that they've given us. If you live in this country and you've never lived anywhere else, you may not necessarily appreciate the difference through no fault of your own, because you haven't experienced it, but my family we realized what a gift my mom and dad gave us by taking that massive risk, uprooting and moving, and giving us the opportunity to live here.

James McKinney: I love that. It's a theme that we've had from a few founders that were either first generation Americans or the entire family had immigrated together. When you are born and raised here, I do believe that we become a little numb to the opportunities that are here, but when you have seen a place where there wasn't such opportunities, your eyes are open to all that can be done here. I think that impacts a little bit of drive in our founders that we've shared that story with.

In fact, a couple episodes ago, Alina Vandenberghe, the founder of two startups, she came from communist Romania and so her story of opportunity is just eye opening because of how different a communist country is. I absolutely can understand the sentiment and the gratitude you have for the courage your parents took in that. So when you got here to the states, how old were you at that time/

Marika Meeks: I was about six years old.

James McKinney: So most of your childhood was here in the states, and so when you got here and you were selling bubble gum on the school buses, as life progressed, what was your parents journey here in the US, and how did that impact your high school years? Because the reason I ask that question is that come the end of high school, it's an obvious closing of one chapter and beginning of another for you. So what was going on in your life at that point in time?

Marika Meeks: My dad has always been very focused on his work and I would call him a classic workaholic. He had a lot of stress. And actually, after my family moved here and I'm going to butcher the historical context of this, but I think you'll understand what I'm saying. Something I recall from it's a battle where there were men at sea and they get to this island, and they all get off and they're going towards the island. The captain or the general like sets their ships on fire, and the guys getting off the boat are like uh, we're going to need those, might not want to burn those just yet. He's like there's no option than moving forward and being victorious.

For me, I think about that often and I really should look it up and learn the historical context of it, but it's like you have road A and you have no longer an option. When life is like that, anytime your back is kind of up against the wall, you've got to make it work. You've got to find a way to make it work. When we moved over here, unfortunately my dad lost his job pretty quickly after we moved to Indiana. It was a really, really stressful time. Because a lot, though my dad had all the proper British security clearance to work in the defense field, now starting over in America, he didn't have any of the American security clearances. So in his line of work, nobody could hire him over here. It was a pretty desperate time. Then we found out that they had actually done our immigration papers wrong, and my whole family had to kind of go into hiding. We weren't allowed to answer the phone-

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Marika Meeks: Totally off the grid because, at that point, those ships that we came in, they had already burned. If we were to get deported, my parents would have lost everything. So a lot of stress, a lot of childhood stress. I remember there being a field day at school. I was out on the field and my dad was working of course, and my mom was there with me and it was a dad's day, but my dad couldn't be there. I remember playing with the other kids and I looked up and onto the horizon. I saw this figure walking towards, and the more I looked at it, I was like, "My dad's here!" I was so excited that my dad was here, he could make it to one of my school events. I went running up to him. I was like, "Dad, dad!" and he looked at me and he goes, "Where's your mother?"

James McKinney: Oh man.

Marika Meeks: I'm like she's on the bleachers, and he walked over to my mom, and that's where he proceeded to tell her that he'd just lost his job and now we're in America and we don't know what we're going to do next.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Marika Meeks: So yeah, a lot of stress but my parents, man, they're scrappers. They made it work. I'm so proud of them and the influence they've had on my life to push and do the next thing. Even if you're scared, you do it anyway. That's what I try and teach my girls as well.

James McKinney: That is awesome. At the end of your high school years, as you're looking for what that next step is, what was in your mind? What did you want to do?

Marika Meeks: I knew that being sort of an entrepreneur in terms of creating products and things like that excited me, but I was really, really lost. I really felt very isolated, very lonely, and I didn't have any one clear direction of what I was going to do next. I did, by the grace of God, graduate from high school because that was not my thing at all. Everybody was on my ass about what comes next, what are you going to do with your life, what are you this, this, this? And so I enrolled in college because I think a lot of kids feel a lot of pressure to go to college. I think that when you're a senior in high school, people often say, "Well what are you going to do next?" and it's like if you don't say you're going to college, you kind of feel like a loser, like you don't have a solid plan. I don't think necessarily that's the path for everyone.

James McKinney: Agreed.

Marika Meeks: I think we're finding that out through the gross abuse of the student loan issues, and kids ending up with degrees and then working for basically minimum wage at a job that doesn't even require a degree. That's a real shame. So did go that route. I entered into community college, and I was very specific about what it was I was interested in that I wanted to pursue. I was so frustrated that I had to waste time taking classes on things that felt like they had no interest and no bearing to really what my soul was calling me to do.

James McKinney: What was that? Because you said you knew what it is you wanted to accomplish, so aside from having an answer to the response of what are you going to do after high school, what was the reason for college? What did you want to do?

Marika Meeks: Nothing in particular with college. Really what I wanted to do was start being an adult. I wanted to have a job where I would have responsibilities, and I was learning how to do things in a practical sense. That's really where my interest was at that time. I don't even know if I finished that first semester. I really hated it and I thought you know what, I'm out of here. Then I set my sights on finding my first job and really getting some skills. I really recommend that to kids that are graduating high school or college. You don't have to have it all figured out right now. Get yourself a job somewhere because every job you have, no matter what it is, teaches you skills, gives you experience, creates confidence for the next thing that's going to come along, and none of that is ever going to be wasted.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that so thank you for sharing that with our younger listeners. I know we have some business school listeners and we have some, in fact I've had a few people on Instagram that are 17 and reached out so I know that will be of encouragement to them. So you leave school to get some working experience. If I'm not mistaken, at this time your dad still was running a business. Why did you not want to work for the family business?

Marika Meeks: I wanted to do my own thing and I wasn't particularly interested in that line of work. So I was 19. I met somebody, we got married quickly. Now when I look back, I really realize that one of the reasons I got married when I was 19 is first of all, I found someone that wanted me which seemed like a miracle because I didn't have very good self esteem at that time. But secondly, as soon as we said we were engaged, everybody was off my ass. It's like nobody wondered anymore what I was doing with my life. I had a plan and I was like oh, they're leaving me alone now. That was sort of a big relief for me, but the wrong reason to get married.

James McKinney: Yes, yes.

Marika Meeks: Marriage is not a career path, so yeah didn't work out all that well. Yeah, I was 19 and I was married, and we had bought our first house, and I was starting my first business in which I did specialty advertising products, everything from pens to t-shirts to hats to golf balls, you name it. Putting company logos on products. I loved the diversity of that work because every client that I worked with, every event that we did was different, and that's something I've really found for me is I'm a sprinter, not a marathoner. So I like things to be changing up and different, and be challenged. If I had to be a dentist that knew that my schedule for the next six months is literally blocked out every single day, that gives me massive anxiety just even thinking about that. So I prefer much more of the spontaneous change. I love the change.

James McKinney: So actually I want to unpack that a little bit because I think that is such an incredible lesson for people to understand. The idea of being a sprinter and not a marathoner, and knowing where your strengths are. How old were you when you started the promo product company?

Marika Meeks: 19.

James McKinney: So you're 19, you start the promo product company which means you have to become great at sales because now you're out there as a solo- preneur trying to get… you had to figure it out right? So when did you learn that trait about yourself, that you are great in the short sprints but the marathon race is a challenge for you?

Marika Meeks: I'm 47 now and it's taken me to this age to understand that the way that my mind works is a lot like my sock drawer. You can tell a lot about people as to how their sock drawer is organized. My sock drawer is a little bit different from my husbands. I always thought that was… I always felt bad about myself. I'm not as organized, I'm not as analytical, I'm not a list person, I'm not this, you know? My clothes aren't color coordinated. But my brain is not list driven. My brain is like all over the place and I'm always coming up with new ideas.

It's taken me really within the last three months to not feel like there's something wrong with me the way that I function and to appreciate the gifts, and for my husband and I to realize that the gifts that he brings are different from mine, which is great. It's not a bad thing. And that we complement each other. I can celebrate the gifts in my own makeup which is what makes me so creative.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that. There's going to be so much for our listeners to learn. Think about that. You're 47 now. If you could have figured that out about yourself at age 20, how much different things would be, how much faster we'd be able to move on our entrepreneurial endeavors because we understand our strengths in that. So thank you for sharing that learning with our listeners because we have listeners of all ages and stages.

So you're 20, you're married, you have promo product business. Obviously, we're not talking to you today because of your promo product business. So how long did that last? How did it dissolve and what was your next step?

Marika Meeks: It was a startup for me, and obviously we were young. We had a house, mortgage payment already. My parent's company at that time, it was just my mom and dad but they were growing quickly. My mom was gone all the time travelling. They needed help. So we sort of worked out a deal that I would work for them part time and I'd still be able to do my own thing at the same time.

I don't know if you've ever experienced this where you kind of have one foot in and one foot out, and you're feeling like you can't give all of your attention to either one so you're just in this constant state of kind of uneasiness feeling like you're not doing a good job at g. so I did that for probably about a year and I thought you know what, I'm tired of this. I don't want to do this anymore. I was at that point starting to see what my parents vision was, have a relationship with their customers, and I thought you know what, I'm going to jump full board on this and start working for my parents company fulltime, and that's what I did.

James McKinney: That is awesome. What was that company for our listeners?

Marika Meeks: I used to have really long answers to this and I've really shortened it down, but basically we provided specific software to office supply resellers. So not like the Office Depots or Staples, but like the mom and pop, independent office supply retailers. We provided all their specialized back end software. We were really one of the first companies, period, to start utilizing the internet for file distribution back in the days where there was CompuServe and things like that. We had all of our customers up on CompuServe. It wasn't to do with me, it was to do with my dad's vision, but very early adopters of that.

Then later, creating that same software program not in as much as having a computer with the hardware and software in front of you, the people using their own hardware and accessing our software via back then it was called an ASP over the internet, and it would run on our servers in Indiana. That was back in the I believe the late nineties, so it really was people were like what? You really had to explain the concept, but that was pretty cool.

James McKinney: That is awesome. The late nineties, you're talking really the boom of the internet and software solutions.

Marika Meeks: The crash.

James McKinney: Yeah, the crash as well. Amazon's '98 I think is when they consider their founding, so there was a lot happening in that time. But for a small independent software company, was the late nineties a period of stress for a small independent company, or was it really the boom for you guys?

Marika Meeks: We were always in such a massive growth mode. There was always a lot of stress. The more successful you become at something, the more all the sudden people are kind of nipping at your heels. We had some big players, such as at the time your younger listeners may not know this name, but like WorldCom, Bernie Ebbers who has been featured on American Greed, really high profile people that were coming at us. They wanted a piece of the pie of what we were doing.

There were times where I would be working on a Saturday and be the only one in the office, and I would see the caller ID come up and I knew what their phone number was in Virginia, but they were calling in acting like they were an interested customer and trying to get information from me. I never disliked corporate life as much as I did at that point, because I'm not a person that plays dirty. It just made me really sad.

It was especially sad to think that… actually, my very first experience with that wasn't even to do with being corporate. I used to show horses and the better I got at showing horses, the more money there is involved, and then I started seeing what people were willing to do to their horses to win. I can't be a winner. If I won fair and square, everyone would assume that I cheated, so it's like you don't even get the victory of really winning honestly because people just are so in tune with what it takes to win, you do whatever, and I wasn't going to do whatever.

So that was sort of my first taste of that sort of greed and the power grab. That continued on into my corporate life. I found that really, really scary. I felt outnumbered, outmanned. I felt the world of pressure on my shoulders to be up against the people that I was.

James McKinney: How old were you at that point?

Marika Meeks: I was probably maybe 30 at that point.

James McKinney: Okay. Still married, kids, what life-

Marika Meeks: I was married to my first husband and I had two small girls, yeah. So it was a lot of stress. I remember driving home on the freeway and somebody like cut in front of me really fast, and it was one of those moment where the adrenaline shoots through you. I thought I don't want to fight anymore. If this is my time, I'm done. I just felt so bereft of anything I needed emotionally to keep on going. It really, really was hard for me. So there's a lot of stuff like that, that comes along when you're dealing with employees, and being in business in general. There's a lot of dirty stuff. Going to a trade show, setting all your stuff the night before and having a competitor come and steal all your power cords. It's like why? Dude, why do you have to be like that?

James McKinney: So was that moment on the freeway where you just felt the weight of really it sounds like the weight of hopelessness is what it sounded like.

Marika Meeks: Yeah.

James McKinney: Was that the moment where you realized I've got to get out of this environment and start my own thing?

Marika Meeks: I had always had a dream. We moved to Indiana from California, and California is the land of great little sandwich shops. That had always been a dream. It's close to a hot dog stand, right? It's a sandwich shop, it's a type of sandwich.

James McKinney: You realize you're going to start the greatest debate in podcast history about is a hotdog a sandwich, I'm just going to put that out there.

Marika Meeks: I should go down in history for something. It's funny because I found a notebook, many years after I started the restaurant, where I had like sketched out what the menu was going to look like, the type of sandwiches I wanted. All this other stuff and it was years before but I'm really big, and some people call it having vision boards, but I'm really big in like stepping into the future before I'm there. That's a whole different topic that creates a whole other set of problems for me, but it's very effective at creating… making those visions a reality.

So I did. I kind of had this dream but I was kind of trapped. It's hard being in a family business, and at that point we had over 50 employees that relied on the company. My current husband worked for the company, my eldest sister worked for the company, my mom and dad both worked for the company. And I was the one that was sort of being tapped to be the succession plan for my mom and dad to retire, and I didn't feel like I had any options. I felt like me leaving, since I was the kind of the out front person for the company, I was the one that did all the trade shows and the figure head in terms of externally for the company, who was going to do that? I couldn't see a way. Who was I to leave and leave my whole family stranded without that succession plan, and jeopardize everybody's way of making a living at that point.

So I kind of sucked it up and I had two small kids. It was such a toll on me. It was such a toxic environment for me. I would say, "Okay, I want to start a new business." And I'd say, "Okay, why do you want to start a new business? To make money, okay." Then I'd be like, "Marika, you're already making really good money. You already have great benefits. You have a flexible schedule with the kids, so if you're doing it to make money, you already got that so why do you want to throw that all away, take a big risk, and start something new?" then I'd have these conversations, and I'd be like okay, yeah, you're right. I just need to get my head back in the game, I just need to really reinvest myself. I would try and for two or three days, I'd be like… keep worrying and being super intense. I just couldn't sustain it.

Have you ever heard someone say that it's more exhausting pretending that you're doing something than actually doing something? That's kind of like how it was for me. I felt like a fraud because I had to care about all these things, but on a soul level, I didn't care about any of those things. And trying to push forward with an initiative that isn't aligned with where you are spirtiually is the most draining thing ever. I actually had said to somebody at that point that I felt like staying there was like a cancer eating away at me. That's the level of trapped that I felt, and despondency that I felt about yearning to be me, but not being able to be.

I think that's a really important lesson, because when I actually had that cancer diagnosis and they actually were able to figure out how quickly that cell growth happened, I had had cancer at that point. So I think we need to pay a lot more attention to how we're resonating with what we're spending our time on. Wayne Dyer, if you listen to his 10 Secrets, he says don't die with your music still in you. You've got to be brave. One thing I've learned about being brave, is when you're being brave you're terrified, and I think a lot of people are confused by that, but John Wayne says, "Courage is being afraid and saddling up anyway." You can't be courageous or brave if you're not frightened, and I try to tell my girls that all the time. I'm like I know you're feeling anxious, I know you're feeling fearful. That's what makes you brave, because you're doing it anyway. So I would just encourage people that life is too short. Literally, I know that life is too short because I almost lost mine. There's nothing stopping you.

There's a great movie called The Edge, and there's a line in that movie that I refer to a lot. Anthony Hopkins says to Alec Baldwin, he says, "What one man can do, another can do." I always think of that, because there's nothing that makes you any different from me except for I keep on putting one foot in front of the other, you do as well, and everybody else can but they have to make that decision, and you have to be brave, and you have to be a little bit terrified.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, Marika, you are taking us to church. Oh that is awesome. You touched on your cancer diagnosis. I do want to sprint through your next steps from Britannia, the family business, because I want to get to that moment. I want to get to that moment where you're running another business and you get to the diagnosis. But from Britannia, you launch into pursuing the dream of a sandwich shop. But you didn't create your own sandwich shop, you franchised it, correct?

Marika Meeks: That's right.

James McKinney: What was the thought process in franchising versus creating? And I want our listeners to, again you're the first of all of our podcasts that someone has purchased a franchise and grown a franchise business. I think that is such an incredible way for entrepreneurs and want-repreneurs to look at entrepreneurship from the stand point of there's an existing model that I can buy into and grow with some support in that, and I think that's where franchises become incredibly valuable is the support system. So for that question back to you, why did you purchase a franchise versus creating something from nothing?

Marika Meeks: Well, part of the reason was that I was scared. You can ask any of my family members. I'm not a very good cook. I actually created a show at one point called Marika's 50/50 where I would just throw random ingredients together, and half the time it was okay and half the time it tasted like you know what, so that's Marika's 50/50. So I'm thinking huh, that makes me a great candidate to start my own restaurant, sure it does.

So I thankfully, and I don't say this about myself very much but I was smart enough to understand that I didn't know what I didn't know. It's okay not to know what you don't know. You can't possibly know how to do something you haven't done before, but the fact of the matter is when you're making a sizeable investment, which for me was half a million dollars, to open a new venture, you better find out as much as you can. Sometimes that comes from borrowing knowledge from other places. For me, that meant borrowing knowledge from an existing and successful model that I didn't have to figure out everything on the go. I couldn't afford to. I couldn't afford to figure it out as I went. I needed that business model, and that's really why I made that decision.

James McKinney: So one, I think it's brilliant and I think you bring up a great point about borrowing knowledge from an existing model that works. Again, it piggy backs to or supports what you said earlier about if someone else can do it, so can you, it's just a matter of continuing to take that step forward. What did you realize, and I want to unpack a little bit about the franchise business just for people to understand. It was a Jimmy John's, correct?

Marika Meeks: Yes.

James McKinney: So Jimmy John's franchise. You had multiple locations at the time of when you… You don't have those businesses anymore, correct? You sold the franchise?

Marika Meeks: No, we sold them.

James McKinney: But you grew up to what, eight locations I think it was?

Marika Meeks: We were four locations. We were actually negotiating on our third location I think. It was our final day of negotiations where that afternoon, I actually got a call from my doctor saying I had cancer. So that really rocked the boat a bit.

James McKinney: Yeah. So growing the business, the franchise business, what did you realize from an operations perspective that was surprising to you? Because you bought into a franchise thinking there's a lot of infrastructure, a lot of support. Did you know or think that you were going to be an owner/operator? Did you think this was a buy it and forget it type business? What were some of the things you learned in the franchise business?

Marika Meeks: A couple things. Franchises are good in as much as you don't have to reinvent the wheel, obviously. You don't probably make as much money because you're paying royalty fees and things like that. If you're a serial entrepreneur like I was that's used to sort of making your own way, you get your wings clipped in quite a significant way because you don't buy into a Jimmy John's to run it your way. You buy into a Jimmy John's to run it their way, and sometimes that was really challenging because they have a tendency, I think probably all franchises do, it's very easy for them to spend other people's money. I've grown up on a shoestring, so I make things work, and you don't always get that luxury when you're involved with somebody else controlling your destiny. There's the good and the bad.

I looked at a lot of different concepts, and I had a pretty soft gig. Literally. I'm sitting on my ass most of the time, in front of the computer, on the phone, that's what I did. That was my gig for 15 years of my life. I hated it, but it was 15 years of my life. So when I was looking at getting involved in a new concept, I was like oh I could do bagels, and I was like I don't know, I don't really want to get up that early and I don't really want to do that. We could do doughnuts. It was like I went through and I discounted all of these different businesses because I don't really want to adjust my schedule that much, and I really want the weekends off, and it would be nice if I could be done by 5, and all of this stuff.

And so this is one of the funny things about my involvement with Jimmy John's is I'm like oh, they open at 11 so I could get up, get the kids off to school, roll into the restaurant, get everything up and I'd have plenty of time by 11 so that was where my naivete came in. Actually when I started the restaurant, I was there at 5 a.m. every day, seven days a week for the first 18 months I did that. It was the hardest I had ever worked in my life. People would ask me, "Well, would you do it again?" I would, oh gosh, now I'm not so sure. It was a lot of work but I wouldn't have done it if I had known how much work it was going to be ahead of time, but once I was into it, I was glad that I made the decision to do it if that makes sense.

James McKinney: How hard were those 18 months to also be present for your daughter's, which I know is important for you, as well as now you're growing a franchise? How challenging was that period?

Marika Meeks: And I got a divorce in the middle of that too, so you know.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness.

Marika Meeks: Yeah, kind of throw a little gasoline on the fire. If you're going down, go down hard.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness. With all those things swirling, did you ever second guess your decision?

Marika Meeks: Only probably every five minutes of going through that. Here's one of the things I've learned about being an entrepreneur, and actually I learned this just the other day with the help of my youngest daughter, who is now 20. I realized that, and I'm sure a lot of entrepreneurs feel this way, there's a great sense of isolation when you feel like you're out there sort of braving it all. That can be an overwhelming thing. There's a great sense of, for me, that I was always feeling like a fraud because I felt like I always had to come off like I was confident and I knew what we were doing, and I knew where we were going, and this, that, and the other.

I couldn't certainly confide how I actually felt to my employees. I couldn't confide to my vendors. I couldn't confide to my customers. I had, every water I turned to, I had to act a certain way meanwhile, if I had those pants where the bottoms unzip and they turned into shorts, you would have seen my knees knocking the whole time. I realized that as much as I loved doing my own thing, being an entrepreneur for me has mainly represented me being stressed out and terrified, and always feeling like I'm on the precipice of failing and not being good enough.

I don't know, it's always been very, very stressful for me. That's what's been so interesting about where I am now, because some of those things are starting to resurface. I'm having what people would look at to be all this success, but at times I feel like I've never felt like such a failure. So I'm coming to terms with that. So my 20 year old helped me with that the other day and I feel like I'm under a lot of pressure from a lot of different directions with what I'm doing, and I feel very alone with that.

One day, she came over to visit and I just broke down and started sobbing. I was just so… and this was just a few weeks ago. I was just like I just can't take on more person coming to me and asking this question or that question. I don't have any more. I'm empty. I'm an empty vessel at this point. And so she asked me the other day before we left on the book tour, she said, "Mom, are you feeling any better?" and I said, "Yeah." I said, "I really realized that I have all this success but I feel like such a failure." And she goes, "That's interesting. I brag about you guys." And I go, "You do?" and she goes, "Yeah. I brag about how big a part you played in making Britannia successful and how you sold that company, and how you were the first person to bring a Jimmy John's into Fort Wayne and you grew that, and you sold that company. And how you moved out here to Arizona and you got involved in real estate and you were successful at that." She goes, "And how you got cancer and how you beat that, and now what you've created with IncredibullStella." She goes, "It's all amazing. That's what I brag about," and I kind of had this moment.

It took my 20 year old saying to me how she saw my life, and then all of the sudden how I saw it, and I saw everything I've done that other people would view as successful, I've carried around this profound sense of being a failure and not being good enough. This was just last week and I thought I've got to change this. I have to recognize this pattern now and I have to realize that I'm doing good things in the world. I have to own that and I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of not being good enough. I'm tired of feeling as if I'm not worthy and that I can work hard and move towards my dreams and feel good about it.

James McKinney: I hope, this was the most electric four minutes in The Startup Story history. I hope every single listener can get to a quiet place, because they're probably listening while they're driving, but get to a quiet place where they can just rewind that a few minutes and listen to everything you said, because everything you're experiencing, that you experienced a couple weeks ago before your daughter poured into you, that is why I started The Startup Story. Because that process you were in, that state you were in, is common among entrepreneurs but no one talks about it. The reason I want to bring all this narrative to the surface is so that entrepreneurs can feel as though they're not alone, as though there's a community.

Now, how I can activate The Startup Story listeners into actually creating a community, that's something I need to be figuring out, but that is why I started The Startup Story, so thank you so much for being so transparent in just how recent all those feelings were. But now I do want to go into the Jimmy John's stage when you get the call from your doctor. The reason being is it is the month of October. The month of October, the NFL, there's so many places that bring awareness to breast cancer during the month of October. I would love to just tell more and more stories of breast cancer survivors who were founders and how they navigated it.

We know entrepreneurship is hard. We know that there are some challenges in entrepreneurship, but one of the things that not everyone knows and can relate to is how much more challenging it all becomes when you are faced with something that is life threatening. So with everything that was going on in your world, how did you navigate everything that goes on with breast cancer? Again, I apologize for my naivete in this space, but just in the numerous doctor's appointments and the treatments, and in the family conversations that had to take place as you were diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Again, I apologize for not knowing exactly the severity of all the different stages, but when you… how did you do it all?

Marika Meeks: I had an amazing thing happen to me when I opened up my first Jimmy John's, and I was in a very sort of emotionally abusive marriage for 17 years. When I finally found the location I wanted to lease for my first restaurant, I met the developer who had developed the shopping center. There was something about he and I that clicked that day. We were both married to other people, but he was the first person that I felt like ever helped me. We became friends because he had to help me with the build out. I was doing it all by myself. I had no idea about construction or anything else. There's a lot involved with opening up a restaurant.

So we worked together pretty closely for several months and we became friends. I confided in him some of the things that were going on at home for me and one day, I was telling him something that was really upsetting to me and we were at a coffee shop where we happened to bump into each other. At that moment, he like slammed his fist on the table and he said to me, he goes, "Enough is enough. When are you going to do something about this?" My first reaction was, is I was like oh man, now he's pissed at me too. So he was just really rattled by what I had told him, and he was saying, "You need to do this and you need to do that." I'm nodding my head, but inside we've all had those experiences where inside you're like yeah, not doing that, and I could never do that. But I was just trying to kind of placate him. I left there and I thought oh man, he's mad at me and that didn't feel good. I didn't need that on top of already feeling the way I was feeling.

Then I had this moment where I realized that he wasn't mad at me. He was mad for me. There's a big difference between those two things. It doesn't sound like a lot, but there's a big difference. It cracked the door for me at that point, thinking to challenge my own beliefs of what I could and I couldn't do. So that was a big sort of catalyst. Later on, that man became my husband and it was through that partnership and that loving relationship for the first time in my life that I have someone who I felt really loved me, made me feel loved, made me feel worthy. I remember a moment before we were married, we were standing in the kitchen and I thought so highly of him. We were looking up at each other and he had just kissed me, and I saw this look in his eye and I realized if this person that I thought so highly of could look at me like that, maybe there was something lovable about me after all. It changed my life.

We ended up getting married. Two years into that is when I got my cancer diagnosis. So I had a wonderful partner for the first time in my life, who put me ahead of everything else, never made me feel like a burden. Although it was a partnership that we grew the stores together, he basically fired me from being involved anymore because of the stress and because he really wanted me to focus on my health. He basically said, "The restaurants don't matter if in a year you're dead. They just don't matter."

So he took on not only 100% of responsibility for the restaurants, but he also took on my two daughters and has been a dad to them. When I eventually left Indiana to pursue an alternative treatment out in Scottsdale, he handled everything for the seven months that I was gone. That's a blessing that I will have eternal gratitude for, is this guardian angel that walked into my life. In fact, I remember one day before we were really together, he had stopped in the sandwich store and I saw him kind of coming in, but I pretended not to see him kind of thing, you know, to not act too excited.

It was cold and he was wearing this long winter coat and he walked in. I looked up from the register and he's standing in the lobby. I just remember that I just wanted him to open up his coat and I just wanted to climb inside and have him wrap it around me like Batman, right, just wrap it around me. And I realized that what this man's given me for the first time in my life is a place where I can feel not only love but I can feel safe. So I know that's not very helpful probably to other people, but I have to acknowledge that as being a huge part of where I am today and the gift that I've been given by having him in my life.

James McKinney: Your journey is going to be a new experience for a lot of listeners because it includes a variable that most of my listener base I assume does not have experience with, and that is life threatening illness. So thank you for sharing the safety and security that your husband brought in that season, brought to you period, and how he provided during that season of health. But there's something just from an entrepreneurial perspective that I do want to ask. You said he had to fire you, so are you saying that even with the diagnosis you still had your mind engaged in the business, that he had to boot you from it? It wasn't just a perspective shift like I just don't care about anything else anymore, it is all about getting through this. What was going on?

Marika Meeks: I think when you get a cancer diagnosis, it's kind of like you're looking out the window of a second story building and you're watching all the people mill around like a swarm of ants going about their daily lives. All the sudden, it's not relevant to you anymore. You're cut from the herd. You're living life sort of as an observer and not like actively pursuing it.

I mentioned earlier that the day I got the call from my doctor was the same day that we were in our last negotiations to close on buying another restaurant, which we put on hold at that point because we had no idea what was going on. It took me probably a month and a half, and I told Brian, I said, "I think we should go ahead and buy that restaurant. We were planning on doing it, it was in our plan. If I'm going to have a future, we need to start living like there's a future that we're living for, and I think that's important to move forward."

We bought that restaurant and I thought okay, I can go back in like a limited way and still be involved. Of course, we bought that restaurant and it just so happened that one of our managers got in a car crash so Brian had to cover that store. The new store that we were buying that week, the day we bought it two of the managers quit. It was like Brian can only be at so many places at once. I had to step in and cover this. So I did. I was worried about it because I just didn't feel like I was in a place of doing that work, but I couldn't dock more on my husband. There were no other resources. There was no place else to run.

I didn't say anything about it and I just kept on working. Then about a month later, I was sitting in the chair and I don't know, I scratched my chest or something and I felt another lump. I just like completely broke down, and Brian's like, "What's wrong?" I said, "I feel a lump." He's trying to keep me calm and I said, "Feel it," and he goes, "Yeah, I feel it too." I cried the entire night, the entire night. It was just like I just couldn't take anymore. Woke up the next morning and I told him, I said, "I have been, the universe has been telling me that I shouldn't be working in the restaurants." Of course, I'm sobbing over this too. I might start crying now. But I said, "I'm supposed to be your partner in this. We're moving forward with this because this was my idea, and I can't leave this to you. I want to be your partner."

That's when he told me, he said, "No, it's not going to do me any good if you're dead in a year so you have to take care of you." We went to church, came home. I was getting changed and I went to feel that lump again and it was gone. I thought are you kidding me? Not that I wanted the lump, but it's like my body was telling me you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing right now, you're focusing on the wrong things.

So I've learned to be a lot more in tune with my intuition and the messages that my body is sending me. And we haven't talked about this, but it was my intuition that diagnosed my cancer after I had four mammograms and a doctor's visit that said that I had nothing to worry about. I finally, after having an experience one night that just shook me to my core, all I had done when I went to bed is reach over to kiss Brian. As I reached over, my hand kind of grazed over where that lump had been in my breast. I was instantly flooded with this adrenaline and dread, and I was like what is going on? I realized it was when I grazed across where that lump was. I told Brian that night.

It was a Sunday. I said, "Tomorrow I'm demanding a biopsy." I did that on Monday. Friday, the doctor called me and said those words that nobody wants to hear, "I'm really sorry, but you have cancer." By that point, I was stage three. By that point, they said I'd had cancer for six to eight years. That's part of the reason why I declined chemotherapy too, is my intuition was like yeah, no.

James McKinney: unbelievable. Oh my goodness. I wills actually, I love how you owned your medical decisions in all of that. This is not a medical podcast, but I tell it to people all the time, you have got to own your medical decisions. So thank you for sharing that and that being part of your journey.

Marika Meeks: People were very upset about my decision to not do chemotherapy. One of the reasons I didn't do it is that, first of all I'd already felt kind of let down because I felt like I followed conventional medicine, the medical advice and now I'm stage three cancer. It's like how does that happen? And I basically diagnosed it, nobody else did. They were only giving me 61% chance to make it to five years. I thought that's like flipping a coin. That's literally flipping a coin and I'm supposed to do that. So we had a lot of backlash.

I would never advise about on what to do, because I believe what you just said, medical choices have to come from within and what you believe is right for you. I am not in any position, nor is anybody else, to say, "I really think you should do such." Oh really? You think you know what's best for me? Oh thanks so much. But I had to even write my family a letter, and this is sort of the entrepreneurial side coming out again, where I was like, "Look, I know you love me and I know that you're scared, and I know that you don't want me to die. But I have to make this decision for me. I am the CEO of me. Brian is the project manager, and we have a plan on how we're going to beat this thing."

It does come down to being responsible and in charge of yourself. I had to learn that the hard way, and I didn't do chemo but it doesn't mean to say I didn't suffer because it was a really rocky journey for me.

James McKinney: How long was the entire, before you were cleared of cancer, from diagnosis to clearance how long was that journey?

Marika Meeks: Two years.

James McKinney: Two years. One of the reasons I love to talk with people about their stories, and whatever their story may be, entrepreneurship, medical challenges, marital challenges, whatever the case, I love people and I love their stories and their journey. We get to hear from someone, from you, who experienced a perspective that many of us may not ever experience until maybe later years or until we get a diagnosis for something. Sometimes it's a little too late for this learning. So for someone who's been faced with mortality, now looking back, what is the one thing you look at from just a complete perspective shift of how you navigated your 30 something years up to diagnosis, and how you now navigate life post cancer, because of that two year journey?

Marika Meeks: I think of cancer this way. I wouldn't wish it on anybody else. I wouldn't want to do it again. But I wouldn't undo anything I've been through, because for me, cancer has been a gift. It's been a catalyst to finally wake up and start living life authentically as Marika Meeks, and I've never done that before. I'm so grateful for the opportunity. What would have happened to my life if I had been diagnosed at 81 instead of 41? Too late to make changes at that point, for the most part. But I had the gift of cancer when I was early forties. I had the wakeup call. My husband and I realized, in a very legitimate way, truly how short life was.

That's one of the reasons why we picked up and move to Arizona. I was there for seven months. I fell in love with the area. We were kind of burned out on the restaurants, 112 employees under the age of 26, you get what I'm saying. And we just decided we were fortunate enough to have been profitable with the business, and we had several buyers that were interested in buying our stores. We said, "Let's go." Just like my mom and dad did. I'm just realizing that. Where are the suitcases, and we packed up and we left.

James McKinney: That is amazing. Unbelievable. You know, having that perspective, and I hope in our show notes we're going to have a link to get your new book, IncredibullStella.

Marika Meeks: I was just going to say we haven't even talked about dogs yet, that's what I'm all about.

James McKinney: Yep, yep. There's going to be a link in the show notes for you to get that book, IncredibullStella, but I do want to for the sake of time, advance a little bit through that journey. Again, I think because of the perspective shift you had, and of course the book will lay out some amazing breadcrumbs that led you to Stella, your beautiful pit bull, and again I really hope the listeners will get this book. But that perspective shift you had, having journeyed through cancer, having had the successful businesses you've had and all the things, how did you start this new venture that is the journey of Stella if you will, with a different roadmap than your other startups?

Marika Meeks: I didn't know it was a startup to begin with, so I didn't really have a roadmap, and that's kind of one of the challenging things about probably what causes me a lot of pressure today is this is very different from making a half million dollar investment and knowing in six months I can open the doors to start selling sandwiches, or hot dogs, or whatever they happen to be, or Bubblicious. So it's scary because I don't really know where this is going. All I know is that I asked for guidance and I ask for awareness every day like what's the next step, where do I need to be, what do I need to do. I try to get out of my own way in terms of getting the fear out of the way and doing it anyway.

And one of the scariest things for me was to really be open and authentic with people, because a lot of us are afraid that if we are that people will look down on us or not think… will think differently of us. So I really challenged myself with our journey with Stella. She now has, we have like 80,000 followers, to show up as me. So one of the things we do on Wednesday mornings is we give a little like inspirational talk. This is how it goes. It's six a.m., I roll out of bed. I've got my cup of Starbucks. I probably have mascara under my eyes, my hair is sticking up every which direction. That's how I show up, because that's what's real for me at that moment.

Although that probably sounds kind of weird, I have received such a gift from knowing that people can see me at what I perceive to be my worst and they still like me. That feels uncomfortable to even say out loud, but it's like I feel because I've had such acceptance from them, it's also allowed me to have a lot more grace and acceptance towards myself. I recommend you do show up and be yourself. You don't have to be like everybody else because there's enough audience members to go around that are going to resonate with your style just as they will with anybody else's.

James McKinney: That brings up a great point. Can you unpack, obviously there's the book, there's the social platform, but can you unpack what your new business is?

Marika Meeks: Well, that's a tough question. That's something I ask myself every day because it seems to be evolving all the time. I have like visions of where I think it's going. Our first book just came out. We've been number one new release on Amazon for over a month now, which is very exciting. We're in Target as a recommended read. We've been endorsed by Jackson Galaxy from Animal Planet, so those are all super cool things. We're working on a second book proposal, which is awesome.

I want a feature film. My feature film, I've already started writing it, is about a middle aged woman who is dealing with the same sort of health crisis as I am, who is sort of like a phoenix rises from the ashes, scarred from her warrior wounds of what she's been through, recreating her life, but she is an equalizer or say vigilante of sorts who gets involved with animal situations and rights the wrongs. I'm very excited about if that concept and the story that we've already written and put forth towards that, so that's my… that's ambitious to have a movie. I even have my actors picked out and everything, but it's like you've got to go there. You've got to see it before you get there. Maybe that sounds unrealistic, but it doesn't really matter. It's what's inspiring to me. It's what keeps me going and focused and drives me.

Whatever comes of it, and this is something I think is so important, there is nothing you could ever do that you could chalk up to be a total failure or waste of time. I look back at all the things I've done in my life that I haven't enjoyed. Every single one of them has prepared me to be exactly where I am right now. At the time you're thinking oh man, that didn't work out and you feel like an ass because you tried something that failed, or you perceive that it failed, and then you realize three years later you're having to use that same skill set for a new endeavor. It's preparation, people, it's not failure.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness. This is unbelievable. I really… I know I myself have just been incredibly encouraged and inspired by your story. Just to be able to see how does someone who has seen potentially the latter years of their life and come from it, and now is growing something completely different in alignment with their passions. That is encouraging to me. That is a learning to me. That is something that I get to take away from this and I hope our listeners will do the same. Now again, I hope our listeners will get the book and hear the journey of how Stella came to be into your life, because it is unbelievable.

Again, it's one of those breadcrumbs throughout your entire journey you can see, just leading up to this moment. And we get to learn from it without having to go through the challenges of cancer, should we choose to learn from it, and I think the listeners will have to either chalk this up as an episode that doesn't relate to them and it would be foolishness, or they're going to look at this and think okay, wait a second, I can absolutely change the way I view how I approach my business. I can change the way I view how I enter a new business, all from someone who has seen what could have been potentially the latter years of their life.

Marika Meeks: Well one thing I forgot to mention, our whole purpose, you asked what's my business now and I got all excited about this movie and story idea I'm working on. I want to explain why, what's the why behind that. The why is not necessarily to have a movie. The why is to advance three things that are really core to my mission. One is to encourage people to adopt and not shop their dogs, because we have a massive over population issue at the shelters. Two is to encourage and underwrite spay and neuter initiatives all across the country. And three is to advocate for pit bull type dogs everywhere to give them a fair shake, and really everything comes back to that. Everything that I do that builds the platform is so that I have a wider audience that I can share those messages with on a constant basis, and I am committed to using my second chance at life to help these dogs get a second chance too. That's really the core, the seed of everything, the genesis of why I do what I do today.

James McKinney: That is awesome. As a pit bull owner, thank you so very much for doing that. They are amazing dogs, and so I love that you're doing that. So now, the two questions I end every episode with, and I say it often, I love these questions. If I had to somehow bring The Startup Story down to just a 20 minute episode, I don't know how I would do it, but if I had two these are the two questions that I would make sure always make the cut.

That first one is about gratitude. I'm excited to hear from you, because again you just have a different perspective that a lot of us won't get the opportunity to have. So when we think back on our journey, from childhood to now, if we forget all the people that poured into our lives to get us to where we are today, I truly believe we'll become isolated because we'll start thinking we got to where we were on our own, and that ultimately will lead to our failure.

So when you look back on your journey, who are the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your story?

Marika Meeks: When I was in middle school, I had a bus driver. His name was Dave Hallmeir. I liked Dave, and Dave liked me. He enabled my candy selling adventure on the school bus. He was very supportive. But there were two girls on there that were known bullies and I was okay for a while, and then they started targeting me. I remember they were just awful. I can't even recreate it, but they were just awful. I remember them coming at me on the school bus. He stood up for me one day. He said, "You're sitting here," and I sat directly behind his chair as the school bus driver. He protected me. He made me feel safe. He made me feel important.

I've been blessed with several guardian angels over the years that were able to sort of step in for me, and maybe they saw something in me, maybe they were just kind people. I don't know which way it is, but I think it's really important that the actions that you take with respect to other people, you may not realize the impact you've had on them but they'll always realize. They'll always hold you in that high esteem. You can really make a difference, and that difference isn't necessarily something that you're going to feel, but it's a legacy of yourself you're leaving with them.

We've got to look out for one another and not tolerate bullies. If somebody needs a hand, you help them and you've got to do that with love and kindness to any other living being that you see, dogs, people included.

James McKinney: Oh my goodness, that is awesome. So the last question as our time comes to an end, we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners and most of them are entrepreneurs and want-repreneurs. The Startup Story is like a digital mentor for all of them. But I'd like to bring the conversation down to just you and one person.

That person could be any of my listener personas. The frustrated entrepreneur who is not getting the traction they thought. Maybe it's a lot harder than they thought. Maybe it's the want-repreneur that maybe they're 60 and they think they're too old, or maybe it's someone who's in their forties and they have a mortgage and a spouse and kids, and they think the responsibilities are too high to pursue their dreams and their passion. Or maybe it's the defeated entrepreneur who has just been punched in the gut time and time again, and they're just willing to call it quits.

Whatever persona you want to speak to, I want to bring the conversation down to just you and that person. What do you say to that person?

Marika Meeks: I think I've been all of those people, probably sometimes all at the same time. So all I can say is that whatever you do has to resonate and I think that it's really important even if you don't know where you're going, you've got to keep trying new things. You've got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you take a job that you don't like, quit. Do something else.

You have to live within your means. I was just telling my daughter this the other day. You don't want to get the good job that has the great paycheck and then get a newer car, more expensive place to live, and then six months later realize I don't really like this guy I'm working for, or I don't think this company is very ethical, and then you're thinking I've got to pay the rent and I've got a car to pay for. And so I think it's really important to save what you can to have your own financial freedom. Not just financial freedom. It gives you freedom when you're not tied down by the bigger house or the nicer car.

So buy what you can afford to buy, but don't put yourself in a situation where you're limiting your options because there was a point in time where I was with our first company, Britannia, and I thought well, you know what, if I'm going to work at a job that I hate then I might as well have a nicer house. I almost fell into that trap of realizing I get the nicer house with the bigger mortgage and I have the noose a little bit tight around my neck, and I'm never leaving here. So that would be my advice is try to keep yourself as free and independent as possible and that way you can make decisions on a dime and change your mind and go a different direction. At the very least, you learn something, you learned what you didn't like, and you can move in a different direction.

James McKinney: Part of what makes The Startup Story so incredibly unique is it allows us to learn from someone's journey each and every single week. I hope that through Marika's story you walk away with a new perspective on challenge, as well as a new desire to fight and endure. I love that Marika shared earlier that every single step or misstep is setting you up for a new opportunity. It's all preparation and not failure, and it's in that strength that Marika can look at her battle with cancer as a gift. Wow, what a perspective shift. And what a powerful story. I hope you found some real value in Marika's startup story.

If you've been around The Startup Story for length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you have found any value in Marika's startup story, there are three easy ways we can support Marika in her entrepreneurial journey. The first is incredibly simple, and that's follow IncredibullStella on Instagram. That's Incredibull, B-U-L-L, a play on pit bull, IncredibullStella on Instagram. The second way, of course buy her new book, Incredibull Stella: How the Love of Pit Bull Rescued a Family. We're going to have a link in our show notes to get a copy, so make sure you get that. And the third is once you've read her book, leave her a review on Amazon. All these platforms that we talk about, written reviews really mean something. It's huge for being discovered. So let's show up for Marika Meeks in a huge way. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make this happen for Marika.

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.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

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.

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October 01 2019
Marika Meeks, founder of IncredibullStella

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