This week on the podcast my guest is Meghan Asha, founder of FOUNDERMADE. Meghan and the FOUNDERMADE team are focused on bringing consumer brand companies together with some of the largest retail buyers in the world. Meghan has helped hundreds of startups in the consumer product space elevate their brand. She also has a real passion for connecting the right people together for mutual value. I love what this can do for startups in this space and I loved hearing Meghan’s personal startup story.
This week on the podcast my guest is Meghan Asha, founder of FOUNDERMADE. Meghan and the FOUNDERMADE team are focused on bringing consumer brand companies together with some of the largest retail buyers in the world. Meghan has helped hundreds of startups in the consumer product space elevate their brand. She also has a real passion for connecting the right people together for mutual value. I love what this can do for startups in this space and I loved hearing Meghan’s personal startup story.
In this episode, you’ll find out just how important it is to stay focused on, as Meghan puts it, “your 90-year-old self” so that you can build a life you will be proud of when you’re, well, 90 years old! You will also hear how critical it is to shut down all the negative self-talk if you want any chance of success. And finally, you’ll see how important it is to have grace for yourself on this journey of entrepreneurship.
What is so interesting about Meghan’s startup story is that it took various people in her life to see her passion for connecting people together as a business, before she ever saw it as a business herself. But like all Startup Stories, we need to start at the very beginning to understand the full journey. This is Meghan Asha’s startup story.
“I had people believing in me long before I believed in myself.”
—Meghan Asha, FOUNDERMADE
Connect with Meghan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meghanasha/
FOUNDERMADE website: https://www.foundermade.com/
The Startup Story featuring Emma Rose Cohen: https://www.thestartupstory.co/finalstraw
FOUNDERMADE Events: https://www.foundermade.com/events-1
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Special Guest: Meghan Asha.
The Startup Story - Meghan Asha
Meghan Asha: Hi, I'm Meghan Asha and I'm the founder of FOUNDERMADE, 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.
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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on our Facebook page by Josh Stein. "I love listening to The Startup Story and have been an avid listener since the early days. James has a passion for telling stories that matter, and each story is inspiring and motivational. If you're an entrepreneur or want to become one, you need to listen to these stories." Thank you for this incredible recommendation, Josh. I hope more and more entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs are made aware of The Startup Story, because these stories need to be heard. I truly believe that if more entrepreneurs can be made aware of the real challenges that occur on the entrepreneurial journey, then more entrepreneurs will be able to endure the challenges. So often we think we are alone in our challenges and struggles, and then internalize that challenge as though we're not fit for entrepreneurship, when that is simply not the case. Unfortunately, we all hear about the startups that made it to the mountain top, and not very often do we get the opportunity to hear the journey that got them there.
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Now let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Meghan Asha, founder of FOUNDERMADE. Meghan and the FOUNDERMADE team are focused on bringing consumer brand companies together with some of the largest retail buyers in the world. So if you're consumer product company in the beauty, health, and wellness verticals, then make sure to visit foundermade.com to learn more. They're dedicated to helping small brands become medium brands, and eventually large brands. In fact, on June 26 they're having their East Coast discovery show where buyers, distributors, investors and influencers all gather, so you might want to consider being there if you're in that industry. Again, visit foundermade.com to learn more.
I became aware of FOUNDERMADE after we launched our episode featuring Emma Rose Cohen of FinalStraw, and I'm so glad I did. Meghan is wired like I am, with a strong authentic desire to help small businesses connect with the right people to fully maximize their brand and market potential. FOUNDERMADE is about bringing small consumer product brands to the table with large retail buyers. I love what this can do for the startups in this space, and I loved hearing Meghan's personal startup story.
In listening to Meghan's startup story, you'll hear how important it is to stay focused on, as she puts it, your 90 year old self so you can build a life you'll be proud of when, well, you've guessed, 90. You'll learn how critical it is to shut down all the negative self talk if you want any chance of success, and you will hear how important it is to have grace for yourself in this journey of entrepreneurship. Meghan has helped hundreds of startups in the consumer product space elevate their brand and has a real passion for connecting the right people together for mutual value. What is so interesting about Meghan's startup story is that it took various people in her own life to see her passion for connection people together as a business, before she ever saw it as a business for herself. But like all startup stories, we need to start at the very beginning to understand the full journey.
Meghan Asha: My dad came from India with a backpack and nothing else, and he bought a patent from Hewlett Packard and he started a company when I was two years old, so ever since I was two years old, I heard is daddy's company going public. So he basically 20 something years, being the founder and CEO of this technology company that started with a patent, and then turned into a publicly traded company. So I watched my dad's entrepreneurial journey. It was up and down. I'm sure now, looking back, and now seeing how it is to run a company, I can only imagine what it was like to have four kids, to be running a company, to be first generation Indian in America, working with the Wall Street bankers when he went public and the whole thing. It was definitely like a special journey for him.
But I actually didn't think I was going to be an entrepreneur. I was into musical theater. I wanted to be an architect at some point. I liked math. But I was very type A. I had to be in charge a lot, so if I wasn't in like the highest math class I'd figure out how to get into the highest math class. Figure out… if I wasn't in the highest dance class, because I wasn't even a great dancer but I really just needed to make sure that I was. Always very type A, always need to be in the advanced, need to be in charge of student council, whatever it was, president of clubs, whatever it could be. I was definitely involved and needed a lot of activity.
James McKinney: Where do you think that came from though? Do you attribute that need, that wiring to your upbringing? Can you point to a single part, like this is where I got it from? Were you the oldest of multiple kids? Where do you think that came from?
Meghan Asha: So I was the oldest of multiple kids and there was a five year age difference. That I think was a combination, and then I also just think it's a personality thing. I love being busy and if I'm not busy I'm stressed, so I'm so happy that I have found a way to be not bored, because otherwise I'd be stressed out what I was not doing in the world. So at least I have a lot of energy. What I noticed, even my dad who's in his seventies, he has more energy now than he ever did. So I just know that it's probably going to just not get any better, or it's going to get even better throughout the years.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So you're wrapping up your high school years and what did you think you wanted to be? What was your career trajectory? What were you thinking that your life was going to be post high school?
Meghan Asha: So I think I was a pleaser. That was a big thing for me. I think I really wanted to please my dad especially, because he had become successful and I'd watched that culture, that trajectory and so I put him on a pedestal. I was also first born Indian. I felt like first born Indian daughter, son, whatever you want to say, it was this thing where I'd bring home an A or an A-, and he'd say, "Where's the A+?" So there was that type of wanting to please and win, maybe for love. I don't know exactly why, but so really when I went to college, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I first was a theater major, then went to psychology and became a psychology major. Then went into hedge funds after school because I thought it would impress my dad. So I thought, "Hey, this is like the coolest part of the stock market and I'll have independence. I'll make a lot of money. I'll get to work with these people that seem fancy." What I learned, I worked for two hedge funds. One performed a mini Madoff and then the other one went to jail. He's like the richest Sri Lankan and he went to jail.
James McKinney: Wow.
Meghan Asha: Very well known for his technology hedge fund on the street, very well known, in the news. So that was like my first welcome to careers and career trajectories. The lesson I have is you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have integrity, you have nothing.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Meghan Asha: So that, I think it was a very interesting realization for me just value system wise of what mattered and what really matters to me as I build a business and build a mission.
James McKinney: You know, it's interesting in just hearing the early days of your story. In the history of The Startup Story podcast, we've had a few first generation immigrants here on the show, founders. There's a common thread in it. One is the work ethic. It's seeing what your parents had to do to make a life here. We've had two Iranian Americans on the show, and there's a people pleasing element to it. Do you find that? Just because I'm super interested in commonalities. Do you find that to be something that is a very strong presence in children of first generation immigrants?
Meghan Asha: I think when you're a child of any immigrant, I think because your parents are working so hard and want to give you so much a great life, they probably project what they would have hoped that they had growing up, and I see that with a lot of my friends, similar, where they just have something to prove. They know that their parents came here and started with nothing, and started and really worked and it's so, so important and valuable that the next generations build things. I'm so lucky. I am so blessed, but I need to spread the luck. Part of why I'm doing what I'm doing is because I couldn't imagine just sitting back and not building something when I have a family that came here and seized opportunity, and I also want to seize opportunity and build.
James McKinney: That's awesome. That is absolutely fantastic. So your hedge fund, the two funds that you worked for, had a very interesting storyline to them. Both within the realm of corruption. So you went into hedge funds because you wanted to please your father, because musical theater and psychology were not a track that would follow that journey. So my question to you is when those things happened, when those hedge funds closed, what did that mean for you and what was that dialog like with your father?
Meghan Asha: Well, it was funny because I had gotten this job and it was big job on Wall Street. We had every bank wining and dining us. The champagne was flowing. I was 24 in New York City, the whole thing. Two women in the male dominated morning meetings, sort of like a Wolf of Wall Street thing. I thought oh my goodness, look at me dad. Look at what I'm doing. You know what he said? He says, "I think that's interesting, but I feel bad because you're not really building anything. I came to this country to build and finance is great, but what are they building?" So then all the sudden, I'm like wait. So it was almost like this throughout my whole career with him for a while. It was trying to please and do things, and then him giving feedback and saying it was almost not good enough or these little things, until I had one of our first conferences. He comes to the conference and he is blown away. It's so interesting that the thing that made me the most happy and that where I was the most in the power of what I was actually supposed to do in the world was the thing that my dad ended up being the most proud of, even though it was such a hard journey to figure out. I wasn't doing it for him at that point. I was doing it for myself.
James McKinney: Oh, that's awesome. Isn't that amazing, though, how those two align though, when you do it for yourself, also your parent. As a parent, I can see that if my child was to be authentic to them, that would bring me the greatest joy in what it is they do. So it's amazing how those two align. But before we jump ahead to FOUNDERMADE, what happened after the closing of the funds? What was your next step? Did you move to another fund? Does it create, are you now on a blacklist because you're associated with those funds? What was that next step?
Meghan Asha: I left before the funds imploded, but definitely interesting journey on that. So I had left maybe six months before we found out the bigger funds, the guy was going to jail and nobody really knew about it. I had left and then I had taken a job at another fund, and I remember CES came along. This is like the funny thing about all the breadcrumbs. You don't really realize. This is actually 10 years ago. I didn't want to be at any more hedge funds. I was like done with finance. I have never done this in my entire life, but I was like I need to be at CS. I know I'm supposed to be at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show for those not familiar with it. I just gave my two weeks and said I was going to CES.
I didn't have any job optionality. I went with a friend that ended up being a business partner for my first business. Went and had no idea why I was there, but I just was so obsessed with innovation. I was so obsessed with founders, so obsessed with technology. That was like the gateway of tradeshows. It was just a whole thing that now I look back, and it's we're building something similar, but in the consumer sector. You never know why you have an inclination of doing things, but I pulled up like a photo off of Facebook 10 years ago, and I was like hugging the CES ball and it was 10 years ago, and no idea why I was there. I just knew I wasn't going to be in finance anymore and I needed to be in tech and media. So you just don't know.
I think that it's interesting when people come out of school and we have a lot of interns, and young people working at FOUNDERMADE. They all are worried and they're so stressed out about where are they going to go with their career. I know I was in the same, same place. It was not helpful for me to be really, really stressed out and hard on myself while I was trying to figure out my career. I try to tell them, "Listen, you're not going to really know but what you need to do is give it your all in whatever job you're in, and you'll understand what you like, you don't like. Then at some point, you're going to find your home and it's just going to feel fully aligned with what you're supposed to do in the world."
James McKinney: Yeah. I mean the twenties are a decade of training. Whether it be at college or whether it be in your first jobs, internships, that is a decade of training. If you're living 80 years, say you're working 60, that is a decade of training to just go into your thirties or your late twenties and get after. People have too much pressure in their twenties because they see these tech startups or some 18 year old is hacking out of high school, sells something for $100 million or becomes Zuckerberg at 22, whatever. They see these narratives and they think that has to be the norm, and it is not. It is the anomaly. There is a selection bias, the fact that those get all the media and all the attention. That's why we have The Startup Story so we can tell all the real stories. So when you're at CES, I have not been to CES, it is a bucket list item I want to go. That is everything. That's my nirvana is what that is. So when you're there, what are you processing? Because you felt like you were pulled there, but what were you processing? Were you thinking I want to be in conventions? Were you thinking I just want to be in technology? What was going on?
Meghan Asha: I am the friend of the founder. I love humans and I love watching humans build, and I love understanding why humans build what they build. I love innovation so for me, it was I think at some point I was in media and I was like maybe I'm the Suzie Ormond of tech. This was like the first iteration, and so that's when I started the digital media platform that was one of my first businesses as an entrepreneur. I had no idea. Trade shows, I didn't even know what trade shows were for a long time. I just kind of was going to these conferences, just obsessed with founders, wanting to tell their story, and wanting to help them build.
James McKinney: So let's put a timestamp on this. What year, and how old were you, for that CES trip?
Meghan Asha: I was in my twenties. It was, what was it, 2007 because it was the first iPhone.
James McKinney: Oh, the first iPhone, yeah, there you go.
Meghan Asha: Yeah the first iPhone. I saw the first iPhone at one of the first like Tech Crunch events that was like a cocktail party. So those were all the things. It was CES and it was Tech Crunch, August Capital cocktail party, and then launched a digital media platform off of all that stuff.
James McKinney: So your first startup really came from your experience at CES. What was that startup? What was the name of it? What was the startup and what happened to it?
Meghan Asha: Yeah. So it was a company called Non Society. I had an angel investor from Sequoia who helped us to start it. We believed that personalities were going to own the internet, and that there was going to be personality driven media. This was before influencers. This was before any of the things. We would have brands pay us to cover things, live stream things, but this is literally, this was when influencers weren't getting paid and there was not even the word influencers. I think they had life casters as the thing that they called us and that we did. We had an online web show. It was really a media platform.
What happened to it? It was, we ended up selling. Next network sold, so there was a lot of things that happened, and then I went and started a couple other companies after that.
James McKinney: What was the next one after that? How many companies have you started prior to FOUNDERMADE?
Meghan Asha: So I have done probably two others. These were all just the learning types. So I had a product company that we scaled that pretty fast. Then I went to business school. Then, while I was in business school, was asked to lead a startup like Warby Parker for swimwear. I had a therapy startup that we raised money for. So there was a lot of different types of businesses that I was in. Then, FOUNERMADE really was when I came out of business school thinking that I was working in venture capital and I was consulting for a couple startups and on the board of a couple startups. I really started FOUNDERMADE just as a dinner series because it was my 90 year old self… made my 90 year old self happy. I said when you're 90, when you look back on your life what will make you happy?
I said I'm just going to do these 12 dinners. I'm going to call them FOUNDERMADE. They're going to be like founder therapy. I'm going to get my friends who I knew in 2007 who had built… they started with nothing and they built these massive tech companies, these massive consumer companies, and to have them speak at these dinners. So then it just started as a dinner series. My friends, it started actually in the bottom basement of my apartment complex as a dinner and it was like 40 of my friends. I was like oh my God, $2000, it was funny … paying for people's dinner was a push for me. Then it, my friends all said to me, they're like, "Follow the breadcrumbs." I'm like this isn't a business, this is just dinner, this is just networking dinner. What is the outcome here?
It started. I was juggling two jobs, but it was something I just loved doing. Daniel from Kind Bar, he was launching a book. I wanted him to speak at one of our dinners. His press people said, "No, well you need 300 people to show up at this dinner." I said, "Well, we'll just do a conference." I had launched conference before and I had done that while I was in school. I had helped with a conference launch in fashion. So I said, "Okay, I'm just going to basically do Tech Crunch for consumer founders." We had from 6 to 9 pm, we were expecting 100 people. 400 people showed up. We sold tickets. I had little exhibitor booths at the Gansevoort Hotel. Daniel from Kind Bar, we had all these sharks that were wellness founders judging wellness competition with Well and Good. It was like our first iteration of our first mini conference.
It was definitely a learning experience and it was awesome. I had gift bags I had ironed on mantras on these gift bags, like "build the future." I was really… it was very special, the whole thing.
James McKinney: There's a lot I want to unpack there real quick. Just so I can fully understand, the conference came because you wanted Daniel, the founder of Kind Bar, present. I love that. You had a target, you went after it, and you just you built it in order to get him there. I love every bit about that. That is a mindset that I share, absolutely love it.
Before we continue on with Meghan's startup story, I want to take a quick moment to spotlight a new partnership with a former founder that we've had on the show. Goli Kalkhoran with Lessons From a Quitter podcast. After we had Goli on the show, I really became a fan of hers and started listening to her podcast. I realized that there might be some startup story listeners that would find some real value in listening to Goli's show and hearing from the guests that she has on. So if you found yourself a little bit stuck in a career and think there's no way out of the path that you're on, then make sure to listen to the Lessons From a Quitter podcast. You can find it on Apple podcast, Google podcast, or wherever you listen to your podcast. It's really a great show and Goli does a phenomenal job with it. All right. Now let's get back to Meghan's startup story.
James McKinney: We talk about following the breadcrumbs to get to your dinners, and we skipped over… We spoke briefly about the consumer package product you had, the health and wellness products you had. When you look at those breadcrumbs up to your dinners, what were the breadcrumbs for you? How did you connect all the dots to realize this is the path I need to continue on? What were those dots for you?
Meghan Asha: Number one was the way I felt every single time I did this. It was a totally different feeling than anything I was working on, and anything I had done before. So it's like when you're in the flow, I think that's… and your energy, and also just my interest level. It never felt like work. It always felt more like a hobby or play. It actually, I didn't consider FOUNDERMADE a business for a good year and a half until we looked back. I looked back and I said, "Oh, we've really made some real revenue." I'm still juggling these two jobs.
I had an amazing, amazing advisor who is pretty magical and has done a ton of great work advising a lot of my friends who've built billion dollar companies, this woman Angela who's Priyanka Chopra's manager. She said to me, she said, "FOUNDERMADE. I can't stop thinking about it. I see it consumer, I see celebrity. I think that there's something here and I think that you're going to make a big company out of this thing." Just like these little breadcrumbs of people believing in me when I didn't believe in myself. People believing in the business and seeing something more than what it was at the current iteration, and then just continuing to grow it.
James McKinney: When you look back, this is a dialog I've had with numerous founders. But when you look back on those moments of validation where other people were believing in you and in the concept before you were even there, what did that do to you from a confidence and a validation perspective?
Meghan Asha: It's so interesting because I think you go through different phases of confidence in your leadership and in your ability to execute as an entrepreneur. This is actually something I think you have to, as you turn into a better leader, you have to really work on which is you could get all the outside accolades you want from other people telling you, but if you don't actually feel like you are confident and you're confident in your vision, and you're confident on your plan, it's doesn't matter. But of course, it felt great to have these people believe in it. But it also felt like there was a great responsibility for me to do. Once I said I was going to build this company, it's time to build this company. I'm extremely, just like I was very competitive when I was in elementary school and high school, I'm extremely competitive. It's not competitive with other people, it's actually competitive with myself. I know my future self in 10 years and I know where I want to take this company. We're at very like V1 where we want to take it. We've created an awesome, profitable business in V1.
James McKinney: I have so many more questions about the early stages of FOUNDERMADE and when you were working those two jobs, but before we get there, I just want to unpack for the listeners and more so I want you to unpack for the listeners what is FOUNDERMADE. So as we continue to reference FOUNDERMADE they have a framework for what FOUNDERMADE is. So what is FOUNDERMADE?
Meghan Asha: FOUNDERMADE discovers the best consumer brands and we help them build. The way that we do that is through summits. So we have two discovery shows. We have a discovery show on the East and the West coast, and those are really brand discovery conferences where we have the retailers. So think Whole Foods, Ulta, Sephora, CVS, Walgreens, you name it, meet with the top tier consumer brands in food, wellness, and beauty. And then we also have investors, M and A partners, so we've really created this ecosystem where if you have a product or a product launch, we can help you build, and we can help you get distribution and get you investment, and get you hopefully if you want to sell, get you sold to a bigger strategic.
James McKinney: That is awesome. Okay. So now that the listeners have a framework for it, your dinners were an evening things. You reference it a few times, you were working two jobs. What were those jobs and what are all the things you did related to FOUNDERMADE in the evening hours, on the side, on the weekend, how did you build it up to what point before you decided all right, I need to just go full tilt on this?
Meghan Asha: So the two jobs, one was working at a venture capital firm and the other one was I was doing business development. I had actually picked, after business school I said, "I don't know if I'm that good at sales. Well, I think I'm good at sales but I don't know if I'm that good at sales." So I had my friend who had a startup, and he said, "I think you need to help me with business development for my startup." I went and probably was flying around 150 days out of that year, basically selling the hardest thing to sell. The cold call, HR contingent work horse stuff. He knew I was… so I changed his branding. They're doing amazing. I got a ton of great accounts for him. It was super, super fun just to see if I was any good. I love the fact that I had to cold call.
The one thing I would say as an entrepreneur, anybody who wants to really build a business, you have to be so fearless and you have to figure out… You have to be able to break through walls to get wherever you're going to go, and be super creative and not take it personally, and just know… We have this book at our office that says, "Reject me. I love it." When we were cold calling when we first started FOUNDERMADE fulltime, and we were cold calling it was two people. It was me and our CRO and we literally would be like, "Reject me. I love you." How many no's are we going to get? Let's see how many no's we can get. Now, it's funny. All these people that had said no in the early days now come to us and ask to work with us, so it's been like a… but it's all about perseverance. It's all about energy. It's all about being of your word and coming to the table and doing right, and really building a genuine value for the people that you're working w.
James McKinney: What did you grow FOUNDERMADE to in order for you to start processing this is a business, and this is my fulltime business now?
Meghan Asha: We had done a couple conferences and again, they started off as investor conferences. They weren't retailer, brand conferences. I came from Tech Crunch days where I thought the buyer and seller were the investors in the brand. Of course, consumer products, once you have a consumer product what do you need once you've created a beauty or a food brand? You need distribution, you need sales. We quickly learned to change the model. Once we changed that model and once I saw… of course we made revenue and that was… And also, the reason it took me so long, it took me a long time to really commit and focus fulltime on FOUNDERMADE was in my past startups, I had quickly raised money, had kind of gone all in, and I'd been burned. I had gone all in and had not had... I wanted to make sure that the next business I did had a very clear business model, clear cash flow model, great people that were working on it. I think it's one thing to, everyone has their one thing. It's one thing to raise money. It's another thing to really build a true business that makes money and has good even odd. I was really focused on that and I was a little scared to go back into hard knocks to be honest.
James McKinney: Yeah. There's definitely scars that come from it. In fact, a couple episodes ago we had Zack Swire with Good Grains, a very healthy breakfast foods company brand. Part of his journey was he had an ad agency that he built very successfully. Had this idea for a technology play, became enamored with the technology play. Went through the fundraising side of that and because of that, shut down the ad agency. He began to focus less on building a great product in the tech startup and more so about fundraising. When I asked him a similar question, if you could go back what would you have changed, he said, "I would have just focused on building service and a product. I would not have focused on raising money." It's just we get enamored with that idea. I can hear in your story a little bit of that learning as well, as in just build a great business, build a great product. So I do have to ask, though, because being an entrepreneur, having lost various times in my startups, was there a loss of a startup in your journey? Was there a significant failure in your journey that kind of left a little bit of a scar you don't want to repeat in this next round?
Meghan Asha: There's definitely a combination of scars. I think for me, there were partnerships. So in some of the past businesses, and it's really interesting. Nobody really tells you this, and they don't even teach you in business school, but when you set up a company, there shouldn't be… you shouldn't have 50/50 ownership with anyone. It really needs to be one person needs to be at the helm. Even if one person has 51% or whatever it is. One of my startups, we had done it. Had great lawyers, like A+, the best lawyers in New York City, and they had set it up like that. When it came to people, came to us not wanting to work together, it was one of those things where it almost became this divorce. I was like, "Wait, we haven't even really started yet." We're raising other people's money and we're in this… it was just very interesting. What you'll notice I think if you're an entrepreneur is you'll have certain things that are your Achilles heel that will keep revisiting and revisiting until you actually face them, and you face them with confidence and clarity on how you want to change the trajectory.
James McKinney: What was that for you? What's your Achilles Heel?
Meghan Asha: Certain partnerships. I just think I would sometimes discount my abilities and I think I would need other people that maybe I thought would fill in the gaps. Not that I think that team and having great people, but I would have this archetype of person I would continue to start businesses with. we weren't aligned as much on value system. We just weren't aligned in the same way and, again, I totally believe in partnerships, love partnerships, but there were just this… I t was like this repeat thing over and over again in my twenties of having these certain types of partners that I would start businesses with and then we wouldn't get to the place where we needed to build a real business.
James McKinney: So for the listener that's out there that is another you, that has this same Achilles heel, what advice would you give them?
Meghan Asha: Know that you're always going to have a little bit of the doubts. Part of doing anything, and especially if you need to build something, there is a sensitivity and there is the EQ, and there is a lot of things that you're up against so many no's and you're up against having to like show the world what you got. Just to say don't be so hard on yourself as you're trying to build your business. I think I beat myself up a lot and it actually took away a lot of my energy and my power in my leadership as I was building. It's like when you're trying to climb a hill. If you're trying to climb Machu Picchu, is it helpful for you to say, "Hey, you know what, I don't think you have… your legs are not working on this hill. Really not. This hill is really high and you don't have what you… or you're not, this is horrible. This is a horrible hill to climb." You can't be negative while you're trying to climb the hill. You can't be hard on yourself while you're trying to climb the hill, and you can't expect yourself to climb the hill really fast if you never climbed Machu Picchu. You're learning and be gentle.
It's so funny. I think humans, and I definitely work on this, I think humans are just exceptionally hard on themselves and just know that it's really, really hard to build a business. It's not an easy thing. Once you level up to X millions of dollars company, then the next level comes. Then you have other problems. I always thought when I first started my companies, I'd be like… I idealized, just like you'd idealize a romantic relationship. It's going to be… this is amazing. I was younger and I'd do these startups, when it got hard I didn't stay the course. I was sort of a child about it and I was sort of a brat about it. I think part of building any real, long lasting business is perseverance and filling up every single day, and trying the best that you can and problem solving. And just knowing that once you accept that there's always going to be problems and that's part of the fun of it, you make it more of a game than anything else. You don't take it personally. Then it actually becomes a dream business and super, super fun to build.
James McKinney: That was amazing and for all the listeners, you're probably in a car right now, maybe on a run, and she was just dropping all that knowledge out there. You might want to go back to your desk, pull up the browser and go back about five minutes and just write all those notes down. There was so much rich stuff there. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, you've heard it time and time again. The doubt will never leave you. You are trying to do something that very few people have. That is birth a company out of nothing. Trying to find a market fit for something that may not have existed before. Trying to bring people together that may not have connected so easily before. Trying to disrupt something that many people don't want disrupted. There's so much friction in every element of being an entrepreneur that the doubt is always going to be there, and everything you just mentioned there about ensuring that narrative as you're climbing that hill is not part of your vocabulary is so helpful, so that was incredibly powerful Meghan.
Now, what year did FOUNDERMADE begin?
Meghan Asha: The first dinner in my basement was like 2015.
James McKinney: So that's the birth of FOUNDERMADE right? That dinner.
Meghan Asha: It wasn't like a real… it wasn't a real company though. It was dinners, right and then-
James McKinney: So what do you consider the beginning of FOUNDERMADE?
Meghan Asha: The conference that scared me to launch because I thought I'd have to mortgage my house to pay for it was at Spring Studios in 2016, and it was a huge show and it was on a Saturday. It was raining and I remember my sister's husband, who's like top lawyer in the city and very hard on everybody, he said, "Oh, Meghan, you've finally found your thing." It was one of those days where I could feel my 90 year old self smiling. I just was in flow and knew that I was supposed to do this.
James McKinney: So spring of 2016 was the first event, that's what you consider the beginning of FOUNDERMADE. A lot can happen in three years, right, and a lot has happened in three years. Can you take us along this year one journey, and then where we're at today? How is it different than what you believed you were building in the beginning?
Meghan Asha: Year one which was 2016, first of all I didn't think it was a business until 2017. So this was, I was still juggling two jobs, kind of working on this part-time. We launched four different conferences. They were more summits, so there were maybe 20 brands and a couple hundred people. They were investors. We say investing in wellness, investing in food. Actually, our first, I forget about it. In 2016 we had investors when they came to the conference, they gave me a term sheet and they said, "We would love, we want to invest in this. We can see that you're going to build…" What's the guy who owns Vegas? He built… Shel Adelson's like massive empire. "You're going to build trade shows like we've never seen trade shows. We love this business." And I, it's so interesting because I am so glad that I didn't accept those terms. It was just not the right time.
So we basically bootstrapped it. We didn't have to raise any money. Then in 2017, when I finally stopped both of my jobs, we got office space. It's all these little pieces of the journey where we couldn't afford office space in fancy New York at that time. It was like every price per square foot on fancy New York on Broadway and Prince, which is where we have office space, all the sudden I see this office space like, "That's our office." And it was the cheapest office space I'd ever seen. I don't know how we even got this. I have a deal. I still, me and the landlord are now best friends and working on other deals together. But these little things where I was like, "Oh, the breadcrumbs. Follow the breadcrumbs and the universe, whatever you believe in, gives you different pieces of the journey." I remember getting office space and crying… or not crying. Well, I was crying in the stairwell because I was like I don't know this burden rate that we have. I can't believe, I don't know how we're going to pay for this office space now. Now, that's the smallest part of our burden right now. But it's just been such an interesting journey of leveling up and just following the breadcrumbs, piece by piece by piece.
One of the other things that was awesome on the journey was we brought in a head of, and this was, I knew this woman socially. We brought in a CRO and she didn't even want to do sales. She came to me and she's like, "I kind of want to do account management." And she turned into being one of, and I consider her my partner how, she turned into being one of the best sales leaders I've ever met.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Meghan Asha: And watching her grow and grow into her leadership, and leading a team, and hiring. So it's been this very interesting trajectory of us starting literally just with these small conferences that we were doing, as side businesses, and then looking at it. Then the other pieces, we also brought in the CFO who helped scale CES. So that as like getting expertise in the tradeshow business and in general was huge for us. It's a lot of booths you have to keep track of. Lots of logistics, lots of stuff at scale. But there's just these little pieces of different, we just bought in someone from TED who's helping us launch a CEO summit. As we're building this team, it's been a really fun thing to get piece by piece these little things in two years.
James McKinney: In this journey of FOUNDERMADE, while you turned down the term sheet early stages, is it still bootstrapped?
Meghan Asha: We raised a little bit of money, but we didn't really need it. We've actually never touched it, but it was from Gary Vaynerchuk.
James McKinney: I love Gary V.
Meghan Asha: We love Gary V. Gary V, he was a great friend and really a good supporter of my first business. He was great. But we really hadn't… because we're in the events tradeshow business, we operated off of deferred revenue, so we haven't really had to raise any money. Yeah, it's been an awesome journey.
James McKinney: And what is the current state of FOUNDERMADE and where do you see it in another three years?
Meghan Asha: So current state, we have the discovery shows. Those will continue to grow and the dream and I think the mission is that we will have a show that's as big as Consumer Electronics Show and as valuable, but for consumer brands and food, wellness, beauty. So all products that you need to touch, taste, see, and smell. That's, you can't, everyone says, "Oh, trade shows, they're consolidating." Well, the fact of the matter is you have to. Especially, we get brands sent to us all the time and we're the curator, so we get a brand sent. The brand looks beautiful, but if you taste the product or you smell the product and it's terrible, you actually have to go to these shows and actually taste them and see them.
That is part of just building that show out. We're launching a CEO summit this year with Pyer from Ted and that will be part of a membership that we launch. Then we have a wholesale marketplace where at our shows, we have brands meet retailers so you can basically sign up for 10 strategic meetings and a brand can meet Whole Foods, Ulta, whatever their hit list is for retailers if the retailers opt in. so what we want to do and what we are beta testing currently is a wholesale marketplace, where we have the brands and the retailers transact on our wholesale marketplace platform.
James McKinney: That is awesome. It's amazing to me how small the world is because the reason I became aware of FOUNDERMADE is because of a past guest, with Emma Rose Cohen and FinalStraw. It was one of your account reps that reached out to me because of Emma's episode. Her story is incredible, just the Kickstarter campaign. I loved her, I'm going to use her phrase, her 14 year old boy humor. She's so wonderful. As I became aware of FOUNDERMADE, I love what it is you're doing because I'm so small business minded. I love the startups, I love small businesses, I love seeing them connect with brands that really they probably never dreamed of in some cases.
So the fact that you're providing this mechanism for brands to meet with large buyers is so incredibly powerful and I know there's so much. I can think through what a founder might be going through as they're preparing for your event, and just the opportunity to meet with Bloomingdale's or whoever, Whole Foods, whoever the big buyers are. I can picture the level of excitement and anticipation, and hope that they have for their own small company as they come to this, and I love that you're facilitating that. Small businesses run the world, period, and I am such a proponent for it. So I love what you're doing for small businesses.
As a founder, maybe some of those brands are brands that we'll have on the show later on and I'm going to ask this question to them, and they may plug your name in there. But this question I have for you now is one I ask all of my founders. If you were to look back along your journey, there are people that have played such a critical role in certain moments. Who are those people that you're so incredibly grateful for? The reason I ask that question is that I believe that if we lose our perspective of gratitude for all of those who have poured into us throughout our many years, even if it was just for a season, if we lose that perspective we'll begin to think we did it on our own, and that will inevitably lead to our failure. So for you, when you look back on your journey, who do you point to with such immense gratitude for what they have contributed to your journey?
Meghan Asha: In the beginning of the journey, because I think that you, I had these learnings from these past business partners. I'm grateful for those past learnings because I would never be who I am. I had to go through so much to become, to really own what I wanted to do in the world. Then, of course my fiance who is a startup founder as well. He's doing a big search company and he believed in me when nobody else, when I was having a partnership. I think we met six years ago when I was having partnership things, and I was in school, I was going to Columbia and he was getting his master's in Computer Science. We both were kind of in school and then turned startup founders. I think he believed in me and was supportive of these little dinners that I was doing in our apartment complex. I think just even us, I'm inspired by him, how he believes in his company and how he operates and is the real deal, and doesn't say too much. He's always of his word on everything so it's really awesome.
Then I think the team that we have and the people that I get to build with. Michelle who leads our sales, she steps up. She helps everybody become better, be more transparent. We have an extremely honest, frank conversations which we love. We love the conversations and we're all fighting for the same thing, which is for the good of our customers and to really drive out value and be of our word.
James McKinney: That's awesome. Oh, I love all of that. As our time comes to an end, there's one final question that I ask every founder. Right now we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners that are hearing your startup story. The Startup Story podcast is a mentorship. It's an hour of sitting with a founder and hearing their journey, and seeing some of the punches to the gut that they've taken and how they've recovered, and where they're at now, what level of success they have. But right now, I want you to speak to just one of those entrepreneurs listening. Whether they're entrepreneurs that have a business and they're just incredibly frustrated with the lack of growth that they have, or they're a defeated entrepreneur who has taken so many hits and never had anything successful, and they're starting to doubt that they're able to execute and pull something off. Or maybe they're just the entrepreneur still trying to find their way but they're working 9 to 5 and they have a mortgage and kids, and they just think I missed my window of opportunity. If you could speak to any singular person, who would it be and what would you say to them?
Meghan Asha: I think the person that doesn't know what they want to do. I spend a lot of time asking everyone what businesses should I do. I was looking for the business whisperer. I was like what should I do in the world? It's like the career search. I was stressed out for so… it was crazy. Then I would say okay, maybe I'll do this business, or maybe I'll do this partnership. The only thing you need to ask yourself is we're all going to die unfortunately, and we all have a timeframe. When you're 90, what will make you happy and what do you want to build? It is okay if it starts small. Every single thing that's ever been built in this world started with an idea, and it started small. All these small businesses, the reason that I'm so excited about what we're building is because we get to help these small businesses become big or medium businesses, become big businesses, and then hopefully mentor. That's part of the whole cycle of being an entrepreneur. The journey is the thing. It's who you become on the way to the success. In order to get to the next level, you have to become a completely different person and level up. Don't be so hard on yourself. No one ever said start beating yourself up. It's all going to be fine. We're all above the ground winning.
James McKinney: Meghan's perspective on the entrepreneurial journey is one that I hope you can adopt as your own. Entrepreneurship is incredibly challenging and all cards are stacked against you, so have some grace for yourself as you build your business. It is not going to be easy. It will never be linear, and you will always have to adapt based on the stage you're at right now. It's like trying to run on the beach. The sand is going to shift with every step that you take, but every step will still get you a little bit farther towards your goal.
Meghan talked about how absurd it would be to climb Machu Picchu while complaining about your shortcomings. That negative self talk will do you no good and the same goes for entrepreneurship. Nobody is going to believe in your business more than you do, so do not internalize the rejection or skepticism thrown your way. Know that rejection is part of the entrepreneurial journey. There's not a single startup that did not have their fair share of rejection and skepticism. We just don't always hear about it, which is one reason why I started The Startup Story. Entrepreneurship is hard, but that is also what makes it so rewarding. There really is nothing else like it.
I hope you found some real value in Meghan's journey and her willingness to share with us. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I've put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. What is really cool about FOUNDERMADE is that they too believe in entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs. So if you know of any consumer innovation, tell them about FOUNDERMADE. That simple introduction could change the entire trajectory for your friend or contact. Another way to support Meghan and what she's building with FOUNDERMADE is to follow them on all the social platforms with the username FOUNDERMADE. Time and time again, we hear from our founders how hard it is to raise their message above all the noise out there on social media, so I hope you'll take 30 seconds to follow them on your favorite social channel and help raise awareness for this great business. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Meghan and FOUNDERMADE.
Now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.
Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.