This week we are featuring Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media. If her last name sounds familiar, it should. It’s also the last name of her little brother who had a startup about a book of faces or Facebook or something like that.
This week we are featuring Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media. If her last name sounds familiar, it should. It’s also the last name of her little brother who had a startup about a book of faces or Facebook or something like that.
Randi Zuckerberg is an entrepreneur, investor, best selling author, and Emmy-nominated tech media personality. She is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, with the mission of supporting current and future entrepreneurs through investment, mentorship, and media.
Growing up she wanted to be a Broadway actress, yet while in college she had to pivot from that dream to pursue a career in advertising. But what I love about the stories of many of the founders this show highlights, is that we always find our way back to our passion, in one form or another.
Like every Startup Story founder, we need to go back to the early days to find out what life was like for Randi before Facebook LIVE, before two best-selling books, and before receiving two Tony awards. You’ll soon hear how her beginning wasn’t all that different from others who have come before her. This is Randi’ Zuckerberg's startup story.
“Anyone who has a platform must consider how they can use that platform for a greater good.”
—Randi Zuckerberg, Zuckerberg Media
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Special Guest: Randi Zuckerberg.
The Startup Story - Randi Zuckerberg
Randi Zuckerberg: Randi Zuckerberg here, founder of Zuckerberg Media, and this is MY startup story.
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 say thank you to the team at Fuse Dynamic Workspace for allowing me to use their podcast studio to record this episode. If you ever find yourself in the Dallas, Texas area make sure to visit workatfuse.com. With over 50 episodes in two seasons of The Startup Story, there's a chance that you might be a new listeners. Well, welcome to The Startup Story community. I created The Startup Story to unpack the real entrepreneurial journey, not the glamorized version of entrepreneurship that you read about online, but the real side of entrepreneurship that speaks about hardships, grit, perseverance, family dynamics, and even failures. We do this so that you can be fully informed on what it's going to take to succeed in building your business. Without even knowing you personally, I know you have it within you to build the business of your dreams. You have it within you to change your legacy and your family's future. It's not going to be easy at all, but I know you have it in you so welcome to The Startup Story.
Each week I read an iTunes review and as an extension of gratitude, I ask everyone to insert a micro ad for their business so that they get some exposure to my audience. Many times, people take me up on it. Many times they don't. Nevertheless, this week's iTunes review comes from Noah Labheart. He gave this show a five star rating and wrote, "This is the kind of podcast you want to listen to. The Startup Story is incredibly well done and of very high quality. Not only are their guests interesting, but the sound is delightful. James does a fantastic job of crafting the interview to surface the best bits from each of the founders stories. Kudos and I can't wait for more." Well, thank you for the kind words, Noah, and thank you for taking the time to write a review.
So for all of my listeners, if you have found any value from The Startup Story, please leave a written review on Apple podcast. If you do that, please give your business a quick plug in the review so that when I read it you get a mini ad that will last for years to come. It's just my way of saying thank you for writing the review. Just receiving the five star rating is good, but the written reviews have a significant impact as it relates to being discovered within the new Apple podcast platform. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Apple podcast has redesigned their navigation and finding great shows has become a bit more challenging. Climbing the charts on Apple podcast is not just about listeners, but it's about engagement. Listening is one way Apple measures engagement, but written reviews have a multiplying effect. So please, leave those written reviews. Now let's jump into this week's episode.
Our guest this week is Randi Zuckerberg, founder of Zuckerberg Media. If her last name sounds familiar, it should. It's also the last name of her little brother that dropped out of Harvard to pursue some dot community startup about a book of faces, or Facebook, something like that. I'm sure you've never heard of it anyway, so we won't even talk about it. Having Randi as a guest on The Startup Story has been a goal of mine for months because of how applicable her story is for so many of us. Today, Randi is a serial entrepreneur and investor, a bestselling author, an Emmy nominated tech media personality, but that wasn't always the case nor was it ever her dreams. No, she wanted to be a Broadway actress, yet while in college had to pivot from that dream to pursue a career in advertising.
That said, what I love about Randi's journey is that it is amazing how the things we are truly passionate about will inevitably find their way back to us. Today, Randi travels the world speaking about technology, entrepreneurship, her time in Silicon Valley creating Facebook Live. She spends her time supporting current and future entrepreneurs through various media platforms. Randi really brings so much value to us in this episode, and I cannot wait for you to hear it. Like every Startup Story founder, we need to go back to the early days to see, well, I guess I should say to hear what life was like for Randi before Facebook Live, before the two bestselling books, and before receiving two Tony Awards. Because while her life might look different than ours, her beginning is not really different at all.
Randi Zuckerberg: My parents were both doctors, but I guess they were about as entrepreneurial as you can get. My dad is a dentist and his dental practice was inside our house. So we had one of these houses where the dental office was on the ground floor and then we lived on the floor above it. On the weekends, I would basically go down and help him file charts and call people to confirm appointments. I would basically go work in the office. It's funny because one of the things that does not faze me is like the sound of the dental drill because I'm so used to it, but I would have friends come over for sleepovers and they would jolt out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning being like, "What is that?" because the dental drill would start going.
James McKinney: Oh, that would be horrible. Oh my goodness.
Randi Zuckerberg: But he was always so entrepreneurial. He was always getting the newest, latest technology. I remember he got this computer that you could take two people's smiles and swap them, so you could see how you would look, before and after. And now today, you can do that with an Instagram filter, but I mean this was the early nineties and so you needed a giant computer that only did that one thing. But I was always getting exposed to new technology that way, and someone running their own business. So there was both kind of that small business owner and entrepreneur mentality.
James McKinney: Now, growing up you said that was early nineties. The economic season was not always good in the nineties. And so being raised by an entrepreneur, was there any part of what you saw, if there was any hardship in your father's business, was there any part where you were like I don't want to do that because that is really unstable?
Randi Zuckerberg: Absolutely. I mean luckily, teeth do stand the economic ups and downs, no matter what.
James McKinney: Noted.
Randi Zuckerberg: People are still getting cavities and wanting teeth whitening and things. But one thing I will say is that I did notice as a child how changes in health insurance in the country were really affecting my father, and doctor's as small business owners. He was getting less and less money for each patient, but taking on more patients and working longer hours. He worked 15 hour days, six days a week my entire childhood growing up in our house. To this day, you see doctors moving out of places like Manhattan and Silicon Valley because they get priced out, even a very successful doctor with a private practice. So I definitely saw that and it made me think maybe I should be exploring these other new, emerging areas of business instead of trying to take over his practice.
James McKinney: So what did you, on that note, what did you think you wanted to do come the end of high school? Because that's a natural chapter for us to start thinking about what's next. So at the end of high school, what did you think you wanted to do?
Randi Zuckerberg: Well, I first thought that I wanted to be an actress, and then those dreams got crushed very early on. The cold dose of reality that hits you in the face.
James McKinney: Yes, yes.
Randi Zuckerberg: I thought all right, I'm not going to be able to make a living out of this, and so I needed some other skills. It's funny. My mom is a psychiatrist and so I always told her I'm never going to be like you, I'm never going to be a psychiatrist. I'll never be like you mom, rawr. Of course what did I major in in college? Psychology. Like I ended up being exactly like my mom. But through that, I didn't fall in love with the field of psychology and research, but I did start thinking about okay how do I understand what decisions people make on a business front? How does that apply to what we buy and how we work in groups and who we hire and what we invest in? And that's I think really what got me started down a path of marketing.
James McKinney: Now you went to Harvard for your undergrad, correct?
Randi Zuckerberg: I did. Thank you for saying that, because I have another sibling who didn't graduate from there.
James McKinney: True. One up Randi, check check! So at Harvard, you're a psychology major. I assume psychology was the degree, correct?
Randi Zuckerberg: Exactly, yeah.
James McKinney: So in your years at Harvard, being a creative person, you wanted to be an actress. I assume you did lots of theater throughout high school. My assumption is you probably dabbled in Harvard as well, because when you have it in you it's hard to not get on the stage. During your time at Harvard, what was shaping for you on knowing that you didn't want to be in psychology but you got a psychology degree and you're incredibly creative. How were things shaping up for you and what did you think you wanted to be when it was all said and done, and you had that piece of paper?
Randi Zuckerberg: It's a great question because college was definitely a place of soul searching for me because going into it thinking that I was going to be an actress and then kind of having to reevaluate everything. I guess most people go through an entrepreneurial pivot later in life when they have a startup. Mine happened at age 18 when I had to kind of figure out a new direction for my life. I did sing with an a cappella group throughout my entire college, the Harvard Opertunes.
James McKinney: That is a ca-awesome.
Randi Zuckerberg: You have to have a cheesy name. yes, a-ca awesome. You have to have a cheesy name as an a cappella group. That's par for the course. But that group really became like my family. In fact, we're having I think the 40th reunion of the groups founding back up in Boston this spring. People from that group have gone on to do amazing things. Half of them work in tech, banking, McKenzie, you name it. But that became sort of like my family and that allowed me to keep having a creative outlet even through college.
James McKinney: Awesome. So at the end of college now, what are you wanting to do?
Randi Zuckerberg: I wanted to work in a big ad agency. I had been starting to apply psychology in my studies there more into marketing, and how our brains influence what we buy and our choices. So I really wanted to work in an ad agency. It was a little bit frustrating because all my other friends at school had jobs lined up six months before we graduated. McKenzie does their recruiting six months, the banks. I think I was the only one who graduated without a job because the agencies, they were like no, you have to start right when you interview. We don't hire six months in advance. So that was challenging for me to be one of the only ones of my friends graduating without a job. But I did end up anything Ogilvy and Mather which is a top firm.
James McKinney: Now in your mind, was that the top of the mountain? Like you hit an ad agency, Ogilvy which is a very big firm. Is that the peak for you? You're like I'm set, good to go, this is what I want of my life?
Randi Zuckerberg: Totally. That was like the peak. I had business cards that had my name on it. I'm like I'm a huge deal. I had my own cubicle. I was told that if I kept going for a year or two, I'd be important enough to get a Blackberry.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Randi Zuckerberg: You know, like I'd be important enough to be reachable on off hours. I'm nailing it. I'm professionally nailing it.
James McKinney: That is awesome. And what year was this? Let's put a time stamp on that.
Randi Zuckerberg: This is 2003. So now what ended up happening is I ended up when I got to the agency, they put me on this brand new team they had just started called digital marketing. I had no idea what that was. I was incredibly angry about it because all my other friends in the agency were working on like TV shows and glamorous campaigns and everything. I was like oh my gosh, I'm in this dead end team called digital marketing, like all my dreams of nailing It professionally have been shattered. But it ended up being a very lucky thing because two years later, all those friends of mine were still full time making copies and faxes for a living, and I was in the fastest growing team.
James McKinney: Now just to give a framework for our listeners, because 16 years ago digital marketing had some different emphasis than it does in 2019.
Randi Zuckerberg: Yes. It was a very new industry. People didn't have smart phones. Only people in corporate climates had Blackberry's and not that many of it, so it was really like email marketing I would say was pretty much-
James McKinney: SEO, ad words maybe?
Randi Zuckerberg: Very early stage SEO. Micro sites, that was like the word of the day. I remember making a lot of micro sites and was pitching them to clients. And AOL Instant Messenger was like the way to communicate at that time.
James McKinney: Yes. Oh yes.
Randi Zuckerberg: But it was exciting. That was my first taste of what it was like to be at a startup because that team truly was a startup inside a giant ad agency. That gave me kind of my first taste of what it would be like to be an entrepreneur.
James McKinney: It's interesting when you think about it too because here you were with a big firm, but yet getting startup experience in this small team on something that was totally new. Probably got to set your own journey on what to be because there weren't a lot of expectations on what this could possibly be. Kind of like an internally incubated. Management probably wondering if it was even going to succeed and you got to really set some things forward on that. You were there for two years I believe, correct?
Randi Zuckerberg: Yeah, you're right. And I think to this day, that's why when I am advising people or talking to students, I always tell people you can be an entrepreneur even inside the biggest company on earth. Being an entrepreneur doesn't always mean quitting everything, pouring all your money into a startup and then isolating yourself until it succeeds. You can be very entrepreneurial inside a giant automotive company or inside a giant retail or e-commerce. It's all about the mindset and taking on opportunities inside the company.
James McKinney: I love that. So when you look back on those two years, what are some things that you point to as just an incredible learning opportunity and massive success for you, just within that window?
Randi Zuckerberg: One of the things I look back on most fondly is because we were a new team, before we could take on giant clients we took on some nonprofits to do pro bono campaigns in order to kind of test out some of our work. So the first client I ever had was the Special Olympics.
James McKinney: Oh, that's awesome.
Randi Zuckerberg: It was so rewarding and exciting, because it really made me feel like I was doing marketing work that mattered really early on. And I was able to truly be entrepreneurial because it was a nonprofit that didn't have marketing resources. So they were excited for whatever we had. So I think that was one of the greatest experiences I had. I also worked on the American Express Black Card. You know that really exclusive card that costs like thousands of dollars a year to own it? Which was like always sad because all the people who worked on that card couldn't afford to have one. I would work all day on this credit card for millionaires, and I couldn't even afford a metro card to go home.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness. I love it.
Randi Zuckerberg: So that was basically my life for two years was working on American Express and the Special Olympics.
James McKinney: But I love that you look back on those years and one of those memories is your work with Special Olympics and the pro bono work. As you look throughout the rest of your career, and we won't jump too far ahead but as you just kind of reflect on it, how important has it been for you to be part of nonprofit initiatives and give back to missions like Special Olympics, or like Destiny Rescue who we're sponsoring throughout this month?
Randi Zuckerberg: That really locked in a lifetime of working with nonprofits and of making pro bono work a core part of what I did. After I moved out to Silicon Valley, I know I'm jumping ahead in my career story but I always made it a priority wherever I worked to be donating a lot of ad space to nonprofits. To be donating my time to sitting with people who were running organizations and giving them my thoughts and best practices on everything. Even today, there are so many nonprofits that I support now, especially around the arts that are deeply important. So I think anyone who has a platform and has access to anything really owes it to give back to their community that way.
James McKinney: Oh, I love that. Absolutely love it. And you mentioned when you went to Silicon Valley, so obviously we know Ogilvy was not your end game. You're there two years. How did that transition start, because two years you did have success there. You might have had some promotions within the two year period depending on how fast things were happening.
Randi Zuckerberg: I did. And like I still remember that first ad campaign that I made for the Special Olympics. I don't remember very many ad campaigns that I worked on in the decades of my career, but I still, that one is still very engrained in me. So it's exciting. But yeah, so I was at Ogilvy. I want to mention that Ogilvy was a very wonderful place to be a woman in business. It was I think almost majority women there. There was a female CEO, a very renowned CEO Shelly Lazarus who had worked her way up from an intern to be the CEO of the company.
James McKinney: Oh I love that. Love that.
Randi Zuckerberg: It was very inspiring. I thought that the glass ceiling didn't exist.
James McKinney: That is awesome.
Randi Zuckerberg: And then I went out to Silicon Valley, and I found out it does.
James McKinney: So let's talk about that transition. You're achieving success in Ogilvy. How did that transition to Facebook happen?
Randi Zuckerberg: I actually had one more job in between those two that I did for a year. I worked at Forbes and I managed their television show. I guess they bought some air time on TV and they had a show called Forbes on Fox, which aired at 5 o'clock in the morning on Saturdays.
James McKinney: Oh man.
Randi Zuckerberg: I don't know who the hell is watching TV at 5 o'clock on Saturdays.
James McKinney: Europe, that's who.
Randi Zuckerberg: Yes, Europe. But this was an America buy so I don't know who was… but it was these foreign 90 year old dudes screaming at each other at 5 o'clock in the morning on Saturdays. So anyway, for some reason that was my job for a year. I had no television experience, nothing. Somewhere in there I started getting messages from my brother saying, "Hey, Randi. I'm starting this little project called TheFacebook.com and I really need someone who understands digital marketing. Can you give me some advice?" He asked me to go out to Silicon Valley to just see what they were doing, offer some advice. He bought me a plane ticket which was really nice because I was super poor, being entry level marketing. I went out there thinking I was going to go for a weekend to give him some advice, and I ended up staying in Silicon Valley for 10 years.
James McKinney: What was the draw for you at that particular decision point? And the reason I'm asking that question is you had success at Ogilvy. You were having success at Forbes, whether you enjoyed it or not is a different story. But you had success there. But now the question on the table was why don't you join what we're doing here and it's a raw startup at this point. You said 2004, which if my dates are right that is incredibly early for Facebook years.
Randi Zuckerberg: It was incredibly early. I didn't go out to California thinking I wanted to join the company. I went out there thinking I would give him advice for a weekend, and I would come back to my life in Manhattan where like you said, like maybe I didn't hope that my future involved 5 a.m. Saturday morning TV shows, but I was running a television show by myself, and this was only two years out of college. So I liked the way that my career was progressing. I did not expect to want to stay out in Silicon Valley, but there was just this incredible passion that these guys had. Coding around the clock and having these conversations. And the pivotal moment that light bulb moment for me was they were talking about what the logo should look like, and they all kind of turned to me and were like, "All right Randi. You're the marketer. You pick." I have to tell you that a decade of my career flashed before my eyes. A full decade. Because I was like if I get on that plane back to New York, it will take me 10 years to even get invited into a room where my opinion is valued on that level.
James McKinney: Wow, wow.
Randi Zuckerberg: But if I stay here and I become part of this company, I don't know, maybe the company won't amount to anything but it will be really fun to have that decision making power, and I will learn a lot, and I will be able to go back to New York six levels above in my career than I am right now. That was really what ran through my head at that moment, so yeah that's how a weekend became a 10 year journey.
James McKinney: That is so incredibly insightful of you at that point in time, to see the opportunity to learn and accelerate so much of that learning in a startup. Because you're right, the amount you can learn in one year at a startup, I mean it's like eight years in corporate America.
Randi Zuckerberg: Totally. It's like the business school of life. You just, you learn how to do almost every job when you're running a startup, and that's what the early days of Facebook what it was like. There were maybe between 12 and 15 people at the company when I started, and so none of us had time to say, "Oh, I didn't learn that in school." No, it was just you do it. You figure it out. You just you roll up your sleeves and you put in the work, and you do it.
I think I knew very quickly that I had joined a company that was a rocket ship that was destined for success, but I also was equally grateful for the fact that I was learning so much that I knew I could take with me for the rest of my career.
James McKinney: What were your core responsibilities at Facebook?
Randi Zuckerberg: Marketing which is very fuzzy when you're a small startup, because I think I also was.
James McKinney: It's everything.
Randi Zuckerberg: Everything. I was sales, I was business development, I was literally everything. I think I was like the office manager. I was everything. And there were so many times that I would say, "Guys, we should do this," and then they'd be like, "Great, now you're running it." Like congratulations. It's like oh gosh, I should just keep my mouth shut.
James McKinney: I love the startup life.
Randi Zuckerberg: I think I had about six different business cards because if someone wanted to come to Facebook and meet the head of bus dev, that was me. They wanted to meet the head of sales, that was me just with a different business card.
James McKinney: Oh, I love it. I love it.
Randi Zuckerberg: Those were very exciting days and I definitely feel a lot of nostalgia for those days now that it's working for Facebook is like working for IBM now.
James McKinney: I hope you're enjoying this episode of The Startup Story. Throughout the month of January, we are highlighting the mission of Destiny Rescue. For just $1500 we can save a girl out of the sex trafficking industry. Think about that, for just $1500 we can completely change the future for a young girl. My hope is that all of us, the entire The Startup Story community, the tens of thousands of listeners can come together to save not just one girl, but to save 10 girls during the month of January. That's just $15,000. So throughout this month, across our shows and social channels, you will see calls to action to get involved and contribute. Visit thestartupstory.co/rescue to help today. We will also include a link in the show notes. When you see these posts, share them across your profiles. Let's see what this community can do to help save girls out of sex trafficking. Now, let's get back to our episode.
James McKinney: You mentioned the glass ceiling. You spoke highly of Ogilvy having a female CEO. That excited me a bit because one of the reasons that I have ensured that my representation on The Startup Story is equal to male and female founders is because I remember a conference I went to years ago where the panelists were VC's and a female venture capitalist made a comment about their portfolio. When they looked at their portfolio, their female founder representation was single digits, like 2%, like it was just incredibly low. And then in order to see if there was an actual bias there, they did a blind investment pool. It was like $50 million they pulled aside, blind investment. They knew nothing about the founders but their resume and they ended up being a 47% investment into female founders.
Randi Zuckerberg: Wow, I believe it.
James McKinney: It was unbelievable. So I went… from that conference I was enraged at the situation that was true of what the current venture space was like, but at the same time I also knew that wasn't anything that I was going to personally experience. So I started talking with female founders that had gone through the journey of it, pitching to VC's and hearing just some obnoxious comments about, "Well, who's going to run the company when you have a baby?" Just stupid things like that. So being that you were with a startup, I don't know if you ever pitched anything, but did you see those types of things in the environment of Silicon Valley? And has that been part of your narrative and story going forward as you pursue elevating female founders?
Randi Zuckerberg: Absolutely. I'm so glad you mentioned that. Silicon Valley was and is a very difficult place to be a woman. It's very isolating. I was aware of my gender every single day that I worked in Silicon Valley. I was often on panels like the ones you describe where it's four dudes, me. They'd go down the line, they'd ask the guys very meaningful, deep questions about their business and then they'd get to me and they'd ask how I was a mom and also had a job. I was just incredulous thinking I've been on the front lines of one of the biggest companies of our generation, and that's how you want to waste your time with me on stage is asking how I'm also a mom, and I'm balancing laundry and car pools and having a job?
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Randi Zuckerberg: I loved what I was doing at Facebook. I loved the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, but it was a real slap in the face to be reminded every day that I was the only woman in the room after coming from Ogilvy and Mather and seeing what a world with equal representation looks like.
James McKinney: Yeah. Oh man. Again, I feel myself getting hot just thinking about those conversations, just remembering some of the things other female founders have told me that have been asked of them in the midst of these things, or inappropriate investment meetings at like 9 p.m., and it's like none of that stuff makes any sense.
Randi Zuckerberg: Every single woman has multiple stories like that, no matter who they are.
James McKinney: It's crazy.
Randi Zuckerberg: I am probably the most protected class of woman in Silicon Valley because I was working at a company where my brother was the CEO, and I still have stories like that about interactions in Silicon Valley. So it always makes my blood boil too. Especially you were talking about that VC firm that had 2% financing of women. That's the industry average. That's not just that one firm. That's the industry average. When you break down that 2% even further and you account for women of color, it's a microscopic number of that. That 2% is really going to white women. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. I do believe that in the 15 years since I went out to Silicon Valley until now, we are seeing steps in the right direction. There are many more female founders that are out there. There is a lot more fundraising that's dedicated to women. A lot more female startups that are achieving high valuations than I've ever seen before, so I feel positive about it but there's still just a lot more work to do.
James McKinney: Absolutely, absolutely. Now, that had nothing to do with your exit of Silicon Valley, right?
Randi Zuckerberg: No.
James McKinney: There was something more entertaining as to how you exited Facebook and Silicon Valley, but what was the catalyst to get you to come back to the east coast from the west coast, and leaving technology for what? What was that next step?
Randi Zuckerberg: Gosh. Well, you teed it up very well. I loved my time at Facebook. I was there, I was in Silicon Valley for almost a decade. I created Facebook Live while I was at the company. It was kind of my shining gem that I feel most proud of about my years there. I see so many people still using that product today, and it's amazing. But I started off all of this telling you that my dream was to be an actress. And about five years ago, I was just sitting in my living room and I got a call from the producers of Rock of Ages, an eighties rock Broadway musical. They were saying, "You know, Randi, we've been mulling around this idea that we should have a technology personality come star in our Broadway show to bring in different ticket sales on Broadway. The first eight people we spoke to about who is a tech person that wants to sing on Broadway, the first eight people all said you."
James McKinney: That's amazing.
Randi Zuckerberg: So they're like we're calling you to offer you a lead role on Broadway. I thought I was getting punked. I thought Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out. That's not a thing that happens. Thank you for your prank call, please go away. But it was real and I had also just found out that morning I was pregnant, which was that was a crazy day.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Randi Zuckerberg: And they were saying, "Maybe in a few months you want to come do the Broadway thing," and I'm like sitting there calculating how many days left I have until I'm going to show, for the pregnancy to show. How about Monday? I would like to come to New York on Monday and start my run. And I did. That conversation was on a Thursday. By Monday, I had moved to New York.
James McKinney: Unbelievable. Oh my goodness. So what was mentally going through your mental space at that time? Because if I look through your journey now, you go ad firm, running a TV show, technology, you have so many different chapters. I think that's one of the beautiful things about life is we don't have to get stuck in something forever.
Randi Zuckerberg: That's right.
James McKinney: And now you're on Broadway. What was going through your headspace as you were making this jump? By the way, at this time were your married? I know you had a kid on the way. Did you have one already?
Randi Zuckerberg: So I was married. I had a three year old already and a second on the way. And it's interesting that you bring up those things because I always believed in life that you were supposed to have a calling, like one thing that you were meant to do, and if you didn't know what that was that you were failing. I think what my experiences have taught me is that none of us have just one calling. That there are so many chapters and phases of our lives. There are different things you can get incredibly passionate about and interested in. and that also, if you do have a dream there are a hundred ways to realize it.
James McKinney: Amen.
Randi Zuckerberg: I think that was the biggest reflection that I have of getting that chance to star on Broadway, because I had given up on that dream. It came back to find me, but in a wildly different way than anyone would have ever dreamed.
James McKinney: Yes, yes.
Randi Zuckerberg: I think that's just a good lesson to all of us, that if you have a goal that you want to do, don't just look at the one common way that people get there. But that was one of the most incredible experiences of my life was going to New York and having the opportunity to be in Rock of Ages.
James McKinney: So I have to ask, and not business related at all, but your first moment on Broadway with a live audience, how emotional was it?
Randi Zuckerberg: It was so emotional. I had probably, there were about 600 seats in the Helen Hayes theater and I would say about 100 of them were like my close friends and family. And the stage manager, as they were announcing the show, was like, "And making her Broadway debut tonight…" I couldn't believe it. I just never thought in my life those would be words that I would hear, because how many of us get to check off the number one thing on our bucket list in our life. Especially I was only 32 years old when that happened. That was just pretty epic to have that experience. It was also terrifying. I had only seven rehearsals to learn an entire Broadway show. I never, ever once even got to rehearse on the Broadway stage because the show was running every night for a paying audience. I was like coming into a show that was already running, so I was practicing in this little rehearsal space. The first time I set foot on the stage was my debut.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness.
Randi Zuckerberg: So there's all these little things that were so terrifying about it, but I think those are the moments in life when you're like okay, do I have the grit to dig deep and rise to this challenge? And when you do, I think often you surprise yourself.
James McKinney: Always. Oh, I love that. Absolutely love it. But Broadway is not your career. It's a slice of what you do.
Randi Zuckerberg: No. I'm not a professional actress.
James McKinney: Well, technically because of that…
Randi Zuckerberg: I mean I am a union card carrying member, so I guess technically I am. I'm an unemployed actress.
James McKinney: That is awesome. So what are you doing? Let's continue to connect the dots. So you star on Broadway. You're featured on Broadway. What were the next steps? Because that's not, I know you now as Zuckerberg Media.
Randi Zuckerberg: Yes, thank you. There were a few things that I realized about myself. Sometimes, when you actually get a chance to accomplish your dream, you realize it's not quite what you thought it was when you peak beneath the hood. I loved being on Broadway, but you do the exact same show every single time, eight times a week. There's no career growth. There's no personal growth. It's like Groundhog Day, every day. Same show.
That was a little challenging for me after coming from such an entrepreneurial growth driven setting. I was like wait, I'm just expected to do the identical thing eight times a week every week? I didn't love that. I didn't love the idea that someone else was like controlling the show and giving me notes on my performance every night. I want to be the one calling the shots. I don't want to just be a puppet in someone else's vision. But I used that experience as an entree to the industry. I started meeting with big producers and folks in the industry and I quickly realized that the best area for my skills was on the producing side, because I knew how to run a business. A Broadway show raises roughly an identical amount of money to a small startup and is structured the same way as a startup, so I knew that. And I also had the background of knowledge of what it was like to be on the acting side of it.
I realized I think my future in this industry is not in acting, it's in marrying the technology world and the theatrical world. That's I started getting into producing. Went through my company Zuckerberg Media. We now do a lot of investments on both the theatrical side and in technology companies that support theatrical.
James McKinney: Now quick question on the theatrical, before we continue on about Zuckerberg Media. But you mention it's a lot like a small startup as far as investment capital needed. But the funding side of it, my mind says that there are so many more funding opportunities for a business startup versus a show. So how, what's the funding mechanism like for a show?
Randi Zuckerberg: It's actually been shocking to me how similar it is, to be totally honest.
James McKinney: Really? Wow.
Randi Zuckerberg: I thought I was stepping into a completely different world. It felt very familiar to me, coming from a startup world because you have a concept for a show. You have a small founding team, which is like a writer and a musician. And someone, some angel investor, says you know what, I'm going to believe in this team, I'm going to give them $50,000 or $100,000 to go give me a prototype. Then they come back with their prototype and people say, "Okay. That's actually going pretty well. Let's take it to the next level. Let's map out version 2.0 and put it in front of a live audience and some investors to see if they're interested." To me, then what shows do, it's a lot like a Y Combinator demo day. They'll put on a full reading and they'll have investors sit there-
James McKinney: Really?
Randi Zuckerberg: … and say I'm interested, I'm not.
James McKinney: Wow.
Randi Zuckerberg: And by the time a show is moving to Broadway, it's raising about $12 million, which is I think a pretty standard series A round for a startup. Structured very similarly with founders shares and investor shares. So I was like you know what? I understand this world. I feel like I get it. I get the amounts of money.
James McKinney: That's amazing.
Randi Zuckerberg: I get the process, and let's do it.
James McKinney: I'm also shocked whenever I get the chance to talk with people from different industries, when I hear stories like this. I had no idea that that was the funding route for a Broadway show. Oh my goodness. I love that. Now, Zuckerberg Media, if you were to synthesize it down for our listeners who may not be aware of Zuckerberg Media, they are aware of Zuckerberg Institute because we had Michael Littig on probably 15 episodes ago at this point. An amazing story with his time in the UN.
Randi Zuckerberg: He's amazing. Every time that I think I know everything about his life, I uncover… He's like, "That time I drank yak blood while I hiked in Nepal," or something like… Every conversation with him uncovers a new onion layer like that.
James McKinney: I love it. I love that. So we know about Zuckerberg Institute because of that episode, but can you break down Zuckerberg Media and what your hopes and ambitions are with this venture of yours.
Randi Zuckerberg: Sure. And I think for me, it really boils down to a lot the fact that I spent a lot of years researching why we lose women in Silicon Valley, and why there's such a glass ceiling. My research uncovered two particular age groups. The first is around eight, nine, 10 years old where girls start to have their own identity. They start to say, "Oh, that's for boys, this is for girls," so that's a huge gap that we see right there. The other gap happens in entrepreneurship. Women don't have the same access to funding as we mentioned. They don't have the same peer networks around them, and so a lot of women give up before they even start. I was like all right, that seems to be a very clear path to I've now identified a problem and now I know that the two areas I need to focus on as an entrepreneur are young girls and entrepreneurs.
So in Zuckerberg Media, we like to say that we cater to current and future entrepreneurs, because we serve entrepreneurs who are in it right now, who need that support and guidance and skill set and mentorship. But we also do a lot of work around young girls and children in STEM and tech, because if we lose them now, then they don't even know they could be entrepreneurs and we've already lost them. So that's why if you go to the Zuckerberg Media website, there's two buttons. It says, "Are you a current entrepreneur or a future entrepreneur?" and depending on which one you click, we have different offerings that we do.
James McKinney: So right now, Zuckerberg Media has been around for four or five years?
Randi Zuckerberg: Yeah, exactly. I'm like trying to think exactly when. It was right around when I moved to New York, so that would have been about four years ago.
James McKinney: So when you think through the setup and the current state of Zuckerberg Media, with what you're trying to accomplish with the current and future entrepreneurs, what has been some of the challenges you've experienced in helping to really give a narrative to your focus of the challenges of female entrepreneurship and young girl entrepreneurship?
Randi Zuckerberg: Well, I think these are just very complicated problems to solve, and they're not going to be solved by just me, one company. A lot of these problems if we're talking about truly getting eight and nine y ear old girls excited about STEM and technology, that's not just going to be me. That's going to require movement from thousands of schools and hundreds of television shows that are going to need to launch to show techie girls on screen. It's going to require a movement. But I at least hope that I can be kind of one cog in the wheel of that movement. So I think that's been a challenge. Whenever you take on a problem that's bigger than yourself, there are definitely moments that I wake up and I think wow, this is so overwhelming, I've bitten off such a big problem, why bother. Why am I even hitting my head into a brick wall and nothing is going to change? But then I have an equal number of days where I wake up and I think wow, I think there's a good chance that a young girls that saw one of our TV shows or experienced 3D printed chocolate in our roaming sweet shop, maybe one of those girls is going to explore a career in tech because she had that a-ha moment, and then that's worth it.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness. I absolutely love that. So for those listening, because you did mention the young girls, the roaming tech shop, Suzie's Kitchen I believe is what it's called?
Randi Zuckerberg: Yes. Sue's Tech Kitchen.
James McKinney: Sue's Tech Kitchen, that's right. That's one of the many things that Zuckerberg Media has produced to help insert the prominence of young girls and technology. What are some of the things Zuckerberg Media has done that maybe our listeners are not aware of?
Randi Zuckerberg: Yeah. So Sue's Tech Kitchen was kind of our techie sweet shop. It toured the country all last year. We went to 10 different cities and we specifically went to cities that maybe aren't like the biggest cities in America. So a lot of the big cities, children are lucky to have great access to technology and STEM labs. We went to places like Jackson, Mississippi, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Tacoma, Washington. Like we went to places that I felt are really kind of on the starting edge of being a startup city and could really use that boost. That was very exciting and rewarding.
We've done a lot of work on the media side, too. We have a television show called Dot that's running in about 80 countries right now about a super techie girl. She gets in all of these crazy adventures and creates inventions, usually to try and make her dog's life better. And then she realizes that, at the end of the day, it's really just her own creativity and spirit that solves problems, not always technology.
James McKinney: I love that.
Randi Zuckerberg: And that show, we're now in our third season and have been running that all over the world. So we're constantly working on different… we have children's books, TV shows, theatrical projects as I mentioned to you. Lots of things that we're doing to reach children. But we also do a lot of work to reach current entrepreneurs. You mentioned the Zuckerberg Institute and Michael Littig. We do a lot through Zuckerberg Institute of training, mentoring, coaching, and Michael's actually leading a trip to India with a lot of entrepreneurs.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Randi Zuckerberg: It's a mindful leadership. And we do tons of trips like that, so if anyone comes to our website, to Zuckerberginstitute.com, we're always going on these really once in a lifetime leadership trips.
James McKinney: One of the things that you mentioned about the idea of elevating female entrepreneurship, young girl entrepreneurship, it's not going to be just you that's able to do that. So as our listeners, and our listeners have existing businesses, they're want-repreneurs, they're all aged from 18 to 55 tends to be the main demographic of my listeners. What can people listening right now do that can contribute to that same focus?
Randi Zuckerberg: I think there's so many things that listeners can do. First of all, if you have an eight, nine, ten year old girl in your life, it's really at a pivotal age to get her interested in STEM and technology, whether that is introducing her to Minecraft to love Minecraft, or taking her to like a maker fair. There are so many things in our local communities that can spark that a-ha moment for a young girl in tech that makes it feel accessible and approachable, and doesn't make her feel like it's only for the boys. For those of us who have school age children, we definitely need to make sure that we're in our schools advocating to make sure that kids are learning coding skills and all of these skills, and that it's not something that just boys are opting into in the school. For those of us that are lucky to have some financial means in our career, the opportunity to turn around and angel invest in women I think is one of the most impactful things that each of us can do in our local community to give a female entrepreneur a leg up that she might not be able to get on her own, or to sponsor a scholarship in your local community for a girl to attending a coding class or something like that. So I think there's just countless ways that all of us can become part of the solution.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love this and I am so bummed that our time has to come to an end, because there's just so much more I want to unpack. But our time does have to come to an end. It cannot be an eight part series. But there's two questions that I ask every founder and really if I had to bring the show down to 10 minutes, it'd probably be these two questions. The first one is about gratitude and the reason I ask this question is that I believe that if we start thinking that we got to where we are today then we begin to isolate ourselves and ultimately it will lead to our failure. So when you look back to your life's journey and all the different stages that you've walked through, who are all the people you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Randi Zuckerberg: Oh my gosh. There are so many people that I feel incredible gratitude towards. My parents both sacrificed so much. Their time. My mom was a doctor and then stopped to be a stay at home mom. If I had wanted to be an actress, they would have been supportive of it. They never once told me to not do that, to get a real career. My parents were my dates to the Tony Awards this summer when I won two Tony's.
James McKinney: Oh, that is so cool.
Randi Zuckerberg: it was just like this incredible moment of gratitude of these people that have been with me on this just crazy, weird journey that I've been on. I have so much gratitude to my brother for taking me along on the ride for Facebook, was just such a life experience. The people on my team at Zuckerberg Media now. I get to work with my best friends and the smartest people that I know. I wake up every morning feeling such gratitude for that. So yeah, there's not a day that goes by that I don't realize how just stupidly lucky I am in my life.
James McKinney: Oh, I absolutely love it. Absolutely love it. So the final question, and we've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners right now. I like to take this conversation down to just you and one listener, almost like a digital coffee talk. Because I view The Startup Story as a digital mentor, so this is just now between you and one entrepreneur or want- repreneuer, sitting over a New York cafe table with coffee. Whether that entrepreneur is someone who has a business and is just frustrated and discouraged at the lack of traction because they see how things are blowing up around them and the media is saying that if you're not successful within 24 months you're a failure. If you're having cash flow issues, whatever the case may be. Or maybe you're a want-repreneur that has a book full of dreams and ideas, but the narrative of I have a spouse and kids and a mortgage, or I'm 60 years old maybe that ship has sailed for me. Whatever that persona is, just you and that one person, what do you say to that one person?
Randi Zuckerberg: Oh, there's so many things I'd want to say to that person, but first of all I would want to say that there's never a right age or a right time to have a dream or to start something. It doesn't matter if you're 15 or you're 85. We're lucky that we all live in a world where if you have a laptop and an internet connection, you can start a business. Ten years ago, that was not the case. It's pretty incredible that we live in a world where for such few resources any of us can do that. But I guess the thing I always tell people is to really look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're willing to put in the hard work. It's okay if the answer is no. You can have a very fulfilling career working for someone else's vision. There are a lot of people who feel very fulfilled by that. If it is your vision that you want to work in purpose of, you have to be willing to put in the hard work. Not everyone is, because there's no such thing as an overnight success. Every single thing that you think is an overnight success was like 18 years in the making. If you're not willing to buckle down and have that grit, and that hard work, then that's the number one thing that determines your success in entrepreneurship.
James McKinney: Randi's episode marks our 55th episode of The Startup Story podcast. After having interviewed over 100 founders for this show and my previous live events, I can say with great certainty that you need to be willing to endure the grind. Randi mentioned that you should look in the mirror and ask yourself if you're willing to put in the hard work. That's some real talk right there. Go back to episode 14 with Neelie Powell, the founder of Charleston Shoe Company to hear about how her bookkeeper stole $300,000 from her and the only way she was going to make payroll was for her to hit the road for a few weeks to work trunk shows to sell her shoes. Or go back to episode 19 with Mia Plecic to hear how she lost two e-commerce companies and millions of dollars within a 12 month time span. Or even go farther back to episode two with Larry Namer, the founder of E! Entertainment Television to hear how he went from laying cable in the sewers of Manhattan to hustling for two years trying to raise money for his cable channel startup, only to receive rejection after rejection until he was down to his last $60 before he got just a fraction of the money he needed. But I think we know how that story plays out. All this to say entrepreneurship is a ride. It's a ride that will stretch you beyond what you thought you were capable of. A ride that has the potential to change your life in unbelievable ways, and depending upon your product or service, change the lives of others in unbelievable ways.
But you have to know that the ups and downs are par for the course. The ups and downs are not the anomalies. They truly are the norm. But if we're honest with ourselves, isn't that why we pursue it? Part of the ride is to see how much we can truly carry. I hope you found some real value in Randi's The Startup Story episode and if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So for that reason, I hope you will support Randi by visiting zuckerbergmedia.com. There you'll find numerous resources for your entrepreneurial journey, as well as resources for those of you who are contemplating entrepreneurship. Let's show up for Randi Zuckerberg in a big way by visiting zuckerbergmedia.com. We'll include a link in our show notes. And now, for my personal ask.
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