Female Founder Feature: Melissa Strawn – MyPeopleNow, Inc.

Melissa Strawn is the Founder & CEO of MyPeopleNow, Inc. Her incredible journey
is a testament to the power of resilience, as you can learn from her genuine, down to earth, no-holds-barred, must-read blog. “If you have a passion for building a better freelance economy, a mission toward ending poverty and social service dependence, or a business that’s already working on pieces of these puzzles, let’s connect! We can only build a better tomorrow together.” Read on to learn more about Melissa’s inspiring path.
Tell us about your company. What inspired you to start it?
MyPeopleNow.com is a peer-to-peer marketplace for services (think TaskRabbit with long-tail offerings and a unique twist). We know that earning money and being productive is a great thing and also that people yearn for something more meaningful than the social media that exists today. Because of that, we are working on building a market network for social productivity. This means we will offer a social piece (like LinkedIn) and combine that with the marketplace we have to create a community where people can share stories about all of the people they have helped with their unique talents and skills and post about all of the people who have helped them throughout the day. I started this company as a poor single mom in the Bay Area and desperately wanted to turn the skills I had to offer into necessary help for myself and kids. Now that the gig economy has taken off, I feel that it could benefit from less transactional help and move into more meaningful experiences.
Who are your cofounders and what makes you a great team? I don’t have an official co-founder on paper, but my husband and I really made this a reality together over the last year and a half. We already made an incredible team raising five sons while also managing two suites on Airbnb – hosting hundreds of guests with rave reviews – so we knew it was time to make the leap into finally working on our own startup. I have a record shattering background in inside sales (my last month at Zillow, I hit 357% of quota!) and Jord has spent the last 20 years as a software engineer for companies like Google, Moz, and eBay. People often look at us on family outings and such and comment on how we “do it all.” I’d say when you take the passion, dedication, and commitment I have to see this startup through and you combine that with Jord’s ability to write great code, you have a surefire win and a team who just won’t quit.
How is your company making a difference? Though our marketplace can be used by anyone, our hearts lie with the millions of people who are shut out of the traditional employment model. Billions of dollars are unrealized by our GDP because we have an economic system that doesn’t allow people to earn a living given their unique constraints – whether those be disability, lack of affordable access to childcare, mental illness, lack of transportation, and more. We allow the helpers on our site to offer any unique service they love providing, even if they are incapable of leaving their homes. With video chat functionality for every registered member, people can really dig down deep and create video-chat services around private concerts, counseling, life coaching, or even learning new skills from a chef! Whoever you are and with whatever unique challenges and gifts you have, we want you to know that there’s a place in this world for you to earn an honest living doing only what you love.
What are some of the challenges you have faced? Being a bootstrapped marketplace, we have struggled with keeping our demand side up with our supply side. We have had great success with recruiting hundreds of helpers to offer incredibly helpful services, but we have learned that the demand side requires a bit more hand-holding and concierge-level service in order to gain trust for a new marketplace. We have also struggled financially. We got some great feedback from a program we were turned down by that suggested we try harder to differentiate ourselves from the gig offerings out there today. But with such limited resources at our disposal, it’s hard to build out what our vision is and what our customers say they want quickly enough to keep people engaged and interested.
What is your biggest win? Our biggest win was getting our MVP completed. This allowed us to test and prove so many of our hypotheses including: people wanting to post their services to a site like ours, people being willing to accept points in addition to actual money (points are a way to barter services and are awarded on every transaction), and people listing odd, unique, and long-tail services rather than just the same services that can be purchased online today.
Who is your role model? My real true role model in life has always been my grandmother. She had the ability to see the real gifts in every single person and make those gifts shine. Whether that person be one of the countless special-needs kids she mentored in her career or just a stressed out cashier who needed a gentle reminder of how wonderful they were, my grandmother saw beauty and value in everyone. The reason that type of upbringing was valuable to me is that I learned early on that the only real differences that separated the wildly successful from the hopelessly poor were connections, experience, education, and personal wellbeing. Regardless of where I was throughout my life, I knew that all of those things were attainable, not innate, and that not only could I achieve them someday, I could also teach others how to as well. This drives my entire company vision.
What do you wish you had known before starting your company? I wish I had known that friends/family and clients/colleagues are very different groups of people in ones’ business life. For the longest time, I felt sad or disheartened at how unsupportive people I knew were. But a friend of mine explained it to me in a way that really made sense: he said that people expect you to be the version of yourself that you are in their heads. It’s the same reason why kids feel so weirded out by seeing their teachers in the grocery store – they feel like, “Woah! Don’t you belong at school?!” The same goes for our loved ones. In their eyes, we are still the chubby misfit, the socially awkward teenager, or the co-worker who is one cube over – not the budding entrepreneur, the person getting written up in articles, or a future Fortune 500 CEO. What I have learned is that you have to find your community of support and seek out their encouragement, wisdom, and time. Without those people who cheer you on and say, “heck yeah – you got this!” a founder can feel quite alone and discouraged. Being a startup founder can actually be quite depressing at times and I have doubted myself more than I can count. But then I have conversations with people who “get it” and who remind me of my “why” and then I smile and bask in my vision and feel nothing but gratitude for each person in my life, supportive or not.
What has been your experience with FFA? My experience with FFA has been nothing shy of miraculous. I have never been a part of a group, organization, or event that has connected me with as many powerful people as FFA has. I have met angel investors, the media, and other CEO’s that have been wildly instrumental in my progress toward getting press, figuring out product focus, and the encouragement to keep going even when it gets tough and even when you are about to break. FFA delivers on their promises and I truly believe that FFA will be the bridge that connects more female founders to the “other side” – the side with all the resources, connections, and funding and ultimately the side with the success.
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