Podcast Transcript – Series TWO, Episode 30
ashlee Ammons, mixtroz april 2021
Ashlee Ammons: [00:00:00] I’m at zero or I’m at 100, I do not have a 50% setting
[00:00:04]and we just could not find a solution that was solving the problem in the way that we were talking about. And so boom, business idea.
[00:00:10]We’re like hurricane Mixtroz in here all the time.
[00:00:13]Someone said to her in an open forum, like, Ooh, I’ve heard of your little business, but you’re a black female in the South. This won’t happen for you.
[00:00:20]I would take all my coins that I was making from LeBron. And I would like buy myself a one-way ticket to New York
[00:00:25] If I just watched my co-founder do that, I can’t be a halftime. Co-founder, it’s either time to get in or time to get out.
[00:00:32] So we’ve done everything from, you know, a trade show to a TEDx.
[00:00:35] Birmingham, Alabama was absolutely nowhere on my radar.
[00:00:38] That first round of funding is going to go towards putting process behind hustle.
[00:00:42]I am a little less sugar, a little bit more vinegar, and I love the Lord, but I don’t take no fill in the blank.
[00:00:50]If you made it to 2021, you won because 2020 was all about survival.
[00:00:55] Dan: [00:00:55] What’s up Unfound Nation Dan Kihanya here. Thanks so [00:01:00] much for checking out another episode of Founders Unfound. That was Ashlee Ammons co-founder and president of Mixtroz, a company that creates serendipity at live and virtual events using real-time surveying and their unique algorithm. Ashley has an amazing journey from Ohio to New York, to Tennessee, and eventually to Alabama, she’s gone from interning with LeBron James to becoming one of the first few African-American women to raise over $1 million in venture funding. And she’s known her co-founder literally all of her life keep listening for my great conversation with Ashlee.
[00:01:32] Our episode is sponsored by Cascadia Cleantech Accelerator powered by VertueLab and Cleantech Alliance. This 15- week accelerator program delivers mentorship, connections, funding opportunities, and more to early-stage cleantech startups looking to launch and scale their businesses. Go to cascadiacleantech.org.
[00:01:51] Our episode is also sponsored by AfriBlocks, the global pan-African freelance marketplace, and collaboration platform. A great resource for devs [00:02:00] designers and virtual assistants. Check out the link in the show notes.
[00:02:04] Before we continue, please make sure to like, and subscribe to the podcast where available anywhere you get your podcasts, even YouTube.
[00:02:12] I so appreciate everyone in Unfound Nation who shows up to listen to the great founders we get on the show. And if you like what you hear, drop us a review on Apple or podchaser.com. Now on with the episode,
[00:02:24] stay safe and hope you enjoy.
[00:02:35] Hello, and welcome to Founders Unfound, spotlighting, the best startups you don’t know yet. We bring you stories of exceptional founders from underrepresented and underestimated backgrounds. This is episode number 30 in our continuing series on founders of African descent. I’m your host. Dan Kihanya. Let’s get on it.
[00:02:54] Today, we have Ashlee Ammons co-founder of Mixtroz, a company that creates serendipity at [00:03:00] live and virtual events using real-time serving and an algorithm. Welcome to the show. Ashlee, we’re super excited to have you on. Thanks for making the time.
[00:03:08] Ashlee Ammons: [00:03:08] I’m glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
[00:03:10] Dan: [00:03:10] All right. Excellent. So let’s start off. Just help the listeners. Understand what, what is mixed. Exactly.
[00:03:16] Ashlee Ammons: [00:03:16] Yes. So Mixtroz stands for the word mixer and introduction smushed together. This idea came about because both my co-founder who’s also my mom and I had awkward networking experiences over the course of the same weekend.
[00:03:30] We have backgrounds in human resources and event production. And so we look for something to solve the problem that we felt, and we couldn’t find anything on the market that was solving it in the way that we were thinking about. So we did the logical thing and we built it. And so what mixtures does, it’s a tool that can be used anywhere that 50 or more people are gathered, live or virtually.
[00:03:49] And it is a spark for serendipity between people while being able to collect meaningful insights to event organizers. So. We offer ROI on both sides [00:04:00] because people go to events to make new connections and event organizers know that networking that, you know, the spark of serendipity connection collision community, you know, it’s, uh, critical to the measure of an event’s success because that’s what people are coming for in this day and age.
[00:04:15] You know, we can stream content at any time of the day or night. It’s really that who was there. Who did I collide with? Who could open a door for me, whether personal or professional.
[00:04:25]Dan: [00:04:25] I love that. And as an introvert who sometimes dreads going to the events, this idea of crying, trying to find that serendipity and that connection point, uh, it feels very powerful for me.
[00:04:36] So we’re gonna, we’re going to dive more into that in a little bit, but let’s start off with understanding who you are. W where did you, where’d you come from? Where did you grow up?
[00:04:45] Ashlee Ammons: [00:04:45] I love that question. It’s so open-ended like, where do you come from? So I am a Cleveland, Ohio girl. So I come from the Northeast.
[00:04:52] I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. So my mom, my mom’s always been a powerhouse. So I’ve always had a compass of due [00:05:00] North to look toward for what success looks like. And I lived with that the whole time I was growing up a very strong, fierce female businesswoman. When I was in high school, like junior high, high school, my mom started pursuing her master’s degree.
[00:05:13] You know, she did that while she was working nights at Ford, she had a large blended family that she was caring for and everything else that she was doing, but I watched her hustle and get that done. I have really vivid memories of her being at clarinet recitals and stuff. And she would have like a statistics book on her lap.
[00:05:29] Which was so different from all the other moms, but the important thing was she was there, but it was also studying and she got a good grade in that class. So that’s good. So when my mom completed her master’s degree, we moved for the first time as a family from Ohio to Lexington, Kentucky. And this was a changing point in my life because.
[00:05:46] At that point, you know, where we were in Cleveland, Ohio, you know, it was pretty blue-collar, but like, you know, everybody was happy, healthy going on vacations, that sort of thing. But my mom got a 60% bump in her pay after she got that master’s degree. And so that [00:06:00] just like shot us into a whole different stratosphere of things that I was seeing for the first time I was like, this is what a single-family home looks like.
[00:06:07] It’s like 5,000 square feet. Like what in the world? It was definitely just opening new doors and letting me experience new things. So I finished high school in Kentucky. I then went back to Cleveland for my undergrad, which I would say is kind of what sparked the rest of my life. Really. So when I was in undergrad, I went to a small liberal arts college called Baldwin Wallace.
[00:06:27] I went when I was 17. So my parents were like, you need to be near us for like a year. And then you can go wherever you want. But of course, they knew what they were doing because you go to college, you make all your friends, you’re definitely not going to go anywhere. And you know, I was very involved in undergrad, so I was a class president.
[00:06:42] I was in a sorority. I was a radio DJ. I was nominated for homecoming queen, like all that good stuff. And you know, varsity cheerleader, I’m telling you I was Ms. Baldwin Wallace. If you will.
[00:06:52] Dan: [00:06:52] Yeah, you just, you just rattle off a bunch of stuff. Like those are all like taken for granted
[00:06:57] Ashlee Ammons: [00:06:57] or like just one of those would have been good.
[00:07:00] [00:07:00] Dan: [00:07:00] Exactly. Most people are like, yeah, I’m shooting for
[00:07:02] Ashlee Ammons: [00:07:02] one.
[00:07:03] You know, so that’s who I was in college. And so I randomly had gotten paired up with a classmate of mine during college. We were working on something called dance marathon its philanthropy. And so I always tell students when I’m speaking to them like this was back in the day like Facebook was only available on desktop.
[00:07:18] Like for that matter, I phones weren’t a thing yet. You know, when you were matched with somebody, you didn’t have Twitter distracting you or Snapchat or TikTok or any of that. If you were matched with someone to work on a project, you really worked on that project. Like these kids, these days don’t know anything about free nights and weekends that’s when you were allowed to text people.
[00:07:34] Right? So me and this classmate of mine were working on something and he and I looked very dissimilar. Like he skewed a little bit nerdy. He was a white guy, but super nice and smart. And like, I just told you who I was in college, but what happened is we just had a great conversation for about 45 minutes.
[00:07:50] And after that conversation, he was like, you know, I know this woman she’s looking for interns, I’m going to email her your information. And I said, okay, wonderful, Brendan. That’s great. And about a week later, [00:08:00] this woman emailed me, brought me in for an interview. And then two weeks after that, I became LeBron James’ first intern.
[00:08:05] The LeBron James?
[00:08:06] The LeBron James, as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one.
[00:08:09] Dan: [00:08:09] We’re going to dive into that. But before we dive into that, I mean, tell, tell me a little bit more about like, did you grow up in Cleveland itself?
[00:08:16] Ashlee Ammons: [00:08:16] Like a suburb that’s like North Eastern, Ohio? Yes. It’s called Lorraine. Like if somebody listening to this knows where Lorraine is, I would be like,
[00:08:25] Dan: [00:08:25] I know where Lorraine is.
[00:08:26] Ashlee Ammons: [00:08:26] You do?
[00:08:27] Dan: [00:08:27] I worked at Ford and Lorraine is where the Thunderbird has made.
[00:08:30] Ashlee Ammons: [00:08:30] Oh my gosh. So wait, so my parents worked at Ford. There you go. I’m like this small world.
[00:08:36] Dan: [00:08:36] Yeah. I had to go down there every now and then I also know that, uh, right on the way between Detroit and Lorraine is a wonderful place called Cedar Point.
[00:08:44] Ashlee Ammons: [00:08:44] You’re in Sandusky, Ohio for all of our rollercoaster enthusiasts. It is the number one theme park in the world.
[00:08:51] Dan: [00:08:51] It’s awesome. It is. It’s better than Disney World. It’s pretty awesome. So you get to college. And what I’m hearing a little bit of is this [00:09:00] is adaptability to moving and to appreciating differences, which I think is a big thing for entrepreneurs.
[00:09:07] But let’s hear about LeBron James. I want, I want to hear more about LeBron James. Let’s hear about this story.
[00:09:12] Ashlee Ammons: [00:09:12] I got that internship in like 2007 and I didn’t graduate until 2009. So I was with them for some time. So, you know, I think it’s a little-known fact like LeBron is a kingdom. He literally has a kingdom of things that he’s running so many projects.
[00:09:26] I mean, today compared to where we were back then, you know, but he still had a marketing agency essentially is what it was. There was like an infamous story about LeBron, where at a certain point in his career, he fired all of his agents and he hired all of his best friends, like best friends that he had made from like college and that sort of thing.
[00:09:42] And they didn’t even really have the experience, but they had the hustle. And it’s funny because they’re still with him today, managing everything from like his top-dollar deals with Coca-Cola, to, you know, new movie projects and things that he has going on. So it was such an extraordinary experience, because like I joined them when there was nothing.
[00:09:59] Like [00:10:00] the office that I walked into on the first day had white walls and no furniture. And they were like, this office needs supplies. You figure that out. I was like, okay. Cause I wasn’t, you know, it was like 19 at the time. And you know, I think some of my most valuable skillsets for entrepreneurship have come from jobs like that.
[00:10:15] The intern turned office manager, the executive assistant that I was for some time when I moved, you know, after college, because it’s really that. Putting pieces together and just figuring it out. Like there’s no playbook really for jobs like that. It is just, what can you do on your toes? It is a mixture of street and book smarts coming together and just raw hustle.
[00:10:36] Because for me, when somebody gives me a task or when there’s something going on in the company like I never see no as an option, there’s always a way to, yes. Like I’m not over here carrying cancer, grateful for the people that are, but I’m not doing that. So there is always a way to figure out how to get to yes.
[00:10:50] Dan: [00:10:50] Uh, what’s the, what’s the saying? Uh, the beauty of yes. Instead of the tyranny of, of, or, or no, so, absolutely. That’s definitely, what’s something you need to be an [00:11:00] entrepreneur. Wow. You, you have all these great building blocks. This is great. So what are you thinking when you have this job or this internship with this group it’s LeBron’s kingdom, so to speak, were you thinking about what’s next, where you thinking like, this is definitely what I want to do, or how did you think about what would be next after that?
[00:11:17] Ashlee Ammons: [00:11:17] So, uh, I actually majored in broadcast mass communications and PR. So I thought that I would be a news anchor. Like that’s where I thought that I was going to land and then getting the internship really opened me up to the world of like large-scale event planning. And so I was like, you know, I think I have a network.
[00:11:33] For this, I was like, you are highly organized, you know, you’re energetic, you’re meticulous in your nature. Like, these are all things that tie right into my personality. And I was like, Ooh, I kind of like this. And I had always wanted to be in New York for whatever reason. Like that had always been the dream for me.
[00:11:48] Like I want to leave the smaller areas that I’ve lived in. And I’m going to New York. I honestly think it was a result of when I was in high school sex and the city was still on TV and I used to like sneak and watch it cause I [00:12:00] wasn’t allowed. And I just saw that life and I was like, Oh, I’m so interested in that.
[00:12:04] You know, I now know that that life is very, uh, the way that it was depicted is like not realistic whatsoever, but I was living for that dream. Like, you know, I feel, I feel like it’s so true. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. So that is kind of what I was going with. Like New York will be my next.
[00:12:21] Big challenge. And I literally don’t know a soul there, but I’ll figure it out. I did about six months post-grad um, you know, I had gone on like three internships. So like, I would, I would like take all my coins that I was making from LeBron. And I would like buy myself a one-way ticket to New York and like go interview and then like, come back.
[00:12:40] And I did that three different times. Like the first was with IMG. The second was with Ralph Lauren and then. Third was with this, uh, like hospitality company called tower group. And the third time was a charm because by the time I landed back in Cleveland from that last interview, they had left me a message and offered me the job.
[00:12:58] So I was like, Oh wow, I’m [00:13:00] going. So, you know, I moved to New York in December of 2009 and then I was off to the races. So LeBron’s company actually gave me the connect to that particular company. So it was great because I still actually got to work with my LeBron team quite a bit over the course of me making this transition to New York.
[00:13:16] And I started off as. Executive Assistant to the CEO and hustled my way to director of events, you know, in five years.
[00:13:24] Dan: [00:13:24] That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, I, I’m sensing a lot of courage and sort of burn the boats, buying one way. Tickets. This is definitely, uh, something that you do when you have a lot of confidence in yourself.
[00:13:35] Ashlee Ammons: [00:13:35] It was just like, again, like I’ve always viewed things like as like I can figure it out. Like it’s funny, like cheerleading, for example, like. I was not built to be a cheerleader. Like it’s like, I’m taller. I’m like curvier. I’m like all these things. But in my mind I said, I mean, I like, I can teach myself how to do this.
[00:13:53] And so I did, like, I don’t think I was really born to be an athlete. I made myself an athlete and I think that about [00:14:00] many of the things that I’ve done, like entrepreneurship, wasn’t natural to me. I tend to like structure and process and like putting forth effort, and then knowing I’m going to yield results and that really doesn’t exist in entrepreneurship.
[00:14:11] So it took me time to grow into that. But I have, so, you know, I’m just one of those people I’m like, if you set the bar in front of me, I’ll figure out how to get over that. Yeah.
[00:14:21] Dan: [00:14:21] It’s kind of a, what does that the Yoda saying? Right? There’s no try. There’s do or do not.
[00:14:25] Ashlee Ammons: [00:14:25] Yeah. To, to that point, like, I, my personality is I’m at zero or I’m at 100 like I do not have a 50% setting if things are black and white, I have no shades of gray in me.
[00:14:36] So it’s like either you’re going to do it. And you’re going to do it to the full capacity that you have, or are you going to pass?
[00:14:43] Dan: [00:14:43] Yeah. That’s so, I mean, I love that. I love that. And there’s a lot of entrepreneurs like that. So, so tell us Ashlee, this great experience in New York City what’s was you look back, what’s, what’s something that lit leaps out to you where, like, this is something that I built.
[00:14:59] This is a [00:15:00] skill. This isn’t a perspective as an insight I built in that organization or in that time. And that organization that prepared me to be a founder.
[00:15:07] Ashlee Ammons: [00:15:07] I made myself indispensable to the team that I was on. And what I mean by that is, you know, this is 2009, so we’re certainly way pre any like me to us to, Oh my gosh.
[00:15:19] People of color in the workplace, women, and whatnot like this was before that. And so, you know, I had the luck of having pretty great bosses to work for. So, you know, I have no complaints from that realm of things. But one thing that I didn’t mess with them about was when it was a year on the date, I sat them down, made them sit down, and said, Here’s what I make. Here’s what I need to make. And let me tell you why. And I did that every single year that I was working and my answer would always be yes. Why? Because I made myself indispensable. They’re like, look at all the things that this woman is doing. There is no way we’re losing her, give her what she wants. And, and let me tell you, I was working my tail off working so hard when I was [00:16:00] 23, I got shingles like shingles.
[00:16:01] It’s supposed to happen when you’re like in your sixties. I was 23. So like I did have to reel it back in a little bit, but I, I made myself indispensable. I was, I always knew what was next. I always made myself available for more like, very quickly. When I became the executive assistant, I was like, okay, well, great.
[00:16:17] I got this job down pat. I said, but now I want to get into this event stuff. So I used to like insert myself in everything. So like when the events team would be like planning something big, I’d be like, Ooh, it sounds like you guys need somebody to work the door. Like I know that that’s not the most glamorous job, but guess what if you pay me $500, which is cheaper than what you were going to offer someone else.
[00:16:35] I’ll take it. And so, you know, it was just constantly doing those kinds of things that got me where I was going, you know, uh, while I was there speaking about the salary thing, you know, I started at 38 five, which is not much living and working in New York City. And by the time I was gone in that five years, man, I was making six figures plus because I was not playing with them.
[00:16:55] I was like, okay, I was like, here’s the deal I’d like to justify to you. Why? [00:17:00] I think this is what I should make. I’ve shown you the market, all that kind of good stuff. And if you say no, at the end of the day, I’m not afraid to leave. So, you know, I think it, like, it just gave me a ton of confidence in the work that I do and the value that I provide to be able to go forward in this journey, which is overwhelming and scary.
[00:17:19] And unlike anything that you’re likely to do in your life, once you switch from working at a job to doing it on your own,
[00:17:25] Dan: [00:17:25] Amazing. I mean, again, this confidence and courage, like you said, you had, your mom is this North star, so I’m sure there was some, some halo effect of seeing that and having that as, as kind of a guidepost, but you have something in you as well. I think that’s probably part of that, right?
[00:17:42] Ashlee Ammons: [00:17:42] I, you know, I would say so. Yeah. You know, what was great was my mom was always there to prep me because I mean, she was an HR executive, so she was like, okay, here’s, here’s how we do this. Here’s the correct way to go about doing this. And because the company was a little, it was not so corporate, like the structure is weren’t in place to be so [00:18:00] corporate.
[00:18:00] So she was like, you need to make this work for you. She was like, but base-level, here’s how things should work. And I mean, I think back to the first event that I produced on my own, just to give everybody and ideas. Scale or two activations at the London Olympics. And the reason why that happens is because my boss, the woman who was working on top of me, who wasn’t really doing the work, I and another colleague were really doing the work.
[00:18:24] She was like, I don’t feel like going to London this year. You know, it’s just like too much. She was just so flippant about it. And so my boss then said, Oh, my gosh, who’s going to fill in for her. How are we going to do it? And I went to him and I said, hello, I’m the one that’s doing the work anyway. I said, so I’m going to do it.
[00:18:39] You’re going to pass the reins to me. And that’s what it is. And that’s what he did. And we were off to the races from there. And in fact, shortly thereafter, I hired him a new assistant cause I went to him and I said, okay, I can’t do your assistant job anymore. I was like, I don’t think I care about it that much anymore.
[00:18:53] So I’m going to hire you. Someone, I’ll manage her she’ll report to me and you and things will be fine. That girl is still in that [00:19:00] position today. And I left in 2016.
[00:19:02] Dan: [00:19:02] That’s awesome. And I think that that’s going to dovetail nicely into the story from Mixtroz, but we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with Ashlee Ammons from Mixtroz.
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[00:19:47]Dan: [00:19:53] So we’re back with Ashlee. So Ashlee tell us you’re on this rocket ship of a career and maybe it didn’t seem like it while you were in the middle of it. [00:20:00] How did, how did you, how did you not end up being kind of like the. President of a record label or, or the head of a studio instead of being an entrepreneur. Wait, where did the entrepreneurial stuff come from and where did the sort of kernel of the idea for Mixtroz emerge?
[00:20:17] Ashlee Ammons: [00:20:17] So it was all kind of practical, you know like the best ideas are when you yourself stumbled upon a problem. And so I think my mom and I have that quintessential founder story because I had went to a conference.
[00:20:30] In November, somewhere around November 9th of 2014, like I was there, I was super excited. I just was going to like to network. That was my purpose for being there. Like the content was great though, because Sara Blakely who found his space, she was like a keynote speaker. So like, it was pretty awesome. But when I went to think about who I met at that conference, I was like, I didn’t meet anybody.
[00:20:51] And here’s why. Over lunch, the event organizer was like, okay guys, we’re going to do some networking, go up to someone with the same color dot on their name tag as you. And the dot [00:21:00] that we’re talking about with like the size of a Sharpie marker. Like just like the point of it. And so the conference I was at was almost like 90% female.
[00:21:08] And so to do that, you’re like going up to somebody, looking at their chest, being like, okay, you’re blue, I’m blue. That gives us no context on anything, but let’s strike up a conversation. And at the time I was like, I’m a New Yorker. I’m not with that. Like that’s so weird. And so, you know, I didn’t do it.
[00:21:22] And my mom, coincidentally, had experienced something in her friend group on the same weekend and that led to us like we were on the phone one night and we were just talking about our weekend and we were like, well, that’s so crazy. Cause you and I are pretty extroverted. So. Wonder why we both had this challenge and this challenge must be greater than the two of us then.
[00:21:40] And so we got on the Google as my mom calls it, and we started looking around to see, you know, what the solution was just to know, just to be aware. And we just could not find a solution that was solving the problem in the way that we were talking about. And so boom, business idea.
[00:21:55] Dan: [00:21:55] Makes a lot of sense and you’re so right. That entrepreneurs [00:22:00] feel it viscerally somehow I think either they experienced it directly or they worked in a, in a company where that company is not delivering for the customers and you’re frustrated. So that’s where the best ideas come from. But tell us, how did that translate into let’s actually start a company around
[00:22:17] Ashlee Ammons: [00:22:17] this.
[00:22:18] Like, honestly, I feel like it just happened so fast because I have to tell you at the beginning, my mom was way more bought into this than I was. Because as I said, like, I was already living the dream. I was in New York. I was doing well. I was, you know, comfortable. I was kind of like, well, let me be my mom’s sidekick on this, like offer help and assistance on my areas of expertise in the beginning, because.
[00:22:37] My mom happened to be taking a sabbatical cause her last company, IPO, she cashed out and took a sabbatical. You know, it just so worked out that she was able to kind of get full-time on this. So in the month, between Thanksgiving and about Christmas time, she started the process. She was living in Nashville, Tennessee at the time.
[00:22:54] So she started the process of going to the entrepreneur center somewhere. She had never been before. You know, going to [00:23:00] different places that like entrepreneurs go in the city of Nashville. And so she really started laying the track for us to build a community of some sort so that we can learn from people, gain mentorship and insight, and that kind of thing.
[00:23:12] And I came home for the holidays that year expecting to take a rest because the top of the year was always very crazy for me because it was the Sundance film festival, the Grammys. The Oscars all back to back with one another. So I, you know, I was expecting to rest, but we have like a 10 day think tank, really where my mom was like, okay, let’s think about what this could really be and okay, let’s go back to basics.
[00:23:34] Like we need an app. How do you get that built? Because the thing is neither my mom nor I can coach, we still can’t coach. They can’t write one line of code. I tried one day I went to training. It’s not for me. And that’s okay. It was really just that process of figuring it out. And it was interesting because what ended up happening is while I was home, I was looking at tech conferences.
[00:23:54] Cause my mom was like, Oh, I want to go somewhere. And I want to learn. And then I realized CES was going to be starting at the, was going to be [00:24:00] happening at the top of the year. I was like, well, I certainly can’t go. So we’ll have to go in like 2016. And my mom was like, no, she was like, you don’t need to go.
[00:24:06] I’ll go. So she took herself to CES. She ended up accidentally sitting at a table with these two guys and those two guys ended up becoming our developers. They were our developers from 2015 until the beginning of this year.
[00:24:19] Dan: [00:24:19] Did she recount that conversation? I mean, was she probing for potential tech talent or it just sort of serendipitously happened
[00:24:27] Ashlee Ammons: [00:24:27] Serendipity is like a whole word for our entire journey, so first things first, so my mom is not afraid to ask her anything that she wants ever.
[00:24:35] So when she saw the ticket price for CES, she was like, well, I’m not paying that. And we were like, me and my stepfather were like, okay, just pay it. Like, it’s fine. And so she actually found the CEO or whatever of CES, and she sent him an email and said like, Hey, like I’m a new founder. Like he’s tickets, super aggressive.
[00:24:52] But I want to come give, I need to learn. And they gave her a ticket for free. That was like serendipity number one, serendipity. Number [00:25:00] two was, she said at the time she wished she wishes that mixtures would have existed already because she was at this table and she is like a black female of a certain age.
[00:25:09] Obviously there were like, no one else that looked like her in that room, you know? There were few women. Definitely no other women of color, really? Because this is back in 2015. And she just said, I felt so awkward. I felt like such a fish out of water. So she said she had like posted up at one of those cocktail tables that had two drinks on it.
[00:25:27] And she was like, well, who leaves their drinks somewhere in 2015? So she was like, this table must be empty. And then shortly thereafter, these two, like older white males come up and join her. And then after a while, This is what she actually says. She says, uh, I know you think that I look like Beyonce. She said, but all of these tables, like, why did you join me here?
[00:25:46] And they’re like, actually, those were our drinks. So you took our table. And so that is how we met our developers. And that’s it.
[00:25:54] Dan: [00:25:54] That’s great. Oh man, I did. This is one of those, the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My [00:26:00] goodness. It’s the two of you together must be like, a tornado.
[00:26:03] Ashlee Ammons: [00:26:03] That’s a wait, like literally like a hurricane, like, like we’re like hurricane Mixtroz in here all the time. So that’s all things got started and you know, that, that first dev shop, like I have to say. We established such a great partnership with them because they got what we wanted to do. And they never took advantage of us, you know, not taking advantage that we weren’t in the same spot. Like they were from California.
[00:26:26] We were in Tennessee, or my mom was in Tennessee. You know, they guided us through the process. They helped us with like the first iteration of our logo, the first wireframe, first, so many things and, you know, continue to guide us and teach us as we went through this process. You know? So although we weren’t well versed in tech in the beginning, like today I dare say we’re dangerous.
[00:26:45] Like this afternoon, I was just like auditing UI UX screen. So I’m like, look at me.
[00:26:51] Dan: [00:26:51] Yeah, you definitely have the like, figure it out. Uh, what’s that like, you build the parachute on the way down kind of thing.
[00:26:58] Ashlee Ammons: [00:26:58] That’s it. Sometimes that’s what you got to [00:27:00] do build the plane as you fly all that.
[00:27:01] Dan: [00:27:01] Yeah. Whatever the mixed metaphor is, I’m trying for there, but tell us like, uh, so at some point this is feeling real and you’re still in New York, I guess.
[00:27:09] And your mom’s in Nashville. Where was the jumping-off point where you like? Started to say, okay, let’s build something. Let’s get customers. Let’s do this. I mean, it sounds like your mom had already done that, but like when, when was the point when you said I’m in
[00:27:22] Ashlee Ammons: [00:27:22] Basically 20 15 was our year of, okay, like what the heck is an app? Like, how do you get that built? Like how do you go about doing that? And so I’ve found that in the beginning, everything that we had to do, we really distilled it down to its purest form and try to like, not overcomplicate anything. So for example, when we were trying to communicate our wireframe, like what we wanted this application to do, or this software to do to the developers who were on the other side of the country, and, you know, this is before zoom was what it was.
[00:27:50] So what it is. Today. Right. Like, I literally took a stack of post-it notes and looked at apps that I liked on my phone. And I drew out screen to screen what I thought would be [00:28:00] happening on each screen. And I put it in order on the back of my bathroom door. I took a picture of that, send it to them. That’s what they developed our first wireframe off of.
[00:28:07] And it was like, okay, well, great. Well, that works. Let’s move on to the next thing. And so, you know, my mom still was really pounding the pavement in Nashville, like making connections. I like in my mother to the mirror. Wherever she goes, people stop her and shake her hand. And, Oh my gosh, Carrie, it’s so good to see you.
[00:28:24] And like that is her living in her, her like purest space, you know, because that’s who she is. She has an executive personality type. Her energy is contagious. And so people love that about her. And so she was doing that for us in Nashville, like starting to build that framework. And she certainly got a lot of pushback, you know?
[00:28:41] Someone said to her in an open forum, like, Ooh, I’ve heard of your little business, but you’re a black female in the South. This won’t happen for you guys in an open forum. Oh yeah. Like this was like a panel thing and it was just like, Oh, that’s messed up. Like, wow. And I remember. She called me that day with like fury.
[00:28:58] Like, it had been a [00:29:00] minute, like usually it was something my brother would do to get her to be at that level of fury, but like called me, like with a level of fury I hadn’t heard before. I think for her, whatever flame wasn’t late yet. Like that was the day her flame ignited. For me later on in 2015, and mind you, I’m still living.
[00:29:17] I’m still working, you know, at this time. And my job in 2015 was the worst. I can tell you guys, the worst day of my events career was seven, seven, 2015. And the reason for that is I was working on, $6 million event with a team that was too big, too many cooks in the kitchen. And it was like being on the Titanic, understanding that there weren’t enough lifeboats and the thing was about to go down.
[00:29:41] That’s what it felt like. That’s why I can rattle off that date, with ease. So, you know, I had had a very stressful year, but what ended up happening is in October of that year, My mom was actually diagnosed with cancer. So she was diagnosed with breast cancer and I saw her very methodically be like, Ashlee, I have [00:30:00] cancer. Here’s what’s about to happen because we just took on friends and family funding. At this point, she was like, I’m going to have surgery. She was like, I’m going to have radiation. And then we’re going to keep this train moving. And that’s literally what she did. She finished radiation on February 12th of 2016.
[00:30:16] Over the course of that radiation. She did not skip a beat. She used to call me in the morning on her way to radiation, because you have to do you radiation every single day, uh, when you’re going through that covering process. And she said, well, I’m on my way to tanning, which really messed me up. Cause I was like, I did not handle it.
[00:30:30] I did not handle the mother cancer diagnosed as well. You know, we were very lucky because she kept her appointment. She kept her healthcare appointment did not move. It was able to get detected early, go through this process of becoming healed and being cancer-free and in remission.
[00:30:44] And it was at that point where I thought to myself, you know, if I just watched my co-founder do that, I can’t be a halftime. Co-founder, it’s either time to get in or time to get out. And so I got in. Aside from that. The other thing that weighed into that decision was so March 5th [00:31:00] of 2016, and you’re like, why do you know these dates like this?
[00:31:03] So some Martin hit that 2016. I know this because it was my stepfather’s birthday. And we had him working. We had our first paid events. If somebody had paid us to use our MVP, they paid us like $250 at this event. Okay. So we’re super excited cause we’re like, Oh my gosh, we’re going to get to see what the software does.
[00:31:20] And so this is the way that Mixtroz in the in-person format work. People would launch our application. It would be location-based. It would pull up, you know, an event logo. So you knew that you were going to the right spot. You would take about a minute and 15 seconds to get through our process, which was taking a photo of yourself.
[00:31:36] So people know what you look like on the day of the event, filling out your name and your email address. That becomes your name tag, and then answering a series of questions. And here’s where we differ from everyone else. So the organizer customized as a series of questions for attendees, they then wait each question to determine how that question affects how people are matched with one another.
[00:31:55] So for example, a question could be, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m an investor, I’m a [00:32:00] tech enthusiast, I’m a speaker. And you could either wait for that question to make your group similar on that criteria or diverse on that criteria. So what we’re allowing the organizer to do is engineer that serendipity that they know would be valuable for their people.
[00:32:13] So once the attendee gets finished with that, they’re done. But when it’s time for them to meet whatever time networking is supposed to happen, everyone at the event, and it could be 50, it could be hundreds of people, everyone at the event will get a push notification to their phone. There’ll be phone the small group of two to nine others that they’ve been matched with.
[00:32:30] There’ll be shown exactly where to meet that group in the venue. And then once they get together, We give them things to help that conversation flow. At the end of that experience, they can choose which members of the group that they want to share contact information with. So while the engagement is going up for the attendee data has also been collected for the event organizer in real-time.
[00:32:48] So that is the way our software works. We now also do this in a virtual format. And so it’s exciting because moving forward, we now have a hybrid offering.
[00:32:57] Dan: [00:32:57] Yeah, I was going to ask about that. Uh, so that’s really [00:33:00] cool. That’s powerful. I was about to say it before you said it, there’s a powerful data element here that is foundational.
[00:33:07] It, you know, the engagement part obviously is the, I won’t say the Trojan horse, cause that makes it sound like it’s not real, but it’s like, that’s the entry point and that’s the main, as I see it, it’s, it’s kind of the main functionality for the end-user, but this data is pretty powerful stuff.
[00:33:22] Ashlee Ammons: [00:33:22] The data is powerful.
[00:33:23] You know, at what we find is when you ask people questions, post-event, and a survey, generally completion rates are low that’s because people have lost their skin in the game because they’ve already left wherever they were at when their engagement was highest. And so if you have low survey engagement, then that means that your data is probably going to be skewed because you’re really getting people who were really jazzed about something or really upset about something.
[00:33:45] And you’re missing the middle of the bell curve, the people who continue coming back to your events, the people who you need feedback from. So, you know, I feel like it’s helpful there. And what’s funny on that event that we did on March 5th, we knew Mixtroz was working, or we knew that our hypothesis had [00:34:00] been, um, is, was correct because when people got put into their Mixtroz groups, they stayed in those grouping so long that the venue shut off the lights like the venue was like, I understand that y’all are networking, but like, you need to go somewhere.
[00:34:12] And we were like, Oh my gosh, we’ve done it. So like, that was literally the point where a couple of months later, like I basically sold everything I owned in New York, you know, offloaded the apartment and moved myself to Nashville and moved in with my parents. For the first time, since I was 17 and I was 28 at the time.
[00:34:30] Dan: [00:34:30] That’s the classic entrepreneur story there. Of course. So, uh, so tell us a little bit more about like, how does the business side of this work? Do you partner with event? Basically event holders or an organization’s conferences. And is there a business model around that and how does that work and how does the app get into the hands of the attendees? I guess…
[00:34:49] Ashlee Ammons: [00:34:49] I would say the verticals where we sell the most are in enterprise. So we work in enterprises in like a diversity inclusion type function. And HR functions. So [00:35:00] anything from meetings, orientations, all these different kinds of things. Obviously, that speaks to my mom’s background. She saw that use case very clearly from her corporate experience.
[00:35:08] The other place where I saw the use case was in higher education. I was an orientation leader in college. Yeah. It’s natural for when students get on campus, it is necessary for them to start colliding with one another because that is part of the recipe that makes them stay on campus. So when I’m talking to a college or university about my value proposition, It is all about increasing community engagement, which increases the rate of progression, retention, and graduation.
[00:35:34] I can say that same thing across an enterprise when employee engagement is high, meaning people are talking to one, another silos are being crossed like this sort of thing, you know, absenteeism goes down, accidents, go down, all those sorts of things and it, over time it can increase in enterprises, profitability.
[00:35:50] So like you can speak to those things across all these different places where humans gather because of where our expertise was, we decided to focus on enterprises and institutes of [00:36:00] higher education, but then also there’s that third huge bucket, which is events. So we’ve done everything from, you know, a trade show to a TEDx. It just depends.
[00:36:08] Dan: [00:36:08] And, and how do you think about the economics? Is it per event or session or per user or a subscription model?
[00:36:15] Ashlee Ammons: [00:36:15] or we’re moving to a subscription model, I would say, but today we are priced like per mix, so somebody can buy a single mix. Like, so it could be an event that happens once a year or something, and they want to use mixed rows, like to facilitate the networking, the breakouts, or if it was live, something to facilitate breakfast, lunch, or dinner seating.
[00:36:35] And that was one of our customer’s favorite use cases. So they could buy a single mix for that. Or some of our enterprise customers they’ll buy like 300 mixes at once. And of course, if they’re buying at that price point, the price per mix goes way down. But the great thing about them buying that many at once is they can split it across different departments and things like that.
[00:36:53] So it can be like HR pulling from that account and the people who put on your training, pulling from that account, supplier diversity, et cetera. And so [00:37:00] it makes it valuable for them. So,
[00:37:02] Dan: [00:37:02] um, I always like to ask, that’s kind of a snapshot of where you are now when this is a unicorn in five years or in three years or whenever, how would you define success for Mixtroz?
[00:37:14] Like if you look, if you’re in this point in the future and you say, yeah, this is what we thought this could be. What would that look like? Quantitatively qualitatively? Like how would you define Mixtroz as a success?
[00:37:25] Ashlee Ammons: [00:37:25] When it can really be synonymous with where people gather. So like, you know, we’re in these, we’re in these different market segments right now.
[00:37:32] I think when it has like a trickle-down effect to be just a tool that people think of for day-to-day use instead of event. Cause even that we’re trying to move away from the word events, because when we say the word event, people naturally think of you need bad wine and bungee chicken and like all this kind of thing for an event to happen.
[00:37:50] And that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the places that people gather. It could be. I live in an apartment building. There are like 400 apartments here. So it could be when the people of this [00:38:00] apartment building get together. So they’re able to connect to you and it’s a light easy way to get it done.
[00:38:04] I’ve always been pretty passionate about the fact that makes sure it should be used in K-12 education because all of these students have iPads and things mixtures could be used to like facilitate their lunchtime seating a couple of times a month as early DNI intervention types. Stuff, because it’s like, you know, students today, they base a lot on what people look like.
[00:38:22] But when you find out that you have commonality with someone, but you don’t look like them, something special happens there. So I think when Mixrtroz has, has like a trickle-down effect so that it can be something that is a tool that is utilized day-to-day and not just for these planned out events, that will be good.
[00:38:37] The other side of this is just about changing perceptions. So. You know, my mom and I are two very unlikely entrepreneurs were more unlikely entrepreneurial team as a black female mother-daughter team living in the South. My co-founder is obviously not a millennial. That’s another thing that sometimes we get digging dinged on that.
[00:38:55] You wouldn’t know, you can’t even imagine that things that people have said were like, what I can imagine. [00:39:00] You can imagine. So, you know, I think all the work that we’re doing, so 90% of startups fail, I’m a realist, you know? So like we could be very successful. We could fail, like, and I’m, I just like to like, keep it real about that.
[00:39:12] But if we have helped to shift the perspective of what an entrepreneur is when an entrepreneur looks like the fact that it is actually. Colorless and socio-economic lists and age lists and all those sorts of things. I think we would have done our job and really made our Mark on what an entrepreneur looks like for colorful people. Moving forward.
[00:39:31] Dan: [00:39:31] I love that. And you know, as I’m listening to you talk about mixtures, it does sort of invoke this bigger vision of the world’s needs. Facilitated smart collisions use that word collide. Right. And a hundred years ago we were physically, it was harder to connect, but when we did get together, there was a much more intensity probably around how we connected.
[00:39:51] And now since we move around so much, it’s almost like we’re skimming on the surface and it’s, and it’s hard work to get those connections. So I totally see this bigger [00:40:00] picture of not just being in sort of this one use case of. The spongy chicken and wine, but there are many places where, you need to prime the pump for those, those, uh, interactions to happen.
[00:40:10] So that’s a that’s a beautiful vision. I love that. So we’re going to take another short break. We’ll be right back with Ashlee Ammons from Mixtroz.
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[00:41:00] Dan: [00:41:00] So we’re back with Ashlee Co-founder of Mixtroz. So Ashlee, a couple of things were on top of my mind. One is the immediate sort of feeling about 2020, and isn’t this a business that was, would be a perfect vulnerable victim of COVID because you were doing kind of in-person events. Tell, tell us a little bit about that journey and going through last year, if it’s not too painful.
[00:41:23] Ashlee Ammons: [00:41:23] Here’s the funny thing about it. So for all of 2015, 2016, 2017, and more than three quarters of 2018, we made our business work with $250,000. That $250,000 came from our friends and family. And I think that’s it. An important point to make. And the reason I think that is, you know, oftentimes people come up to us and they’re like, Oh my gosh, it’s so cute that you work with your mom.
[00:41:49] And I’m very quick to correct them. I’m like, it’s not cute at all. It’s actually very strategic because in areas like that first raise that we did friends and family funding. All of my friends were like cool kids, but they were like [00:42:00] in New York trying to buy apartments, you know, trying to have weddings, trying to have babies.
[00:42:04] They didn’t have disposable income. Sitting there. Right. My mom, however, had all these executive friends who were like, Oh, we got 5k. We got 10 K like, here you go. Like enjoy. And, you know, they were very much of the mentality we’re betting on the jockeys, not the horse, that kind of thing. And so like, my mom has been so strategic in so many ways throughout this journey.
[00:42:23] So it truly has. It’s been a partnership. So in 2017, we had been in the business for some time. You know, we came up with the idea in 2014 and it was just like moving so slow. And the idea with tech is like, you need to move fast and break things and all that cool stuff that they say on podcasts and in books and whatnot.
[00:42:40] And we weren’t really able to do that because one, we kept hitting all these hurdles. Like people were just like, you can’t do this like good idea. You can’t do it. And you also can’t get it. Funded. And we, we were getting towards the end of 2017. And I mean, by this point we had given up like what, like a million dollars in salary between the two of us.
[00:42:58] And we were just like, Hey, like [00:43:00] it might be time to go to work. Cause that’s another thing I like to tell people about now don’t get me wrong. We are privileged for sure because we were able to live in a beautiful home while all this was going on and whatnot. And that’s because. My parents are very financially literate, but my stepfather had retired years ago while I was in high school.
[00:43:18] My mom was our primary breadwinner in the household. And so, you know, I like to dispel the myth that like, this was like a hobby, my mom and I were doing, but like, my dad was somewhere behind the scenes, like bankrolling things. Cause that’s not what it was. We had to like make cuts. It was like, you know, those little things that you’re doing for yourself, you can’t do that anymore.
[00:43:34] Cause we don’t have money for that. So. At the end of 2017, it was getting to the point like, you know, like this is a great idea. We’ve seen it work. We’ve seen this thing happen. We see it clicking, but it’s just not moving fast enough. And so we were getting ready to make that critical decision, like, you know, do roll this up and go back to work or what.
[00:43:50] And so we ended up getting selected for a program that was in Birmingham, Alabama, which I must say Birmingham, Alabama was absolutely nowhere on my radar. I was like, first of all, [00:44:00] Tennessee is the furthest South. I actually will ever live. No boss, Alabama. South that you actually will ever live. And we ended up coming.
[00:44:08] We ended up getting into this program. The critical thing was they invested $50,000 at the top of 2018. So we kind of got like, you know, like a shock to the heart, a little bit to our business. In addition to the fact that the program that we went to is called the velocity, it’s inside of a place called innovation Depot here in the heart of.
[00:44:24] Downtown Birmingham. They wanted entrepreneurs that were like us. They wanted people who were different, who had different ideas, who had different ways of thinking women, people of color, et cetera. And they gave us the Polish that we needed to talk about our business in an investible way. And so once we got out of that accelerator, we ended up.
[00:44:41] Getting selected to pitch at a rise of the rest pitch competition, which for those of you that don’t know, those are hosted by revolution fund, which is backed by Steve Case, the founder of AOL and his friends. So we pitched in Birmingham at that, we ended up winning, we won a hundred thousand dollars of funding, and then we [00:45:00] went on and from local Birmingham investors, we raised another $900,000 in change that made us the 37 and 38 black females to do so in the United States across that million-dollar marker.
[00:45:11] It was definitely an exciting time. But what we started to realize is this is kind of the conundrum that founders of color have when you’ve been in a business for so long. And it takes you so long to raise funding. That first round of funding is going to go towards putting process behind hustle.
[00:45:25] Because basically what you’ve done is you’ve built a business on your back, and it is a result of the hustle that you have and how you’ve been grinding, but that is not scalable. So over the course of 2019, we had to go add process behind all of that to make our business. Take a little bit more like machinery and start to get more methodical in our approach.
[00:45:44] So that is what we did over the course of 2019. You know, we started to build the beginnings of a core team. We did some refining of relaunching of our software, but then, you know, things that people don’t like to talk about, like HubSpot, for example, that was a big thing for us in 2019. [00:46:00] Like the teardown and rebuild of our entire website, like writing case studies, white papers, all these different things.
[00:46:05] So when we headed into 2020, we were like, all right, like we’re up, we’re going, things are going well. And then March 11th hit. And you know, up to that point, we were a sole like live events, focused business, and March 11th hit. And my mom had just come back from doing her last. A bit of travel. And she was like, man, she was like, I’ve been alive a long time.
[00:46:24] And I have never seen anything like this before. She was like, I think something bigger than we think is about to happen. And, you know, she was right. It was at that point that we literally pulled back our spending on everything we audited, where every dollar was going to, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, we cut it so that we could.
[00:46:42] Preserve the runway that we still had in the bank from that initial $1 million round, you know, and what was great about that was frankly, we knew how to be broke already. Like we had run the business broke like the first several years of the business. So it was like just going back to basics. It was at that point too, that we added the virtual side to our business.
[00:46:59] And what was interesting [00:47:00] about that is we actually had a virtual feature on our product roadmap. It was just scheduled to come out in October instead of, uh, April. And so, you know, we were able to get it to market pretty quickly. We were able to show. Traction on it. And that enabled us to raise another round of funding.
[00:47:15] And so we’ve recently like we’re in the midst of like closing, like the last little bit of another million-dollar round. So now we can scale. So, you know, it’s, it’s a very exciting time for the first time in the history of our business. Like we actually have a team like full-time people who are working for mixers.
[00:47:30] It is so exciting, you know, and the things that are most important to us today, our product, we’ve learned a ton over the course of last year and how people are interacting with technology and. Enhancements that we had planned for the live version, but now we’re considering the virtual version and the live version together.
[00:47:46] So, you know, really getting that process rolled out the team, building a core team with a good culture that works building a diverse team from the beginning that works. And then also just. Go to market. Like, you know, we, we have this [00:48:00] opportunity to kind of refresh our pipeline, which we’re excited for just because the world has shifted so significantly, like over the course of this last calendar year.
[00:48:07] So all I can see about 20, 20, 2020 for any business that made it specifically early-stage startup. If you made it to 2021, you won because 2020 was all about survival.
[00:48:18] Dan: [00:48:18] That’s a that’s so apropos and you’re right. And I, when I did my end of the year, uh, recap with a bunch of our founders from last year, a common theme was resilience and grit and perseverance.
[00:48:31] So you’re right on, right on with that. So let’s talk a little bit about fundraising. So, you know, you, you kind of follow the, the script of what I see, uh, from a lot of founders, which is. Scrape and claw together, or try to tap into networks, participate in programs that sort of give you these little tranches along the way.
[00:48:50] And now you’re in sort of this realm of sort of like going through the institutional stuff, I guess, tell us a little bit about your experience fundraising. And like you said, there are lots [00:49:00] of labels that can get in the way for you and your mom. Right. Of being women, being women of color, age, location. What you work on, even sometimes been something that’s been a friction point for you or has it just been, we are raising the money and we’re going to just be the entrepreneurs that we are and the rest sit on the sidelines and watch as we grow.
[00:49:24] Ashlee Ammons: [00:49:24] So I think in the beginning specifically, and I think my mom would share the sentiment, like for the first couple of years, We kind of forgot who we were. We kind of let, what people’s opinions were, you know, any constraints that they put on us. Like, we kind of let that, I feel like burn into the psyche a little bit.
[00:49:41] Like, and I think that that made us become smaller and quieter and not as vibrant and vocal as we had been in past. And then at a certain point, I think we got pissed off. I don’t know if I can say that, but I think we got pissed off honestly. And it was like, you know what? I know who I am. I have done extraordinary things.
[00:50:00] [00:49:59] My mom has done extraordinary things, you know? It’s like, like, why are we letting all these people who are like, not up with us in the night, hustling have so much say in what our business can or cannot do. So it was when we found our voice again, that the strength came back. Today. We’re very unapologetic about where we stand on things and how we just call a spade, a spade.
[00:50:24] And, you know, I would say specifically in Alabama, there are, there are just some old systems that played out here. Let me say, and you know, they say that, what is it like the good old boys’ network and stuff like that. Like, we don’t prescribe to any of that. Like I like whomever I’m talking to whatever might be on my mind at any given time, whether it’s politically correct or not.
[00:50:41] I’m likely going to say it, you know what? Because I’ve earned my right. Be here. Like I have been through the hard part. I have been through the great part and frankly, Mixtroz has done a lot for Birmingham. We shined a spotlight here when people weren’t paying attention to what was going on here, we showed people what was possible in a market like Birmingham.
[00:50:58] When you put your best foot. [00:51:00] Forward and you hustle. I would say like the fundraising experience, like it was really, it was kind of that building the plane as you fly it again like you learn a lot over time, the more you’re in the business, the more your network of people, your community grows because you need, when you have a business, you have to find out.
[00:51:17] Seek out the place that gets you, feels you and supports you. It took us too long, in my opinion, to realize that that wasn’t Nashville for a number of reasons. Once we got to Birmingham, though, we were like, Oh, like, this is what a more supportive ecosystem looks like. This is very helpful for the business.
[00:51:34] And, you know, it helps you open doors and make connections and get in the right rooms and all those sorts of things. And like, it’s your job to find that place like that is part of it. And then when you find that place, it’s your job to be so well networked that if anybody is talking about networking events, black ladies and tech, whatever it might be.
[00:51:52] Mixtroz comes up. And I can tell you with certainty in the state of Alabama, if people are talking about entrepreneurship, and if you distill it down to [00:52:00] female entrepreneurship, there is not a conversation that we don’t come up in and that’s not by accident. It’s because we made it so.
[00:52:06] Dan: [00:52:06] I love that. And, uh, you know, again, your sort of resilience and confidence, and, you know, you could almost write the sort of black female founder sequel to Sheryl Sandberg’s Sheryl.
[00:52:19] Sandberg’s lean in, it’d be about me, like lean
[00:52:21] Ashlee Ammons: [00:52:21] back.
[00:52:22] Yeah, no mine would be like kick the chair over, lean in. I really think it’s that. And you know what else I find? Um, I T so we have this really great investor. His name is Kwame Anku. He led this last round of funding that we, uh, that we raised with his firm is called Blackstar Fund.
[00:52:37] He’s amazing. He is solely invested in people of color, which is awesome. We’ve had this discussion, like so many times that some things that people don’t understand about this founder journey is so much of the actual work or the progress. The movement forward happens in the mundane unsexy behind-the-scenes work that goes on.
[00:52:58] If that methodical work that will [00:53:00] actually moves the needle forward, people think it’s like when you’re splashy on social media or when you get big. Press piece or something like that. And it’s like, no, it’s taking the time to do the things that others won’t or don’t like when we were raising this last round of funding, I pitched at this thing called venture Atlanta.
[00:53:16] So because of that, I got a list of investors. It was like 700 of them. It was the contacts that attended and their firm. That was it? No email address, no nothing. And so I methodically went through that list. I looked up the person on LinkedIn went to their fund’s page. If those two things were matched, I reached out, and then I would go to the next one and repeat the process.
[00:53:39] And we raised traunch of our funding that way, and also made awesome connections for the next round of funding. But like so many things happen from that. It is just like the methodical nature of it. Follow-up and staying top of mind for people and whatnot. And a lot of that happens when nobody’s looking,
[00:53:55] Dan: [00:53:55] that’s going to be a quote for sure, from this podcast.
[00:53:58] Definitely. It’s when nobody’s [00:54:00] looking that the, that the success happens, uh, w we have a quarterback here in Seattle, Russell Wilson. And what does he say? He said that the separation is in the preparation 100%. So we’re getting close to our time here. So one of the questions I always ask. If you could go back to Ashlee to let’s say the Ashlee of 2014.
[00:54:20] So before Mixtroz was like, was, that was an idea for you. And so this Ashlee is going to tell that Ashlee, you’re going to be an entrepreneur and here’s what to look out for, or here’s what to do, or here’s, here’s my advice and guidance for you. What would you tell her?
[00:54:36] Ashlee Ammons: [00:54:36] I would tell her that it is necessary to get uncomfortable, to do this journey, but discomfort will only last for so long.
[00:54:45] So don’t get distracted by the discomfort. I would tell her that comparison is the thief of joy. I think when you take a leap like this, especially if you were living a different life, like before. You can fall into that wheelhouse specifically with [00:55:00] how social media and things are today. You can just fall into this space of being like, Oh my gosh, I’m broke right now.
[00:55:05] And I’m like working on this business and nobody’s recognizing it and look what all my friends are doing. They’re like all, you know, at this event or traveling or what have you. And when you do that, it gets you. So off-kilter for like what your journey is. Where it’s going and whatnot. So comparison is the thief of joy.
[00:55:24] I even, I even follow that today. Like, you know, you’ll see startups where it’s like, you know, they just raised this or they just raised that. And I’m like, well, guess what, they were doing the work behind the scenes, like good on them. And, and like, I’m one of a big believer of like, when, you know, what is it like when the tide rises all the boats rise and whatnot.
[00:55:40] Like, I’m a big subscriber to that. So I would. Definitely say that to myself. I would say mental health is number one. And so whatever that is means to anyone that might be listening like we have to be realistic about the fact that as entrepreneurs, we’re predisposed to like mental illness of some kind, like 60% higher than the general population.
[00:56:00] [00:55:59] And so, and that’s because of so many things, this is stressful. It is not an easy journey. It is the path less traveled. And so I wish that we would approach the way that we approach fitness or anything else with how we take care of our mind and what we’re doing for that. My mom and I, we were very intentional about that.
[00:56:15] Like, we actually have the same therapist, but she speaks to us separately. And what’s amazing about this is she has context for both sides, as we’re talking about like business stuff or life stuff, or, you know, what have you. So, I mean, I, I definitely think those things. And then I think finally is.
[00:56:31] Remember who you are, remember who you are, like, remember who you are, who you were before you put this entrepreneurial hat on. And so I feel like when I first started this entrepreneurial journey specifically, cause I was, you know, I was coming from New York to the South and you know, people, I think found me a bit abrasive and you know, whatever they, like, I really think that I was just a little bit too, like sugary sweet, like, Oh yes, yes, whatever you say.
[00:56:54] Yes. And now I tell people I am a little less sugar, a little bit [00:57:00] more vinegar, and I love the Lord, but I don’t take no ____________.
[00:57:06] Dan: [00:57:06] Wow. This has been an awesome conversation and Ashlee, so we always like to leave our audience with a call to action. So are there ways that we can be helpful to Mixtroz?
[00:57:16] Ashlee Ammons: [00:57:16] Um, if you work at an organization that gathers people, so that’s all of you, it could be a chamber. It could be, you know, your, your student’s school. What have you introduce them to Miztroz? When people find out about Mixtroz or see Mixtroz and hear what it is, they generally become interested and you can keep up with us on social.
[00:57:33] We are at s @mixtroz at M I X T R O Z across everything, and we’re just available at mixtroz.com.
[00:57:39] Dan: [00:57:39] And you have a great newsletter, which I’m subscribed to.
[00:57:42] Ashlee Ammons: [00:57:42] I’m proud of that. I do have a good newsletter.
[00:57:45]Dan: [00:57:45] I’m thinking about doing one for this five guys. And I’m like, this is, this is the blueprint right here. So, well, this has been great. Ashlee, I was super appreciative and, uh, lots of great stuff in this conversation. So thanks so much again for taking the time.
[00:57:57] Ashlee Ammons: [00:57:57] So welcome. It was a pleasure of mine and good luck to everybody out [00:58:00] there. Who’s doing things, thinking about doing things. You got this.
[00:58:03]Dan: [00:58:03] We’d like to thank our guests, Ashley Ammons and our sponsors VertueLab and AfriBlocks.
[00:58:08] This podcast was produced by me. Dan Kihanya and our music was arranged by Michael Kihanya.
[00:58:14] Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts or simply go to founders unfound forward-slash listen to that’s listened to you and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @foundersunfound.
[00:58:26] Thanks so much for tuning in. I am Dan Kihanya and you’ve been listening to Founders Unfound.