First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ashlee Ammons: 2020 is the year of profound shared experience. As an American, I am simultaneously weathering 2 major pandemics yet all things considered. We are well; we are healthy and in business, and we recognize that that is a privileged position during these trying times. This past week, we took a trip to the beach to change up our working environment. We were greeted by hurricane Sally, literally hit head on by a CAT 2 hurricane – this served as a powerful analogy for 2020, surviving and mastering the art of the pivot.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Mixtroz
Ashlee Ammons: I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where I also pursued my bachelor’s degree. In 2007, I was randomly paired with a classmate, and following he made a connection for me that led me to become LeBron James 1st intern. While the start of my career was extraordinary, I moved to NYC almost immediately postgrad, joining a luxury hospitality company beginning as EA to CEO and working my way to Director of Events (producing a scale of $10K to $1M+).
While living in NYC and attending an event to broaden my professional network, I have an awkward experience. That occurrence led me to a conversation with my Mom, a Global HR Executive at the time, who had a similar experience on the same weekend. We talked at length about the fact that there are many software to get you to an event and many to help you stay connected following, yet there are not focused software in the market to help you connect with the right people when you are already somewhere.
It was at this moment that Mixtroz was born; we took our expertise of the human asset and built a human-centric software to complement rather than compete with the way humans behave when connecting. It’s a tale as old as time; we experienced the problem, looked for a solution, didn’t find it, and decided that we cared the most to solve the problem.
How does Mixtroz innovate?
Ashlee Ammons: We’ve turned the market on its head in the sense that we built our software with humans in mind first and tech second. In our landscape, we see many products that share our thesis but have a “do it all” approach and are often loaded with features that are unnecessary to facilitate meaningful human connection. Humans are made to connect, and in the digital age, they need a tool (like Mixtroz) to make the process simpler, better, and more satisfying.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ashlee Ammons: We are one of those companies experiencing a ‘watershed’ moment as a result of the profound shift in user behavior over the past months. In March, we accelerated the launch of our virtual feature to meet a new market need. We find that Video Communication Softwares, like Zoom or WebEx, weren’t designed with peer-to-peer engagement in mind; instead, they are designed more to disseminate information. With our focused approach, we’ve been able to position ourselves in the market as less an event software and more a tool that can be used day-to-day, complementing the software that our customer is already using. Between Q2 and Q3 of this year, we’ve experienced 300% revenue growth with an impressive list of customers coming to us to increase engagement and collect useful data.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
- With the acceleration of our virtual feature, we had a ‘fail fast and pivot’ mentality. Choosing the right software to host our virtual meeting spaces was critical as we need said software to scale rapidly to accommodate group creation (we make groups of 3-10, optimal for networking). We quickly vetted and tested with a handful of market leaders, in the end, opting for an open-sourced option as we quickly found it easier to sell software to a customer that doesn’t compete with a technology they are already using organization-wide.
- Trust your gut: We are in the process of raising funding, and we recently connect with an investor that we knew wasn’t right for us for many reasons. After long diligence, we wanted the offer (no one likes to be broken up with first) even though we knew that this particular investor had the potential of running a growing business in the ground. In the future, we will learn what we can from each person we connect with interested in our business but lead with no when necessary instead of waiting for the validation of a business relationship that we ‘knew’ wouldn’t work long term.
- Cutting back: As black, female founders, we’ve always had to do more with less (see: data on the percentage of funding female founders of funding raise), so this one was the willingness to go back to basics and cut absolutely everything that does not directly drive revenue; this included our office space, agency partners and various technologies. When you are moving fast on a nimble team, at times, it is a challenge to audit the business, the data, and the metrics as often as you should. At the start of the pandemic, we had to understand that we were heading into a season of uncertainty. This was the first step, which helped us to extend our runway and give us an area of calm in the chaos.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Mixtroz in the future?
Ashlee Ammons: I am dedicated to my physical and mental health. Physically, I stay active more often than not by boxing. During my days, that scheduled hour spent boxing is my non-negotiable personal time, and I work to make it happen every day. On the mental health side, I intentionally seek joy, be it with family or friends. I also have a therapist that I speak to almost every week, and I appreciate the opportunity to unload my thoughts, things that give me happiness, stress, or pause with an unbiased person, which is especially critical in a family-owned business.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ashlee Ammons: We certainly have companies that share our thesis around the value of face-to-face connection, but we have always been and are still unique in our business process and approach to technology.
Moving forward, we will ‘stay in our lane’ working smart partnerships opposed to adding features to our product that have been done before, listen and learn our customers and how they use the product as opposed to what we think, and always remain true to our mission, understanding that the power is in the people never solely the software.
Your final thoughts
Ashlee Ammons: Entrepreneurship is hard, and this year especially, it has been brutal. I say it often, and I think it’s important to say it here, ‘comparison is the thief of joy”. While you are on YOUR journey, remain focused, and resist the urge to be discouraged, envious, or distracted by other people’s successes.