Although newcomers to both the technology industry and entrepreneurial world, this dynamic mother-daughter duo, Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons, are using their combined 10 years of post-secondary education coupled with more than 30 years of diverse work experience to develop their networking solution, Mixtroz. Even without a tech background, their vast business knowledge and street smarts have enabled them to “disrupt” the current networking scene.
Kerry Schrader (Mom), Cofounder/CEO, holds a BBA, MBA (Kent State University Alumni), SPHR and SHRM-SCP designations. Kerry has more than 25 years’ experience positively impacting the human assets of large companies including Ford, Alcoa, and Sears Holdings Corporation.
Her corporate experience has given her insight to engagement and how to foster it in any environment. Residing in Franklin, a suburb of Nashville, TN, Kerry is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, serves as the Corporate Treasurer for a Nashville-based investment group and has volunteered for local charities including Big Brother Big Sisters of Williamson County and Girls, Inc.
Ashlee Ammons (Daughter), Cofounder/CMO, holds a BA in Mass Communications and Public Relations from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. Notably, Ashlee was hired as the 1st intern to NBA Star LeBron James. Recently relocated to Franklin from New York City, Ashlee established a career as an Events Producer working with an impressive list of A- Listers including Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jay-Z as well as large brands like Moët Hennessy and Coca-Cola.
Much of Ashlee’s passion for Mixtroz comes from her vast knowledge of events and the integration of technology into the landscape in an effort to track analytical data while optimizing consumer experiences.
In this Startup Savant interview, Kerry and Ashlee share their experiences as mother and daughter running a networking app that connects people in real time. Kerry and Ashlee also share their thoughts on starting a business and how to overcome mistakes in the process.
Their biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs:
Beware of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, don't let the journey change the core of who you are, and don't let the fear of being uncomfortable stop you from pushing toward your goals.
Learn more about Kerry and Ashlee in the interview below. To get latest updates from Mixtroz and how to network with people in real-time, follow them on Twitter!
Can you tell me a little bit about your company? What else do you do as an entrepreneur?
We are in the new wave of entrepreneurs who are re-imagining daily life, creating services that make work and play simpler, better and more satisfying. Our combined backgrounds in both Human Resources and Events helped us identify a problem that did not have a clear solution (connecting with the “right” people in real time) and today there is a solution and it’s called Mixtroz (mixer + introduction).
Mixtroz is a data driven technology company that brings real people (Not Profiles) together for curated, LIVE networking all while collecting invaluable post event analytics for the event host.
Mixtroz is initiated by the event organizer as a directive given to attendees over the course of an event. Users downloaded the app, complete a virtual name tag and questionnaire (based on what the event organizer OR sponsor would like to know about event attendees; providing invaluable analytics).
At a predetermined time, the app matches you with 3-10 attendees with complimentary responses and guides you to those persons for a curated group networking experience IN REAL TIME!!! We add value to networking to all stakeholders: event attendees, event hosts and sponsors (when applicable).
Although we work on Mixtroz business development 24/7 (as family/roommates/cofounders) we are also actively seeking seed investment to move our business model to self-service (think Mailchimp). Finally, as time allows we enjoy speaking about our experience to excite the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs.
What does your company do that makes it better than the rest? How did you find your competitive edge?
There are many, many, many companies in the tech/social space (we know!); from LinkedIn and Facebook online, to Eventbrite and Meetups offline, to event apps like Whova and Bonfyre. Luckily, with Mixtroz, we've carved a unique niche within this vast market.
The aforementioned companies would be a great compliment to us as Mixtroz strengthens relationships both on and offline. Specifically, to those apps in the event space (Whova, Bonfyre among others), most, if not all of provide MANY functions (i.e. Holding the event agenda, attendee profiles, booking breakout sessions etc...).
Mixtroz specializes in one thing and that is connecting people in real time while gathering the invaluable post- analytical data for the event host. The other apps give users the opportunity to connect with others but that doesn’t solve for the tediousness or the awkwardness of an antiquated process that the vast majority of the population experiences while making new connections.
When building Mixtroz, we understood that it would take more than bringing people together (singing kumbaya) to drive real dollars to the bottom line for our clients.
Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resources constraints?
We’d welcome conversation with ANYONE that argues that starting a business is not a “hard time!” That said, while the inspiration for Mixtroz literally came to us over the course of a Sunday evening conversation, the “what next” was the challenge.
As professional women working in the corporate space at a Senior level, neither of us had ever had the need or aspiration to become entrepreneurs. To this day, when we reflect on what it was about Mixtroz that made us proceed, the answer is simple: It made sense and we were passionate about creating a solution.
For every entrepreneur to work as hard as you do to launch a business, there must be passion there or you won’t be able to push through the dark days. With passion, after a dark day, you know that there is always a brighter day around the corner.
From day one, Kerry has worked full time on Mixtroz and Ashlee part-time while working her full time position in NYC. When you’re an entrepreneur you do what you have to do; so we quickly learned to wear many hats and to interchange them between us effortlessly.
While Kerry worked on Mixtroz during the day, Ashlee’s peak Mixtroz hours, once home from her demanding “day job” was 8PM-2AM. This went on for over 18 months but in May 2016, we made the decision that it was time for 2 full time co-founders; Ashlee said goodbye to NYC life and moved to Franklin, TN (outside of Nashville) to join Kerry at a Summer business accelerator (Gigtank 365, Chattanooga) and began work on the business full time.
Two full time employees at Mixtroz has been one of our proudest milestones to date. Not only does it make our day to day 1000% more impactful, it also shows potential investors that we are “all in” as co-founders.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
Now living together, all the time is Mixtroz time.
We generally get up and to our “office” (some people would call it our dining room table) by 9:00AM and begin applications, email fielding, business development, finance, follow up, sales calls, etc...
We’ve definitely seen 14 hour days at our dining room table but most days are punctuated with client meetings, Mixtroz events or speaking engagements. When we’re looking to spice it up, we’ll work out of coffee shops in the Franklin or Nashville area as the cool coworking scene is booming here. On most days, we break for dinner then start up again with laptops in the living room and the background noise of the tv until bedtime.
The other important constant in our day to day, not mentioned in the above, is our friendly ongoing competition to stay active. We both wear Fitbits and no matter how sedentary the day, we make a conscious effort to move while on calls or take short breaks throughout the day to walk the dog and get at least 10k steps in.
In the middle of our journey, Kerry had a health scare and that life moment made it clear that nothing for this business will ever trump health. Healthy founders are truly happy founders. On a personal note, Kerry takes time for reflection in the morning, to remind herself that no matter what the day brings “we got this” and Ashlee uses boxing classes as her time to reflect on the week and prepare for what’s to come. And then, from time to time, wine is the best choice!
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
When starting a business, you realize VERY quickly that EVERYONE has an opinion. What you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing, who to do it with, what to wear while you’re doing it, etc. The best gauge for who has final say in your business is the person that you are looking at at 3AM getting things done.
Trust the gut and expertise of your core team because while there are experts for every stage of your business, YOU, too, are an expert for your business (don’t marginalize it). Do not make costly business decisions based on advice solicited or unsolicited from any person who is not in the trenches with you.
As entrepreneurs, specifically because you’re moving a mile a minute, it is so tempting to accept offers that are “too good to be true” – 99.9% of the time it is exactly that! Don’t fall for immeasurable help that comes with a cost, any cost. Trust yourself (after all you’ve gotten this far)!
Every experience and encounter has improved our business acumen and has help us to seek multiple solutions before landing on one.
For keeping your business finances under control, do you have an accountant, accounting software, or both?
We’ve had all monies from day 1 tracked by a CPA who utilizes software (QuickBooks). This was a high priority item for our business as we were raising our friends and family funding.
Our investors know where all monies, down to the cent, have been spent. This financial organization of the total spend from the very beginning, definitely correlates to our company being debt free. These days, to remain lean, both cofounders dabble in the CFO role and manage most of our accounts payable ourselves.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
Each other!!! Often in life you hear, “you won’t be given more than you can handle”. No offense to the person that first uttered those “wise” words but we think that is a complete load of s*it!
In life, you will constantly be given more than you can handle and if you hold on, hold out, one more day, hour, minute - the good will come! We keep each other encouraged. In fact, recently, at a pitch competition that we were a shoe in to win, we didn’t. Ashlee was inconsolable, she is a millennial after all. It was Kerry’s turn to come up with some quick wit and rhetoric to keep the team spirits up.
While we didn’t win and get the instant gratification of the jumbo sized $2500 prize check; immediately following, we were approached by the organizer of the pitch competition who personally invested $10,000 in Mixtroz the following week.
Wait it out (by wait, we mean work your tail off) and you will eventually see the fruits of your labor in success OR a guide of how to pivot fast and keep pushing. And it always helps to work with your mother!
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
Kerry – Tuesday’s with Morrie is my fave! I had to read it in my Master's studies and at the time didn’t understand how it correlated to a MBA in International Business. Every day since, all throughout my following (post-MBA) career the correlation has become clearer and clearer! That book continues to influence my focus on what and who is important as I live through the highs and lows of this entrepreneurial journey.
Ashlee – All of the reading I do outside of news, tech blogs, etc... is total guilty pleasure reading. I look to reading as a local escape and a road to spark my imagination; with that in mind, I just finished “The Girl on the Train”. When I am specifically looking for inspiration, I listen to or read transcripts of commencement addresses; my go to is Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth June 8, 2014.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in Tennessee? What do they need to know from the beginning?
- Beware of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”
- Don't let the journey change the core of who you are
- Don't let the fear of being uncomfortable stop you from pushing toward your goals
From the beginning you should know, “Having a business and being an entrepreneur are two COMPLETELY different things and the latter, IS NOT EASY but is achievable!"