Interview With Cherie Werner
Describe your product or service:
“We created FIESTA as a way to help startup founders/entrepreneurs/newcomers feel welcomed, find a place of belonging, and receive the help/resources they need. Why ‘you don't know what you don't know.’ We want to help others know who's who, share helpful resources, and connect with like-minded folks without biases.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Our mission is to connect startup founders to the "community builders" serving the startup ecosystem. These community builders include event organizers, networking events, accelerators & incubators, service providers, VCs, and more. We are others-focused and lift others as we climb, we give first and share always.
We value meaningful connections [and] transparency by being genuine and authentic and doing the right thing while helping others.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“Currently, we are funded through sponsorships.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them!
“FIESTA is an arm of KOYA. We are a team of four.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Austin is the nation's fastest-growing city. In fact, 150 people continue to move here nearly every day. As a growing tech hub, many of these new residents are entrepreneurs or founders. During [the] COVID lockdown, these new Austin residents became isolated. Seeing an opportunity, FIESTA was created in July 2021 when COVID restrictions began lifting.
Being a founder/entrepreneur can be a lonely and arduous journey. The same is true for being new to a city. Meeting together allows everyone to grow professionally and personally.
During COVID, I was meeting numerous new-to-Austin individuals via Lunchclub, and most were startup founders. Knowing personally how difficult it is to move in general, I was in awe they would choose to move to a new city during a pandemic. As I listen to their stories, oftentimes, I'd be led to invite them over for dinner and then seek to connect them with someone. This led to hosting most of the Lunchclub team visiting Austin over for Cinco De Mayo in 2021, which eventually lead to them becoming our sponsor September–November 2021. In June, I decided to invite everyone I met via Lunchclub to meet up and meet each other. We had about 40 folks show up. It goes without saying that being together in person was exhilarating, and in that moment, I decided I would begin hosting gatherings on a monthly bases. The very next week, I was notified of a Meetup group disbanding because I had been part of the group prior to COVID. I decided to step up and take over the group, which was called Austin Early Stage Startup Founders. This group began on April 13, 2019. It felt like a timely opportunity to bring even more people together with similar values.Tom Peters said, ‘If a window of opportunity appears, don't pull down the shade.’ So with much excitement, I said yes to this opportunity.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“As I mentioned, I took over the group Austin Early Stage Startup Founders group July 1, 2021, and renamed it to Founders and Newcomers to Austin to be more inclusive. The next month I came up with the name FIESTA — Founders, Investors, Entrepreneurs, Startups, Techies, Austin Newcomers — which I believe is even more inclusive and stands out.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“Starting my own business has never been a desire as I enjoy working for others and collaborating. I am more of a cheerleader wanting to see others succeed. My passion and joy was being a stay-at-home mom, and I believe what begins in the home carries out into society. When our youngest went off to college in 2019, my husband was starting another business as he is the entrepreneur innovator. He wanted me to join the journey. I struggled with imposter syndrome as my marketing and business degrees were outdated, and everything was technology driven. I was able to help some, but when I began the community group, each day had purpose and excitement as my focus was on how to help others succeed. Honestly, FIESTA is an extension of KOYA as we are about meaningful connections and making others feel seen.”
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while launching your company? How did you overcome it?
“Self-doubt and my age were my biggest obstacles. I overcame my fears one day and event at a time. What began small 40 attendees has grown to over 300 monthly attendees.”
Feeling inspired? Learn how to launch your company with our guide on how to start a startup.
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Founders and those new to Austin.”
What's your primary marketing strategy?
“Attending networking events, connecting with existing event organizers and community leaders to see how I can help them.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“Consistency — same time, place, and format.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“How many attendees join the Slack group and then reach out for help.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“‘Believe It’ by Jamie Kern Lima is my favorite book, and my favorite podcast is ‘On Purpose with Jay Shetty.’”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“It depends on the mood, but I actually listen to music as I am working.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“Surrounding myself with the right people changes everything. Life is hard enough – we don’t always win, and there will always be obstacles and naysayers along our path to success. This is why having friends and mentors that not only listen, but also cheer you on is invaluable. The right people give you energy and help you propel forward.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“You can never prepare for the unexpected but can choose your attitude when the unexpected happened.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“Honestly, this is an area I struggle with. I know each day, I have a choice to make choices that aid or hinder my work/life balance. So days are better than others.”
When did you know it was time to quit your day job to focus on your startup?
“As I saw the impact that FIESTA was having on others, I realized I had the opportunity to create something that truly would be impactive possibly for generations to come. Given we are created for a higher purpose, I leaned into what began as a passion project and monthly evaluate how to move the needle to truly help founders and especially those new to Austin.“
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“I was a lifeguard during my high school and college summers. I learned that if you don't learn how to swim, you will fight with the water and possibly not win. Learn the basics before you jump into the deep end.”
More on FIESTA
Cherie Werner, founder of community startup FIESTA, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.
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