It was the end of a long four months for Ashlee Ammons and Kerry Schrader, who just wrapped up their participation in the 2018 Velocity Accelerator cohort in Birmingham, AL and were gearing up to participate in the Rise of Rest bus tour pitch competition. The mother-daughter founders, spent 13 weeks away from their home in Greater Nashville to share a bed in a small dorm room hoping to gain the tools, resources and funding they need for their start-up, Mixtroz, an app that alleviates the awkwardness of networking events by connecting attendees at mixers based on their interests. On May 9, 2018, their time away from home paid off as they pitched themselves to victory winning the top prize of $100,000 at the competition.
Their win from Rise of Rest and the funding they received from the accelerator puts them a few weeks away from launching an SaaS model that will make Mixtroz available to anybody everywhere. They are 50% subscribed on their million dollar funding round, and if they did so today, Ashlee and Kerry would be the 37 and 38 black female founders to close a million dollars. “The bittersweet of our story comes because despite all the things we’ve been able to do like winning contests and getting good press; we have an MVP [Minimum Viable Product] that’s able to generate revenue on with big clients like HCA, Deloitte and Georgia Tech and Alabama Power. We exceeded all of the milestones for a startup, and we’re still struggling to get our around close. So it’s just a funny place to be in,” shares Kerry.
Funding is just one of the frustrations that Ashlee and Kerry experience as black women founders and as a family business, but they both could not imagine building a business without each other. “I can give you a 100 happy stories, but trust and believe there are some sad stories in there and there are sometimes that Ashley and I, 100 percent don’t agree,” shares Kerry.
Like most family businesses, they face the struggles of balancing their relationship as business partners and as mother and daughter while traveling the world pitching and raising funds for their business that they created in November 2014. Mixtroz was created when Ashlee was working in the nightlife hospitality industry in NYC and shared with her mother an awkward networking experience she had while attending an event. “We used to talk on the phone all the time when I lived in New York, but we stayed on the phone for like four and a half hours this particular time and it was literally in that one conversation that we were kind of like, huh, there has to be a better way for people to connect at live events,” shares Ashlee.
Make Mother-Daughter Time a Priority
Before Ashlee decided to put her all into Mixtroz, she worked on the business after hours when she finished her day job while her mother took on the business full-time. Although they are co-founders there was a point where their daily phone calls became business meetings. “There was a point where [Ashlee] felt like she lost me as a mom because her time would be so limited that I would have issues or needed to talk about something with Mixtroz, but she wanted to tell me about her dinner date not going so well,” explains Kerry. They had to have conversations to try to find a balance between personal sharing and business calls. “I’m processing all of it because no job ever trumps your mom job,” says Kerry.
Show Up for Other Family Members
For Kerry, it’s been amazing being on this entrepreneurial journey with her daughter, but she also has a son and husband who could also use some TLC. “They almost become outsiders and you have to really be careful about that because it can be very taxing on other relationships,” she shared. Kerry and her husband should be empty nesters enjoying time together, but as a co-founder of a startup, she’s on the road most of the time. They stay connected using their smartphones and when she’s home, family time becomes a priority with game nights and dinners. “I don’t think there could be a more pleasant person in how [my stepfather] has approached the situation. I mean he is so supportive of what we’re doing as a mother-daughter team and is 1000 percent behind it,” adds Ashlee. The support of their family gives them the validation they need to keep going and the duo does what they can to show up for their family. Whether it’s going to the hospital and taking care of their husband/step-father after his shoulder surgery or going to Texas to see their son/brother graduate from military basic training, they make it work between their time in accelerator programs or competitions.
Deal With Life as You Build a Business
Once Ashlee made the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur she moved to Nashville and into her parent’s home to make the business work in 2016. During that time Ashlee experience depression as her independent lifestyle changed. “Entrepreneurial depression is a real thing and I definitely had it, because I was at this place in my life in my late twenties where I thought I was going to be soaring in this events career and then it was a complete departure from that going into entrepreneurship taking yourself from the top of your career and then going back down to the bottom and like starting over again,” she explained. The adjustment was difficult for her, and she worked through her struggles by seeing a doctor and talking through her feelings. “I needed to be a good co-founder to my mom and really be the best founder that I could be for this business,” explained Ashlee. Ashlee wasn’t the only one going through life’s lemons, in 2015 Kerry was diagnosed with breast cancer during this time. “People have this misconception that when you come up with a great idea, life kind of pauses itself and then you get to work on this great idea. It’s like no, life continues to happen in addition to this behemoth thing which is entrepreneurship,” shared Ashlee.
Embrace the Discomfort
Ashlee and Kerry advise other families to have fun and get used to the lifestyle changes that come with entrepreneurship. “It took me a long time to really embrace where I am and lean into it and really drive this business forward, so the sooner you can learn to embrace it the discomfort, theoretically will only be temporary,” shared Ashlee. Discomfort for them was leaving their careers, sharing beds while on the road and not having the spending luxuries that they once had. The mother-daughter team stress the importance of having savings before jumping into entrepreneurship. “Life happens while you’re being an entrepreneur, still having the ability to have your own funds that you’re able to invest in the company and also keep yourself going is 100 percent crucial,” added Ashlee.
Despite the hundreds of naysayers that came their way, and despite the fact that they are building a startup in a smaller market where funding isn’t as plentiful as it is in NYC or Silicon Valley, the duo learned that they already had what it takes to succeed. “The most important skill that an entrepreneur can have is using the skills that you have today to build a business that you want tomorrow. You have to be confident enough with the skills that you are bringing to the table to build the business that you want. People said not having a technology background was going to be the kiss of death for us and I’m happy to say that it’s not,” shared Ashlee.
The balancing act of family and business is one they will continue to master, but the ladies of Mixtroz continue to have fun and keep family first. “I like having my mom as a co-founder because she’s someone that I’ve looked up to my entire life. I trust her 100 percent to make the best decision for our business. Every single time,” shared Ashlee. Building and working with someone you love makes the good and bad times worth it for them. Having a strong bond beyond their business keeps their family functioning and keeps their business growing.