Meet the dynamic mother/daughter duo Kerry Shrader and Ashlee Ammons, co-founders of Mixtroz, a company that aims to make conferences and other big networking opportunities more productive and less awkward.
Women 2.0's Ariana Blossom met up with the two at Collision Conference in NOLA last week, where they were pounding the pavement and talking to people - attendees, media and investors - about their app.
You zeroed in on the problem of awkwardness at conferences?
Ashlee: Yes, people go to events with people they know or they go alone. For the people that are there with their colleagues and friends, how do you break away from them? For the people that are by themselves, they have to play this awful game of trying to jump in and out of people’s conversations. We’re resolving a major pinch point which is, “How am I going to extend my network?”
This must help introverts.
Ashlee: Yes. I’m super extroverted when I’m in my own space and comfy. But networking is delicate, and you want to make sure that you’re being succinct with what you have to say. Events, like Collision [the Collision Conference] are great, but you have to be ready to work at it. We give you an opportunity to leave with real connections.
You managed to raise a significant amount of money through family and friends, right?
Kerry: Yes, almost $200,000.
How did you frame your investment asks of friends and family that was both respectful of the relationship and clear about what you needed?
Kerry: The fact that we left our full-time successful roles spoke volumes to them. But I will say taking the money has added pressure and anxiety to my life like you wouldn’t believe. I take other people’s money even more seriously than my own. We have to be excellent stewards of that money. We started our seed rounds at no less than $2,500 and up to $10,000. People wanted to give me more than $10,000 and I refused it. I would love for our friends and family to be just crazy rich because of it, but the down side is it’s too much for me personally.
I hear from so many woman about having extra steps to prove yourself. Is this something you’ve experienced?
Kerry: I had an investor tell me, “When you get to $40,000 a month come see us.” When I get to $40,000 a month I won’t need you.
We got a woman-owned business investment application and one of the requirements was a 20-page business plan. So, I just stop working on my business to write a plan? I found the same thing in my HR career. You tell me you want a female engineer, but then you want that person to have flown to the Moon.
Ashlee: I’m interested to see when the paradigm starts to shift and makes this easier. Nobody wants the bar lowered, but the bar should be accessible and it should be the same for everybody.
Kerry: We’re very resilient. In the midst of all of this, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It led to surgery, radiation, and all within two months. I’m 100% well now, but I tell women, “Get your mammogram on.” We’re the caretakers and we make sure our children and spouses go for checkups, but then we push off our own stuff.
Ashlee: She approached it with grace. Entrepreneurship is very high up in the list of priorities, but health is on top of that, because without that, you can’t do the entrepreneurship. This is a grind and you need every brain cell to do it.
The other thing about entrepreneurship is somehow it got associated with misery. I don’t know who wrote that in the handbook, but working with my mom is enjoyable. If you’re feeling extreme stress all the time you should reevaluate who you’re working with, what is the goal you’re chasing and why. This has been a great journey and at the end of the day both of us are changed by running this business. Mixtroz helps meeting attendees easily connect and engage with one another; all while helping the event host learn more about them based on the responses to customized questions.
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