Natasia Malaihollo is a two-time startup founder. This ex-model and former patent specialist originally studied BioChem before focusing on a career in law. Natasia speaks boldly about her experiences as an entrepreneur, the pressures she faced and the support networks that helped her achieve her dreams.
What is your background, and what inspired or drove you to start Wyzerr?
My background is in intellectual property law. I used to work as a patent specialist. I was on the fast track to become a lawyer—I actually graduated from Berkeley at age 20 and wanted to work in corporate law, but was hired right out of college to work in intellectual property. My boss, a brilliant attorney and an incredible mentor, was the type of person that really forced you to think and be resourceful. He would give me assignments with no instructions. I was left to my own devices to give him finished documents. Up until then, I never once thought of becoming an entrepreneur. I was on the straight and narrow path to become a lawyer. However, being that free to be creative and seeing how much I could do on my own, really got me thinking that maybe I could start my own company. I started my first company, Sooligan, in my last month in that job.
Wyzerr was formed out of a really dark place. I kind of get emotional just thinking about it. I had been working on my first startup, Sooligan, for 3 years this past May. The company wasn’t growing at all and it was literally draining me: taking all of my money, energy, time, and happiness. But I grew up never failing at anything, and to me, letting go of Sooligan meant failing. So I refused to accept it. I kept pushing forward but my heart was no longer in it. One day, my investor pulled me aside and gave me the harshest but truly life-changing advice that I ever received. He basically told me that I was wasting my talents on a worthless company. I was stunned, but knew he was right. I had to move on. That night I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up, I was numb and had no appetite. I went to my office, but couldn’t work. I wandered outside and just kept walking. I sat down on random benches and just cried. My vision for the future had vanished. I felt like a complete failure. If the angel of death had come knocking at that exact moment, I would have gladly embraced it. I never felt more lifeless than I did at that moment. I wouldn’t wish that type of pain on anyone. Eventually, one of the other startup founders in the building came by and sat down to talk to me. She told me about her own failures, and told me that life goes on. I’d survive and build another company, just like she did. I balked at the idea of going through this again with another company but her story gave me hope.
A small fire sparked in that conversation. After sulking around for 24 hours telling myself how worthless I was, later that evening, I called a good friend of mine, Ajae Dandridge. She had worked on Sooligan as a marketing adviser. I told her what was going on. She immediately took charge and said “let’s get on Google hangout tonight! You, me, and I’ll see if Stedmon is around. We’ll come up with a new plan. Or least throw some ideas around and start a new company.” That night, around 1:00 AM East Coast time, on a Google Hangout with Ajae and Stedmon, we came up with the idea for Wyzerr. Wyzerr has evolved significantly since that call, and have grown faster than any of us could have predicted (we had our first paying customer within 24 hours after that Google hangout, and today have a waiting list for our platform). I tell that story, and not the story of what actually inspired Wyzerr, because I feel like there are other women out there who are holding on to a company or idea a little too tight and too long. Sometimes letting go is the best move you can make.
As a young entrepreneur,what has been the most crucial learning curve or lesson that you have learned along the way?
I quickly learned that in this field, you can’t get defensive. You have to be able to take criticism well, and take the time to listen to people. You’ll make so much more progress if people like you and feel like you can be helped. I think all entrepreneurs are born with some of the same characteristics: tenacity, resiliency, persistence, etc. So it makes it hard to listen to people that are giving you negative feedback. You have a reflex that just automatically wants to brush them off and tune them out. But some of the best ideas that we’re working on at Wyzerr were born out of evaluating negative feedback, and seeing how we could argue against it in the future.
What do you see as the main points of difference in the way millennials interact with companies, when compared to older generations
You have to remember that many of us millennials can remember a time when heavy bulky cordless phones were normal. We remember TV’s before HD & LCD flat screens, internet when it was just AOL and Yahoo instant messenger, and life before iPads and smartphones. Millennials grew up during a tech revolution. We’ve seen a lot of new inventions in the past 20 years. So I think we are more willing to give companies a chance, and more open to trying new products and services because we can remember a time when we didn’t have most of these things available. Millennials seem to really understand and embrace the concept of “simple, fun, fast, and easy.” As long as a company fits one of those categories, I think it wouldn’t be hard to get a millennial to use the product or service.
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