What Inspired or Drove She To Start Wyzerr?

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.

You mentioned that your journey into entrepreneurship has not been a solo journey, but a group one, with the support that friends and relatives provided you an essential part of the process. It would be great to hear more about this, as I think that a lot of entrepreneurs feel they have to ‘go it alone’. 
You sometimes hear stories about how people become entrepreneurs because they hate their day job. That definitely wasn’t the case with me. I had worked most of my life to become a lawyer. That was the only thing I wanted to do, and I loved every moment of working in law. I was on a narrow and pretty much guaranteed path to my dream job. My family and friends were ecstatic. I would be the first lawyer in my family. Then I decided to give up everything every one had worked so hard to give me (my tuition at Berkeley was paid for out of pocket by my mom) to pursue this life of uncertainty. For the first year after I quit my job, everything was ok because Sooligan had raised some funding and had really supportive investors. We were living in New Orleans in a nice apartment downtown near the French Quarters, had a nice reliable car, and had food on the table every day. All we had to do was work on our startup. It was like a dream come true. I could not believe how fortunate and blessed I was. Then the money started to run out. We knew we could have gotten regular day jobs but that would mean we couldn’t work on the startup as much anymore. So we didn’t. We took side gigs (I used to have a modeling contract, so I went back to doing modeling gigs) to bring in some extra cash. However, in those jobs, I felt so low. By no means is this an attack on models, but it just wasn’t for me. I felt degraded and like a piece of meat on display for people to say whatever they wanted to say. By this time, the money really had run out and we had barely had enough to buy instant noodles to keep us alive. As much as we didn’t want to, we knew we had to turn to our families and friends. And they were so willing to help us.  We eventually moved back home to California. We had a best friend in the Bay Area who literally had just moved into her brand new house. She didn’t even really get a chance to enjoy living in her new house by herself. Without hesitation, she let us move in and pretty much took over her living room. She shared all of her food with us, and even stocked up her fridge so we had brain food. I remember telling her one day “I am so sorry for doing this to you. Thank you so much for everything” and she replied “Don’t worry, I know you would have done the same for me if it was the other way around.” There was another time over the summer when one of my closest friends was having a baby shower, and so I went to go buy her a present with my cousin. I probably only had $5 to spare for the gift so I was choosing really cheap and terrible presents. My cousin, without my asking, picked up some very expensive baby clothes and accessories, and turned to me and said “I got it. It’s ok. You helped me when I needed help. Let me help you.” And it really just kept going. I felt really terrible asking my family and friends for help so they took it upon themselves to just keep helping me. My older sister bought me dinner almost everyday, and kept giving me these “loans” that she never asked me to repay. I was able to get back on my feet, got a new full-time job, and worked on the startup on the side. Progress wasn’t as quick as we wanted it to be, but it was still great progress. Eventually all of those efforts led me to Wyzerr.
I guess the lesson here is that no matter how you’re living now, be kind and help those around you. You truly reap what you sow. You could be doing phenomenally in life today, but all of it could change tomorrow. Nobody gets anywhere alone. You’re going to need help to get wherever it is you want to go. You just never know when you’ll need someone’s help.

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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