Keep It Classy: There is room for everyone to succeed. Remember, you’re not really competing against other companies. Focus on providing the best possible product or service to your customers. Some people will fall in love with your brand and others won’t, but that is natural and perfectly okay. You only need to slice off a small piece of the marketplace to be a big success. So, always keep it classy when talking about other brands in your space.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Malin.
For the last two decades, social entrepreneur Amy Malin has worked at the intersection of Hollywood and philanthropy with her cause agency Trueheart where she connected celebrities and purpose-driven brands to team up for great causes. Now, Amy and her husband Scott Malin are the Co-Founders of the Trueheart social impact search engine, which gives people a free and easy way for their searches to power donations to charity.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was blessed with the most amazing Nema (Grandma), who taught me to be fierce in the pursuit of my dreams. Nema grew up in the 1920s, a time when women were told who they could be, so she wanted more for me.
Growing up, I watched as Nema was President of multiple non-profits. She volunteered her time to plan events, secure auction items and dial for donations to raise funds and awareness for important causes. I didn’t know it then, but watching Nema dedicate so much of herself to giving back inspired me in the most beautiful way.
In middle school, I started to really pay attention to the suffering going on around me. I read in my local newspaper that the homeless population in South Florida didn’t have the resources to help them get a job and transition back into society. I felt compelled to help, so I created a fundraiser called “Washing at the Y”. I collected spare change from family, friends and classmates to purchase a new washer and dryer for the local YMCA. I also collected donations of towels and toiletries, so the homeless could have a safe place to shower and change before job interviews.
Then, I spent two years conducting video interviews with homeless people on the streets of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. I got to know interesting people of all ages, races and walks off life, who fell on hard times and suddenly found themselves without a home. I produced a documentary to share their incredible stories, which ended up being used as a fundraising tool for a local non-profit. From these powerful experiences, I saw firsthand that all human beings need love in their lives. I felt a calling to help whenever possible and was determined to do even more.
At 19 years old, in order to escape a situation of domestic violence, I moved to New York with three suitcases and a few hundred dollars to my name. I decided to start my life over and become an entrepreneur. Growing up, Nema would always play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” on her record player and the lyric “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”, always stuck with me. Making that move was one of the hardest and best decisions of my life. I started my business cold-calling companies and eventually a few people in entertainment gave me a chance to prove myself. I worked 24/7, hustling and grinding to make a name for myself. I made lots of rookie mistakes, but I graduated the school of hard knocks with some of the most valuable life lessons.
I always looked for ways to infuse a sense of purpose into everything I was doing professionally with my special events and PR firm. At first, people laughed and were resistant when I suggested we utilize a Grammy party as a way to raise funds and awareness for a great cause. But I didn’t back down, because I knew there were enough people in my industry who shared my passion for philanthropy. Thankfully, there were early adopters who agreed with me, and my cause agency’s parties and social impact campaigns always had that purpose, which put amazing non-profits in the spotlight.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My brilliant and talented husband, Scott, joined me as partner in our cause agency ten years ago and it has been amazing getting to work together. We’ve produced so many different types of fundraisers over the years. There was the 500 dollars — 5,000 dollars a plate Galas, celebrity golf tournaments and casino nights, silent and live auctions and digital fundraising campaigns. These were all a one and done model where we left starting from scratch with every event and campaign. We wanted to find a more programmatic way to help raise funds for non-profits.
In addition, we have always been passionate about finding a way to further democratize philanthropy and make it more inclusive. There are billions of people in the world with big hearts who want to make a difference, but they don’t have enough disposable money to donate to charity. We feel strongly that they shouldn’t be excluded from philanthropy. We really wanted to create a platform that was both pandemic and recession-proof and also uses the power of tech for good.
Scott came up with idea of starting our own social impact search engine, so we could invite everyone into our community and have a way of providing sustained support to important causes that are helping people, animals and the planet. With our Trueheart search engine, your searches can power donations to our six incredible charity partners, Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, 4 Paws For Ability, PFLAG National and Variety Boys & Girls Club.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Our children inspired us to start the Trueheart social impact search engine. Scott and I want to leave this world better than we found it for them and for every child. This is our legacy and we want our kids to be proud of what their Mama and Papa created to bring people together in service of humanity.
We’re all digitally connected with the power of social media and yet we’ve never been so disconnected from one another. This is our opportunity to use the power of technology for good and empower people to join us in affecting positive change.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our Trueheart search engine stands out, because we’re focused on impact. We want to maximize the good we can achieve in the world, so our grants designated through Charities Aid Foundation of America, will help our non-profit partners make their Fund A Dream projects a reality. Rather than contribute to general funds, we’re able to show our community where every dollar goes to make a difference, because we’re supporting specific programs.
For example, our work with the non-profit Global Green will support their mission to restore the Amazon Rainforest after the devastating wildfires that ravaged that precious ecosystem. Global Green will be working with local indigenous farmers to plant healthy saplings in the Amazon to help fight climate change. We’ll show our community powerful impact videos and beautiful photos of the work we’ve done together with Global Green and how our users are heroes that helped heal the planet.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to pay forward my blessings and help someone in need whenever I can. I’ve always believed that small acts of kindness create a ripple effect of goodness in the world. I have snack packs in my car that I give to homeless people I see on the street. When I meet someone asking for help , I will buy them a meal or give them a grocery store gift card.
I’ll also look up the nearest shelter and food bank and try to connect the person with local non-profits who are equipped to help with short-term and long-term solutions. Also, our family cleans out our closets a few times a year to donate clothes, shoes, toys, books, furniture and home goods to families in high need communities and to veterans’ charities.
We also enjoy spreading holiday cheer to kids in our local children’s hospitals and kids who age out of the foster system by providing toys, games, books, décor and yummy meals. Some of our favorite Trueheart events over the years included hosting patients from local children’s hospitals across the country to enjoy themed parties complete with delicious treats, toys, games, arts and crafts and special performances.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’ve always been scrappy and consider it one of my best superpowers. When a problem comes up, I focus on finding the solution. I believe there is always a way forward. And I love a good challenge…
Many years ago, when the MTV Video Music Awards took place in Miami Beach, I worked on ten events in three days. Everyone said it was impossible, but that just made me work harder to do pull it off. I added a bunch of talented friends to my team and the parties we did for Jay Z, Kanye West, Good Charlotte, Hoobastank, Missy Elliott, Rock The Vote, SPIN Magazine and more, were a big success. In addition, we had to deliver 50 VIP gift baskets to celebrities all over Miami. I drank three shots of Colada (Cuban coffee) and stayed up all night with my team, assembling the packages and organizing the clothes and shoes in everyone’s sizes. I hired the fabulous bell-staff at our hotel who had friends at the other properties, to help our team handle the special deliveries.
I’m kind to others and believe in treating people well. I love meeting new people and think it’s really important to pay attention in order to truly get to know somebody. For a two year stretch, I traveled weekly from NYC to LA for business. I took the same red-eye and early morning flights each time, so I became friends with the flight attendants on my route. When they had down time, we would talk and share snacks.
I learned that there were tons of flight attendants living in a tiny crash pad outside of Manhattan. It didn’t seem like the best living conditions for them to recharge and relax after a long flight, so I offered two of the flight attendants my apartment to use when I was traveling to LA. They were excited to take me up on my offer. As a thank you, they reciprocated my kindness and started giving me their buddy passes so I could enjoy some complimentary airline tickets. I’ve always found that being kind not only feels good but also enriches my life in the most beautiful ways.
I’m also tenacious. I never give up, especially when it comes to helping kids in need. We worked with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals on their national ambassador campaign and were proud to secure some wonderful celebrities to donate their time and talent to support the cause.
For example, I invited Kristen Bell to participate. She was filming her hit show “The Good Place” and didn’t have her production schedule two months in advance, so she was unable to confirm at the time. I really wanted Kristen to be a part of the campaign and knew that once she met the amazing Miracle Kids, she would be a loyal supporter of this amazing cause.
So, just a few days before our CMN Hospitals campaign shoot, I reached back out to Kristen again and within minutes she got back to me and said she was shooting a half-day and would be happy to be a part of the campaign. At the shoot, Kristen formed a special bond with Miracle Kid Sasha Bogosian, who is one of the most inspiring human beings we are blessed to know. And from that fateful day, because I didn’t give up, CMN Hospitals has been the beneficiary of Kristen’s incredible kindness for years.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
A friend once offered me equity in a company he was starting, in exchange for front-loading a tremendous amount of work to get it off the ground. My friend has created incredible success over the years, so I trusted his advice that this would end up being worthwhile for me.
I turned down paying projects and made this a top priority in my life. I spent six months consulting for the company and sharing my invaluable expertise. Eventually, I walked away from the opportunity, when I discovered there were other people on the team whose values didn’t align with mine. The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that time is your most precious commodity. So safeguard your time and choose wisely on where you decide to use it. Don’t give away your time to make someone else’s dream a reality.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I moved to New York to start my business, I had only a few hundred dollars and no place to live.
I was homeless in a city that was totally new to me. I met kind strangers in NYC on the subway and in coffee shops who let me couch surf at their apartments. I don’t recommend doing what I did, but I had no choice. I was blessed that these generous people gave me a safe place to stay. One guy I met owned a few rental apartments and he let me stay a few nights in one of his units, when he was in between tenants. It was vacant, unfurnished, and didn’t have electricity or hot water. I slept on the floor and piled all of my clothes on top of me to keep warm. I was super grateful that I wasn’t sleeping on the streets.
After I got a short term job and finally saved up enough money to get my own apartment, I was on a 3 dollars a day budget for food. That lasted about six months. I ate the same meal every day. The breakfast special from the corner bodega got me an egg white and cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast with a cup of coffee for 1.99 dollars. For dinner, I would return to the bodega and buy a 99 cent pack of trail mix. I felt hungry all the time, but I was so thankful to be alive, safe and able to get a fresh start. I really tried my best to live in gratitude for what I did have, even though at times it didn’t feel like much.
The first time I had enough money to buy myself a few days’ worth of groceries, I cried in the store. I will never forget what it was like to not have enough. I have a deep respect for the value of a dollar and understand how important it is not to waste food, when so many people are food insecure. Over two decades later, I still get emotional sometimes at the grocery store, thinking about how far I’ve come and how lucky I am to be in a position to buy whatever I need to feed my family. It is not lost on me that millions of people in this country can’t do the same. So whenever I see someone living on the street, I am humbled to be able to pay forward my blessings and buy them a meal or give them a grocery store gift card. This small good deed is my way of helping in the moment, but we need long-term solutions to end global hunger. Every human being deserves access to healthy food. In 2021, nobody should go to bed hungry.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
I had to make my own way at a young age, so I’ve been in survival mode for most of my life. I don’t know how to quit. I have determination flowing through my veins. I was told so many times that my dreams were “stupid” and that I’d never achieve success. For me, failure was not an option. I never had a safety net, so I quickly learned that I would have to work harder than most and come up with a unique value proposition for my business.
So many times in my career, instead of waiting for clients to hire me, I would create my own event concepts. Then, I’d sell brands the opportunity to participate. It was a risky move and a big investment on my part, but I was able to reverse engineer an amazing event because I knew I could get celebrities to attend and secure a lot of press coverage.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
Being an entrepreneur is a wild, crazy and beautiful roller coaster ride. You have to be prepared for the highs and the lows. Your success is completely determined by your hard work, talent, determination and grit. You don’t have the security of a guaranteed paycheck, so you have to stay motivated and focused on your goals.
Be kind to yourself every step of the way and recognize that some days are going to be awesome, while other days will be a struggle. Cultivate a tight knit group of entrepreneur friends, so you can bounce ideas off of each other, celebrate the wins and learn from the losses together. Find an activity that helps you de-stress and make the time to do it a few days a week to recharge. For me, it is hot yoga. I not only get a great workout, but I find some much needed peace, calm and quiet. It has done wonders for my physical, mental and spiritual health.
Always come back to why you started your business in the first place. Your passion is the fuel for your success, so remind yourself why you chose this path. Humans are visual creatures, so put a few important words on a vision board or wear them on a bracelet to give you a daily dose of inspiration.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
There are so many factors that determine if bootstrapping your company or securing venture capital is the right path for your business. We could talk about this important topic for hours. Having bootstrapped three companies, I will say that it builds tremendous character. Every expense is coming out of your pocket, which isn’t easy. Of course, the flip side is that you’ll reap 100% of the rewards and be in control of your own destiny. So there are pros and cons to going this route. Investing in yourself and going all in is a bold move. Coupled with the right business plan and tenacity, it could pay off incredible dividends in the long run.
On the other hand, having access to venture capital allows a business to scale much more quickly. You’ll have the necessary funds to grow your team and deploy high level marketing strategies. VC firms also help you manage the risk and pitfalls associated with startups. You’ll have access to experienced leadership who can serve as strategic advisors for your company.
It’s important to understand that when you accept VC funding, you’re giving up equity and a powerful say in your company. One day, you could be in a position where your company is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and you have a lucrative offer to sell it. But, your VC firm might not let you take the deal, because it won’t give them the return they need to deliver to their partners.
Seek the counsel of friends who have accepted VC funding and those who have bootstrapped their businesses so you can weigh the pros and cons and determine which option is best for you.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
There are so many factors that go into starting a successful startup. Here are five important key ingredients to put you on the right track.
#1. The BIG Idea: It’s a really exciting time when you have your AHA moment and come up with your big idea. Before you invest your time and money into starting a business, make sure there is a need for your idea. Does your product or service solve a problem? Once you’ve determined there is a need for your product or service, you have to come up with a plan to deliver an amazing offering. Then, you have to make sure your plan meets the needs of your customers. What is your company’s mission and value proposition? Make sure your new venture is more than just a hobby and that there is enough demand for your product to turn it into a long-term business.
#2: Market Research: Consult family and friends for their honest feedback. Read books and magazines to learn everything you can about your target industry. Stay up to date with the latest industry trends and news. If possible, take some classes or webinars and soak up knowledge from people who are already successful in your chosen field. Search online and scope out your competition. Learn from their mistakes and their successes and figure out what you can do to improve upon competitive products or services.
Don’t be discouraged by competitors. It’s a great sign if there are already successful businesses in your lane, because it means there is a market for your product or service. I’ve conducted focus groups for many brand clients over the years. When I worked with Coca-Cola, I conducted focus groups for their energy drink KMX. We had teens and twenty-somethings who love video games and extreme sports join us for sessions where they ate pizza, played Xbox and did blind taste tests to give us their honest feedback about all of the different energy drinks. Then, we showed them the cans and had them sound off on the brand identities and what they thought of each brand. We shared our creative marketing strategies for KMX with the group and they gave us their honest feedback. Having our target audience tell us the best ways to authentically get them engaged with the brand was priceless.
#3: Rise & Grind: As the Founder of a start-up, every day you should be ready to hustle. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy path, but it is a fulfilling one. The people that succeed as entrepreneurs are highly driven, motivated and determined. Unlike other areas in life, there aren’t a lot of success stories of entrepreneurs making it big with blind luck. Success is very much a by-product of giving your all to your startup.
Olympians are great examples of people who rise and grind every day, when they are training for competition. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Olympic gold medalist ice dancer and humanitarian Meryl Davis, on a few projects. She shared with me her intense training regimen. Meryl would get up at dawn to hit the ice for five hours a day, five days a week.
Because her sport required incredible strength, when she wasn’t on the ice, she trained with her partner, Charlie White, up to ten hours a day, working out and doing dance classes together. When her friends were going to the movies and hanging out, she was skating and studying. Meryl had incredible discipline and a plan to achieve her dreams. Meryl and Charlie’s drive and incredible talent made them the best in the world.
#4: Keep It Classy: There is room for everyone to succeed. Remember, you’re not really competing against other companies. Focus on providing the best possible product or service to your customers. Some people will fall in love with your brand and others won’t, but that is natural and perfectly okay. You only need to slice off a small piece of the marketplace to be a big success. So, always keep it classy when talking about other brands in your space.
In 2020, Pat Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods gave an interview with Yahoo! Finance and was asked if there is ultimately one winner in the plant based burger war between Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. His answer was the epitome of class. He said he didn’t view Beyond Meat as his competition and he wished them nothing but success. He explained that Impossible Foods was focused on “making products that outperform meat from animals, not outperform another plant based product.”
Championing the success of another brand shows incredible confidence in your own and demonstrates to your customers that you know what you created is special.
#5: Relationships Are Priceless: We’ve all heard that it’s not just what you know, but who you know that contributes to your success. Cultivate meaningful relationships with colleagues and industry leaders by providing value. Always be someone others can count on for counsel and help when needed. If you give way more than you receive, you’ll develop a strong network of people you can rely on. People are happy to go out of their way for someone who always has their back.
One of my favorite people, Barry Moskowitz, spent over two decades working at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. I called Barry, “the unofficial Mayor of Miami”, because everyone knows and loves him. Barry is the ultimate people person with an incredibly loyal network. He’s always connecting his friends and colleagues and sharing opportunities for collaboration.
One of the best things about Barry is that he celebrates his friends’ successes as his own. I’m a part of an email chain with all of his Los Angeles friends and every time someone in the group is mentioned in the media, launches a new company, has a film premiere or welcomes a baby, Barry emails the group to share the news and say how proud he is of that person’s accomplishment. And when one of his friends relocates to Los Angeles, Barry emails the group and asks us to take good care of that person and welcome them to our city. I’m always happy to oblige, because any friend of Barry’s, is a friend of mine. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years through Barry that became dear friends and collaborators, so I’m very grateful for the beautiful relationships he’s brought into my life.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I have seen some founders and CEOs roll out multiple products at once, when they haven’t perfected their hero product and then the whole company suffers. Make sure your core offering is really special and that you’ve worked out the kinks before you launch other brand extensions. If you’re known for doing one thing really well, you’ll build the trust and confidence of your customers.
Sometimes, companies try to grow too quickly and attempt to be everything to everyone, which never works. If your customers aren’t satisfied with your hero product and you ignore their feedback, while introducing new products, you’ll ruin your credibility with them and then you’ll have trouble retaining fans of your brand. When you listen to your customers’ feedback and they are happy, they’ll be the best brand ambassadors you’ve ever had…and did I mention they’re promoting your company for free? It doesn’t get better than authentic brand love!
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
You have to take time out to relax and recharge, otherwise you will burn out quickly. Take it from someone who worked 22 hour days for months, when I started my business. It is not healthy and puts a strain on your body and mind… Plus, you can’t perform at your best, when you’re functioning at your worst.
If you’re on your computer hours a day, take breaks every hour to stand up and stretch. Eat healthy and balanced meals and drink lots of water so you don’t get dehydrated. Take walks to get some fresh air and clear your head. Nature does wonders for your creativity and gives you the opportunity to problem solve in a more relaxed environment. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise! This one is a must! Not only is working out critical for your physical health, but releasing endorphins is great for your mental health and will boost the release of happy hormones in your body.
Turn your brain off… this one has been hard for me to master, but has been a total game-changer. When you quiet your mind, you can relax and let things go, which is necessary to start and end each day on a positive note.
Make time to hang with family and friends and when you do, be present. It is easy to get caught up in talking about work 24/7. Instead, show your loved ones you care and make having fun with them a priority. Family always comes first!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m proud to say that my husband Scott and I recently launched our big idea to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. It is our Trueheart social impact search engine. We strongly believe that we can use the power of tech for good and unite people around the world to transform our local communities. Our movement is inviting people ages 8–80 years old to search with Trueheart on their mobile phones, tablets and computers, so their searches can power donations to the six deserving charities we’re supporting this year.
For companies who want to engage their employees in giving back, it is free and easy to make Trueheart your official search engine. Plus, we can provide a dedicated link so companies can see the measurable impact they’re making by joining our community.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Greta Thunberg is a remarkable young woman. I admire how she speaks truth to power and uses her voice to fight for the future of our planet. She’s a fearless warrior and we need more people like her! Greta is also a powerful activist who has inspired millions to join her movement. I share Greta’s passion for our protecting the Earth. I’d be honored to team up with her to mobilize young people around the world to fight climate change. I think there is a lot I can learn from Greta. What she has accomplished so far is remarkable and I’m confident that we’ve only seen a small glimpse of what she will be able to accomplish.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We invite you to follow our journey @WeAreTrueheart on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and search with us to change the world.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!