Don’t assume people know more than you do. You’re starting something because you’re passionate about it and know the ins and out of it — you likely know, regardless of your age or experience, much more than the people around you do as it relates to what you’re building.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Southard.
Ashley Southard, the Co-Founder and CEO of Mushroom Design — an innovative nutraceutical mushroom brand that inspires a better quality of life for humans — has been an avid believer in seeking natural, alternative healing remedies for years. She is also the COO of Healer Collective/Heal Capital, a conscious marketing and fundraising platform for the social impact and wellness industries. Ashley continues to stay at the forefront of the future of wellness as an industry leader and advocate of plant medicines and sustainable, eco-friendly practices.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Miami, which has really cultivated my appreciation for sea life, fresh air, and sunshine. I was a pretty quiet and independent kid and would spend my summers in art schools rather than sleepaway camps, or reading instead of watching TV.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Nonfiction: Blink — I read this in high school, and while my mother always told me to trust my instincts, go with my gut, and be true to my internal compass, this book provided cold hard proof that listening to that inner voice really has validity — quantifiably.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define “making a difference” as anything one does to shift the “norm,” be it a mental/emotional belief, a mode of thought, or a course of action — big or small.
As an example on a smaller scale, I tend to leave friends little pick-me-up notes in random spots that I know they won’t find til days — sometimes even years — later; this is something that makes a positive difference in their days, that can in turn ripple outward toward others.
As an example on a larger scale, companies that choose to reduce their carbon output by shifting to zero-waste and/or carbon-reducing supply chain initiatives are making a difference not only in the way that consumers buy goods (more conscious purchasing), but also in the way that other companies work within the economy; by normalizing such positive climate action within their production, they’re setting the bar for other companies to follow. Since day one in creating Mushroom Design, sustainability was a mandate, not an option. The brand was built with the ethos to do better and do more, which often means doing less. The brand ethos manifests less carbon output, less waste, and less fake fluff through putting the planet before the product.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Mushroom Design’s goal is to normalize conscious consumerism; consciousness defines humanity. Consciousness gives us choice — as consumers and producers. We make our supply chain, marketing, product, and partnership decisions through the conscious lens of: does this decision do better?
Mushroom Design was born from the desire to prioritize both quality and sustainability — because it doesn’t need to be one or the other. Doing better means sourcing organic ingredients directly from trusted US suppliers, applying evidence-based research in formulation, utilizing scientifically-backed mechanisms of delivery, and employing carbon-neutralizing practices from seed to shelf through the entire supply chain.
Our packaging is purely plant; the box is made out of 100% recycled cardboard when most “recycled” is only 50–75% recycled material (that’s why it’s brown and not a pretty white!). The Ink used for printing is carbon-negative algae ink.
Foam packing is 100% biodegradable non-GMO cornstarch — it dissolves within seconds underwater (try it!) — it’s even safe to eat (or give to your dog for a very confusing pet toy). All refill pouches are municipal compostable.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Quite honestly growing up, I always felt a need to keep spaces as nice as, if not nicer than, they were when you arrive as when you leave them — this relates not just to physical spaces, but to the energetic/emotional space of the people you encounter, too.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I believe the “Aha Moment” was one of those tipping points on top of many moments, rather than an immediate lightbulb; I had made the leap from a career as a Vice President of a relatively large, 50-year-old company of 150 employees (what many would consider stable), into a world of health and wellness when I started my marketing/business strategy agency with my (other) cofounder Talia, along with our (plant psychedelic) nonprofit Ibogaine Research Institute. Taking the leap into something completely new definitely built my confidence, and the clients we worked with — conscious individuals, companies, and nonprofits — allowed me to “flex” my skills in the space and of course, learn from experts. It was sitting in my not-yet Mushroom Design cofounder’s (Jonathan’s) office that I realized that it was (is) possible to create a better-for-you and better-for-the-planet supplement that would serve as a model for conscious companies caring about the health of both people and the planet.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Throw spaghetti and see what sticks. Sounds messy and hectic, but it’s the way it goes when you’re in a new project, whether it’s creating a new department in a 50-year-old organization or building an entirely new company, you will always be changing things. The main things to keep in mind are:
- File your corporation/LLC/etc. If you don’t know how to do this, have an accountant or attorney help you.
- Establish clearly one thing that you’re trying to achieve, and know your purpose and mission before proceeding.
- Understand who your target demographic/audience/customer base is. And then get to know them. You’re doing this for them — not you.
- Take the time to address the wins — and the learnings from the lows. Our team does this once a week: highs and lows. It’s a great way to track progress and to mark the learnings.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Hands down, I would not be where I am today without my mentor and cofounder Jonathan; while I have successfully grown previous businesses in the past, he has championed my success by providing support in areas I had never explored, including PR, supply chain management, and industry expertise. He’s the first to give a “you’re doing everything right” when he knows things feel like they’re hitting the fan, and it’s incredible to know someone has your back in that way.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Make recycling easier. In Miami, where I live (and I know in most places other than California, where I spend most of my time), most condo buildings do NOT make recycling easy. For example — the trash chutes on each floor don’t have the recycling bin (they only have it on the ground level), which completely disincentivizes anyone from recycling (who really wants to go down anywhere from 3–100 floors to throw their recycling away?)
- Place stricter guidelines on ink use in the production of foodstuffs and supplements; not only does the runoff place a massive burden on the oceans (and increase ocean acidification), it’s also horrible to have such chemicals surrounding the food and nutrients we consume! Nobody is benefiting here — other than the corporations that are able to decrease their bottom line in packaging.
- Incentivize companies (with credits of some variation) to seek plastic alternatives for their packages — not only will this support businesses already creating plant-based/planet-friendly alternatives, but it will also incentivize innovation by other companies. At the end of the day, it’s not a reduction in the capital in the market (reduction from plastic companies), but simply an allocation (to companies creating alternative plastics); it’s only in shifting where the packaging comes from that we’ll be able to truly change consumer behavior, as I believe we cannot honestly expect consumers to go with more expensive options (usually the plant-based/planet-friendly) when there are cheaper ones (plastic/not-so-planet-friendly)
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Don’t assume people know more than you do. You’re starting something because you’re passionate about it and know the ins and out of it — you likely know, regardless of your age or experience, much more than the people around you do as it relates to what you’re building.
- Avoid making same-day decisions, and remind yourself that not everything is a burning house. Very often, there will be problems that work themselves out within 24 hours, and even more often, the urgency and stress you feel are self-inflicted. While a certain level of type-A stress is beneficial for getting sh*t done, it’s not useful long-term.
- Meditate. Everyone says it. Nobody does it. 15 minutes in the morning.
- Know what you hate doing, and don’t waste your time doing it. Usually, the things that you hate take you more time than the things you don’t. For example, I can’t stand accounting. Your accounting matters, even if it’s nonprofit. And if you know you hate it, pay someone to do it.
- As someone starting/leading a business/organization/effort, it is truly your job to put fires out and solve problems. As such, you will very often feel like everything is falling apart. Recognize that this is actually a good thing — it means you’re in control and able to fix things. But also remind yourself that this is what any leader deals with.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We’ve really only got one planet — and with life expectancy continually rising, we’re going to be in a pretty difficult place if we don’t start solving the problems (and preventing future ones) now.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Haruki Marukami. While he’s not necessarily an environmental changemaker, his incredible writing is what I escape to when I need to reset, and his words are like soothing, sweet honey that brings my own creativity alive when I feel it’s burning out.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram: @alausou — also follow the company @mushroomdesignco
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!