Perspective — Keep things in perspective. This too shall pass. It helps. Don’t immediately react to difficult situations, let a breath pass. We promise, you will look back and think, “I had it all along”.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Danielsen and Melanie Fountaine, twin co-founders of Joshin. Fueled by their personal experience of growing up with a big brother with disabilities, Melissa and Melanie founded Joshin to offer the kind of high-quality, specialized on-demand care that they would have wanted for their own brother.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?
Thank you for the opportunity!
Growing up on a family farm and having a brother who had special needs along with being economically disadvantaged created the foundation of entrepreneurship for us. Our parents worked long hours to pay the bills, so we cared for Josh often. We learned first-hand what grit looked like through both working on the farm and working through difficult times. As we experienced our parents working tirelessly, we developed a lawn care business for cabin owners, created business cards, letterhead, invested in capital (a lawnmower!) and began door knocking by age 13. As adolescents, this outlet allowed us to have some control in a stressful home environment. We would not understand until years later, that it planted the seeds for where we are now. There is an awesome power in resiliency, and we learned to have compassion for all people. Transforming all of this with our entrepreneurial drive into a tangible, amazing app, Joshin was born — before we even knew it!
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When we took the leap to co-found a company in the disabilities field, we were 28 years old and worked in vastly different career fields. Melanie was working as a school counselor and Melissa was in marketing and sales. Two years earlier, we had unexpectedly lost our big brother Josh. It was an intense time of pain and mourning. We founded Josh’s Place in 2011, with the soul filled mission to provide quality support and housing for people with special needs, just as we would have wanted for Josh. Soon after the company began, we found out that our first round of state funded billing was delayed. If it did not come through on time, we wouldn’t have enough funds to make the first payroll. We prepared to sell our cars and got scrappy with financials. We had already wiped out our retirement accounts and any cash we had to start the company. We didn’t pay ourselves for years, and at times, it was tight financially. If we saw “free” items people left on the side of the road; we picked them up, fixed, cleaned and flipped them for cash for groceries and our everyday needs. We sold some of our furniture on Craigslist and for the first few years, paid for most things the company needed for out of pocket. The passion behind what we were doing drove us fiercely and with great intention. Nothing was going to stop us.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Joy and Resiliency. Our childhood revolved around the battles of brain cancer, brain surgery and all the other stuff that followed for Josh. After each surgery, he learned how to walk, talk and use motor skills. We learned very quickly that the human spirit is limitless, and a person can accomplish really, anything. Through this, Josh would make us laugh by telling jokes and being silly; because, he was simply happy his little sisters were with him! We have vivid memories of the smiling little girls and boys at Children’s Hospital throughout the years — who found joy in their most difficult times.
During our difficult times, we look at photos of Josh. Seeing his smile and looking him in the eyes; our drive is recharged. We also have small, impressionable children who we see ourselves in and are reminded that we were their ages when Josh was battling cancer. Sometimes, we also realize that we are doing this for the little girls we were — we think, they would be so proud of who we are today and happy that their big brother’s joy lives on!
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
The interesting thing about grit is that it has a life of its own! It has a momentum that continues on even after you’ve made it through a difficult moment. With the grit of starting one company in the rear-view mirror, we began Joshin. We were able to see the fruition of grit already in motion, so it has only pushed our desire to continue to meet unmet needs and raise the bar in all we do to help support families and people with special needs.
Putting yourself out there can be difficult, but we wholeheartedly believe that Joshin is changing the landscape for families with a loved one with disabilities.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
Things are as exciting as ever! Our first company continues to be strong and Joshin has recently launched. The energy behind starting something new and the hunger to learn as much as possible from your customers and employees’ feedback is something that’s difficult to describe. We joke right now that we eat, breathe and dream Joshin!
We could not be prouder of the work the many people have done in the spirit of Josh’s joy and the commitment they have to support people with special needs.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit?
1. Perspective — Keep things in perspective. This too shall pass. It helps. Don’t immediately react to difficult situations, let a breath pass. We promise, you will look back and think, “I had it all along”.
2. Patience — We often say, we are in “planting mode” as we are building our businesses. The seeds will settle, you’ll tend to them and before you know it the plants will sprout.
3. Strength — You have to know when to straighten up your back, give some positive self-talk and remember that you can do it.
4. Vision — If you “visualize” the goal and put your blinders on, grit will come.
5. Belief — If not you, then who? You need to believe in yourself in a way that nobody else will.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
This is absolutely true!
We are blessed to have this wonderful woman in our life, Merrilee. We were connected eight years ago by a mutual connection. She started as an HR Consultant and over time became a mentor. Today, she is family. Merrilee cares deeply about the success of our businesses and for us as humans through those gritty moments! You hold tight to those who bring this level of care. Especially in the beginning, when sometimes things felt so personal and overwhelming — we’d call Merrilee and her response was the same, “grow thicker skin ladies, you’ve got this.” Every time, it makes us laugh and goes back to what we said earlier — keep things in perspective! It’s never as bad as you think and Merrilee often brings us back to that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are proud of our home state of Minnesota! It is ranked as one of the top states for volunteerism, so volunteering and giving back hits at the core of our values. We’ve developed Social Good initiatives within both business models and contribute our teams time for various causes.
In families who have a child with special needs one parent often needs to quit their job to support medical appointments or various other needs. With sensitivity to these needs, one of our Social Good initiatives is a Giving Program in which, families can donate hours of Joshin care to other families and we handle the rest! We are also combating the isolation that these families can feel by building community partnerships with disability friendly partners so that families can do fun things at discounted rates in places that accommodate their special needs; and donating Joymaker (caregiver) hours in child care centers in places of worship.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Joshin is a start-up so exciting that things are happening daily! Our app is live, but the official launch is in February. The feedback has been tremendous, and we are already at work on expanding our care services beyond on-demand care. We have also launched our social good program and are rapidly developing a growing network of community partners. We’re just getting started!
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Lead and listen with the purpose and mission of the company. Capture the essence of the mission during the first 30 minutes of an employee’s onboarding and purposefully build the company culture around it. We have witnessed when an employee knows they are a vital part of the mission or purpose of the company, they are intrinsically driven to thrive. Building the “right” team is vital; which, again is centered around the purpose of the company and its needs.
We experienced a transition period where we were not hiring the right people for new roles. It takes time to figure out what the need of the new role truly looks like. What’s more, as our company grew — employees who were the right fit, no longer were within the company needs or skillsets. Be patient during those growing pains as a necessary re-organization is underway. If ever in doubt, go back to the company mission and purpose as a team.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
A holistic approach to inclusion. We truly believe that including people from all aspects of life into one stream of conversation or experience, builds a stronger community. This belief stems into all areas of life; culture, faith, political belief — the more we include and integrate, the more we understand each other. We often look at inclusion from a singular lens instead of the sum of all of its parts.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is a common saying that originated from a famous Chinese proverb. Even the longest and most difficult ventures have a starting point; something which begins with one courageous first step. If we never took that step to leave our careers to begin our first company, we wouldn’t be where we were today with Joshin — and to think that the on-demand technology wouldn’t be available today to families who need it, well — that speaks for itself. We are honored to be the first to do so.
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Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.