Priyanka Vazirani & Shannon Almeida
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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um it would just be not to wait until you have a ready product to start building your community and start marketing your product if you have an idea and you know you're gonna go after it like create a landing page create a newsletter create any kind of like social media page twitter instagram whatever you want and just start talking to talking to people about it get them to start talking to you because their feedback is everything like you will figure out their pain points you'll figure out their opinions even before your product is ready you can already start implementing it and um it'll also help you to you know market your product better because you know that the terminology they use you know exactly like what their pain points are so that once you have your product ready you automatically have an email list that you can like you know send a blast to you can already like start talking to your community and say like hey my product is ready and obviously hit the ground running instead of starting from zero like we started from zero and that was terrible [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as a founder and ceo of miller iplot where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com now today we have a uh another great episode we have a tag team on so we have a couple of people that are a tag team they'll be joining us for the episode um so it's priyanka and shannon and they'll share a little bit about their journey but uh just as a quick uh kind of background especially on priyanka but uh both of them went to school in high school both her priyanka and shannon and then went off to different colleges um priyanka went to i think usc and got a degree in business at admin and econ and then shannon got a business administration degree as well and then uh priyanka went off to london to do banking and then they got back together a year after college and wanted to do something that had a bit more of an impact so started a an initial company helping immigrants to getting their immigrants at the border found out that was a bit of a hard business and and decided to do a bit of a pivot and shift it to their new business model which is kind of giving not our news articles in nine seconds or less so with that much as an introduction welcome on the podcast thank you thank you thank you so much for having us absolutely so i gave kind of the quick run through and given that you guys knew each other from high school a lot of your journeys already intertwined but maybe uh take us back in time a little bit to how you guys got to know each other in high school and how things got started there for sure uh we actually knew it we actually went at the same school since we were actually really really young but we only got together i mean became really good friends in high school and we also did several like uh really funny projects together taking us back to creation versus evolution which is the first time we ever worked together but yeah i don't think we ever imagined like actually starting you know two startups together um when we were in school but we went on different ways after college after school and shannon went to bu i went to usc and then we both went to separate ways finance and shannon went into consulting in law and after i think my birthday or something we just happen to be talking about you know our big vision and our plans for the future and it was really funny because a lot of like our grand visions are very similar in terms of you know like making impact doing something more um something bigger and uh that's when we started brainstorming about you know social enterprise and that's when we got started on benefactory which is our first startup now let me just ask maybe one question just to dive into a little bit so but you were at the time i think you were in london doing banking is that right so i actually moved back i actually moved back to india and we both are technically from india so that's when we met again and we started talking about all of these things and we decided that we should just create something by ourselves so no sorry just to dive in just one more question just because i think it's an interesting point so moving back to india was it did you quit your job in london moved back didn't know what you're going to do or were you still working in the job or were you already had intense to start a new business or kind of what prompted the hey i was in finance in london for a period of time and then move back and kind of what prompted that pivot or that shift so a couple of things the first thing being i loved finance i really enjoyed economics and everything i don't think a lot of people can say this but i actually did and it's just that i didn't want to make that the focus of my career forever and at the same time i also thought if i wanted to switch i switched now and my company was they wanted me to move to hong kong and so it was another like shift so i thought that if i'm shifting anyway i might as well just like you know take the plunge now and move back to india and work on something else and that's when um shannon and i were discussing about this and yeah everything just moved on towards benefactory so now when you move back so it sounds like in putting words in your mouth but not putting words um when you move back so you did is if did it sounds like you didn't have necessarily a specific business or a specific plan in place yet or just hey i'm going to make the plunge anyway going to make a shift or a change now is as good a time as any i'll move back and i'll figure out what i'm going to do from there is that about right exactly awesome so now you you move back and say okay we made that plunge and you happen to have a birthday party you guys got together now you know you were talking about social enterprise how did you come up with what you know was it to say hey we both want to do something you know shannon were you working at the time or had you also moved back and decided you want to do something different and kind of how did you guys reconnect and shift from what you guys were doing then and to deciding to do a business together for sure so right after i graduated college i kind of realized really early on that i was not gonna get into consulting or like finance at that point so i took like a gap of six months i was studying for my cfa but i kind of took that time to like really understand what i wanted to do and i decided to intern at a law firm and they happened to like let me intern without having a law degree so within one month of interning there i loved it and i was like okay i'm gonna pursue law so i was in law school and it was towards the end of law school that priyanka and i were talking it was like like last semester or something and she was like we gotta do this and i was just like you know yeah we're gonna do it like now is the time right so um we were talking and it was more like not something bigger but it was about like getting into a business that had a positive impact on people like how do we make profit and impact people at the same time and that's when we were like okay we have this vision that we can really empower like a lot of people to make you know donations and like make an impact on like causes that really matter by you know partnering up with like different companies and brands at that point and so that's kind of really how we thought of benefactory of being like this huge scale kind of a like a platform that would be connected like you can connect with people and they can make donations really easily and so we just wanted to do something that we're gonna help people at the same time like make it a profitable and sustainable business and that's kind of where we came from when we thought of benefactory no it definitely makes sense and so now you guys so you get together you know you both want to have somewhere where you have an impact where you can make money but also you know have a mission for good type of thing you come up with been a factory as you guys are getting going you know how did that go was it you know you guys are co-founders and you you know each put in some money and got to work or you bootstrapped it or you you know how did you kind of get or take the idea from you know conception all the way to actually building a business around it so it was actually it was actually bootstrapped it didn't really require much in terms of building it was more about like a very simple like basic website and just a lot of partnerships so we literally just like reached out to a bunch of online companies and a lot of non-profits so that whenever some kind of disaster strikes we already have the partnerships in place so we can like create a campaign within hours and get started the whole problem on that front was the fact that whenever any kind of disaster strikes it takes about two to three weeks for any business to you know create a campaign start working with a non-profit get all their paperwork in place and then actually start the campaign and by that time people have already like kind of forgotten about it the the timing is gone you know so we just wanted to make it extremely easy by allowing people to include a donation with any kind of purchase they make online and yeah that was a very simple idea and we just wanted as many people to get in on it um in the shortest amount of time so we started in india we had several successful campaigns with some of the biggest companies and our first campaign in the us is actually what led us towards evolve um it came to like you mentioned it was a campaign um for a campaign to help migrants at the border and it it came to a point where companies weren't willing to partner with us nonprofits were like hiding the fact that they were trying to help these people simply because of the the news being extremely sensationalized um there were articles about them being like murderers rappers opportunists shouldn't be led into the country and because of that it just became like a political cause that people didn't want to align with because they didn't want to like piss off their customers or their donors so that's when we decided uh i mean we didn't really have much going on at that point so we're like okay what do we have to lose so we literally just like cold emailed a bunch of celebrities and said hey you know there's a lot of disinformation floating around can you help us by spreading the word on instagram uh we just thought that was a very easy way for us to get the word out to millions of people and obviously when a celebrity says something it has more power than you know a random social media profile saying something so um luckily for us kerry washington alana glazer propogarum they all posted for us and suddenly people the dialogue changed donations started rolling in and that's when we kind of like um took a step back and you know saw that instead of fighting like the the after effects we might as well fight the root cause of actually informing people in the shortest easiest way and just giving them the facts so then they can decide what they what they think about it you know so that's how um valve came from benefactory now when you guys you just say you know you kind of are saying okay we got going it was a difficult road to host so to speak in the sense it was they're polarizing and people may or may not want to be involved in their you know concerned about public outlook and whatnot so they're saying hey you know it's difficult to get people on board you reach out to the celebrities or the influences or whatnot and then as you're now shifting towards you know kind of the short uh news and you know in or information and and providing you know better information in a short form was that a kind of a cognitive choice of hey you know the helping immigrants and the borders directly isn't going to be a viable business so we're going to pivot over here with a kind of a a decision that was made or was it more of just an evolution of that's where you guys kind of started to see where the impact was so naturally evolved kind of how did that take place yeah i think it was just sort of an evolution of how to transition we didn't really make that decision like oh we're not going to do benefactory and we're going to completely pivot to vault we actually continued a lot of campaigns up until last year we were doing like the black lives matter campaign as well so it was sort of like we were like okay benefactory something that we can keep doing but we also see this different issue that we definitely know there's this niche in this market that we can definitely make a dent in and that was just like giving you know gen z and millennials unbiased news um we also knew that giving them news unbiased use was not going to be enough we knew that we had to really appeal to what they were used to and that is you know social media ui or like understanding a topic in the screenshot and that's when you're like okay you got to create an app for this because it's not going to be you know so straightforward i was just giving them unbiased news so it was kind of kind of like an evolution uh and we were like doing benefactory like side by side i would say and then you know when you run a news company you're kind of doing it 24 7 and it's not something that you really understand what's going to happen like it kind of took over our lives we had like uh the covet pandemic last year we had black lives matter we had a lot of we had the presidential elections we had a lot of new cycles and that was just so overwhelming for us that we kind of had to take like keep benefactory on the side for a bit uh because you know we're just like a small team at this point so it was a lot going on so no it definitely makes sense and sounds like okay you know natural evolution here's where we're gaining traction here's where we're not we'll put the focus on the place where we can have the biggest impact and you're gaining the most traction so now you can shift it to that model you know there's there's you know it makes sense where you know people are wanting short news clips direct information not you know filtering out some of the noise on the other hand there's also an industry where there's you know several major minor news providers there's you know online everything from online websites to television to cable news to you know other or news or printed news and everything else so as you're looking at that landscape how has it gone you know is it been able to carve out that niche has it been successful and people are finding it interesting or is it more of a still difficult road to hoe because there's a lot of other people you know competing in the industry kind of how's that going for you guys so i think we had a very different approach to the news in general i mean obviously when it comes to newspapers our generation does not read that our generation does not look at cable tv so it really does boil down to social media and newsletters and if you think of the average age or the average median age you're um for normal you know media incumbents at the moment it's about like 60 60 years old and that's way too high it's not even touching our demographic so it just came to a point where it's it's almost like shannon and i like looked at news newsletters and it's kind of old school right they're going backwards in time by having to wait for five stories until the next day when our generation is so fast-paced that you don't want to wait for a cab you literally hit a button cap shows up so it's just when it comes to information like there's no point waiting until the next day especially when like markets move with one tweet you know elon musk tweets and next thing you know your bitcoin investment is gone so it's it just had to be in real time it had to be short form and i think because of our format it just appealed to our generation so much because while every median company is you know trying to like tap into this demographic and struggling to tap into this demographic our user base already makes up about eighty percent of gen z and millennials so we already know that we're doing something right and we also realize that we're actually expanding the market in a way because a lot of people who actually stopped reading the news in 2020 have turned into news readers again with valve and even gen z who's never read the news a lot of them always like their first news experience so we are seeing a little change in consumer behavior in a sense and we're also trying to like allow people to discover new articles and discover new categories that they're not exactly used to like crypto was not really much of a thing like that like last year but now every like fifth article on the app is almost crypto you know so it's just that so many people are like learning new things and it's just opening more doors to like them to learn and evolve in a way no and i think that definitely makes sense and it's appealing to a different audience and to one that is more online and and then once the information and wants it up to date now one question i would you know i'm sure people would have is you know how do you you know one of the difficulties in new in the traditional or conventional news you know media is that you can only have so many people you can only have so many investigators you can only have so many people writing articles so do you guys kind of write the articles yourself get the information and you're curating what's already out there kind of how do you keep it up to date as you guys are kind of filling that niche or approaching in a different way yeah so we have an in-house team of writers currently and what we do is like we have a dashboard that kind of alerts us in terms of like what's trending what's important um we also have like our team like really going through social media and seeing what the latest trends are and that really helps us be on top of news and that differentiates us from like other news apps like washington post or you know fox news because we're not only reporting on like you know major political updates we're also reporting on like you know the latest trends or like meme stocks that are you know in the news and we're really on it so uh we have a team that's constantly curating looking out for what's happening and we're also expanding you know because we do realize that we gotta scale our content diversify the content so we are you know opening up our platform to writers you know creators like newsletter writers mainly to sort of like have their own publication involved and kind of you know take advantage of the format that we have created the platform that we have created as long as as as well as the users on our app right um we want them to like sort of like build a following and you know that we you know we get to like increase the number of like articles on the app and we actually have people writing you know content in real time in different categories and it's really helpful because like we have like gen z uh you know voices writing about gen z trends uh we have uh you know meme stock analysts like like looking at reddit like sub groups subreddits and they're telling us like what's the latest you know meme stock that's gonna trend so we're kind of on the pulse over there um and so that's really something that we just sort of like expanded into the past two months and it's really made a huge difference um a lot of our users are giving us feedback that you know the content improved like the you know the entire notification system is different so we've kind of found that good middle ground right there oh cool no it sounds like you guys have certainly found a good knit or a good niche that uh is one that's a bit has previously been unfilled and then figured out a good way to curate and aggregate all that information as well as create it yourself so that sounds like definitely an exciting place to be one you know so now that we've kind of caught up to where you guys are kind of at now and the journey has taken you here looking kind of forward in the next six to 12 months can where do you guys see see things headed what's the plans and you know what uh what do you think will uh will happen there for your business over that time so as of now we're really focusing on product um and we just got done with snapchat's accelerator yellow and now we're like just heading into our seed round so our fundraising at the moment which pretty much takes out all of our time but uh our plan our next step is literally just grow the app and really build that entire creative model because there is a huge group of people out there who have brilliant insight a lot of young writers who are not necessarily like you know the entertainers and performers for a tick tock but at the same time every second person has a newsletter so it's just to make sure that there's like a little like shift in consumer behavior in a way that people see that real-time news is what it's matter what matters and allowing us to have as many writers and as many voices on the app we're really focusing on the younger generation and um also making the app more you know tailored to you because the app is going to be only as interesting as the content on it for you so ultimately our goal is like your feed is going to look very different from my feed and it's you know it's just going to be yeah it's just going to be very very tailored something that newsletters or even like news apps can't offer in a way well it sounds like a lot of exciting uh things uh to come in the future and a lot of good a great potential that sounds that sounds awesome so well now as we've kind of gone through even a little bit of where your journey's headed i always uh or we've kind of reached that point in the the podcast where i always ask two questions in the end of each podcast so we'll jump to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what'd you learn from it okay so i'll take that question uh worst business decision has to be that we thought that our ideas were everything and we were so protective while we started evolved that we didn't kind of promote it initially and i think that's like the number one thing any investor or founder currently will tell you like never do that because your idea is like only one percent and execution is like 99 um we were first-time founders so we were just like okay we can't tell anyone and so we kind of like missed out on that opportunity of like building a strong user base in that community that a lot of you know silicon valley they'll be like you gotta get that community on twitter right now uh versus doing that post launch and we were off that opinion of doing that later so i would definitely say that and just like being too bogged down by details like we were so consumed with like the logo and the name and like the tagline and be obsessed over those things and i think it's really down to like a personal personality traitor priyanka and i we are like perfectionists so we kind of always wanted control over everything and now looking back like our app is completely different like our taglines change like after like user feedback all the time um i wish we just knew that like you know it's better to just like hit the ground running instead of like being you know bogged down by tiny detail that you know that's going to change later on so those are definitely mistakes that i know we would definitely not do again uh if we had a chance to do it over no and i think you know that you know there's a coupling to hit on one is you know execution is always what people are looking at i think you know i work in certainly an intellectual property where people always come and say hey have a great idea i want to protect it and then even if we get it helping get a patent the next question is now what do i do with that or how do i build a business and there's always you know ideas are that i think to a large extent sometimes the easier part and the harder part is actually actually keeping on those ideas and actually building a business and a successful business around it and i also think the other lesson that you guys hit on which is definitely a good takeaway is also you know there's a lot of details that you can get bogged down on and wanting to be perfectionist and have it just how you think it should be and sometimes that can bog down the business because that last five percent is going to take you so much amount of time that you're 95 of the way there is probably sufficient for everybody and it's going to be a good or a good first step to get everything launched so i think those are definitely mistakes a lot of startups and small businesses make and great ones to learn from second question i always ask is if you're talking to somebody that's just getting to a startup or a small business what'd be the one piece of advice you'd give them um this is again stemming similarly to what shannon touched upon um it would just be not to wait until you have a ready product to start building your community and start marketing your product if you have an idea and you know you're gonna go after it like create a landing page create a newsletter create any kind of like social media page twitter instagram whatever you want and just start talking to talking to people about it get them to start talking to you because their feedback is everything like you will figure out their pain points you'll figure out their opinions even before your product is ready you can already start implementing it and it'll also help you to you know market your product better because you know that the terminology they use you know exactly like what their pain points are so that once you have your product ready you automatically have an email list that you can like you know send a blast to you can already like start talking to your community and say like hey my product is ready and obviously hit the ground running instead of starting from zero like we started from zero and that was terrible no and i think that that you know that's one thing i've learned as well and watching you know a lot of other successful businesses taking the tact of you know i i you know if i build it they will come kind of a thing push you to disadvantage for when you go to launch and if you will build that community build that following get that you know get people that are interested as you're building it as you're going along both to get the feedback and so you can make it better and address address the market but also to be able to have a base from which as you're getting ready as you're actually launching it you already have people that are willing to be users and and promote it and share it makes it much easier so i think building that along the way is definitely a great piece of advice well as we wrap up if people want to reach out to you guys they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you or find out more you can email us at connect media.com uh you can slide in our dms on twitter on instagram we are always talking to everyone and our handle is um get balls on both platforms all right definitely i'll go ahead so you can just check out even it's free it's on android and and on ios and uh yeah if you want to know more about us just go to our website wolfmedia.com all right well i encourage everybody to check out all the different ways to connect up with you guys it sounds like a great app as well as a great business so well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the the podcast certainly feel free to go to inventedguest.com and apply to be on the show two more things as listeners one make sure to click subscribe in your podcast please you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so other people can find out about all of our awesome episodes last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else in your business feel free to reach out to us just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to check our chat well thank you again uh for coming on the podcast and uh wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you thank you [Music]