Kerry Schrader and Ashlee Ammons – the dynamic mother-daughter duo behind Birmingham startup Mixtroz – were both veterans in their respective careers when they started their company in 2014.
Schrader was a senior level human resources executive and Ammons was working as an event producer for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jay-Z. They took a gamble on themselves and their idea to build an app that connects people at live events, which hatched after they had attended one too many awkward networking events.
Four years later, in 2018, Schrader and Ammons became the thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth black female tech founders to raise over $1 million in pre-seed funding, and Mixtroz is a booming startup gaining national attention from Steve Case to Bloomberg, which profiled the company recently.
Taking an entrepreneurial idea from a dream to a successful company was the topic of conversation when Schrader and Ammons addressed the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Birmingham Regional Enterprise Council (BREC) recently. The two, who call themselves “quad outsiders” because they are black, female, non-tech, tech entrepreneurs, shared their five biggest pieces of advice for taking the leap from a comfortable career to the life of an entrepreneur.
Tip No. 1: Health is everything.
In the beginning of their journey towards becoming entrepreneurs, Schrader was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That was the moment the business could have died or could have kept going,” Ammons told the crowd at BREC. “Because of this woman, we kept going. If you’re going to do business, it’s hard. Life still happens, and you still have to deal with life even though you’re an entrepreneur.” Ammons, for her part, suffered with depression, which she said was normal for entrepreneurs at any stage, but especially in the early days of a startup. “Take time for your health,” said Schrader. who is, as of February, cancer-free.
Tip No. 2: Ask for anything.
Ammons recounted a story of when her mom, Schrader, literally jumped over tables at a conference to get a face-to-face meeting with Dan Gilbert, founder of QuickenLoans. The move worked and the company is in talks to become one of Mixtroz’s newest clients. “If you don’t ask, you definitely don’t get,” Schrader said. And don’t forget to ask Google, Ammons said. The two figured out so much about app development and how to start an LLC from the search engine. “Google has everything,” Ammons said. “While things may seem challenging, there’s always a way if you can distill things down to the purest form.”
Tip No. 3: Get uncomfortable.
To launch Mixtroz, Ammons had to leave her life in New York City to move to Nashville, where Schrader was. After what Ammons called “the Nashville no” – where influential members of the city told she and Schrader that their business plan would never work – the two relocated to Chattanooga to continually chase down their dream, even at one point living in a dorm room together for a summer. The pair finally landed in Birmingham in December 2017 and became a part of the Velocity Accelerator cohort. “Without Velocity Accelerator, our business would have died in December 2017,” Ammons said. “It was almost time to throw in the towel, but we had to change our ecosystem on the road to thrive.” From there, the duo won Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest pitch competition in Birmingham and a $100,000 investment in May 2018. “After that, we were off to the races,” Ammons said.
Tip No. 4: Talk to any/everyone.
From QuickenLoans’ Gilbert to the average Joe, Schrader and Ammons talk to everyone, never knowing when their next big break might happen. “You are missing some of the best opportunities if you don’t talk to everyone,” Schrader said.
Tip No. 5: Find your people.
After false starts in Chattanooga and Nashville, where they said they constantly encountered “the Nashville no,” the team finally found their home in Birmingham. “Birmingham is the last place I thought we’d be, but the only place I want to be right now,” Schrader said. Thanks to people like Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin saying “Not only do we want you, but we support you 100 percent,” Schrader and Ammons started calling this phenomenon “the Birmingham yes.” The two talk openly about how accepted they feel in Birmingham and how Birmingham has been integral to the success of their business. “We talk about Birmingham everywhere we go,” Ammons said.
Thank you to BREC presenting sponsor Spectrum Reach and gold sponsor Pathway Lending for making this event possible.