Anissa Willyard of the up and coming app, GiveBack2Schools, talks about mission driven businesses, leaving a legacy, and finding your people.
Anissa Willyard: @team_giveback | GiveBack2Schools
Boston: Peace of Mind Lyrics
CHARLES: Hello everybody and welcome to The Frontside Podcast, Episode 74. My name is Charles Lowell, a developer here at The Frontside and your podcast host-in-training. With me from The Frontside also is Ginger Whalen, our head of business development. Today, I'm actually excited about this episode, I'm excited about every episode but I'm excited about this one in particular because we're going to get to see something from the other side of the coin.
Our listeners are on the implementation side and sometimes, when it comes to starting up a business or being a founder, the driver and the implementer are met in one person but more often, and I think in a more healthy way, they're split between multiple people serving multiple roles. Today, we're going to interview somebody who is a serial entrepreneur, who is currently a founder at a business that we came very, very close to working with. Please welcome, Anissa Willyard to the show.
ANISSA: Hello Charles. Thank you so much and thanks to The Frontside Team and Ginger. You guys are an incredible team and I really enjoy having the opportunity to be able to be here today so thanks so much.
CHARLES: No problem. You're currently a founder at GiveBack2Schools, which is going to be launching soon.
ANISSA: Yes, that is correct. Our goal is to launch in July 19th. We've kind of pushed it back a little just to make sure we get through the holidays and make sure that i's are dotted, t's are crossed and now, we are locked and loaded. The official date right now is the 19th and we're really excited to launch in Olathe, Kansas.
CHARLES: Fantastic. We're going to actually talk a lot about that later on but first of all, there's obviously a large backstory for how you came to be doing what it is that you're doing today. I wanted to kind of delve into that a little bit.
ANISSA: First of all, I think right now, we all live in such interesting times that I believe by having a business with a mission is actually is going to allow us as individuals to create such a positive change. The change that we create will actually feel us through as founders or as anybody who decides to move forward to start any kind of company. I do believe there was a quote that I live by. It’s one by Zig Ziglar and it says, "It's not where you start but where you finish."
To kind of take you through that journey, my hope today is that I give everybody hope, that if I can make a difference, that somebody else can too and that will give them and inspire one person to take that action to make that difference. I look back on everything in my life and kind of where I was in my journey, as far as the why. The why behind what I did. I sat down throughout my day and I broke it up into three different parts. In the first part is kind of called, 'the grownup phase.' That's where you go to school and you come through college and then your middle years where you're out, you're fighting for that career and you really are starting to climb that corporate ladder if that's the road that you decided to go down or raise families or whatever that is.
Then the last part where it brings you to that moment, where you question yourself, "When this is all done, did I really make a difference? Am I leaving behind and making a better place here?" That all brings me through, like you said, "Where did it all come from and everything?" From my days with Mary Kay Cosmetics, back when I thought for sure, I was going to be an oncologist and then went out, that's with Mary Kay where I had the honor and the privilege to be trained by the woman herself back, growing up in the Pacific Northwest and having a great role model that just inspired me and be enabled at the right age of 22 years old to have earned a free car. My father thought that was just crazy, that I would sell lipstick so I might as well move on and pursue the corporate dream.
Now today, to come full circle and think when it's all over, where am I heading? It kind of in a roundabout way who I was and from working in advertising, to marketing, to implementation, the jack-of-all trades and probably the master of none when it's all said and done.
CHARLES: When you say you came to this moment where you had this time of reflection of saying, "Is this the legacy that I want to leave behind?" What is that when you start thinking about the things that you want to leave both to your family and to the world, maybe even long after you're gone? When did that happen and how long did that take and what was the end result of that? What path did that set you on?
ANISSA: It's so interesting that you asked. The next part that probably I would share was hopefully I can make a future and take you down that path. I grew up in a very small town in the Pacific Northwest. The population was under 500. My mom actually passed away when I was in the fifth grade and my father was a logger, a timber faller, a real blue collar gentleman. My father knew how to work but he never really had an idea how to raise two small daughters from [inaudible]. He was by far no means a perfect man. He would leave us girls sometimes home alone and he only had a sixth grade education.
Some of the defining moment since I look back and had time to reflect is my mom actually, when she passed away, my father was illiterate at that time. I was actually responsible for filling out the paperwork. The name Lyn spelled with a 'Y', not an 'I', my mom's, to this day, even on headstone, it's spelled wrong but it's a reminder that it's really not where you start, it's where you finish. But my mom was a great inspiration in my life. She told me every day, "Someday you're going to be somebody," and I didn't really know who that person was and she had battle with cancer.
She was always encouraging and she always taught us girls to have no fear. Even I can share stories about that but then, if I looked back in my life, even though my mom wasn't around and my father was gone all the time, there was a long consistent thing I had in my life and that was school. It really allowed me to dream. School was something I looked forward to every day because they help me escape the reality that I still lived it. There was music and sports and outdoor school fun activities, the opportunity to learn and grow. My family life was so different. If I would have went to college they wouldn't have cared, nor if I would have been that home. It didn't really matter because there wasn't really a purpose.
As I was decided to want to move out and went on to climb that corporate ladder, it always felt like there was something missing. I continue to rise to the top and of course, you work hard and you make your money but there was always that missing gap. I found myself in so many ways following in my father's footsteps: great worker, tons of awards, he traveled all the time and never around. For several years, I guess I question myself, "Is this really what it's all cracked up to be in."
I don't know if anybody here that listens and have never heard of the music group, 'Boston.' While I enjoy classic rock and I don't know if you've ever heard the lyrics of Peace of Mind and I guess, I'll just open that up because that's not necessarily from my generation but a generation that's older than I am. But it just came on the radio one day and it made me take that pause.
CHARLES: You know, I don't know the song out of hand but maybe I can look it up and sing it as the outro music for the podcast.
CHARLES: I don't give any opportunities to sing on a podcast but when I do, I [inaudible] that.
ANISSA: I would so love to hear it and sometimes, just a few lyrics have really resonated with me as I recall that moment because with my childhood, a lot of people may think, "Oh, my gosh. That poor girl..." I actually had a great childhood. I got to use my imagination and become creative and create something that most people never got to create in their mind. But the few of the lyrics -- just to share with you -- actually did define that moment.
It was about five years ago and here is how just a few of them go. It says, "If you're feeling somewhat low about the dues you've been paying, you want to run but somehow, you're just not sure if you should run or stay. You just can't decide on which way to go. I understand about indecision and I don't care if I get left behind. People are always living in competition and all I want is peace of mind." I thought, "Oh, isn't that true? Well then, they kept going."
They kept going to the next part and I thought, "Really, is this happening to me?" I'm driving down the road and I feel like this artist too was way before my time is talking to me and just going, "Seriously?" Then it said, "As you're climbing to the top of the company ladder, I hope it doesn't take too long because there'll come a day that it won't matter and that they you'll be gone." And I thought, "Oh, my gosh," and it just hit me like a ton of bricks and I thought, "You know what? Time to make a difference."
I remember catching an airplane, flying home that evening and coming home to my husband and saying, "Guess what, baby? I'm going to do it," and that was the defining moment.
GINGER: That is so great tip in such a powerful moment like that and those lyrics, isn't that the human condition? We all have encountered that indecision and questioning our purpose or our impact at one time or another and to be able to make a change and then develop this company, launch this company, hatch this idea and we'd love to hear how you then transition into this purpose-driven, mission-driven, cause-driven company. It's very powerful.
ANISSA: Thank you. When you decide to do something, like I said that was five years ago, where I made that decision, and then you jump back and you go, "Well, how am I going to do this?" Okay, I have a great idea and I am going to make a difference but then you start to look at this whole picture and this is almost like an elephant sitting there in front of you, "How am I going to eat this?"
Really, the next part I call and it's something that I coined to myself is called the PPG. I needed a plan, I needed people and I needed to go. That's really what I live by, was that PPG. The point on when I first started, I knew what the end game was. I thought I have a mission, I have a plan but where do you go? You start writing down all these ideas, I don't know if you guys are like me, I am a left brain, right brain person. One minute I'm analyzing something, next minute I'm trying to create it so I can go back and forth in the same sentence. I'm an oxymoron and I can really create a lot of chaos within my own world really fast where you start to doubt yourself when you think should I move forward.
Even though you make that decision, it's like, "I'm going to cut off all options. I'm going to do it." When I first started, I didn't have all the answers to achieve the end game. You know, right now sitting where we are and everything that we do and all the different people we've spoken with, I don't know if you'll ever have all the answers. You just have to follow the heart.
GINGER: If there's the cause that you find that mean something to you and mean something to your history. You said school was really important for you growing up as an escape in your safe place. How do you find people that will enlist or support or participate in that same cause? How did you find your people?
ANISSA: The really interesting is that two of my partners and I have worked together in a different role in a different capacity for almost 15 years. What's really interesting about it is certain people gravitate together in so many ways. One of them was actually a teacher and a coach but there wasn't really any money to be made in that at that point in time so they ended up going into sales. The other one actually had the marketing background, single mom, raised three daughters, put them school as the pomp squad, head person and then my last partner is actually a former superintendent of schools. It's weird how we were all pointed in the same direction.
To have that, I'm more of an outsider. I always say, they're more of a pedigree. I'm more of a mutt that kind of take care of me along the way. But they had similar backgrounds, similar heart and similar care. When she started to collaborate and share ideas, it just grew. I remember back in school where one of the founder says, "I was the child that maybe had to have that free lunch and sat alone," then you hear different ideas and then you put their friends in the room and you start talking with different coaches because they know a lot of coaches and activity director. It's just grows, Ginger like you wouldn't believe in. You get more excited and more ideas flow.
I do think how we all came together and how we have all worked in different capacities made a big difference but that synergy of opening it up and being able to talk openly and freely about ideas, really is what grew this to where it is today.
GINGER: The partnership is just so strong because you all have the same sense of purpose or you want to make an impact in the same area. Imagine it's really gratifying and you're really connected to your partner in ways that are unique.
ANISSA: Right. It's funny because we've really have this saying, "No idea is a bad idea," and I am so glad they have those ideas for me because I'm the one who brings up the off the wall ideas and the thoughts and they encourage it every day. I think to have that synergy to pull that together has been priceless.
GINGER: How would you recommend other small businesses if they're not built on a cause or built on a mission but they'd like to choose behind a certain mission. How do you say that you could go by choosing that, if they didn't all come from that background or come from that cause throughout their life?
ANISSA: That's a great question. I do think that once you sit down and you get real still, which is not always easy. We have a 27-year old and we have an 11-year old daughter. To really sit still and to get close to yourself and go, "Where am I today?" If there is something that just really bugs me or something out there that is broken or if there's something that if I could fix it would make a difference, I know I'm speaking for myself. I can't solve all the world's problems but if I can make a difference in one or make a difference in one person's life, that they can leave this Earth just looking back, knowing it made a difference. What do you have to lose?
A lot of times people think, "Oh, if I do a mission-driven business, I may not make money. I may not be for-profit," or, "What about this? What about that?" Put all of that aside for a minute and just start taking your old sticky notes and writing it down. This actually got even deeper with us. Our daughter play soccer at a real high level. She plays for a select team here in Austin, Texas. At one time, I even questioned myself, "Am I doing the right thing?" I thought, "You know what? I'm going to really get in the saddle to point myself right in those shoes of what our children go through and everything else again."
They were doing that fundraising mission to give scholarships to children for balls and to be able to play soccer and I told our daughter and I said, "This isn't necessarily what our business is going to do but it has similar path and I asked that we go out and we try and make a difference and see what it takes and what it does." Once you make that decision, it will grow many legs no matter what it is. Just keep going with it and keep trying new things and keep experimenting. Eventually, your vision will be so clear that no matter what you woke up, this is it.
GINGER: Yeah, I love it. It usually does start with one individual with the really strong passion. Also, I agree that it used to be saved for non-profit organization or some philanthropic organization or religious organization but now, corporation is for-profit, public-private, even governmental agencies and they now have a mission and they're seeing for something. I think employees these days demand it too. They really want to make a greater impact, even then just locally, not even one with global compact. They also want to stand for something collectively and going for some purpose.
ANISSA: I so agree. People are changing the world by changing our ecosystem in business. It sounds so cliché. It really does. I remember the first time I heard someone actually state that, I laughed. I thought, "Ecosystem in business? What?" That has to be somebody is in a cool buzzword today. Then when you start to define how it all works together, the cliché actually means something and it starts to take a life of its own. Just like you are stating in business today, people demand more. They want to be part of something. People supporting what they helped create.
It sounds like such a simple statement but in then encompasses some of the most difficult problem leaders today face. You have to always ask yourself, "Am I solving a problem?" But solving the problem will have an effect and it's just one of those, "What effects will I have?" I believe in my life, if we use such as fundraising, I always look back and think of how much cookie dough between the oldest selling and the youngest selling and all of that and I laugh and I'm thinking, "If all the cookie dough we buy, if I would have actually eaten it all, I would be a cookie today," so I am solving a problem, you know? I don't need no more cookie dough at my house.
CHARLES: I think it's an important point though, any time there is a need and a great need, if you can make it exponentially easier for people to fulfill that need, then there's absolutely a business there and there's absolutely a mutually beneficial relationship that can be developed where it's okay to say, "You know what? I'm going to charge some money for this service," but the net effect is going to be everybody gets to participate and this thing is going to make things better.
ANISSA: I so agree. You guys may find this funny but I believe podcast is something that make a difference in people's lives too. I really enjoy running. I run between five to seven miles a day and there's not a day that I don't turn on something that I listened to or I dive into. I do think the sharing out there today has made the difference. Just by you guys doing your podcast or simple things like that, it does bring that unity together in so many ways.
GINGER: But we do hope to inspire and we are inspired by doing this, definitely.
ANISSA: Oh, I can only imagine, definitely. But back to a little bit about people do help support what they help create. I think when you can define a problem, I know sometimes that does get deep and sometimes you may think it's shallow and sometimes when you start writing it down, you don't really know what the real deep problem is. You just start with a lot of different parts. You may go through days that you think, "Does this really matter at all?" Really does it?
But deep down inside, that's your fuel. That's your passion that keeps you going. It also may take some time. When I first started out back years ago after my mom passed away with breast cancer, I thought, "I'm going to be an oncologist," so as I was going to college and everything, I realized that I really don't enjoy draw on your blood and dealing with all of that. I thought, I am more of that people person than I am sitting there. Even though they have a life and passion and I learned so much from that experience, my mom used to have a great, great saying and she used to always say, "Anissa, there's a lot of dead folks on this Earth. Don’t be one. They're living but they're dead. Don’t be one."
That never came to me until many years later in life what she really meant. She meant live life with passion and go for it and never look back and I thought, "There is some to that saying, just don't walk around like a zombie. Be someone." That was when you bring it back, to define that problem like I started with, you may not even know what your problem is but you know that deep down inside. You're not excited to wake up. You're not excited to get busy at something because you're not being fulfilled and you know that somehow you did not make that difference.
GINGER: Yeah, I think that's the bottom, like figure out what you want to stand for, figure out how to make an impact besides yourself and beside your community, more than global level and get behind it, get passionate about it. You keep doing that. You listen to your message. You listen to your mom.
ANISSA: I did. I did. There are so many times I didn't listen to my mom and I don't know if it turned out good or bad because I've made a lot of mistakes.
GINGER: We all have.
ANISSA: Right. You know what, if you take that forward, you just challenge that problem from every angle. Who do I need to help solve this problem? Do you need your merchants, your consumers? Who is the [inaudible]? You may think there's a problem but they may not even know they have a problem. You know, sometimes people are in such denial. Others are not a problem and you're thinking, "Oh, you have a problem," but that's kind of where I come from and to do that.
Then when you have a vision and you have people, there will be people who will not support you. They were actually say you are crazy. In that sometimes, people can take that internally and go, "Am I crazy?" Just know that that's a true compliment. If you're not always speak in everybody's language and people think you're in left-field sometimes, that's okay. Don’t worry about that.
The other part is when you start out on your own, you're going to hit roadblocks. Anybody who starts the business will tell you, you are always, always 100% never for sure and willing to change, no matter what as you continue towards your end game. But really, I live a lot of my life by a movie. The movie, my favorite movie of all times is The Wizard of Oz. I really do think it has several meanings to it. It does take a brain like the Scarecrow. If you're not the brains, get somebody who has those brains behind you.
I always knew that when we were going, I needed somebody who has a lot smarter than I was in so many ways. It takes the heart. I've got a great heart and compassion and all of that but it does take that heart. Maybe you are more of the brains. Find somebody with that compassion at heart and it takes courage. I know that your team are there to build what you guys have and to do what you've done. It took a lot of courage. I think anybody today who is in business, I do think the mission sometimes is what get us through when we are in business because without that, there really is no end game.
GINGER: Although all of us are going to start businesses based on a cause or a mission, there's a tons of ways you can get involved doing volunteering. Then you're involved with like-minded individuals chasing some cause, accomplishing something but those lessons can be an individual level, group level, company level. I completely agree.
CHARLES: Yeah and I think it's important too. It's thematic on this podcast of don't go alone. I think we have some very toxic myths out there of the people, this person, kind of founder who locks himself in a room and then they sit there, eating nothing but pizza and Dr Pepper for 48 hours and they emerge with the solution to everything. That's just not how it works. Time and time again you'll see that what really makes a robust, resilient business is exactly like you said: having people who can truly fulfill each one of those roles, the brains, the heart, etcetera and really step into them completely. It's a great point that just can't be repeated enough.
ANISSA: Oh, I agree. I don't know if my family would even be my family if I didn't surround myself with good people. If I lock myself behind closed doors, I may come out crazy, literally. They would not want to be around me.
GINGER: Again, we can all say that at times.
ANISSA: But Charles, to go back on your point, don't take this alone guys. There are people out there that have the different parts that maybe you're missing. I'm telling you, there is strength in numbers. I don't mean numbers like 10 or 20. That's great but when you're really collaborating and getting down in the nights that we worked and the early mornings and the times, we were told basically no. When you're out there fundraising and you're trying to get the money, to go where you need to go, to continue your own way, not everybody is excited about you or what you're doing. You'll have to have those partners to keep you going at every turn because they will make the difference. There are times where it gets really dark and that darkness can be just one more knock or one more call to make it happen. I encourage that spirit together.
CHARLES: Yeah, I think there's also another point that I want to bring to the forth and while we're on the subject of toxic myths, I think we have also this myth and it is prevalent of the idea of startups and people embarking on businesses being very young, basically young men and I think that while young people have a lot of time on their hands, the people that you know and you can cultivate over a lifetime. They are the true asset. You have people with 10, 20, maybe even 30 years under their belts who have developed these networks which are just these -- we're from Austin. I love trees and I love the trees in Austin and one of the things that makes live oak trees, which is a very hardy native tree that survives around here, it goes through periods of sometimes it rains a lot but sometimes we go through five, six years where it doesn't rain a lot.
What happens is these gigantic oak trees have these network of roots that intermesh and intermingle underneath, sometimes 10, 20, 30 feet under the ground. If you have that time in your life and you've spent that time being around extraordinary people, that will come to fruition in terms of you'll be able to grow new trees based on that shared interlocking network and the strength of that network is really a true asset. I think that another message here is that people who are advanced in their careers are almost the opposite of saying that a startup is not an option for you. It's almost like you're going to be better suited for it in many ways.
ANISSA: Oh, I love that analogy. That is such a great analogy. Looking out in my backyard here in Austin, we have oak tree. I'm going to remember that every day. I agree so much. That was probably one of my biggest fears. You look at some of these great companies that are born today and come out and you're thinking, "Gosh, have I missed my prime?" Also, being a woman in business, sometimes I've been the lady in the boardroom. I've been the one that has earned that executive title. To climb that ladder isn't easy but to be a woman in business sometimes, also makes you stop and wonder, "Is anyone going to listen?" I think that the wisdom in business that we have, the so-called bloody knees from falling down and getting back up, the balance back ability, that in order to make those things happen, it was a [inaudible].
I just appreciate the fact that there are other people out there just like me who maybe want to make a difference and don't know where to go. Just realize that there is more than just me out there that has this feeling. You just need to take that chance and make it happen.
GINGER: Or classic rock or classic movies.
ANISSA: Right. No doubt.
CHARLES: We talked about how to organize a business around a mission, I'd like to actually take a moment just a couple of minutes to talk about GiveBack straight on and let you explain because I think it's just a great concept.
ANISSA: It's really funny. A little bit about GiveBack. GiveBack was actually born from an idea of being sick and tired of fundraising, if you can believe that. During the time when I was a child growing up, fundraising really hasn't changed for our educational system. Everything gets cut. I remember looking back and being able to sing songs from The Beatles, Little Submarine and all of those things. Nowadays, you don't have those things anymore. We always get these different, "Oh, got to sell cookie dough, got to sell this."
In our time as a family, I was already at the end of its rope. I'm traveling. My husband's got a great career and our oldest son was actually raised by a full-time live-in nanny. Now, that's not something I'm excited to brag about but it happen. As we had our second child, we were heading down that same road. When it came to fundraising in schools and all of that, I thought how many kids out there don't even get to go to outdoor school. What we did, the concept and the idea was how can people just live and we give. That was really how it was born. From my marketing background, from working with businesses, people want to make a difference. But yet, there's really no trackability on their ROI. Yet, they also need the cost to get new clients in so there is that cost of acquisition, bringing new clients into their business.
Schools need money. In order to keep going for these athletics activities and all of this and how can I tie this together that the consumer can dictate wherever they are in America that they can and maybe someday global, give back to their child soccer or maybe the chess team at the middle school or the high school. Maybe they have three kids so they're not giving up their precious time, their own resources, to go out to a school function night, when it's only Tuesday, service is poor. The restaurant wants to help but it's just not working into our time and who has the time?
I remember the wagon full of cookie dough and taken it door to door and I was thinking, "If we don't get it out, it's going to spoil in our garage because our son had to hit the record and sell the most cookie dough. Yay! Great job. Now, Mommy's got to go deliver it with you." It's eight o'clock at night. We're driving around in the car, knocking on people's door to give them cookie dough. Then what percentage was really going back? That’s kind of what we did. We connected the dots and we brought fundraising or funding of those activities at education and all of that into a way that it would just basically, as we always say, you get to live and let us do the giving.
GINGER: That's great. Then people can really know what kind of impact they're making, how much they're giving back. I think that was the missing piece. People got frustrated in fundraising is it feels kind of good and giving to the cause, I support but what is it really doing and how much is really going back to them? Those were open questions back then.
ANISSA: Right. Believe or not, they're still open today. Here we are going into the Year 2018 and they're still using envelops out there and who knows where that money's going or what percentage went back. You hear about that all the time. You see it firsthand. I agree with you and that was really something as that transparency to be able to show. You know, the school was gone, now what you did and how much went to this activity? Also, it was that full circle transparency and boy, doesn't that make a difference and to be able to let people start to dream again, if we have instruments maybe these kids could actually play them again, versus, "Oh we've got a company [inaudible]. Forget about outdoor school. Let’s just go to more textbooks." It gives us a different way to bring back to our schools.
GINGER: You want to talk about this going national at some point for people that are in the Austin area?
ANISSA: To be honest right now, our end mission was to do what was right. As we soft launch and get out there, yes our goal is to go nationwide. We're looking more towards about the scalability but I would rather under-promise versus over-promise and not deliver. Our goal right now is just to watch for upcoming events. It was hard for me to keep it under wraps for so long. Now, we start to leak it out a little bit.
I think probably the best way to put it is stay tuned and keep your eyes open. That would probably be the best verbiage to use at this point but I thank you guys for your hospitality and allowing me to do that.
CHARLES: Oh, no. It was our pleasure. It was great meeting you. It was great getting to meet other members of your team. You come across folks in the line of work that we do and you all really stood out as folks who knew what they were about and we're on a mission to achieve it. I think it's important for people to hear that that you can do that, really at any point. Thank you so much. Thanks for GiveBack.
ANISSA: Thank you. I just really want to say thank to all of you and I want to wish you a Happy Fourth and safe and good health out there.