I’m joined by Melinda Garvey, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and role model. She founded Austin Woman Magazine 14 years ago, then ATXMan, and now On The Dot, a daily podcast about kickass women all over the planet. Melinda has served as Entrepreneur in Residence for McCombs Business School, has won awards by other publication, business association, and entrepreneurship collectivites.
In this episode, I get the chance to ask her a few questions.
We talk about:
- What made her want to do a magazine?
- Having never created a business before, what was the constant battle of doubt v. resilience? How did resilience win?
- Why is she branching off into podcasts?
- Is her vision for the advancement of women something she had all her life? Why has that been the mission she has dedicated herself to?
She was funny, honest, and honestly, made me feel that I’m not the only one who has major ups and down in a day because of what I’m pursuing.
Also, shout out to women entrepreneurs.
Ladies and gents, enjoy.
Moby: Hi. This is Moby from The Fire Show, and today I’m joined by Melinda Garvey.
Moby: How are you?
Melinda: I’m doing wonderful. Thank you.
Moby: How has your week been?
Melinda: My week has been a typical week in the life of a serial entrepreneur, I guess you could say. Just out of town for a few days and then trying to pack a week’s worth of work into two days, and all kinds of other stuff. But it’s always … It’s always fun because it’s always different and full of energy.
Melinda: I just wish I had as much energy as my life expects of me, right?
Moby: And you’re involved in so many things – Austin Women, On the Dot ATX Man. And how much more are you doing these days?
Melinda: Well, that’s about it besides raising it ten-year-old son and trying to be a good wife to my wonderful husband who also works with me in the business. So we working together and we try to actually pretend we’re a couple maybe like once a month. But yeah, it’s just … And just try to actually have a little life. I won’t even say the B word, the balance-work, because I just … It doesn’t really exist in the life of an entrepreneur.
But the greatest thing I think about everything that I do is I’m just so passionate about empowering women, and so all of that feeds into that. So even if this, were just what I was doing on my free time and I had a job at Dell, and I would still be excited and passionate. So I feel really lucky that even though sometimes I feel like I haven’t slept in a week that I get to do this and impact people’s lives and hear their stories. And that’s just … it’s a gift.
Moby: It’s all worth it for you.
Melinda: Yes. It’s all worth it. That’s what I’m saying now.
Moby: So let’s go back to the beginning. Austin Woman started about 16 years ago, is that correct?
Melinda: Well, yeah, just a little over … we just had our 15th birthday in September.
Melinda: Thank you. Yeah, and hard to believe it. In many ways that feels like it’s been a long time and then it also feels like it just gone by in a flash. I think that’s how we feel about our kids, same thing, it’s like, “What happened? How did we get here?” So yeah, been quite a while.
Moby: What was the point where you said, “I’m going to start a magazine dedicated to women in Austin.”
Melinda: Well, you want to know the true story?
Melinda: So the true story is I had moved to Austin because I came to visit a friend here and I just fell in love with it. And I kept staying, like I was extending my plane ticket and then finally I was like, “I’m moving here.” And so I thought, “Well, let’s just see if I get a job.” So applied for jobs, boom, boom, 30 days later I had a job, was moving here.
One of those jobs it’s like this spectacular job on paper, right? They gave me an apartment, all this. It turns out it was the most horrific job, company, crazy people, one of those were I’m like, “What happened?” So fast forward eight months into that job I’d been here and I was out with some girlfriends, drinking some wine as you do, complaining about my job going – what am I going to do?
And I was just starting, what’s next for me and I was starting to sort of look around and figure this out. And I had had a publishing background, I had been at a daily newspaper, and then had been at an ad agency, worked on the USAir account before that. So I kind of have been in this advertising, marketing world.
And while I was sort of just lamenting and having a pity party, one of my friends says to me, “Hey, I just got back from Des Moines, Iowa.” And I look at her and I was like, “Okay, this is my pity party. But we can talk about your trip to Des Moines, Iowa.” And she said, “There was this really cool magazine there called Des Moines Woman. And you know what? No one’s talking about women in this town.”
And this was in 2002, early 2002, middle of that first tech boom. And it was just the statesmen, the business are men, men, men, you just … you really couldn’t find any content about women.
And I have to tell you I remember like it was yesterday, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I mean, I’m sure my mouth dropped open. I’m holding my wine glass and I’m going, and I knew, I knew in that moment that’s what I was supposed to do.
Moby: Just clicked.
Melinda: I had never thought about starting my own business. I didn’t … I love the whole corporate thing, somebody else dealing with it, 401K. I didn’t know any entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship wasn’t a hip sexy words like when I was going through school, like where everybody had to be an entrepreneur. It was what the crazy people did, which I think is still, probably still true today but we just we make it sound prettier.
So I really had no … It wasn’t about starting my own business. I just knew that was my calling. And it’s not like I had been in that space before. I just knew I could do it and it was my calling. And I have that like same strength of conviction even today.
So essentially the next morning I got up after a few Advil, I started writing a business plan, and just really saying like, “Is this possible?” And two weeks later I quit that horrible crazy job that I had. And seven months later we launched the first issue of Austin Woman. And that was in September of 2002.
So I mean it’s sort of a … When people say, “Oh, so how do you plan for …” I was like, “You know in my case.” I know some people do, they come out, and they know, and they have this idea. But sometimes I think you have to be open to it just hitting you. And although I can’t say that any of this has been easy and hello, I have a print magazine in this day and age, I mean, let’s all be real here.
So it’s not easy but it’s just a passion for what I’m doing and the lives that we’ve impacted and just knowing that we had this really strong mission. It makes it …
Moby: You go do.
Moby: Yeah, what do you think of that … Well, while you were talking and you said mission I thought of the statement is when you have exceedingly high goals, like almost impossible, it’s better to have those goals because it motivates you every day to be like, “Okay, I’m going to do this. And it’s difficult, it’s impossible, but I’m going to do it.” And the rest if you have realistic goals, it’s like, “Ah, I can do this any time.”
Melinda: That’s right. Totally, I mean, this is going way back, it’s probably dating me, Jim Collins – BHAG. He grew like from good to great I think. And but the big hairy audacious goals. And I’ve always loved that term, he’s like, “Okay, that kind of describe like big hairy audacious goals.” And I do believe that that is what drives people, because you’ve got it … you got to reach for it.
To your point if you’re not kind of scared out of your mind and if you don’t have that sick pit in your stomach at least a few times a day, I won’t even say a few times a day where you’re just like, “What am I doing?” Your goals aren’t big enough. You’re not pushing yourself.
It’s supposed to be scary because entrepreneurship is supposed to be about making a difference, an impact. So yeah, I’m scared all the time. Here to tell you.
Moby: I love that. Tell me about that moment when it clicked, and then you wake up the next day after a few Advil, and you start working on a business plan. And then as humans are we get some self-doubt, what kept you going saying, “I’ve never done this before but I’m going to keep going. This is my first publication,” what in those seven months kept you going?
Melinda: Well, I think there are a couple things that kept me going and again I’m going old school here, but I really do believe in a business plan. And that can be a series of napkins that sort of outlined your idea, that can be a formal business plan, whatever. But I will tell you that when you wake up at 3:00 in the morning and you go, “What am I thinking? Like I just cashed out my 401K, all the money I had to put, like what am I doing?”
I would often literally reference my business plan and go, “No, no, I thought through this.” It’s, I put the work into it, I understand sometimes just having that neutrality of like looking at the numbers and really like going back, because your head can do all kinds of crazy stuff for you.
And the other thing I think is having a support network. Now back in 2002 in Austin entrepreneurship wasn’t really a huge thing, it certainly wasn’t as organized as it is now and where people are getting together. And female entrepreneurship like, hello, it just wasn’t … There wasn’t that network.
So I just worked really hard at connecting and talking to people. And what I did find about Austin back then, and I think still holds true today, we just have to teach all these new people coming in, that people are willing to help. I would ask and they said, “Oh, wait. You need to be introduced to someone, so you need to have coffee with them.”
And my God, that person would take a coffee day. I live for 11 years in Washington, DC, and like you couldn’t … Like nobody’s going to … They’re not going to meet with you. And that I think that that is really great about the culture here.
So it’s putting yourself out there though, because it’s not easy to ask and I hadn’t been in Austin that long. So these were pretty much I was asking strangers to introduce me to other strangers. But it worked and I got a lot of encouragement that way.
Moby: Having that support network of like-minded people who believe in your mission and be like, “Hey, I can help you with this part of what you do.”
Moby: What part of that is also being afraid to fail in front of those people, that shame?
Melinda: Yeah, I think that that is a part of it, and I will say when I look back I didn’t know … I think it’s almost good that I hadn’t thought about being entrepreneur and I didn’t know everything that it would take, because I was sort of just going blindly into this. So I didn’t really experience that.
But I’ve experienced that a lot recently with my new launch On the Dot, because now I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, all these people now they know me and I’ve had this magazine for 15 years. And they are expecting, the expectations.” And really it’s in my own head where it’s the fall feel so much further, right? If it doesn’t work and I fail.
And I have to overcome that all the time, because sometimes I think maybe I just shouldn’t do this or I have this other magazine, just keep doing this. But I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
Moby: So talking about On the Dot, that’s a daily podcast.
Melinda: Yes. Micro cast. I’m coining a new term.
Moby: Micro cast?
Melinda: Because it’s only four minutes.
Moby: It’s only four minutes. I saw that today.
Melinda: That’s right.
Moby: Nice. So the decision to start that, was that both that you wanted to branch off in a new medium or/and also maybe the pressure that’s on print media right now? How do you evolve as an entrepreneur and say, “Okay, this is working but I see a trend in the industry, which can harm my revenues down the line, so I’m going to add this new medium or channel for my content.”
Melinda: Yes, that was certainly a piece of it, although there really the impetus was sort of the very same as originally with Austin Woman. So what would happen is over the years I would go to different conferences, women’s conferences, just meet other people. A lot of it was to fill my own cup. I wanted to know what other women were doing in other cities.
And when I’m here someone always wants something from me. And that’s not in a bad way, that’s just my job, right? But I would go to fill my own cup and I’d meet all these great people and I’d be talking to them about their cool businesses all over the country.
And then they’d say, “Oh, well, what do you do?” And I’d have my little coffee and I said, “Well, I have Austin Woman magazine.” And their face would drop and they’d say, “Oh, my gosh, there’s nothing like this in my city. How do I find relatable role models? How do I get my story told?” And I was like well if you call me if you come to Austin, I’ll help you out.
And that just frustrated me for years, I thought, and there really aren’t. Like I try to find another woman’s publication, I mean, you’ll find maybe three or four across the entire country, that are local, that are really … And that is our goal is about empowering women, providing relatable role models so that women are inspired, so they can – I can do that too.
So fast forward and the women’s movement is starting to rev up, we’ve got a woman running for president. And this was sort of just needling at me and I knew I wanted to do something combined with print was starting and we were sort of exploring all these digital options for Austin Woman, so I sort of started getting into all this, and I thought, “Huh, I want to do something.” But I want to do something outside of Austin because I feel like there’s such a need.
If you try to look up there are a handful of podcast long-form that if you really dig you can find that sort of have that relatable role model. But pretty much everything out there is about Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer, Mary Barr. Great women, don’t get me wrong, but they’re hard to relate to. It’s really hard to find them.
And I thought, “I’ve been doing this here in Austin for 15 years. I can do this.” And at first I thought nationwide, and it quickly became global. But about that time I was introduced to the SKIM. And what I loved about the SKIM which is a daily newsletter that tells you the headline news, and it’s kind of story tells you the news and it’s super short, they give it to you on a silver platter.
Most newsletters you have to read three lines and you have to click to read more and it’s a six …
Moby: Very annoying.
Melinda: Right. And then it a six-page tome and nobody wants to read pages and pages and pages and pages. So I love that, I go, “Okay, that’s what I want to do. I want to do something short form,” which is different from what we’re doing with Austin Woman, so I was like, “Can I even do that? Can we write something that’s original content, impactful?”
And then how it became audible is I was trying to put on my mask, these are all my … so I’m telling you all my crazy stories about getting drunk and starting Austin Woman, and then putting air … I’m saying putting on my mascara just as about I’m kind of launching, I’ve got the whole thing, I know I’m doing a newsletter for On the Dot, we’re working on all the voice and how we want to do it.
And then one morning I’m trying to read on my phone, and I have to hold it like five feet away, because I can’t see and I’m trying to put on my mascara and I’m hurrying and I got a ten-year old kid and I got … I’ve got all this stuff going on. And I thought, “Ugh, I wish someone would just read this to me.” And I was like, “That’s it.”
Because I didn’t want there to be any barrier to entry, if you’re taking your kid to school, if you’re exercising in the morning, if you’re putting on your makeup – On the Dot is there for you. If you want to read it, you can read it if you’re in a boring meeting, or you can listen to it.
Because I wanted every day that inspirational, and we have a woman to watch every single day from around the globe, and I wanted those relatable role models to be fully accessible, because my dream is that … The SKIM now has 6 million subscribers, and they’re mostly millennial women, that’s their core target.
I thought, “What if 6 million women, what if a million women even, every single day heard a story about a relatable role model? What would the impact be? How would the conversation about the advancement for women change?” And that’s what we’re all about, because a lack of access to relatable role models is the number one issue facing the advancement of women.
So again, it’s that saying like I just knew I had to do it and I figured out how to do it and we did it in a different way. I know people are time-starved, and I wanted to make it … When we say it’s four minutes, people are like, “Really?” And people always ask me, “Why do you say four? Why don’t you just say like less than five?” I said, “Because nobody believes …” When you say five minutes, I’ll be there in five.
Moby: No one believes that.
Melinda: It’s 15, 20 it could be a half hour. But when you say four minutes, it’s four minutes. And so we’re real specific about that.
Moby: This mission for the advancement of women, this has driven you all your life. Going back to what you mentioned when you were with your friends 16 years ago and someone said, “I went to Ohio and saw the magazine.” What before that in your childhood or before that really made you instilled that mission in you, even when you hadn’t started these businesses? Where did this come from?
Melinda: Well, it’s interesting, because I think that somehow latently it was there, and it really … but it was nothing overt. I’ve always been encouraged by my parent, there was never a, “Oh, you’re a woman; you should be doing this or getting married.” And I kind of am in that group where I’m on that cusp of everybody went to college, you got married, you had your 2.2 kid, that was sort of … I was hooking the edge of that.
But I never had that from my parents. So they always encouraged me to do anything.
And I just always had this crazy strong work ethic. So any of the jobs that I had I was always sort of … I was always like, “I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” I was like the volunteer; people are like, “What is this?” And I just figure it out.
So even though that doesn’t translate to the woman thing, I think that just knowing that I could do anything and watching … I was advancing much further than other women within the companies I was in, and faster. And so I think that that combined … And then when it hit me it’s just I knew, it’s … It was obviously living in there. Like because I’m like, “Well, wait a minute. I have done this already. I can do this and I can make a difference.”
So that knowing that I could and then when the right sort of, “Oh, wow, I can empower women.” I was like … I don’t know. So it wasn’t like something big happened, my mother wasn’t a feminist, my mother was a wonderful stay-at-home mom, did a lot of great volunteer work everywhere, gave back to the community, just so I had a very traditional upbringing. So it’s interesting, but something obviously was living in there.
Moby: Something was there.
Melinda: Something was there, yeah.
Moby: Yeah, you’ve met so many entrepreneurs, you’ve mentored them, you learned from them. Do you think that’s a … I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking. Do you think that there’s a pattern in people who are really affected by something in their childhood? They have a passion for any kind of area, whether that’s talking to people. I don’t talk to a lot of people. Does that … do you feel like entrepreneurs who are happiest or maybe are driven the most are driven by something which form really early on by a passion or an interest even?
Melinda: Yes, well, and I think it’s a good question because I actually … In my experience the happiest entrepreneurs I know are our mission based, social impact, something that’s meaningful on a personal level.
And this is anecdotal, I’m sure that there are some that are, “Wow, I created this widget …” Whatever, and it’s not that you can’t sort of love that, but it’s different. Some things it’s all about how big can I grow this and sell it and make money. And some of it is, “Yes, I mean, I want to make a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong.” And that’s what we’re going for, but it’s not at the expense of. I wouldn’t be doing any of this just for the money.
So I do find that the entrepreneurs, and I think that especially women which is I think why women entrepreneurs can make such a significant impact. Because not only do they go in … When they’re in, they’re all in. And they go for it and they do things and it is part of their heart and their soul. They don’t give up. Their success rates are higher although they’re not grown as much because their businesses don’t get as big often because they don’t have access to the same kinds of things, and that’s all of what we’re working on.
But I do think that women will impact our economy and female entrepreneurs because we give back, we pour it back into our economy, into the nonprofits, whatever. We’re always into our communities and making that happen. So I think that there is just a sort of this holistic … when you talk about the happiness it’s like, gosh, when you’re successful and then you can pour back in, and make then … It’s like that’s the pinnacle for a woman.
Moby: It’s meaningful. I heard this recently, this is slightly off-topic, but it is … Don’t chase happiness, chase meaning. Happiness is kind of a byproduct of meaningful experiences.
Melinda: Yes. I agree, yes.
Moby: Is it hard to stay happy as an entrepreneur?
Moby: Like there’s ups.
Melinda: Yes, of course.
Moby: Huge ups and then huge downs.
Melinda: Right, and I think what people don’t realize is that … I can speak from my own experience and then from some that I know, that it’s like … just like I called my podcast a micro cast. It’s like these micro … I mean, I could walk out the door after this podcast in 30 seconds and my phone and I’m in the tank.
And then 15 minutes later or something great happens, I mean, it is such a sharp up-and-down roller coaster. And it’s very difficult. I mean I think that there is a certain kind of personality that really can handle entrepreneurship, because you have got to be able to handle that and not … You got to be able to bounce from the bottom, back up to the top within a 15-minute time range, literally.
And so I think that if you’re chasing happiness to your point, if you feel like, “Oh, gosh, I always have to be happier, I always have to be …” You’ll constantly feel like you’re failing.
So I just know … I know that sometimes I’m going to be in a complete … I’m going to be like, “A, a, a, I’m done. I’m not doing this.” I assure you that will happen to me today.
And I have this thing and people always say, “How are you?” And I always say, “Living the dream.” And everyone’s like, “Oh, I love that. I love that.” And I said, “Here’s the thing,” I said, “The day that I stopped saying it, you know I’m actually living it and I don’t want to brag about it and rub it in your face.”
But it’s like that’s just the thing, I always am like … I am, and I’m reminding myself, you know what? I’m living the dream. I am living my dream. But living in life isn’t easy, right? In anything we do, and that’s part of it. It’s part of what makes us appreciate it because the hard time just like anything in life, if you didn’t go through the hard times you wouldn’t appreciate the good times.
Moby: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Pretty well said. Cool. One last thing, this is something I picked up from my friend Todd, he actually did this. 8:30AM, February 27th 2009, Austin Woman magazine tweeted the very first time. Do you remember what it is?
Melinda: Oh, my gosh. I have no idea, because somebody’s far smarter than me put that tweet out, because I don’t think I even knew what Twitter was then, but I would love to hear what it is. I’m a little afraid.
Moby: Yeah, do you want to read that?
Melinda: Okay, yeah. We are all working on finalizing the March issue, can’t wait for it to hit the newsstands. Look, and I think probably … I wonder if it had a picture attached, could you attach pictures at that time in tweets?
Moby: I have no idea.
Melinda: Yeah, I don’t know either. Because sometimes we take pics, like our whole team, like huddled over the magazine and we’re marking up pages and those are fun times.
Moby: I want to thank you so much for joining me today.
Melinda: Thank you.
Moby: This is Moby from The Fire Show from the Startup Studio at Galvanized. Thank you.
Melinda: Thank you.
Moby: This is fun.
Melinda: Yeah, it was fun. If you want to sign off from …
Moby: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.
Moby: So how can people … before we sign off how can people reach you or find your work?
Melinda: Well, people can sign up for On the Dot and we are trying to get tons of signups and sharing it with women. It is free. You can go to onthedotwoman.com and sign up. And it will come right to your inbox at 6:00AM On the Dot and you can read it or listen to it. And then all I ask is if you love it – share it with everyone you know, because that’s how we’re going to spread the word.
And of course you can also visit us at Austin Woman, it’s actually atxwoman.com and we’ve got all kinds of great daily content in addition to the regular monthly magazine. So we hope to see you there and at all of our events.
Moby: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Melinda.
Melinda: Thank you.
Moby: That was great.