Startup Spotlight: Medley
All Things Venture: #009
Hey Everyone - Dez here from Apex Venture Studios. Before diving in to this week’s interview, let’s take a step back to acknowledge where we’re at in 2020. We are still undoubtedly in the middle of a global pandemic, a pivotal US presidential election is 75 days away, and the tech industry has firmly cemented itself as as dominant of a global force as the ‘92 Dream Team. By all means, this year has been weird. And not in a kitschy, “Keep Austin Weird” kind of way, but like a bleary 3 AM, half eaten hot pocket wikipedia rabbit hole kind of way. We’re okay with the fact that the weirdness happened, but we probably could have lived without it. But like all things in life, this too, shall pass. And generally, what I feel like we’re headed toward more and more is a crossroads. Coming out of this pandemic, this election year, this NBA playoffs (LETS GO LEBRON), the world will be different. The world will be better. So this situation begs the question to be asked, what companies will be created during this crossroads that are truly helping make the world a better place?
Well, in my opinion, Medley is one of those companies. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Medley’s co-founder Jordan Taylor about her vision for Medley, and her entrepreneurial journey thus far. Medley is one part content company, one part social network, and one part mental health platform, and they are uniquely positioned to help solve some of the most intangible problems we face today in modern American society.
APEX: Can you describe what Medley is?
Jordan: Medley is a membership community designed to support people's personal and professional growth through group experiences. You join Medley and are matched with 7 other individuals and a dedicated coach to help facilitate discussion, and you meet every month as a group.
APEX: Got it, that’s pretty neat, and quite frankly new. What’s your vision for Medley overall?
Jordan: One of our greatest challenges for our business is articulating our vision, but one place to start is establishing our definition of personal growth. 'Personal growth' can mean almost anything, and the space is very nebulous. In our minds we think of it as encompassing the whole self, relationships, spirituality, work, wellness, etc. and we are aware that all of those aspects of the whole self can be challenging to feel on top of, particularly in today’s environment. The polarization in society combined with the echo chambers that everyone operates in have made personal growth even more difficult to make space for. At the same time, we see an abundance of low commitment communities out there right now in social networks, slack groups, etc. We're taking a different approach, building a high commitment membership, and generating data that will serve as our competitive moat. Medley is creating personalized experiences that facilitate discussion with people who are different, at scale. And ultimately we believe that the benefit we provide - if we do this correctly - is to enable them to have happier, more grounded lives.
APEX: Wow. That is incredibly exciting to hear, and this may seem like a loaded question, but does all of that mean Medley is a social network?
Jordan: To an extent, yes. Medley is a social network, a content provider, a coaching company, and a community. We look at peloton as a very interesting comparable business, and in that same vein, we want to sit at the intersection of technology, media, and community.
APEX: Interesting, and who would you describe is best positioned to use Medley?
Jordan: It is broader than we thought in some elements. Originally we thought mid-late twenties, early thirties, but the current environment has brought the need to connect with others to the forefront. Our customer base has a very strong psychographic around how curious they are, how open they are, and they are ranging in age from 20s to 50s. So, if you’d ask, who is Medley best for now? It's someone who is deeply curious and values our value proposition of perspective for growth.
APEX: How do you think about building an equitable workplace, and what excites you most about being a founder?
Jordan: Taking a step back - if I am still running Medley in 15 years, I will be very grateful and very lucky. What excites me most about being a founder is that we get a chance to build the company of our dreams to work for. Each person we've brought on to the team so far has added another layer of insights, experience, and personality, and it's been incredible to see the team grow. Building an equitable workplace that reflects our values and celebrates differences is front and center for my co-founder Edith and I. Currently, we’re a team of 9 people and while we have slightly more women, are a very diverse group. At this point in time, my biggest priority is making sure people feel connected.
APEX: And what’s one of the ways you make sure people are feeling connected?
Jordan: Sure, one way we do so is with our morning meetings. We always start with an activity chosen by the leader, which we rotate among the team. We might play a crossword puzzle, play online pictionary or charades, watch a short video, answer questions, or do a stretching exercise. It's dealer's choice. In the second half of the meeting, we talk about our plans for the day. Given our priority as a company is to make sure people feel connected and engaged, it’s important that our team internally feels the same. A really hard part of starting a company is that everything feels really important all the time. Especially with working remotely, things can feel transactional pretty fast. It's important to us that Medley isn't taking over our lives. It’s a small gesture for the team, but it’s been great for us to make that space in the workday and we've been consistent over the past six months.
APEX: How do you prioritize growing Medley whether it is growing the product, the users, or the brand?
Jordan: We want to be thoughtful with our approach. We care more about being able to create an impactful experience for our first 500 Medley members than having 500% MoM growth. There is nothing more important to us than getting feedback and forming relationships. In terms of product and brand - The back-end product is the area of the business that we've been focused on the most to date, and the brand and story are something we plan to continue to evolve and invest in. I've seen in my experience that a startup’s strengths and blindspots often reflect the strengths and blindspots of the founders. So while our first priority is definitely ensuring a high-quality experience for our users, our second priority is investing in our blind spots. For me, my strengths are around analytics, data, and problem solving but I am not a natural-born written storyteller, so we're trying to keep brand in mind as well.
APEX: Given that a core element of Medley will be telling your story what businesses, in your opinion, tell the best stories?
Jordan: Nike is an obvious one, I admire their ability to contribute to timely conversations in such a consistent way. Another brand I deeply admire is Disney. They have created a world and business ecosystem designed to create magic. They manage to evoke aspects of being a kid, having space for fun, and playfulness - it comes from the parks, the movies, and the merchandise. Everything is in sync. They've created a flywheel that is truly indefensible. Netflix is another example too, and same with Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay.
APEX: What does success look like for Medley in the next 6 months?
Jordan: We have hundreds of members who deeply love Medley, and engage and contribute to the community. We've launched the first version of our member-facing digital platform and are getting valuable insights. Our team has expanded from 10 to 15 or so and our internal Medley culture reflects our values and ambitions. To be honest, I'm very grateful to be able to build this business with my mom as co-founder and with such talented people on our team I get to learn from - so 6 months from now if our team is still doing well, gelling, creating, and collaborating, that will be a success.
APEX: Any advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?
Jordan: Prepare now by creating a daily rhythm for taking care of yourself and connecting with people you're close to. Even if you aren't sure what business you want to build yet, developing a set of practices that give you a solid foundation for living and being will increase your chances of success and help you enjoy the journey. In building Medley, I've had to work hard on the self-management side so I can show up ready to learn every day - as there are a lot of ups and downs in building a business, and the mental stress can take a physical toll as well. For example, I've found that in order for me to be present and show up well, I have to be mindful of my sleep, try to move every day, and try to eat as many whole foods as possible. Experiment with what works best for you and try to find a rhythm that you can sustain.
TL;DR - Medley is the social network of the future and eat Facebook’s lunch
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