Spotlight On: Melissa Miller, The Mintable
Get to know Melissa Miller, the co-founder of The Mintable, a startup creating a place where managers belong backed by us here at Blackbird.
One of the great joys of our work at Blackbird is getting to know our founders beyond their incredible businesses. Because chances are, if someone has the ambition and grit to found a startup, they’ve probably lived a pretty fascinating life.
Case in point: The Mintable co-founder Melissa (Mel) Miller. From living in a nipa hut in the Philippines for 2+ years, to co-founding a company from opposite sides of the world with co-founder Lauren Humphrey, to navigating a fundraising round while pregnant, Mel is someone with no shortage of stories to tell.
Read on to learn more about Mel’s journey to founding The Mintable, her advice for fledgeling managers, and how to keep the co-founder wheels spinning from opposite sides of the world.
Blackbird: Tell us a bit about your background before you met your cofounder Lauren and the idea for The Mintable began.
Melissa Miller: Was there life before Lauren? Yes, probably. It has gotten much better since we met :) But sure, I am happy to dive into life pre-Lauren and The Mintable.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California (think San Francisco then keep driving 4 hours north). I went to college at Notre Dame where I did Division 1 crew - as a 6’1” female you are driven into sports pretty hard. After college, I joined the Peace Corps where I lived on a small island in the Philippines in a nipa hut for over 2 years and taught English and science. I met my husband there. You could say I brought home a pretty great souvenir. After that is where my career in management began when I managed a team and office in Manila and Guatemala. From there, I met Lauren, joined ZenPayroll (soon to be Gusto) and the rest is history!
BB: You and Lauren met through your work, correct? Was there a catalyst moment where you both decided this could be a business or did this evolve more slowly?
MM: I would say both are true - it evolved slowly AND there was a catalyst moment. Lauren and I both ran large operation teams at Gusto. We would often find ourselves spending nights and weekends on setting our managers up for success (ie templates, trainings etc). We realized that manager development was some of the highest ROI (return on investment) work we could do. If our managers were ready for their jobs, our teams found success. If not, our teams didn’t. After Lauren left Gusto, we stayed in touch personally, attended our kids’ birthday parties and occasionally chatted about work and managers. When Lauren moved to Australia is when the catalyst moment happened. She was interviewing at companies and seeing the same pain everywhere - ill equipped people managers. She reached out to me over WhatsApp about solving this problem and here we are!
BB: The Mintable’s ambition is to help people managers succeed and grow. What are the key things that managers need to do this, and how does The Mintable help solve for that?
MM: When we dove into the problems managers faced, we found there were three key areas that were critical to making managers successful.
- Training - managers need the foundational skills it takes to be successful. However, training is often as far as other solutions would go. We found that training is necessary but not sufficient for managers to succeed.
- Tools - managers need practical tools at their fingertips to use when and as they need them.
- Community - management can be a lonely gig. Managers need a community of support around them to tap into for support, camaraderie and simply to know they are not alone in this tough role. The Mintable combines all three parts to ensure managers can find success.
BB: You raised two investment rounds over the past year - what was it like to go through a fundraise while pregnant, any reflections or advice for fellow founders
MM: Raising a round and running a company is exhausting and hard on the best of days. Doing it while 9 months pregnant, added a layer of complexity to say the least. My advice would be to (1) Project manage, plan and be honest with yourself and the team. You will most likely have less time and less energy than you’d like. Commit to what you can do, delegate what you can’t or shouldn’t do and be open and honest if anything is going to fall. (2) Be kind to yourself. You will feel like you aren’t doing enough for anyone, not enough for the business, for yourself, for your baby and family. The guilt can be consuming. Remember to be kind to yourself. (3) This one isn’t possible for others because I have already locked her in, but the absolute best thing you can do is have the world’s best co-founder, Lauren. Lauren leaned in when I needed to lean out and kept The Mintable moving forward while I went and had my baby.
Of note, the upside of being pregnant while fundraising came in the confirmation that we had some truly phenomenal investors around our table. From encouraging me to take leave to checking in after birth to sending the best baby gear, our investors know what it really means to support female founders.
BB: Reflecting on your own experience as a manager, what’s the most important thing you believe managers should focus on?
MM: One of the biggest things a manager owes their people is their presence. It may sound simple, but it can be hard given how busy we all are. When done right, it can have a profound impact on your relationship with your team.
Being present means listening to understand rather than listening to respond. It means shutting out distractions when you are with your direct reports. For example - don’t multitask during 1x1s (yes they can tell, even if we think we are good at it). It can be even trickier in a remote working environment when we are staring at our computers. But yes, our team can tell if we are reading an email or scrolling through Slack. I promise they can tell. And it matters. One of my favorite tricks is to interlace my fingers and put my hands in the screen. It physically forces me to be present (I cannot scroll through Slack with my hands interlaced). And it is a visual for my direct report to know I am fully there with them. There is a great quote about listening that if you are really listening you don’t have to pretend to be listening (ie fold your hands together); however, I have also realized we all need a little help once in a while.
BB: You and Lauren are based on opposite sides of the world, but you’ve been able to work as a formidable team. How do you navigate the cofounder relationship from these different locations and any tips for how to make things hum when you’re both living busy lives in oppositional time zones?
MM: Lauren and I worked together for many years in person before becoming co-founders so we had a solid foundation. We also worked on something very hard and complicated - a health insurance product in the USA. So we knew we could do hard things together.
We often talk about how personal brands are built over time, not from any one action. We’ve had many years of building our brands with each other. We know each other’s strengths and watch outs. We’ve built trust and assume best intent with each other.
As for tips, oh we’ve got loads!
- Baton handoff - when we initially started we created a doc called the Baton Handoff and would literally hand the day/work off to each other. As Lauren was wrapping her day, she would tag me in the doc on what was done, what needed to be handed over and any outstanding questions. Then I would do the same at the end of my day. It kept us in lockstep and informed even when not working many overlapping hours.
- Make room for the personal - We have a section at the top of our 1x1 doc for personal updates. These are the kinds of things you usually learn over coffee in the morning with your co-founder (like the baby keeping you up all night or that one of you impulse bought 20 chickens - yeah I did that). It is important to create space for these updates even in a remote world.
- Find your communication channels - Lauren and I have fallen into communication channels that work for us. WhatsApp for personal comms and updates. Slack/Google for work comms and updates. Instagram for humor/sending each other funny reels.
BB: Finally, what most excites you about the future of The Mintable?
MM: I am most excited to be creating a place where managers belong. Management is an important and hard role. Managers need a place where they can learn, grow and connect in order to be successful. And if managers are successful, everyone else can be too.
Melissa’s Spotlight On:
A book that is worth reading: When Breath Becomes Air. Don’t read it in public. You will ugly cry.
A podcast you never miss: This is a boring (but honest) answer. I start every day with NPR’s 10 minute Daily News. I feel pretty time-poor as a founder but being up to date on the world around me is still important.
The last great article you read: I recently read an article about not waiting to be happy. It can be easy to have a list of things that will make you happy - “I’ll be happy when… we reach this milestone, have this thing, go on this trip etc” Being happy in life is all about being happy in the day to day, around the breakfast table, at the kids’ bathtime. Sometimes I need a reminder of that.
Someone to follow on social media: Lately, I have been pretty obsessed with Lars Schmidt on LinkedIn. He does HR real talk and always has something productive and useful to say.
Learn more about The Mintable or sign up for their programs here.