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The Venture Equity Project Podcast is a storytelling platform where we bring on the world’s most incredible entrepreneurs, forward thinking academic, nonprofits, and venture partners to talk about how we can take steps to fix the complex problem of inequity in venture. Host Weilyn Chong will help us gain insight on everything from how we can increase access to capital for underrepresented entrepreneurs and tips on getting in front of VCs and angels.
In our third episode, we are joined by D Marie, Founder of MyRA, about the ins and outs of fundraising as an entrepreneur of color. D Marie authentically shares her journey building MyRA and details the challenges and successes she faced during the ideation, fundraising, and building stages.
More about the Venture Equity Project Podcast: The Venture Equity Project Podcast is a storytelling platform where we bring on the world’s most incredible entrepreneurs, forward thinking academic, nonprofits, and venture partners to talk about how we can take steps to fix the complex problem of inequity in venture.
The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center is proudly hosting and producing this podcast. The Center is a non-profit that is building a better path for entrepreneurs worldwide by improving inclusion, access, and knowledge in entrepreneurship.
Weilyn Chong: Hello, and welcome back to the venture equity project podcast. I’m your host Weilyn Chong. And today I’m so excited to have D Marie, the co-founder of Myra on the podcast with us today. I want to dive right into it. Starting off with what is myRA all about? How did the idea come from?
D Marie: MyRA is an on-demand healthcare staffing platform. We directly connect pre credentialed healthcare professionals with healthcare facilities for last minute staffing. So to simplify that, think of, we connect a hospital with a nurse for the last minute staffing. It is not someone that’s going to be on a travel assignment. It is tonight. This hospital is short-staffed and they need someone to come in ASAP.
WC: And how big is that problem right now? What about your background led you to want to solve this problem?
DM: Actually I feel like it’s always been a problem. It’s been a problem for as long as I’ve been a nurse. I think that actually was a part of the reason I came into the profession. They said there was always going to be a shortage of nurses that meant I would always have a job.
But not until you actually get into the field and start working do you realize how bad the problem is. I’m just going to use an ER for reference because my love and the last 14 years of my career was in ER. Say you had 40 beds in the ER, you can plan to have enough nurses to staff that ER and the day of the shift, someone calls in sick. Sometimes you could be down multiple nurses in one night. So now you’re down nurses and you’re an ER, and you have this influx of patients that you didn’t anticipate, right? So, this unplanned census, you have someone call in sick or someone just doesn’t show up or you have something like a COVID that you absolutely could not have even imagined for.
That was where the whole idea came from. I was just constantly seeing it every day, no matter how much we planned for staffing, we just always came up with something short. And I said it would be simple if we just had a way to source nurses that really wanted to work.
MyRA allows you to have the flexibility of having nurses that really want to work tonight. Maybe the nurse really wants to work because they’re saving for a trip, or they’re saving for a big expense, or they just need some additional income that particular day.
At the time, I was taking care of my mom. She had a terminal illness and I was living in California.
She was in Miami and I had to travel to take care of her. And a lot of the time my stay was six weeks at a time. And so I was like, gee, you know, I want to just be able to pick up some shifts, but not have to sign on with a hospital and not have to go through an extensive process to sign on with a travel agency.
I also wanted the flexibility of, you know, if my mom got sick today, I didn’t have to work today. And so that was what kind of prompted it.
WC: I’d like to switch gears a little and talk about the fundraising process for you. I know you had a slightly atypical fundraising process and I’d love to learn more about what was the process like for you? And what were some unexpected features of the fundraising process?
DM: The fundraising process has definitely been challenging and to be honest, if I knew then what I know now I think the path that I took probably would have been faster probably would have been different. I think I would have been more intentional about the direction that I was going with.
So first and foremost, the traditional pathway. I think that we all hear about, or what I was told when I came into the tech world was:
- You do friends and family,
- Then you do an angel round,
- Then you do VC funding.
But no one told me about the challenges that I was going to have to face in that process.
And unfortunately, I feel like I’m doubly minoritized. I’m a female and I’m black. That starting layer is your friends and family round. And what a lot of people I think don’t know is that the median white household is 7.8 times wealthier than that than the equivalent black household.
What that means is when I go to look to my friends and family for funding, they probably don’t have funds to help me in that friends and family round.
I remember having this concept and having a conversation with a counterpart that happened to be white and she was getting ready to design an app and she said, “oh yeah, my friend, invested 350,000 and I’m building my app now in California.”
And I was like “You’ve got 350,000 to build an app. I was like, oh, that’s really amazing. I wish I could get $5,000.”
So as a result, my option was I had to rely on myself. So I bootstrapped my company the entire time. What that meant is I had to go into my retirement fund and find money through other avenues.
I had to rely on pitch competitions or apply to a bunch of grants. Loans are difficult because traditional loans really don’t apply to the startup world because most banks that lend loans want to make sure you’re making money first. And that’s not the startup world.
The startup world is ideation. You have an idea. And then after we go from idea, we want you to validate that. Based or not going to say here’s 300,000 to just try to figure this thing out. they want to know that you’re making money. So I chose to do pitch competitions, grants.
Now we’re getting ready to do crowdfunding. I’ve had conversations with the VCs and the angel investors, of course. So I feel like some of my early conversations were “you’re too early” and it’s hard when someone says you’re too early when you heard that your counterpart got 350,000 to build the app.
DM: Because that meant that they had to be an ideation to get an app built. I feel like the goalpost is always moving.
I feel like when I built the MVP, then it was, “you don’t have enough traction.”
So now I’ve got to get more money to prove to you that I can get more traction. And so now I’ve got to find another avenue to do that. As a result, I’m veering away from the traditional funding route.
And part of the reason is because I think the other thing is people aren’t aware of the statistics that are out there. Earlier, what I said to you was that I was doubly marginalized.
And what I don’t think people recognize is that in 2021, I think 1.2% of BC funding went to blacks. Like 2.3% went to females. We’re still not even at 5% with these numbers.
When you narrow it down to black females, 0.3% went to black females. That is not even 1% of the money that’s out there.
And so what I said to myself was either you spend your time chasing that 0.3% or you find a different avenue to get that funding and even with that funding, at the seed round, maybe a black founder will get 125,000 in comparison to 2.3 million that a white founder or another founder may get.
So even if you’re chasing and you’re getting investments, the amount of investment that you’re getting is not even equivalent to someone that’s at the same stage that you are. And so it’s either you spend your time trying to chase that money or you spend your time trying to figure out other avenues to build your company.
The unfortunate thing about that is it means that your process is so much slower. This slower process doesn’t mean that you don’t have this great and amazing and fantastic world changing idea. It just means now you’re going to go slower. And someone else that can come up with bigger bucks will probably get more funding.
WC: Wow. So the barrier is really in the system. Reaching that funding that exists. It’s not even in your control really, which is probably one of the most frustrating parts.
I have two questions but to start us off, you mentioned that some venture capitalists and people you’ve talked to view solo founding with a negative connotation. Can we explore that a little bit?
DM: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I feel like I heard that all the time. And so when I first started and they were like, “you’re a solo founder. No, I think it’s a great idea, but yeah we can’t invest in you.”
It hurt. But I knew that I could fight through the process and do some things. As a solo founder, I will tell you, there is something to be said about having a co-founder with you that can bear some of the brunt of what’s going on.
I also think that in the process I’ve discovered where my weaknesses are and having someone that has those strengths to balance out the process would be amazing. The unfortunate thing is people assume that you can walk outside and just pick up a co-founder like, “hey co-founder hi, come over here!”
But finding a co-founder is really like dating. It’s like a marriage because you’re stuck with that person. Your livelihood is going to depend on that person for X years to come. And so it’s not a simple process but I do see the value in it.
And even though in the beginning I was probably a little resistant and I wanted to prove people wrong, I do see the value. I just don’t think it’s as easy a process as people make it out to be. And I think in the meantime, if you develop and build and your company grows, I don’t think you necessarily need to have a co-founder after you get to certain stages.
The other thing that I heard from investors was you’re not a tech co-founder.
I know I have a great, amazing tech product because even software developers look at it and are impressed even though I am not a technical co-founder.
I think discrediting founders because they’re not tech or because they don’t have co-founders. isn’t a great qualifier. And I think that’s unfortunate about the VC world. I think they just have check marks because they’re so used to their old institutional ways. And they’re like, you know, she’s not a white, 20 something year old boy that has a tech co-founder and she doesn’t look like me.
WC: I think that it’s surprising because you’re the target demographic of the company, MyRA. And so the fact they value you being a technical co-founder over being an experienced nurse is somewhat surprising to me.
What would you hope in an ideal world the fundraising process looks like?
DM: I want to see the numbers be a little more equitable. I’ve mentioned before, I’m doubly minoritized. Even if you strike out the fact that I’m black, I’m still a female and females have around 2.3% in funding. There was a data report that said that when VCs look at a deck with a female founder, they scrutinize it 50% more than they would if it was a male founder.
Especially when it comes to traction, we have to prove that much more that our company is doing that much better than our male counterparts. And so, regardless of whether it’s being female or being black I would love to see those numbers look a little bit more equitable.
WC: I think single digit percentage for investments is unacceptable. I would love to learn more about your perspective as a founder. What has been something unexpectedly challenging and what has been unexpectedly easy for you as you were building Myra?
DM: Nothing was easy. It’s funny when I say nothing was easy, something as simple as learning how to turn things around- which seems like it should be easy- is still challenging. I am constantly on from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep at night.
I think that’s another challenging part of entrepreneurship. Unlike traditional work environments, in entrepreneurship nobody is telling you to clock in and nobody is telling you when to clock out. And so turning that clock on and off is hard and difficult. And then factoring your social life in the midst of that. So, that’s been challenging.
When it comes to the business aspect. I think one of my most challenging pieces is the human capital part.
When you first start a company, especially as a solo founder, you’re wearing all the hats. You’re doing everything: sales, marketing, HR, product development, tech, fundraising, and more.
When you add your first team member and you are figuring out what to allocate to that person.
Startup life is this whole squiggly rollercoaster. And so, having people that are going to stick with you through all of that, I think has been challenging.
So balancing all of that I think has been extremely challenging. I think social media sets you up to make you believe that entrepreneurship is so easy and amazing and everyone can do it. But I think every aspect of it has absolutely been challenging.
I tell people that this has been the most challenging thing that I’ve done. There’s been no instruction manual. I’m a first generation immigrant to the United States. I came when I was 10 and my parents weren’t entrepreneurs. They both have third grade educations. I’m the first to go to college. And so I didn’t have any role models that said, “hey, this is how you build the business. Hey, this is what entrepreneurship looks like.”
My parents were just happy that I graduated high school.
So I think not having a playbook or an instruction manual to go by has absolutely been like one of the hardest things.
WC: Hundred percent. Entrepreneurship is very hard if you don’t see people in your life who are entrepreneurs and have that mentorship already built in from such a young age.
But I hope that through this podcast and through just like more diverse entrepreneurs that we see emerging, we form that communication and that network so younger entrepreneurs have that mentorship that maybe you didn’t have at the beginning of your journey.
WC: What does the future of Myra look like?
DM: I’m really excited about MyRA. Right now we are local in how we function. I’m in Miami, Florida. So obviously we’re going to expand MyRA regionally, and then the next point is to be made nationwide.
But in the midst of that, our current focus is, or was, I should say, nurses. Just because I was a nurse and it was just easier to onboard nurses. I’ve had so many people reach out for just ancillary staff. So, CNAs, LPN. I even had a conversation last week with a pediatric organization for medical assistance. So of course expanding the types of healthcare professionals that we onboard is a part of it. And I think what people don’t understand is when you’re doing an on-demand healthcare professional app, it’s not just putting a marketplace together and people together. What’s really supercritical is that these people are credentialed and all of that’s been validated and that they actually know what they’re doing when they show up, because you’re actually taking care of human lives.
So all their certifications need to be in place and everybody’s certification is different at different levels. That’s why onboarding all the different specialties is something that we’ll be doing as well, and will be absolutely valuable to the expansion of the company.
WC: I’m so excited for the future of MyRA. I think you guys have so many exciting things and such a draw from your audience. I’d love to end off this podcast by asking you, what does it mean to be an entrepreneur?
DM: It means growth and development. I have grown so much as a person in this process. I think it means freedom and flexibility because one of the things that I know that I feel that I value so much more now is control of my time that I probably necessarily didn’t recognize before.
The one last thing that I would say is entrepreneurship means that I get to build something for the future generation and my future legacy. I have a three and a half year old and I’m excited to know that I can build something and leave. Regardless of whether he wants it or not, because who knows what this next generation is going to do.
Just knowing that I can leave him something. Even if it’s not something physical, like leaving him a business, but leaving him the legacy of knowing that his mom built something from scratch.
And if I can do it, that means that he has the capabilities to do that as well.
WC: That’s truly an amazing, amazing gift regardless of whether he takes the company or not. Thank you so much for joining us on the venture equity project podcast. Being able to hear your journey as a founder has been so inspirational. This has been truly such a wonderful podcast episode. For our audience who want to continue to follow your journey and MyRA’s journey, how and where can they be?
DM: So I am on all social media. I’m on LinkedIn as D Marie RN.. If you’re looking for the company, we’re at the Myra app everywhere.
WC: Thank you so much again for joining us on the podcast. And I can’t wait to see where the future brings you and MyRA.
DM: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was fun. I loved chatting with you.