Meghan Asha was working at a tech-based hedge fund in New York when she had a revelation: she loved tech, but she craved something more hands-on than what she was getting from finance alone. What she really wanted, she realized, was to do something with entrepreneurship. While this required a bit of a pivot for Meghan, the switch to business and entrepreneurship looked a lot more like a return to her roots than anything else.
PLANTING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SEED
“My dad came from India with a backpack and nothing else,” says Meghan as she explains how her passion for technology and entrepreneurship started early on in her life.
“He bought a patent from Hewlett-Packard when I was around two years old for a couple thousand bucks, and he started a technology company. We went from living in an apartment, to living in a house, to living in a house next to Barry Bond’s house — it was basically the whole Silicon Valley story. So ever since I was two years old, it was always, ‘Is daddy’s company going public?’”
Meghan doesn’t doubt that her dad’s journey – his trials and triumphs, alike – played a big part in shaping both her entrepreneurial spirit and her affinity for tech and building, which she says have been engrained in her from a young age. Watching him also taught her a thing or two about the business of entrepreneurship that came in handy later in life when she decided to make that business her business.
“I learned that as an entrepreneur, success isn’t linear,” she says, adding that one of the most important things is just working hard, and being a good person.
TALKING BUSINESS AT THE DINNER TABLE
After her time at the New York hedge fund, where she worked right out of college, Meghan’s decision to shift her focus to entrepreneurship led her to start a digital media platform with the help of an angel investor from Sequoia. She ended up selling the platform in 2008 and later went back to school to receive her MBA from Columbia Business School. When she graduated in 2014, she found herself contemplating where to go from there.
“I kept looking back on what I did right, and what I did wrong when I started my first business,” says Meghan. “And then I kept thinking, ‘When I’m 90, what would make me happiest?’”
She realized that she was happiest when she was throwing “entrepreneurial” dinners.
“I loved connecting my friends who were entrepreneurs with others who could help them grow their business,” she says. “And I would just do these dinners for fun when I had my first company. I would bring someone like the founder of Squarespace and ask him how we could help build his company and stuff like that.”
Thinking back to the dinners, she notes that it wasn’t just the actual collaborating that she saw happen at the “table,” so to speak, but the timing of it all as well. Specifically, the thrill of the New York tech scene in 2007, and her own shuttling back and forth between the east and west coasts made it an especially fun time for Meghan.
“When I started thinking back to that, that’s really how FounderMade came about,” she says. Meghan explained that she originally planned to do a dinner series:
“I was just going to do 12 dinners, have themes for them, and have a really amazing, inspiring entrepreneur — one that operated with integrity — at each one. That entrepreneur could tell their story, and share how hard it was to start a company. I would bring early-stage entrepreneurs into the room so that they could listen to that story and they could be inspired. So then when they were going through their own hard times, they could kind of look at that story and think, ‘Well, if he could it, or if she could do it, then I can do it.’”
BEYOND THE DINING ROOM
As Meghan saw her dinner series continue to grow, she began asking herself whether or not the gatherings were adding any real value to the work and experience of the early-stage entrepreneurs. Then, in an effort to increase FounderMade’s measurable impact on startups and their founders, Meghan decided to turn her attention to larger-scale events that went beyond dinners.
“We decided in April of last year to throw our first event, which was like a Shark Tank for wellness founders,” she says. “A bunch of different wellness booths, it was at the Gansevoort Hotel, we were expecting about 150 people and over 400 showed up. That was kind of our first sign that we had something really special.”
The event started off with a happy hour and featured a series of chats with, and stories from, leaders in the wellness field. The evening then ended with The Future of Wellness challenge, which was judged by individuals like Daniel Lubetzky, the founder and CEO of KIND Snacks, and Kara Goldin, the founder and CEO of Hint Water. The winner of the challenge, which sought to highlight the most compelling and innovative ideas in the wellness sphere and came down to three finalists, was The Optimist Co., a line of natural-based cleaning products.
“The founder, [Devin Donaldson], got on stage at our last wellness event and said that she got distributions to Whole Foods and Thrive Market and has reorders, and that it’s partially because of what we did in April,” says Meghan. “And I was so blown away by that because had no idea what we were doing in April – we were just testing out the model!”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR FOUNDERMADE
While FounderMade has done its fair share of work in the wellness world – Meghan jokes that she and her team could put on a wellness summit in their sleep – the nature of the platform is one that allows, and actually works best with, a range of verticals.
“Anytime we enter a new vertical, it’s really fun and we learn so much about that industry,” says Meghan. “We also learn about ourselves, because it’s scary to do anything new, especially in business, so it’s cool to kind of see how far we can push the bar with our own work.”
While wellness was followed shortly by beauty, an upcoming event marks a brave (well, not so much brave as delicious) new world for the platform.
“We’re doing our very first food event,” says Meghan, referring to the Future of Food summit set to take place on April 2 at Spring Studios in New York. She continued, saying:
“We have an investor who’s one of the first investors in Sweet Green coming, and then we have some hotel investors, some chefs, somebody from a PE fund — it’s a very eclectic group because I kind of wanted to get a collaboration of different mindsets on these investment panels. There’s a discovery lounge which will feature 30 – 40 different food companies; everything from software companies that are changing the way that restaurants are operating to IBM Watson’s cognitive chef. We also have a Keurig for food, which is crazy! I don’t even know what that looks like. The guy is driving his robot prototype from California because he can’t fly it. Then there are these MIT guys who are doing this crazy company called Spice, which is like automating fast food with no people, but it’s like healthy fast food. It’s just going to be super eclectic.”
The event, which will feature industry leaders like Scott Norton, the co-founder of Sir Kensington’s and Whitney Tingle, the co-founder of Sakara Life, will wrap up with the usual Shark Tank style challenge.
THE MARK OF A (STARTUP) CHAMPION
Having worked with her fair share of budding entrepreneurs and “next big thing” pitches, it’s no surprise that Meghan has come to know a thing or two about turning a good idea into a great business. The biggest factor in her opinion? Mission.
“If you have a mission and there’s a real story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing, it really doesn’t matter how many times you get kicked down,” says Meghan. “You’re always going to come to the table again. People are looking for the story and they’re looking for the ‘Why?’ If you have that, I don’t think anything can really stop you.”
About Tamara Rahoumi
Tamara Rahoumi is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. Her passion for wellness always has her researching the latest fitness trends, experimenting with recipes from superfood cookbooks, and working towards an overall healthier and happier lifestyle. In addition to reading her articles on The Path, you can follow her adventures on her lifestyle blog, The Curly Nomad.