"Ok, But How" with Founder Twila Dang: Matriarch Digital Media
Twila Dang tells us how she built Matriarch Digital Media, a media company focused on creating a podcast network of programs that respect, encourage, understand, and uplift women.
Elyse: What did you want to be when you were a kid? Did you ever think you wanted to start your own company?
Twila: Honestly, I wanted to be President. I thought it was the best job for being able to boss people around. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, because I loved to argue until I won. Starting a company never crossed my mind.
Elyse: How did you get the idea for Matriarch?
Twila: I was working at a radio station and they were very focused on courting young women. But their core demographic were women my age. I had just turned 40 and I realized that I was being counted out everywhere.
Media kept telling me I was less relevant and somehow needed fixing because of my age. I knew that was wrong.
I knew that I had never felt more self-possessed and comfortable in my own skin. And I knew I wasn’t the only woman who felt that way. So I decided to build a platform that celebrated that.
Elyse: How did you start building Matriarch? What pieces of the business did you build first and how did you fund those first phases?
Twila: I brought on a silent investor at the beginning of the company. I knew so little about business that I only asked for enough money to buy equipment (don’t do that)! I called about 30 talented women I know and told them, “I have a crazy idea. If it works, we’ll change the way the world talks to women and girls. If it fails, it’ll be one wild story.”
I expected a lot of no’s - I didn’t get even one.
So we started to map out content and I gave myself six months to find a proper sponsor. In month five, I secured our first sponsor at $50,000. We built the entire network on the first sponsorship deal.
Elyse: Have you had to go out and raise money externally to scale Matriarch? If so, how did you know it was time and how did you approach it? If not, why did you choose not to?
Twila: We haven’t gone outside to raise money. The expectation in the past with fundraising is that I’d give up equity.
As someone who was building a company for the first time, I didn’t feel comfortable giving up pieces of this thing I was building.
Plus, people didn’t (and still don’t) really understand how media businesses can be profitable. So conversations about equity that were laced with nudges to move into other sectors didn’t appeal to me. I’ll never say never but for now, we’re good.
Elyse: What are some of the more unique challenges that come with building a media company? I imagine there are a lot of them!
Twila: The most unique challenge is learning how to build a structure to create a good and consistent product. We don’t usually think of media as a product. We don’t usually think that there is a formula you can develop to exercise creativity and come up with original programs that can perform well financially.
Creative work is very subjective. There is no one thing that resonates with everyone. But you can build structures to help hone in on what your audience enjoys and connects with. And you can make a living while doing it.
Elyse: Why do you think podcasting is such a valuable medium? How is it special from other media?
Twila: Podcasting is highly personal. The ability to take away other obvious cues and focus on a first-person experience through only their voice is powerful. It allows you to connect to someone and their story in a more meaningful way. Podcasting also allows you to be vulnerable with the content you choose to engage with. It is one of the only mediums that can provide privacy and anonymity when exploring topics that you have an interest in.
Elyse: What has been your biggest success with Matriarch to date?
Twila: I have been an audio creator for almost seven years. I have employed a team of almost exclusively women to create audio for our audience and paying clients for that same amount of time. I have built an entire company from the ground up. And I am completely self-taught. Every day that I get to do this work is my biggest success.
Elyse: How can founders based in the midwest find the capital, talent, and access to resources they need without living in New York or San Francisco?
Twila: Technology has changed everything. We all have access to highly sophisticated tools that allow us to do business just as professionally as any corporate organization. From smartphones to Slack - we can operate that way big business does. And the pandemic threw out the rulebook. We all understand how to work remotely and how to work in partnership (short and long term). I used to only work locally with other women in the Twin Cities. Now I work with professionals across the county. I network around the globe. And I build professional pipelines within my industry from my house in the suburbs.
It is a wild and wonderful time to be a Midwest entrepreneur. I often have to be creative in generating revenue streams - It’s not just the Midwest that doesn’t under the value of media. But, we’ve built creative and service-based arms of our business so that we control the flow of income. The only real limitation is my imagination.
Elyse: Do you have any tips on how founders can avoid burnout? How do you stay motivated and engaged, especially if you’re having a hard day / week / quarter?
Twila: You have one life and it comes with one body and one mind. You cannot be all of the things you aspire to be if you run yourself into the ground. I remind myself every day that I will do my best. My best will be altered by whatever is happening in my life that day. You have no control over that. But you do control how you react to it.
So sleep when you need to. Eat, for heaven’s sake. Know what your goals are and remind yourself of them often.
Be gentle with yourself. And give more that you take.
I used to think I was the center of everything in the business. I am not. I know now that I am a conduit. I am not the most important part. I am the one who has the privilege of connecting all of these wonderful ideas and people to create something that is bigger than all of us. Figure out who you are and what purpose you are meant to serve within the dream you are building. It will keep you going. It will keep you fighting for it. And hopefully, it will keep you honest.
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Elyse Ash is a marketer, creative, writer, speaker, founder and loud laugher. In her free time she enjoys playing with her kiddos, going to new restaurants, reading and pretending she’s into yoga.