"Ok, But How" with Founder Melissa Danielson of Joshin
In our new founder spotlight series, "Ok, But How," we ask Joshin's CEO Melissa Danielson how she started building a company focused on serving the disability community
Elyse: What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Melissa: When I was little I wanted to be an actress. I did a lot of theater and was really into film studies. I loved storytelling and stepping into other people’s stories and lives. I have always found people fascinating and have always been passionate about finding the common thread between people.
The drive for entrepreneurship came from growing up on a farm with cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and more…the work was never done. My sister and I would sell chicken eggs and nightcrawlers to cabin owners. We then morphed into a lawn care business for cabin owners. We always had a hustle.
Elyse: How did you know it was time to sell your first business?
Melissa: We knew it was time when we felt there was a bigger impact we could make in the community. We had peaked in terms of innovation around what we were doing in the Medicaid space and were limited on what we could do next due to the nature of our business.
When we were approached by a public company for an acquisition, we had just completed strategic planning and conceptualized Joshin. The timeline aligned and we knew it was a sign that the next phase was here.
Elyse: How did you get the idea for Joshin?
Melissa: We had just read Traction and completed strategic planning and that process allowed us to surface themes and bigger needs. We heard so often from families that they didn't know where to go to for information and services. In a time when marketplaces like Lyft, Shipt, and Airbnb were emerging, there was no marketplace or even disability solution that was looking to bring families and individuals everything in an amazing product and experience. We knew we were the people to do this.
Elyse: What makes Joshin different from other care solutions?
Melissa: We are really a support system for disability and neurodivergence, so while we’re supporting disabled and neurodivergent individuals with specialized care, and coaching - we are building allyship within companies.
Our goal is to take the educational burden off the individuals and caregivers and move it to individual leaders and team members. We believe that to be truly inclusive, it takes a culture of intention.
Elyse: Ok, but how did you start building Joshin? What did you learn first? What pieces did you build first? How did you fund those first phases?
Melissa: We seriously started by taking giant 3M Post-It Notes for the wall and lined them up in my living room and mapped out the family's journey that we felt was needed. Then through our personal network found the most amazing engineer, who is now our VP of Engineering today! He took our ideas, our big post-its and went to work on the technical architecture of Joshin while we started building the service delivery.
We tested the MVP on 10 families and took their direct feedback on their experience and continued to iterate. During this time, we were 100% self-funded, which is what continued to do for about 18-months.
Elyse: Your twin sister, Melanie, is your co-founder. What’s it like working so closely with her?
Melissa: I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else. You have to really trust, like, and respect your co-founder. There has to be a deep-rooted belief that you’ll do what it takes to get to the goal. It’s seriously a marriage! We wear two hats, business partner and sister and we literally say we take them off and on and frame conversations around which we are wearing. We have learned how to be very intentional in differentiating the personal and professional roles we play.
Elyse: What’s your favorite part about running your own company? What’s the hardest part?
Melissa: My favorite part is doing something I’m so freaking passionate about. I want this company to be everything it can be and more and it’s in my blood!
I love knowing my girls (11 and 5 years old) are watching their mom and aunt build a company that truly impacts a community we’re so passionate about supporting. The hardest part is the pressure of everything I just wrote! Ha! The pressure can be overwhelming, but it is also a driving force. I’ve really learned how to manage it so much more than I was able to 5 years ago.
Elyse: Would you rather hire a job candidate with little relevant experience but a great attitude or a bad attitude but a lot of relevant experience?
Melissa: A great attitude is everything!
Elyse: What question do you love asking in an interview?
Melissa: I like to know what makes people happy. What do they enjoy doing for hobbies and how do they keep themselves motivated?
Elyse: What advice do you have for founders who are considering trying to raise venture capital?
Melissa: It’s the hardest part of the job, but it is a necessary piece if you’re going the venture route. Make sure that’s the route you want to go first. And if it is, then the biggest piece of advice is to not waste time with investors who are not taking you seriously. At first it’s hard to know, but over time you learn it (most often the hard way). Knowing the structure of a venture firm, the roles and process for approvals, etc. is helpful when you’re a founder. Like anything, understanding what their bosses want, what process they have, and who the decision maker is. VC’s have no problem taking meetings - they want to know everyone, but don’t take every meeting if it doesn’t make sense for you.
Elyse: What advice do you have for first-time founders in general? What do you wish you could tell younger you?
Melissa: There is no perfect. Getting something out in the world is far more valuable than holding onto it to make it better. You don’t know what better is until you hear it from your users and you will never have a perfect product, there’s always iteration. Always.
Your email doesn't need to be written perfectly, just reply to the customer or VC and move fast. That was SO hard for me to get, but the day it clicked, things moved more smoothly.
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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.