Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and see your vision is an essential part of staying sane, especially when things don’t go the way you were hoping they would.
Dagmawit Metty Fisseha (Metty) is a Senior Product Marketing Manager in Alexa at Amazon. She is also an entrepreneur working to launch her start-up, MillenniCorps. Born in Ethiopia, Metty spent her childhood between London and Washington DC. She attended Duke University where she studied Political Science, African American Studies and Pre-Med. Outside of the classroom, Metty was a member of Pi Beta Phi Sorority, a columnist for campus publication The Chronicle, and a volunteer with the Girls Club where she provided mentorship for young girls in inner city Durham. Before her position at Amazon, Metty worked in Mortgage Backed Securities at Goldman Sachs and before that The Royal Bank of Scotland.
In addition to her day job at Alexa, Metty is putting her focus on start-up company MilleniCorps, a platform that connects nonprofit organizations with companies looking to provide sponsored service trips for their employees. When Metty isn’t working, she spends her time volunteering with Mary’s Place, an organization that helps homeless women and children, as well as ElderFriends, which creates long-lasting friendships between the elderly and younger people in the community. She also enjoys yoga, hiking, meditation, traveling and is a self-proclaimed foodie.
Where did the idea for MillenniCorps come from?
Employers are always looking for ways to recruit and retain top talent, especially in tech. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen companies offering everything from food and massages to on-site child care and pet insurance. HR partners are constantly trying to stay ahead of what it takes to keep their employees happy and productive. In order to do this, they need to understand who makes up the workforce and what those people care about. Based on my research, I believe the focus should be on millennials and their passion for corporate social responsibility. I’ll explain.
Millennials now make up about a third of the American workforce and this number is only growing. When asked in surveys what issue is most top of mind for them, the millennial generation consistently places an emphasis on value-driven objectives such as civic engagement and prioritizes acquiring experiences over material things. As I was reflecting on this, I thought to myself – what if companies offered a way for people to volunteer their time toward a cause they cared about, would this help them attract top young talent? That is where the idea of MillenniCorps comes from. Our mission is to bring non-profits, companies and young people together to accomplish three goals: 1) companies offer sponsored service trips as a benefit which will help recruit/retain top talent, 2) nonprofits tap into a source of passionate individuals who care about their mission, and 3) young employees find fulfillment through serving less fortunate communities.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day typically starts at 6 am. I work out in the mornings because I like to start my day with an accomplishment. Then I take my dog for a walk and I head in to work. My mornings are me-time: I optimize my calendar, catch up on emails, and other housekeeping items. Then I have meetings, usually with internal stakeholders for projects that I am working on. From there, I write or review various documents having to do with Alexa initiatives. It’s really exciting to see the different things the company is doing to delight our customers. Lunch is usually a salad which I have at my desk or if it’s nice out I’ll eat in the courtyard of my building. In the afternoon I try and make time to sneak away into an empty conference room for a quick meditation to clear my mind. Once I leave work for the day, I either go for a quick hike, a yoga class or grab a bite with friends (Seattle has an incredible food scene). Once I am home, I try to fit in 1-2 hours of work on my company MillenniCorps.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a vivid imagination and I talk to a lot of different people about my ideas. I constantly have many thoughts running through my head. Literally, my first question with everything is “how can I make this better?” That being said, not all of my ideas are great, to say the least. So I run my ideas by people around me for a sanity check. I actually love when people are blunt and thoughtful with feedback. I have no problem hearing “Metty, that’s a terrible idea” but I want to know why. Because from that discussion we can come up with an iteration of that idea that makes a lot more sense, or invent a completely new one altogether. I love that collaborative innovation. So, for me, I bring my ideas to life by doing a lot of formal and informal research on them to find out if they’re viable.
For example, I saw an issue that millennials were taking more sabbaticals and that HR partners had a hard time recruiting and retaining talent. I had a lot of conversations about this and with each discussion the idea iterated. Now I have MillenniCorps, which is a result of this process. The concept has evolved quite a bit from inception as a result of the dialogue I had with friends and mentors. Also, I believe that it takes passion to bring an idea to life. With MillenniCorps, it became an obsession. I live, breathe, think about it nonstop. That definitely helped in making it come to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Not to sound cliché, but tech excites me. It also has its risk but that’s a separate issue. I think it’s incredible that people from around the world can go to a GoFundMe page and contribute their money to a cause that they care about. This level of impact could never be possible without the connectivity of tech. It also allows anyone with a good idea to innovate. For example, when I was starting up MillenniCorps I was able to survey millennials around the country to understand how this idea would be received. Before social media platforms like Facebook I would have been limited to just my peers but my data would have been biased. I was able to use diverse data to refine my idea and improve likelihood of success.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The one habit that’s ultimately helped me become more productive at my job is that I write down everything I plan to do in a day, which helps to keep me accountable. I keep note of my goals and prioritize them. Whether it is on paper or my computer, I always keep things documented. It’s especially important because I think it is so easy to get distracted. Sometimes I find myself working on a task and notice that my productivity has declined for whatever reason. Maybe I wanted to check the weather or social media, and I find myself going off-task. What I do is I stop, get up, stretch or go for a walk, then come back and switch tasks. I know that I can always come back to that previous task later but by allowing my brain to shift gears helps keep me engaged and productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The one thing I’d say is “let it go!” When I was younger, I struggled with uncertainty. I used to try and control everything, especially my career. If something didn’t go my way then I thought that everything was in shambles. I realize now that things kind of happen the way they should. If you told me while I was just starting at Goldman Sachs that I would move across the country to work in tech I would have never believed you, yet here I am! And doing that allowed me to launch my own company. These things fall into place. I would tell myself not to sweat the small stuff.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
This is going to be an unpopular opinion but I think that we will see people moving away from social media. This includes Facebook (which is already seeing a decline among the younger generation) as well as online dating platforms. It seems to me that the pendulum has swung way too far in one direction, in terms of obsession with our gadgets and online social interaction. It’s fundamentally changed our society. But there is some backlash. I think that young people want to return to human face to face interaction, but the pathways don’t exist yet. At some point it will be “cool” to call people on the phone again or to meet up for a chat instead of texting with emojis. I don’t know when, but I think it will happen.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The one thing that I would suggest for everyone who is starting their own business or even just working to get ahead is to have an excellent support system. Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and see your vision is an essential part of staying sane, especially when things don’t go the way you were hoping they would. I’ve had the privilege to have great friends, family, mentors and colleagues who not only were there through everything but have come up with ways to keep me challenged in ways that have been critical to my development (as an entrepreneur but also as a person). If you do not have a great support system, then find people who are goal-oriented and supportive, then start connecting!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The one strategy I have used that has helped my business tremendously is to make short term decisions with a long term view. What this means is that I am willing to make sacrifices now in order to build relationships that will benefit me and my business later. I know that this is a tough one especially at the early stages of a business because that is when you are most strapped for resources. You may not think it’s feasible for you to do anyone a favor. But it is! Build a rapport of good will and compromise. It’s much easier to ask someone for something later if they trust you.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I first started working on MillenniCorps, I had this very aggressive timeline of 3 months in my mind. What this means is I planned to do market research, product development, testing, branding, launch and marketing all in a 3 month period. Add to that a full time job at Amazon! I was in way over my head. It didn’t take long for me to start missing my deadlines and it only got worse. I started scrambling, it was all very discouraging. It took a mentor sitting me down and hitting the “stop” button for me to realize that there was no way humanly possible that I could do all that. I think for a first time entrepreneur, who is probably already hard on his or herself and juggling a lot, it’s hard to hear that you need to go back to square 1 and reevaluate. It’s a lot of self-judgment and disappointment. I needed to hear that message from someone I trusted because I didn’t want to hear it! But I heeded his advice. That was in my mind my biggest failure at the time but now that I look back I realize there is no way I could have sustainably built MillenniCorps had I kept on that path. That failure and the learning from it is now helping lead me to success.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I will be honest and say that this is out of my realm, but if there is one business idea that I can think of that will help another reader, I’d say get involved with brunch. I’m sure everyone reading this has noticed how absurdly popular brunch is, especially in major cities. This is a phenomena which has been going on for a few generations now. People have an intense emotional attachment to brunch, and it sure pays off! You’re definitely making money when you sell a poached egg for ten bucks. So my idea is this, come up with a rotating brunch restaurant. Every month there’s a new chef flown in from around the world. The restaurant is an open concept minimalist space in the heart of town. You name it something fun like “Pop!” (as in short for “pop up”). The rotating chef brings in his or her own menu, staff and miscellaneous accoutrement. You’re only open Saturday and Sunday. So that is 8 days a month for locals to come in and experience that Chef’s brunch. What you’re doing is you build hype with locals (they have reason to come back as each month it’s a totally new experience) however you also have some good tourism buzz as well. I really hope a reader does this because I would totally come!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 has nothing to do with my business directly but reinforces an ideal I truly believe in, which is sustainable community development. I recently traveled to Amman, Jordan. One day I paid a visit to a women’s shelter where homeless women were taken in, given housing and food, and offered technical classes to help them generate income. I saw one woman who had learned to make pots and plates. Her work was so beautiful and I could tell she was passionate about her work. I found out that she was using all of her proceeds to launch a workshop for young girls, to learn how to make goods with their hands. She was a victim of an abusive relationship, which is why she ended up on the streets. She wanted her students never to have to depend on another for income and wellness. I was touched by her desire not just to improve her own situation but to improve that of others who could avoid going down the same path that she did. This type of community uplifting is incredible. I knew this woman was not just an entrepreneur but a leader. I gave her the equivalent of $100 USD to help support her mission.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Well, I could say Alexa voice assistant, but that would be a bit biased of me. My favorite tool to use in my personal business hands-down has got to be Zoho. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a CRM that allows me to organize my marketing campaigns, what sales I have made, and customer support all in one place. The significant part too is for the newest business owners, when budgets may be tight, they have a free version.
Using Zoho is pretty straightforward once you get a feel for the software. Explore it a little bit and get a feel for where everything is. You can set up projects and put your data in say Leads and Accounts. You can import your database from another CRM software, or you can create an Excel or Google Spreadsheets document with all the information you need. Head on over to Contacts to save any new customers that you’ve received and their report for future business. Those are just a few things that you can learn how to do, and there are also thousands of training videos around the net which will help you become a pro at Zoho CRM.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
While I am an avid reader, most of the books I read in my free time are fiction so not entirely relevant to our business-minded readers. For entrepreneurial insights, I am more of a podcast person. I am obsessed with 2: How I Built This with Guy Raz and Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman. Both offer incredible insights from people who have found and run some of the world’s most inspiring businesses, such as Lululemon, Starbucks, ClassPass, Netflix, and others.
What is your favorite quote?
A quote that I have been reflecting on recently is “the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself” or something along those lines. I am not sure who said it but I know that the origin of the quote is “Life is flux” from an ancient Greek philosopher. The reason this is meaningful to me is because with building MillenniCorps and working in a startup culture like Alexa, you have got to be ready to adapt as things are constantly changing! Being nimble and creative as a company can determine your success. So, I say to myself that the only constant is change itself; how can I build a business model that thrives off innovation?
● Give yourself the freedom to follow an undefined path, trust that as long as you are working hard and passionately that things will fall into place and you will end up exactly when you should.
● Don’t be afraid to be human! Admit when you make a mistake, be compassionate and lead with empathy.
● Baby steps! Rome wasn’t built overnight. Harness your passion into a realistic plan, be patient!
● Seek balance and harmony. No one person or company or thing will ever give you all the satiation your mind and body need to thrive.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.