• Scarlett Michele

December / Jess

Updated: May 5, 2020

Jess Mabis

Age: 26

Lives in: Cincinnati, OH

Alma mater: University of Dayton

Studied: Entrepreneurship

Graduated: 2016

Takes her coffee: Black or latte

Last book read: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

Works at: Postwell as CEO, The Brandery as a Program Manager

Responsible for: Everything branding, sourcing, and shipping for Postwell; preparing startup companies’ CEOs for business pitches and accelerator programs for The Brandery

SIB: What constitutes a startup?

JM: It's a liquid definition. I would say you're less than three years old as a company. There's so many different kinds. Some people only think of startups as tech that can move really fast, like Uber, but brand new shops on Main Street, I think are startups too. People who are selling stuff on Etsy are startups.

SIB: With your work at The Brandery, what is your role in helping get these companies off the ground?

JM: I have two jobs there. I'm the program manager for The Brandery. We invest in startups that are high growth and tech. They can be from anywhere in the world and we bring them to Cincinnati. My job is to help them get ready to pitch to investors. We take them on a big road show, which is what we're doing in January [2020].

My other job is called gBETA, which The Brandery runs. It's a pre-accelerator. That's also for tech startups, but only for Cincinnati based startups. I help companies that are either at the idea stage or they've filled out an MVP, which is a minimal viable product that they're just testing out. My job is to get them to the point where they could raise money or go through an accelerator like The Brandery.

SIB: What advice would you give to people who have a business idea and are looking to develop it into a viable company?

JM: On a technical standpoint, set up an LLC, a C Corp, or an S Corp. So if you do start selling a product or some sort of service or technology, it's an entity that owns all of [the assets involved]. Your company should also have a separate bank account, because you will start to hate your company if it's all coming out of your own personal stuff.

On a more personal note, being an entrepreneur's really glamorized and I mean, it's hard. It's not what I think people imagine it to be. I was talking at Miami University and this student asked me, “Do you ever just sit back and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m an entrepreneur. I made it.’” Like, that's hilarious. I don't think any entrepreneur ever feels that way. I don't feel that way. Jeff Bezos probably doesn't feel that way. It's like the worst disease you can have. You could have a great job, you could have everything you wanted and you still can't get rid of this itch to do it. It's not going to be glamorous. You are going to worry about money all the time. You're going to not shower for days. It has to be some sort of fun if you let it, but it is pretty grueling.

SIB: You founded Postwell, a company which provides gift boxes specifically for new moms. What gave you the idea?

JM: I have a really good friend who, two years ago, had a baby. I had gone to her baby shower and she got so many gifts. They were all for her kid and nothing for her. I thought that was weird, but I didn't think much of it until she gave birth. She was driving home from the hospital and had to stop at the store. She was leaking everywhere. She had no idea what to do. So she called me and said, “Can you Google how to stop the bleeding?”

I got really mad because there's not this open forum for women to talk about [these kinds of experiences]. That really bothered me. So I started interviewing a bunch of doctors and nurses and OB GYNs. I'd get my hair done and interview all the moms in the place and finally found all of the things that you absolutely must have to help you recover. I put them in this box. It was originally supposed to be just for the baby showers I was going to that year. I wasn't trying to start this business. I just was so fed up with giving people onesies when they needed pads and hemorrhoid cream and ice packs.

SIB: Postwell has had an incredible response. Can you tell me about that?

JM: It all happened at once. I know a woman who works at the Cincinnati Enquirer, and she was like, “I want to write a human interest story about you interviewing all these people so that you could give better baby shower gifts.” So I did the interview, she took some pictures and then it didn't get published for awhile. There was a lot of news going on at the same time. Our basketball coach here left and the cathedral was on fire and a lot of stuff was happening that month. I think it was March or April [2019]. So finally she was like, “We're just going to do it today.” I remember telling her the words, “I'm ready.”

SIB: Were you?

JM: No! That night I had like five orders, which I thought was so cool. And then the next day it was in USA Today, who owns the Cincinnati Enquirer. The next day it was in PopSugar. The next day it was in Yahoo, [Everyday XO], Baby Gaga, all these really big mom blogs. It was funny because every story was pulling from the one before. So by the end it was like, "Mom of Five Creates Box." And I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

I sold out overnight. I got like fifty orders and then I shut it off. I turned it back on for like ten minutes and I got twenty more orders and I shut it off. I didn't know what we were doing. I remember laying our living room floor panicking. Like, what did I do? We have to tell these people this isn't a real business. And [my husband] Josh, his first instinct was to order a map on Amazon and start pinning the places all these people were ordering from. He was so excited about it and I was so afraid of what was happening.

I was just sending hundreds of these boxes out. And then it was like - silence. Nobody messaged me, nobody called me, nobody emailed me. It was this weird limbo where I was very nervous all the time. What I realized is when you get a box, usually people are ordering it for you a few months in advance. So people were getting the boxes but didn't use the box for months. Two to three months later, that's when all the letters started coming in, and emails, and phone calls of moms who were like, “This helped me! You should put this in the box! I'm never not having this at a baby shower!” Their response was incredible. But that two to three months was terrifying. It was the weirdest, longest two months of my life.

SIB: Did those letters help you to deal with the imposter syndrome that you were feeling?

JM: I think the more successful you get, imposter syndrome actually gets worse because it's not a fear of failure. It's this fear of someone's going to find you out. I think people assume I'm doing hundreds of orders a day and I have a big warehouse and employees, and in reality it's just me in my living room packing boxes. I was like, “Once I sell a hundred boxes, I will feel like this is really a business.” Once I sold a hundred boxes, I was like, why hasn't anyone stopped me? It got worse. The letters helped me more of investing more money into Postwell. The validation from other moms, from doctors who have reviewed it, from nurses who recommend it, [reminds me] that it's bigger than myself. That's what keeps me going. I can't just stop.

SIB: What are ways you help yourself feel proud of what you’ve accomplished?

JM: You have to be confident in what you're doing. I'm confident that this is helping people.

SIB: Your work requires you to go on the road for a week at a time! How do you stay connected with Josh and loved ones during those busy seasons?

JM: I always try to see everyone before I leave. I do call Josh a lot, mostly to talk about our days.

SIB: It’s Christmas season! What’s your favorite tradition?

JM: Every year my family watches A Christmas Story. At this point we can all quote the whole thing; it’s never not funny. My favorite holiday is actually New Year’s. I always write a list of what I want to accomplish the next year on NYE. Throughout the year I check things off and add things I got done that weren’t already written. It’s so cool to go back to the old lists and see what my goals were. I started doing this in high school so those are pretty comical. 2011 was “Get a cute date for prom, get the lead role in the musical, get above a 25 on the ACT, get my driver’s license, pass geometry.” #dreambig

SIB: Last year, one of your goals was to wean off your anxiety medication. How was that process for you?

JM: I was looking at [my 2019 goals list, and] I was like, “This isn't that huge of a list. I don't think this year is going to be that stressful. I think this is the year I'm going to go off of this medication.” By March, early April [2019], I was off. That was right before that story hit in the Enquire. And I was super busy at my day job. I got married. It was a crazy year. Which is so funny because I was like, “This year's going to be a breeze.” But I'm still off.

SIB: How do you keep yourself healthy post-medication?

JM: Tough question. I know what I should be doing (running, hot yoga, turning off my phone at night) but I’m pretty bad about it. Honestly, I think just letting myself have bad days every once in a while where I get super overwhelmed and just take the evening to unplug and relax. When I first stopped taking medication, I thought to be better I couldn’t ever feel that way but that’s not realistic. I still have my days, but being able to separate yourself [from work] and be in the moment, hanging out with my family or friends, is almost like meditating. It's taken a long time for me to be able to do that.

SIB: Earlier this year, you ran a half marathon! How did you prepare for it?

JM: I ran my second half marathon (The Flying Pig) this year!! I love running, although I don’t ever get to do it as much as I’d like. When I was training I would run three days a week for four months, increasing the mileage each week. Since the Pig is early in the year, training usually starts when it’s still super cold and snowy. Beating your personal record on race day always makes it worth it.

SIB: Many lifestyle and wardrobe bloggers suggest creating a uniform for everyday wear. What’s your uniform?

JM: People actually give me a lot of sh*t about this - I’m casual to a fault. Everyone jokes that they don’t recognize me if I’m not in jeans, a startup T-shirt and have a braid in my hair. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn makeup this year. It’s not that I don’t care what I look like, I would just rather spend that extra time working.

SIB: What are your secrets for your gorgeous hair?

JM: Since my hair is always in a braid, I hardly ever use heat on it so I think that helps it. I use Kevin Murphy shampoo and conditioner mainly because it smells so good. I get it cut maybe once a year if not once every two years. When it gets super long I donate it. It’s getting to that point now so I’ll get it chopped off after winter.

SIB: You love board games! Which ones are your favorite?

JM: My friends get so annoyed with this! We can’t go anywhere without me whipping a game out. I always carry a deck of cards and Exploding Kittens in my purse, I have all the Heads Up decks on my phone, and I write trivia for fun. My friend Nicole just hosted a New Year’s Eve party and I wrote decade trivia. I’m a big strategy board game player & I get the apps on my phone to play (Catan, Japuir, 7 Wonders, etc).

SIB: The Office (USA) celebrates its 15th birthday this year [Jess is the self proclaimed biggest Office fan]! Why do you think it’s still so popular?

JM: I think The Office stays relevant because it’s so real. We’ve all worked with or heard someone complain about working with crazies. [Office actress] Jenna Fischer said in [her Office Ladies] podcast that Ricky Gervais told them to, at times, show Michael actually being good at his job because American workplace culture wouldn’t tolerate him if he couldn’t at least make sales (versus the British version where people can be bad at their jobs and keep it). They adapted it to be relatable to Americans so that you could picture yourself working with those people. I once worked with someone who was Andy to a T. Also the quotes, it’s so freaking quotable.

SIB: Which Office character do you most relate to?

JM: I would say a cross between Angela because I love cats and Dwight because I really love working/hustling. And I’m super gullible and always fall for people’s jokes.

SIB: Speaking of The Office and Office Ladies (created by office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey), what are your other favorite podcasts?

JM: MY DAD WROTE A PORNO!!! This is my all time favorite podcast because it’s honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. I used to try to listen to it while I ran but would laugh so hard I’d lose my breath. I listen to Crime Junkies on the drive to work and How I Built This when I need some inspiration for Postwell.

SIB: What are you proud of yourself for?

JM: I believe that success is not the money you make or the awards you get, it’s the people whose lives are better because of something you did. The letters coming in from moms telling me how much the Postwell box helped them are what I’m most proud of. Every time I’m hesitant to spend a big chunk of money on Postwell or take a risk, I read those letters. Suddenly my savings account balance doesn’t seem as important.

SIB: What does balance mean to you?

JM: I live and die by my calendar. I used to always think, “If I have time after work I’ll go do this or that” - very wishful thinking. If I need to go grocery shopping or running or pack a big postwell order, I put it on my calendar. It helps me visualize what I need to get done and see where I can add in “do nothing time”. When you’re exhausted and overworked, having “do nothing time” is magical. Knowing it’s on my calendar makes me feel instantly less stressed.


#sheisbalanced #ladyboss #hustle #selfcare #startup #giftbox #theoffice #crimejunkies #roadtrip #entrepreneur

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