Mecca Tartt

Ladies and gentlemen welcome back to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. I’m Mecca Tartt, your host for today’s show and Executive Director of Startup Runway where we connect underrepresented founders, women, and minorities to their first check writers. Listen, today, I am really excited to sit down with Julie Newman, who is a Startup Runway finalist. She’s also the founder of Artonomo. Welcome to the podcast, Julie.

Julie Newman

Thank you so much, Mecca. I’m happy to be here.

Mecca Tartt

Wonderful. Before we get into it, I know you’re coming hot off the Startup Runway showcase. I wanted to just really let our listeners learn a little bit if you can educate them about your background, where you’re from, and then we’ll talk a little bit more about your business.

Julie Newman

No problem. I’m from Northeast Ohio, originally. I moved down to Atlanta about 2001. I started my career in corporate America at AT&T. Actually, I should say I started at my dad’s, as my dad had his own business growing up. I worked there from about 10 years old. I went to college, and then I joined corporate America after I graduated. It was kind of good to have experience at both small businesses as well as corporate America. And then in 2008, I decided to start my startup business called Jewel Branding & Licensing. I’m actually an owner of two businesses. Jewel branding is the first one that I started, and it’s a licensing agency representing artists, designers, and corporate cultural institutions.

Mecca Tartt

Wonderful. That’s fascinating. Let me ask you this, how did you venture into the world of startups and “Listen, I’m going to take the leap of faith?” Because it is a leap of faith and in starting your own business and I know that you mentioned that you have two. Take us through your journey with that.

Julie Newman

I would say definitely starting a business is a leap of faith, but it’s kind of one of those things, you don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes it’s easier to do something when you don’t know how hard it is, I guess. I started in 2008 and it was when my daughter was almost turning a year old. And at that time, I was working for another company, they were a smaller licensing agency. 2008 was kind of an economic downturn. They were letting their employees go and they’re like, “Well, we’d like to keep you but we’re going to cut your salary in half, but still do the same work.” And that’s kind of when I was like, “Well, that that doesn’t make any sense to me where I could probably do it on my own and at least make half the salary that I was making.” I kind of started it out of necessity, thinking that number one, I didn’t want to go back to corporate America. There weren’t a lot of agencies in the Atlanta area. I didn’t want to leave my daughter at home. I liked where I’ve always worked at home in my career. I was just at this crossroads where I want to spend time with my daughter, I want to be home, I want to have my own business, so why not? That’s really kind of how I started. I’d love to tell you I had a business plan and a well-thought-out idea of where I was going But that really wasn’t the case. I just knew that I was good at what I was doing and felt that I could do it even better on my own. And that was really kind of the foundation to get it going.

Mecca Tartt

Absolutely. I know there are some ladies that are listening in and their #mompreneurs, #bosspreneurs, and they’re listening to you. I’m sure you’re giving them the confidence, “Wow. Julie embarked on this journey with a one-year-old at home and the balancing act and mommy tasking that comes with that.” What were your next steps after you made this decision and how did that move you towards opening or deciding that, “I’m going to move into establishing my next company.”?

Julie Newman

First of all, I even need a support network, right? My mom at the time was close by and so she helped with childcare, and my husband had a corporate job which was really helpful because he had health insurance. Obviously, that was super important with a baby. I really felt like I had a safe environment where I had the flexibility to go out and do something on my own. But definitely balancing, I remember a distinct day where I had an important conference call, and my one-year-old was in our little play area, and I’m trying to be on a conference call, and I’m trying to keep her satisfied by giving her some Cheerios. I was just like, “Oh, my God, this is such craziness. How can I do all of this at the same time?” But it was really just empowering to know that I could manage it all. I manage my own schedule. I love being in control of my own destiny, whatever that may be. And of course, I made a lot of mistakes along the way, starting a company. I really focused my first company Jewel Branding on working with moms that wanted to stay at home and raise their own children that were artists and needed help on the business side of their business. They could do the creative art side, and I could manage their business side. That’s really kind of how Jewel Branding evolved. And I literally, when I would go to hire somebody, I would hire working moms, because I believe that it was really important for me to be able to have the flexibility of working at a job that I love, and still being able to be around my children, and be able to take them to school or take them to appointments. I wanted to provide that same type of environment for other working moms, which was super important to me. Growing up, my mom was a single mom. She had a full-time job where she just didn’t have the flexibility to be around the kids as much and I just did not want that for me and my children and other moms that worked for me. 

Mecca Tartt

Certainly. That says a lot about you and your dedication to uplift mothers in corporate America. It also brings me to recent statistics that have recently come out in regards to the pandemic which we’ve all experienced and endured. The study that I read talks about how the pandemic alone has set women back in corporate America by 10 years. That was due to a lot of women having to walk away from their jobs in corporate America in order to be at home with the kids who were at home at the time and not able to actually be physically in school but doing virtual learning. We all know that a 6-year-old cannot do virtual learning on their own. I think that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing that you have done to empower mothers to hire mothers that want to have that balancing act. Take us forward on opening and founding your second business.

Julie Newman

Fast forward 12 years, one of the things that I am kind of a, what I’d call efficiency queen if there’s a way to do something faster and better, that’s kind of my MO. That’s what I love to figure out. And so in Jewel Branding, there’s a lot of processes, there’s a lot of things that are easy to manage, there are thousands of images, thousands of contracts, Excel spreadsheets, all of this data, and there was no software within the industry to do our business efficiently. It was something that was really frustrating to me. We would have Dropbox, we would have Excel spreadsheets, we would have Salesforce, and none of nothing talks to one another. It just didn’t make sense. We decided to build a software program to manage our business. What happened is when we launched the software within our own business, we would have competitors come up to us, we would have our manufacturers, all of our partners saying, “Wow, where do you get the software. I’d love to use it for my business.” And I said, “Well, actually, we created ourselves.” And so that was when we really kind of sat back and said, “Okay, wow, we created something here that really could work for our entire industry.” That’s why we created our Artonomo and this in 2020. We took the software that was managing our business so well and decided to license it to other companies. And so far it’s been pretty successful and we already have other artists, we have other agencies on the platform, and they’re really having the same success that we did. It’s easier to manage their business, they can focus more on the fun stuff and less on the business process side. We’re really excited about the potential for this because we feel like it can work for so many different industries, not just this one.

Mecca Tartt

Absolutely. I love that. And one thing I wanted to ask you about, I’m sure there’s a lot of listeners that are wondering the same, you’re in a place now where you’ve identified a need within your market, and at this point, what is your focus on scaling and growing your business? I know that you have different thoughts around this after founding your first company, now having Artonomo, you have made the decision. Okay, we’re going to move forward, we know this is the need in our market. What does that look like? What are the conversations that you’re having?

Julie Newman

I would say probably the most important conversation we’re having is obviously Jewel Branding was something that was bootstrapped. We never got outside money or capital to grow that business which was great. And obviously, that worked well. But I think in a software business, what I’m learning, and I’m learning something new every day when it comes to software business, is that you need more access to capital because building software and building it well is super expensive. That’s one reason why we decided to seek and reach out to Startup Runway, and we were honored to be selected as a finalist to start. This was the first kind of toe in the water into this area. But obviously, our goal, we’re to go down the path of raising capital, but we’re also really focusing on growing our customer base. I would say between we need more customers on the platform to show more proof of life to potential investors that the software is growing and working well for many companies. I would say those are our two top priorities for the rest of the year.

Mecca Tartt

And who would you say is your avatar when it comes to your customer base, if they’re listening because we have listeners from all over. What is the profile of a customer look like for you?

Julie Newman

I would say any content creator is a good profile customer. And so obviously, we work with a lot of artists that have a lot of content that they need to manage on a daily basis. It could be graphic artists, fine artists, it could also be cultural institutions or nonprofits that have a wide database, a wide archive of content that hasn’t really been monetized yet and there’s not an easy way to get out their content to an audience of potential customers that would be interested in the content. It’s really people that have a lot of content that they want to manage and also try to monetize.

Mecca Tartt

And then for the support that you need and the funding that you need because we know the numbers and the numbers are bleak, and obviously, this is the reason why we do the work that we do at Startup Runway to ensure that there is more of a balance that the needle grows, that we continue to push for because the numbers are women receive less than 2.2% of capital and the funding that they need in order to grow their business, and so there’s a lot of opportunities there. There’s a huge need there. For any VCs and any investors that are listening in, what would you want to share with them about your company and why they should invest?

Julie Newman

I would say that we are in a very experienced leadership team. Everybody at Artonomo has 20+ years of experience in their own fields. We have an IP attorney, we have a very experienced software developer, finance, and obviously, myself being in the industry for 20+ years, as well as my business partner. I think a leadership team is critical to the success of any company. That is very strong, and then also a very growing market. There’s no software currently available within our industry today to do what needs to be done to manage people’s business. I feel like there’s a whitespace in this area to grow. Our long-term vision is to really disrupt our entire market by creating this one-stop shop for manufacturers around the world to find content for their products.

Mecca Tartt

Absolutely. We’re in Q4, and obviously, most businesses are like, “Okay, are we meeting the mark? What do we need? What are our goals for next year?” When you think about that, there are listeners right now that are founders that are entrepreneurs like yourself, I will say you experienced the highs and lows. Anyone who’s an entrepreneur absolutely knows that. What keeps you motivated, Julie? What keeps you focused on your craft and optimistic about what’s to come even when you receive the “No.” Because I do believe that a person can live in both in a space where they’re experiencing a high in one place and a low and another, what encouragement do you have for the founders that are listening in?

Julie Newman

I think that is what’s driven me. I love the “Nos” because when I get a no, it only provides more encouragement to myself to go out and find the “Yes.” It’s almost a driver. I think that’s definitely helped me throughout my career because the “Nos” can be a “Yes.” You can get down and obviously, I do. There are definitely days where you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, what am I pushing uphill?” But then the days where it’s like, oh, you get a win here kind of makes up for the downs. But I’ve tried to look at “Nos” as an opportunity number one to learn why I didn’t get selected? Or why didn’t the deal go through because if you look at it as a learning opportunity, then it only helps you for the next sale.

Mecca Tartt

I love that it only helps you for the next sale. Speaking of the next sale and the next opportunity, you were a finalist for the Startup Runway showcase. I wanted to see if you could share with those founders that are listening what your experience was for the Startup Runway showcase? What were some of the biggest learning opportunities from that experience?

Julie Newman

The whole process was a learning experience. And I think that what I felt overall was just a safe environment to share, to share our company, I felt like there were a lot of opportunities for me to talk to people with no judgment and just a sense that they’re just trying to help you. And not that you had to have every single duck in a row was more like, okay, they were just willing to share their knowledge on what they felt we needed to know in order to be successful. I love those environments because it’s safe, I guess, is the best word that I kind of walked away with. I learned so much. The board room. A one-hour meeting with potential investors was super helpful for us to ask some of the questions that we wanted to ask and be told information that we didn’t even know we needed to know if that makes sense.

Mecca Tartt

No, absolutely. That definitely makes sense. And also for those that are listening in, Julie’s referring to the mock board meetings that each of our finalists had with investors, and they were able to get feedback and just learn. But as you mentioned, Julie, it’s actually an opportunity where the founders have the opportunity to just really be able to share their company, and then also be able to get advice, to be able to get direction, to get encouragement from investors on the direction of where they should go, and then also to get potential leads. I think cultivating that environment is so very important because I do believe a lot of times, there’s this thought process of building this person up by picking apart all the different things they could work on as opposed to encouraging a person and I do feel like it takes a lot to even come before someone to present your dream and your vision. And that ought to be a sacred and safe place. Thank you so much, Julie, for sharing this time with us. I wanted to pause for a second before we close out and find out if there are any lasting thoughts that come to mind that you want to share with our listeners. If there’s any piece of advice, maybe something that we didn’t cover that is really important to you that you would like to share. I know we talked about the importance of time as a mother to launch your business and having that support system because it gave you the flexibility. Essentially, having a one-year-old at home at the time gave you the ambition and drive to say, “You know what, I can do this. I’ve been doing this for another company, let me step out and do it on my own.” In that, she also believes that she can manage it all and that there are mistakes that will happen along the way but that’s a part of what I like to call the pruning process or the development process. You found a company that satisfies a need within a market that will help out so many artists. What is your lasting thought?

Julie Newman

I think the lasting thought that is, I feel like reaching out, the entrepreneur network, I think is such a supportive network. I’m reaching out to other people that are trying to start their own businesses, everybody loves to share what they’re doing or mistakes that they made. I find that the more I reached out to other entrepreneurs over the last 12 to 15 years, the better my journey was, for lack of a better way to say that. I think that some people may be afraid to reach out to other business owners, I think those are the people that are the most welcome to help other people get going and get started. And that was kind of a revelation to me, I don’t think I did that until like five or six years into my other business. But what has been critical to my success is just reaching out to other entrepreneurs and sharing stories.

Mecca Tartt

I love that because I do believe they have the importance of building out a tribe, wherever you are. I have heard a number of entrepreneurs say that you can get so laser-focused on growing your business that you forget the support that you need while you’re doing it along the way. And so having a tribe of entrepreneurs who are there right with you, that are in it, that can encourage you, and that has been absolutely key. Thank you so much, Julie, for your time. Thank you for sharing this space with us. I just wanted to congratulate you again on being a Startup Runway finalist. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Julie Newman

Thank you so much, Mecca. It was a pleasure.

Lisa

We’re thrilled to have you as an Atlanta Startup Podcast listener to help you get the most out of the experience. Let me invite you to three insider opportunities from our host Valor Ventures. First, want to be a guest on this amazing show. Reach out to our booking team at atlantastartuppodcast.com. Click on booking, It’s a no-brainer from there. Are you raising a seed round? Valor definitely wants to hear from you. Share your startup story at valor.vc/pitch. Are you a woman or minority-led startup valor sister program? The Startup Runway Foundation gives away grants to promising startups led by underrepresented founders. The mission of the Startup Runway Foundation is connecting underrepresented founders to their first investors. Startup runway finalists have raised over $40 million. See if you qualify for one of these amazing grants at startuprunway.org. You can also sign up for our next showcase for free there. Let me let you go today with a shout-out to Startup Runway presenting sponsor Cox Enterprises and to our founding partners, American Family Institute, Truist, Georgia Power, Avanta Ventures, and Innovators Legal. These great organizations make Startup Runway possible. Thanks for listening today and see you back next week.