Growing up can be tough and Naomi Hirabayashi (32) and Marah Lidey (26) know this. They dealt with the pressures of the workplace while balancing their own personal lives as women at a growing internet company. Based on their own experiences, the two co-founders created Shine, a SMS text messaging service that delivers daily affirmations straight to your phone. Marah, a University of Georgia graduate, and Naomi, a Virginia native, met while working at DoSomthing.org before quitting their jobs to work on Shine full-time. It was through their daily conversations on “adulting” that they realized how the power of positivity can transform lives.
Since their launch in October 2015, Shine has exchanged more than 2.8 million messages and continues to grow its tribe of motivated members. In this interview with BAUCE, Naomi discusses how she and her main co-founder came up with the idea for their product and what young women can do to get their ideas off the ground.
What led you and your co-founder to start Shine? Where did the idea come from?
Naomi: How we came up with the idea is really twofold. Really it emerged from the friendship that Marah and I were able to form over the four years that we worked together at DoSomething.org. We had someone in each other that we could process tough meetings with and celebrate wins with. We would always talk about the real stuff…feeling imposter syndrome or feeling insecure about a presentation and we knew from talking with our friends and coworkers that people are really hungry for those real conversations. There is power in having someone who you work with that also understands what happens in your personal life; it’s hard to give someone tactical feedback and get a sense of what they need without having a full scope of everything going on for them. Shine’s content and tone was inspired from those real conversations and my genuine connection with Marah.
The other source of inspiration for Shine comes from the platform we are using in tech and the power of messaging. When we joined DoSomething.org over four years ago, [Marah and I] were instrumental in scaling the user base. We helped the organization go from zero to more than 5 million members in four years and 3 million of those [members] were on SMS (text messaging). Marah led strategy on how to create meaningful engagement with young people around volunteering. So, our expertise in that area is what gave us the idea for Shine being a messaging product.
You and your co-founder decided to build a SMS text messaging service instead of creating an app. Why take that route given that app development seems to be the “hot thing” these days?
Naomi: We are building on the experience that we learned about the power of text messaging at our last jobs. People often have so many unread emails, but few to no unread text messages. That’s because you are always texting the people you truly care about (your friends, your family, your significant other) and your constantly in that communication hub. It’s a pure space. Which, on the flip side means if we don’t deliver our product right, we’re going to turn off the user much more quickly. There’s less patience for unsolicited messages via text message versus other mediums which is why the content is so strong on Shine.
As it relates to native apps, there’s definitely current research that shows that engagement starts to decline on apps after 30 days. We really wanted to use the most powerful medium we could which is text messaging. It has a 98% open rate. We want to deliver content in a way that we know our consumers want it. We conducted weekly surveys for months and text messaging was actually proven to be the most favorable method of communication.
Social media has grown exponentially over the years but also gets a lot of slack for the negative effects it can have on young people, particularly as it relates to FOMO or self-worth. How is Shine attempting to reverse this conversation?Naomi: Yeah, it’s definitely something we think about. There’s that famous quote that says “insecurity comes from judging your ‘behind-the-scenes’ to everyone else’s highlight reel”. It’s really important to understand the power and impact of social media and technology – there are so many visual stimulations around different things people are doing, different vacations people are taking and different jobs that people are getting. It’s easy to quickly see that and say to yourself “Oh, I want that” or “Why am I not good enough to get that?” But we try to reverse that ideology and help our users feel like they can reach their work and life goals with daily affirmations and tactical tips.
Marah and I are passionate around the power of technology to do good. This is an exciting time where people are coming up with solutions to real world problems. We realize we can’t just shy away from it and say, “Oh, the more time you spend on Facebook, the more depressed you’ll be.” We recognize it’s actually about leaning into it and being the positive light in those spaces. Social networks are where we are living — it’s where we are spending the most of our time so if we can integrate Shine into those platforms in a powerful way that’s actually really meaningful and how we can begin to balance out the mental negativity that occurs on those platforms. That’s why we decided to recently launch Shine on Facebook Messenger a few weeks ago.
How did you come up with the name for your service?
Naomi: That’s twofold as well. One, it’s a product that starts your morning off. Sometimes you get out of bed and you already feel behind. You’re stressed out and in the shower you’re being hard on yourself about all the real “adulting” stuff. We wanted people to get that reminder at 8:30 AM that reminds them that they are human but still helps them be their best selves.
Secondly, it came from the “shine theory” which is based on this concept of helping other women because there’s more competition for us in the workplace. The shine theory means “I shine if you shine. I’m going to lift you so you’ll lift me up.” At Shine, we are part of a sisterhood that celebrates the success of women and doesn’t try to knock down other people so that you feel better about yourself. That concept is something that’s also very much like a belief system of ours. It’s happy, it feels good, it’s positive. It’s a reminder of why you deserve to have the best day and the best advice.
What is your biggest challenge as entrepreneurs, particularly as women of color?
Naomi: The thing we are always trying to balance or be hyperaware of is the unconscious bias around what comes to mind when people typically think of a tech CEO or co-founder. For most people, that image particularly looks like Mark Zuckerberg, but that image needs to be expanded. What Marah and I are really passionate about is understanding how more young women, particularly women of color, can see themselves in us. It means extending kindness to young entrepreneurs or promoting the idea of collaboration with other female co-founders versus going it alone.
We represent our company in a way that we are taken seriously by the tech community, even though we are both kind, energetic and positive women. Sometimes people feel like you can’t have both. Diversity in tech is an ongoing, interesting conversation and a thing to watch — we think it’s a serious issue that there are young women out there that want to start their own company but don’t see a lot of people that look like her making it big.
What would be your advice to young women who are interested in doing what you and Marah are doing? What would you tell someone that wants to be a tech entrepreneur?
Naomi: My advice would be to start somewhere. I was always envious of people with side hustles. They would have a full-time job and then they would go do “this thing” after work and I always wanted to be that person. But I often got stuck and got in my own head with thoughts like “someone else is doing this idea already” or “I don’t know how to do this” or “I’m too busy”. It’s really easy to find reasons or excuses to not do something. But that’s why Marah has been so powerful for me because she gets shit done and she’s a planner and she makes things happen.
That’s another thing that I would wrap into the concept of “starting” – it would be to find someone to collaborate with because it makes getting started a whole lot easier. Find someone who you have good energy around and you can hold yourselves accountable with. Make the conscious decision to actually try your idea out and see what happens. There were so many years where I was trying to figure out “what could be my thing on the side?” and I waited because I was scared.
If you have an idea and think you were meant to do something bigger or if you feel like the thing you talk about at happy hours or after school with your friends is the most exciting and stimulating thing, then be into that and make time for it. There’s never going to be a “perfect time” to launch but the point is just showing yourself and seeing that you can try. It’s amazing how momentum and things will fall into place when you just start doing.