Why this Corporate America retiree walked away from a 6-figure job to start a lifestyle and food empire
You know the saying that social media is a highlight reel? If you’re following Meiko Drew, creator of MeikoAndTheDish, on any of her social media channels (Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat) then you know she doesn’t subscribe to that fakeness. Good day, bad day, wins and losses, Meiko chronicles the real picture of entrepreneurship after quitting your job. I’ve been on team Meiko since I was a prospective student at Michigan Ross and she was the Consortium Liaison. Now, as a corporate America retiree venturing out on her own, I’m in full stan mode as I cheer for her to build her Meiko and the Dish empire. Find out how she’s navigating the ups and downs of self-employment and not only surviving, but thriving.
Before you were a corporate America retiree, what did you do in your former life?
Ha! Love my new title. Before I was a corporate American retiree, I worked in retail as a buyer in beauty. I spent time developing strategy categories like haircare, skincare and personal care at Target. In the culmination of my work I served as the buyer for soap and deodorant, two of beauty’s highest household penetration categories. I was responsible for setting the full chain strategy for the 1800+ stores and managing over $775M in annual sales.
When did you truly feel like “I can do this?”
There was never a time that I can pinpoint knowing when I was truly ready. I did an evaluation of myself before making my final decision to take the leap. You have to know who you are and what you are capable of in order to make this type of transition successfully. I knew that I was in my thirties, no kids, no husband and that ever since I was a little girl I always knew that I want to be an entrepreneur. I knew I had a skill set that spanned across marketing, management and design and that I had a network of incredibly intelligent friends that I could leverage. With all those factors, I made my decision, knowing in my heart that there would never be a perfect time or scenario to take the leap. What I did know, is that life would get more complicated with the addition of a family and that if wanted to pursue this path, it had to be now.
How long did you side hustle before you made the leap?
Back in 2010 I started my former site “Cookin’ With Meiko,” published my first cook book and did television appearances teaching my recipes. I went to business school in 2011, so activity with that site started to slow down. But it feels like I have always been in the kitchen and most of my friends know me as the cook and entertainer. When I left my job I wasn’t actively working on Cookin’ With Meiko. I wanted something new and fresh and that represented the woman I am today. So I started over and birthed MeikoAndTheDish. It literally started when I left my job at Target.
What are some things you wish you knew before becoming a full-time entrepreneur?
This is specific to being and entrepreneur in the digital space but I wish I knew more coding going into developing a blog. I say this because I have a specific point of view when it comes to web site design and functionality, not to mention, I am not a big fan of cookie cutter templates. Some of my early hurdles with the site have been around my desire for customization. If I had been able code, I could have eliminated some of those hurdles. On the financial side of things there is so much I wish I had known. I would have liked to better understand how expensive everything would be. As a food blogger you are a self-proclaimed recipe developer, photographer, graphic designer, and videographer and you need all the equipment that goes with each role. I also wish I had known how long it would truly take to turn an income. Building a loyal audience takes time and (I believe) it is necessary to have a core and loyal audience before you start selling products. In this business, you have to be willing to freely invest the time to gain the trust and admiration of your followers before you earn a profit.
What have been some of the toughest challenges and biggest mistakes since going out on your own?
A blog business is the true representation of the term “solopreneur.” It has been a real transition working on my own. I love interacting with people and working on teams and I just don’t get much of that anymore. My biggest mistake stems back to my preferences for custom design. I invested in getting a custom site developed for my blog versus using a WordPress template. The content management system I used and the developer was relatively new which allowed me to cut some costs. The issue with going this route was that the functionality of the site had major kinks that still needed to be worked out. Those kinks often delayed my work and efficiency. With the site everything has been so manual that it just takes incredibly long to do anything. I have since started developing a new site using WordPress to rectify the problem and it will launch later this month.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
As an educated, millennial, African-American woman, I have a unique point of view about the world that I live in, about the food that I eat, about the activities that I spend my time on. Much of this is rooted in how I was raised, my aspirations, even my family’s humble beginnings. My voice is representative of so many others who strive and excel in order to break generational curses. Who long to create amazing experiences but who struggle with balance. Who are eager to try new things but don’t always have the time. I call these people “greedy” because they want more than what reality sometimes dictates. These are people who are greedy for more out of life, whether it be food, career, travel or relationships. These people are my tribe and I am beyond proud of the community that we are building through my little food blog. I get no greater satisfaction than when I get a message that someone loves what I am doing or that my voice represents how they feel and who they are.
What advice do you have for fellow black women side hustlers who dream of working for themselves but don’t know where to start?
- Research, research, research. Make sure that what you want to do is viable. Take the time to analyze what is out there and to understand what you can uniquely bring to the mix.
- Create a support system for encouragement and ideation. I have about four different friend groups that I share ideas with. I use each one of them for different aspects of my business. But most importantly, I leverage them for encouragement because this path can be difficult and lonely and sometimes you just need a cheerleader who believes in you in your corner.
- Network with others in the same space. Others have been where you are, so why not learn what they did so that you can avoid their mistakes? I make a habit of commenting, emailing, and encouraging other bloggers. Out of that communication I have had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations. I have been surprised at how open some bloggers are with sharing their experiences and tips. Some of those conversations have also led to future partnerships.
- Set a deadline. It is easy to let the idea swirl forever. Set a deadline and communicate to your accountability partners so that it actually happens.
What are you currently working on?
Geez, I am working on so many things right now. One of the things that I am most excited about is the launch of my new comfort food t-shirt line “Dish Rags”. It’s a line of male and female casual-fit, collegiate tees with a range of all of your favorite comfort foods. I’m not one to brag but they are super dope! They launched on my new site on May 24th.