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Behind the scenes of building a social messaging platform
Mica Le John gives us a look into how her company 2Swim is building a new corner of the internet.
If you dream of starting a company and wonder what it’s like running the day-to-day of a business, you've come to the right place. In our series Startup Diaries, we ask new founders to take us to work for a day, and reflect on what they discovered during the process.
Today, we went to work with Mica Le John, the co-founder of 2Swim, a social messaging platform where you go to be your "real digital-self." The platform’s direct messaging, semi-public conversations, and private groups enable real communication and connection.
In today’s digital-first world, seemingly everything is happening online. But 2Swim believes that online connection can go deeper than what currently exists in our social media landscape. On 2Swim, each post acts as the start of an open group chat, enabling more meaningful engagement in a world where people are thirsty for community. From there, users can narrow conversations to groups and DMs, and set conversations to private at their own discretion. Think social meets chat.
2Swim is getting ready to launch as an invite-only platform this month (you can request an invite on their site). Though the initial launch is reserved for people of color, LGBTQ+, and women-centric communities, the app will eventually open up to more people.
Co-founder Mica Le John brought Supermaker to work with her to take a peek at what it looks like to launch a brand new social tech product enabling people and communities to show up as their authentic selves.
7:30am -- I wake up right when my alarm goes off and I’m out of bed immediately. I rinse off my overnight face mask and moisturize before making Chai with a splash of soy milk and a vegan smoothie bowl for myself and my husband and co-founder, Michael.
8am -- I sit down with my tea and bowl and skim through my morning news (Daily Carnage + Morning Brew). This is followed by a review of my “goals” list: I have a little notebook where I track short-term and long-term goals; I review it every morning.
8:30am -- My morning call was cancelled, so I end up having a conversation with Michael about our alpha launch which is happening tomorrow!
9:30am -- I prep for a different investor call happening at 10. This includes reviewing our materials and doing some additional research into the person I’m speaking to.
10am -- Great meeting. I take notes after each call so when it’s done I do a quick mental breakdown of how it went and things I need to remember for future conversations.
10:30am -- I have a call with one of our interns, Lucille. She has been helping me research angel syndicates that I want to apply for. This week she’s switching over to helping find community leaders that might be interested in connecting their members on 2Swim.
11am -- I debrief with Michael about the investor call and discuss some of the investors I’ll be meeting this week and next. A founder friend, Olamide Olowe, and I were invited to take part in a Black female founder workshop this week in San Francisco, and then she, her co-founder, and I are headed to NYC to meet with folks. I moved to LA from NYC in July so I’m excited to catch up with both friends and investors out there.
12:30pm -- Lunchtime! Today we’re having a little bit of mac ‘n cheese with a healthy dash of Sriracha, vegan sausage, and a side salad. Today’s high is 88°F so I’m drinking copious amounts of water right now.
1pm -- Olamide arrives to pick me up. Once a week a bunch of us get together at Reparations Club to work. The owner, Jazzi McGilbert, is a close friend and lets us all loiter and use her wifi for free. I work on a combination of things: follow ups with investors I plan to meet in NYC; calls with Community Partners; a call with one of my advisors, Samira Ibrahim, to discuss an upcoming 2Swim event.
3:45pm -- I have a 4 PM meeting with a friend-of-a-friend who I’ve been trying to find time with since July. Olamide drops me off en route to her house.
4pm -- The woman I’m meeting with is awesome. We have a deep conversation that covers so many topics: 2Swim and the future of communication, fundraising as a female founder, hypnosis, Toronto (where I’m from), personal development and more. We make plans to do dinner when I’m back from the trip.
5pm -- I walk home from the café and double-duty by taking a call with a serial entrepreneur who appeared suddenly in my life this past week and has been incredibly helpful. He and I discuss storytelling and his work with youth (I spent the last 2.5 years directing the education department of a NY youth arts non-profit).
5:30pm -- I have a call with our intern, Sinaia. I hired her as my Education intern at the non-profit in 2018 and she is now stuck with me forever! She and I discuss the onboarding plan for the community partners we are welcoming onto the platform next week, outreach for the new folks joining us, and the fact that her teachers give her an insane amount of homework.
6pm -- I chat with my dad for a bit before Michael and I go for dinner. Conversation is a little bit of everything; we’re more work-life integration than full shut off on one or the other.
7:30pm -- I head to the gym after dinner. My schedule is so packed these days that it’s really hard for me to go for a full weights workout; I go and use the rowing machine for half an hour because it’s resistance and cardio. I find it super meditative.
8:15pm -- Back from the gym. I shower and realize I need to shave my head before I leave on Thursday. You can always tell when my to-do list is long based on the length of my hair.
8:30pm -- I got a bunch of emails over the last few hours while we were out so I reply to those while listening to my “Chillout” playlist. It’s a mix of jazz, classical, R&B and soul.
9:30pm -- I’m working on an article for the “Thoughts” page of our website about the future of social, so I spend a bit of time mapping out what I’m going to write.
10:30pm -- I have to shut down for the day otherwise I keep going until bed (which is not good because I then stay up thinking about work). This means: computer closed, lights dimmed, candles lit. I’ve been reading a lot of books about happiness lately (we’re focused on developing additional ways to facilitate joy in 2Swim) and one activity I’ve really gotten into is a gratitude-ish journal. I try to list as many happy-making, positive things that happened that day and why they were so wonderful.
11pm -- We run a pretty tight ship in terms of nighttime timing. Every night, at 11 o’clock Michael turns off all of the lights while I brush my teeth, wash my face, and moisturize.
11:10pm -- I pull out my meditation cushion and park myself on the living room floor. Michael sits on the couch and we meditate together for 20 minutes.
What was it like keeping track of your day?
It was very odd because I’m very schedule-oriented. I plan out my whole day long in advance and try to live my day by the minute of my schedule, so it was funny to have to reflect on the things I was doing. I also try to journal at least once a day, but it’s often more how I feel about the day than the minutiae. But I do feel I got a lot done.
How did this day compare to a normal or ideal day?
An ideal day would probably have me doing fewer meetings, but I’m at a point right now with where we are [at] with the company that I don’t have that option. I have to take meetings, but I would love to have more time to not be running around and meeting folks and just sit and do work.
How do you normally stay organized and on task?
I actually just switched to a digital calendar. I used a Moleskine agenda for the last seven years, but the one I like the most was out of print when I last wanted to buy one. I also have a running to-do list that’s organized by month. I have one that’s by day of the week and then I have task lists so as things come up I add things to that list. It’s in a Google doc so it will say, like: Monday I’m working on fundraising, Tuesday I’m working on calls with partners. Within each day I also break it down usually by hour or at least by morning, afternoon, [and] late afternoon to keep myself on track so I can make sure I’m getting things done by the time I need to.
Is there anything you’d like to change or do differently?
I quit my full-time job in the summer and have been full-time at 2Swim since July so I’ve been experimenting with what I need to be doing and in what order. What you see here is probably the most perfected version of it so far. I think if I could have my way I would also do yoga or movement in the day. I think having more time for self-care would be really useful.
How does your life as a founder compare to what you thought it was going to be?
For me, it’s been really interesting because although I wasn’t working on this every moment, I’ve been working two jobs over the last year. The rewards of being full-time — actually being able to focus — have been incredible. Being able to meet cool people because I’m not hustling to get to my day job; being able to build better partnerships, to actually spend time with folks and learn what they need and then figure out what makes sense for us in supporting them has been amazing.
The most difficult part is the fact that I do so many things and have to get all of the things done in a timely manner, simultaneously. Right now I’m fundraising, but I’m also onboarding partners for a beta, and trying to get more partners for the next cohort of onboarding. There is this intersection of tasks that need to happen simultaneously in order for things to actually shift forwards, so that’s probably the part that’s different than my day job. It’s a new experience for me having to align timing on multiple tasks in very different areas. Many different skills are being activated.
What are your current business goals?
We just launched alpha last week, so our main focus is onboarding our community partners, bringing on more community partners, fundraising, and—very soon—hiring. And continuing to build a better product.
Raising capital is a pretty big next step, how are you feeling about it?
I’m feeling much better about it than I did right at the start. I’ve realized that I need to approach it more as a conversation than a pitch. I grew up in homeless and family shelters as a child, but was a child actor and had two lives. If I don't have a chance to talk to an investor about that, tell them the story, or they’re not interested in it, then they’re probably not the investor for me because we’re such a mission driven company. I’m really starting to approach fundraising as less of a hustle and more of an organic flow.
What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited to onboard the partners we have and bring on more partners. 2Swim is launching as invite only and though we’re eventually going to open it up to folks, we’re launching with only people of color, LGBTQ+, and women-centric communities. Being able to create a platform and really focus on creating a better space for those folks makes me so happy. I’m really excited to get it in the hands of our users and hear their feedback and make it better for them.
How do you currently define the success of 2Swim?
Success for us is happy community. People coming on the platform, loving it, and wanting to bring their friends on it.
Do you have any words of advice for new founders?
There are three things that have really helped me: Approach the startup world with a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity—which is very hard to do. Try to positively approach opportunities and remain optimistic.
As someone who didn’t come from a traditional tech background, doing research to make sure I understood the language people use in the space really helped. And going to a ton of events. But there are a lot of scammy things out there in the startup space—I want people to be true to themselves and not feel like they have to shell out a lot of money to start building what they want to build.
The third thing is: think about generosity and accountability tied together. I think this applies to work but also relationships. Really valuing the time that others give to you and pay it forward. There’s been so many people who have helped me through this past year. I’m not only eternally grateful but I have a list and every time something positive happens I send them a little email or a card. Or when I close this round, I’m sending flowers to people who made introductions. It’s about remembering who helped, but also being willing to help other people—even if they aren’t going to remember you.