What does it take to be the first? From the numerous interviews we’ve conducted with successful disrupters, there seems to be a formula of key attributes, personality traits, and, yes, failures that pave the way for female pioneers, or as we like to call them, Womaneers. By definition, she’s a woman who defies societal norms with heroism and tenacity to become a pioneering voice in her field. Each month, we will share a new womaneer’s story to uncover their vision, grit, persistence, grace, and drive to keep going despite the odds. The time of the womaneer is now.
Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi have reaped the benefits of a solid support system firsthand. When they met at work seven years ago, the pair's co-worker dynamic quickly evolved into a full-fledged friendship, and they've been able to lean on each other ever since. Recognizing the value this kind of support system had on their mental health, the duo set out to make self-help accessible to everyone.
"When we asked our friends where they went for the same support we were providing each other, we heard them loud and clear: Ambitious millennial women like us didn't have a go-to support for their well-being that wasn't preachy, pricey, or privileged," Lidey and Hirabayashi told MyDomaine. "We set out to scale the peer-based support we gave each other through a simple conversational solution." Enter: Shine, a free app focused on providing daily motivation via situational affirmations, meditations, and anecdotes from celebs and influencers.
In this edition of Womaneer, we talk to Shine's co-founders about the lightbulb moment that motivated them to found the wellness app, the biggest challenges they've faced along the way, and what's next for the popular platform.
Can you recall that lightbulb moment that motivated you to pursue founding Shine?
You know that feeling when you meet your people? You just click, and you find a safe space in each other to navigate the high and lows that come with a busy and ambitious life. That's what we found in each other when we met working together over seven years ago.
As the CMO and director of mobile product, respectively, at one of the largest NGOs in the country, we developed an expertise in messaging—leading the scale of the organization from zero to 5 million members. During that process, we leaned on each other every single day. Nothing was off the table. We talked through everything from improving our credit scores and being managers of large teams at young ages to navigating serious romantic relationships in a way that allowed us to grow independently of our partners.
We often heard from our friends, "You're so lucky to have each other." So we set out to scale the peer-based support we gave each other, through a simple conversational solution and launched our first product, Shine Text. Fast-forward two years we have over 2 million members in 189 countries who obsess over our product every day.
Did you face any immediate challenges?
The biggest thing we've learned is to know and own our power. We didn't come from traditional entrepreneurial backgrounds (read: Ivy League schools and MBA programs), so we weren't fully literate in all the jargon that comes with an industry that's unnecessarily complicated. As a result, early on, we had to learn the hard way the importance of trusting our gut.
We stayed with misaligned partners too long, and we had those moments when we personalized feedback from people who thought well-being was "too soft" (it's a $500 billion market). With time, we realized that what makes us unique as founders is that we're women of color who've hustled hard to be where we are, building for a community that's often overlooked. We know this market, this community, and this company better than anyone.
How did you turn this initial concept into a successful company?
Our success comes from our ability to create an intimate relationship with our community at scale. Every product and experience we've created has originated with the goal of feeling like a friend (instead of a brand) in your pocket—helping you check in with yourself on the single most important thing: how you feel. Plus we have a boss team of creatives who hustle hard to bring their ideas to life at the company each day and do it with a lot of heart.
Do you think it's harder or easier for female entrepreneurs to start out today? Why?
We've made progress, but we still have a long way to go, especially for women of color. We need more people who look like us on the other side of the table. Imagine all the ideas we're missing out on because people from more marginalized experiences—that are uniquely positioned to solve problems because of that experience—struggle to see themselves in existing founders.
How did you shake off the fear to pursue your innovation?
We asked ourselves, What's scarier: Taking the biggest leap we've ever taken to pursue Shine full time, or not taking the leap and always wondering what Shine would have become? We also thought of all the young women out there who often don't see themselves in the entrepreneurial narrative. We wanted to change that.
What is the one thing you think every woman needs to become a pioneer in her own field?
The person, friend, partner, or inner voice that pushes you forward when you experience the inevitable self-doubt at the beginning. When the biology of fight-or-flight kicks in with a risky situation and says, "Hey, you—flight would be a loooot easier." You need that one voice that pushes past that fear, as scary as it is in the moment, and says "fight." Just start somewhere and you'll be amazed at what can happen.
What's next for Shine?
Two million Shine members are just the beginning; we'll be a key staple in the routines of millennials everywhere, helping the most ambitious generation also be the most self-compassionate.