Jillian Guerra and Matt Smith are Co-founders of Speak2 Family. Speak2 Family is focused on engagement and driving connections within the senior living industry. We build and layer features that focus on providing value to all those involved: seniors, families, caregivers, and more.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
Matt, the classic Gen-Xer, grew up in blue-collar Hicksville, NY, and Jillian, the classic Millennial, grew up in rural Chester, NY, both suburbs of New York City. Both lived in a close-family environment and had grandparents in the home with them, which impacted how they viewed family, aging, and the importance of being kind. With fathers who took the train every day to the financial district and Moms who stayed home to raise them, Matt & Jillian both witnessed the value of hard work, humility, and sacrifice. Both aspired to do great things and make a difference, and neither took a traditional path to become an entrepreneur. Matt spent time as a musician, and Jillian was a psychology student. Neither went to “target schools” or gained the business MBAs sought after by VCs and the entrepreneur “in-crowd.” But the sometimes antiseptic and anonymous nature of a big city suburb meant that thoughtful and ambitious kids can observe, learn and fight in ways that cannot be taught in school. Tenacity, grit, and passion were brewed in childhood and are reflected as this unlikely duo’s ingredients to success.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Jillian joined a company out of university that had an office in a startup incubator and was immediately struck with the need to be a founder. She liked being around founders and the energy it brought. That is where she met Matt, a serial entrepreneur, who had an idea that hadn’t found its way or its market. They immediately hit it off and decided that their ideas matched, they finished each other’s thoughts and made each other better. On the surface, it looked like the Gen X experience and the Millennial energy were a great match, but the secret ingredient was actually that neither placed any generational label or expectation. Matt was able to be as enthusiastic as he wanted to be, and Jillian was able to play the leadership role others may not have seen. Together, they allowed themselves to have the ambition to build something new and great! So, in the midst of a pandemic, they formed Speak2 Family. Using their own money and making some very big personal sacrifices, they took an idea and turned it into a company.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
Avoid taking people’s money, and have no fear. With outside money comes outside interference and the influence of people who don’t know your business but think they should have a voice because you are using their money. It’s a fair assumption, but they don’t have the vision or passion that you do most of the time. Even with the best intentions, Angel investors and VCs don’t live and breathe your business as you do – and to please them, you need to listen and sometimes take their advice and guidance. Unless the money comes with great experience and a fantastic network, don’t take it! Eat ramen and live in your parent’s garage. Fear creates walls, and walls not only keep people out, but they keep you in. To be a successful founder, you need to put yourself out there without fear, and you need to let people see you without fear. You can’t be afraid of failure or people telling you you are wrong or crazy or that you will fail. When you lose your fear, you lose your walls, and the only armor you need is your confidence. Stay confident, operate without fear, and you can handle anything that comes at you