Join me for another Honest Conversation with Erica McMannes.
Ever thought about starting your own business?
Chances are if you’re a Military Spouse and you’ve thought about it, you may feel it needs to be a nonprofit to make the positive social impact you desire. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to start a nonprofit there is also nothing wrong with choosing to start up a for-profit business.
Erica McMannes co-founded Instant Teams, a for-profit business, and she’s my guest this week as we dive into this honest conversation about making a huge impact and making money.
P.S. It’s not wrong or immoral if you have a desire to do both.
Here’s the full Facebook Live, or you can read the full transcript below. You can also see the rest of the episodes here.
Full Transcript: Choosing For-Profit vs Non-Profit with Erica McMannes
Pam Chavez: All right. Hello. Hi and welcome to Honest Conversations. Today I have Erica McMannes and we are going to be discussing choosing to start up a for-profit business as opposed to a nonprofit business. Real quick, I want to let you know that I have a free live training happening tomorrow. I have sorted out all of the tech issues that took me down yesterday, and so you can go to the link in the description or on your screen right now and I’m going to be talking about my five success habits for a happy military spouse: how to prosper beyond the boundaries of this crazy unpredictable, very demanding military life. And now I am going to introduce Erica McMannes. She is my friend. And we met when we were stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama. It was very much at the infancy of her business. Our boys, our younger boys, were in the same class. And so I believe it was a play date that really kind of brought us together and we ended up chatting and hit it off. And then, yeah, that’s when I first started learning about her business. And I know from my own personal experience working with clients and military spouses that there is definitely a tendency to lean towards beginning a nonprofit, because of a lot of external and internal feelings that they have; a struggle with thinking that to make the social impact, to have that positive effect on people and the world, that a nonprofit is the way to go. And so, we’re going to push back on that a bit today and we are going to talk about choosing to go the for-profit route and how you can have a great impact on that and make money with it too – and it’s not a bad thing. So, hello, Erica. Thanks for being here.
Erica McMannes: You know what, I sometimes forget how I first met people. I just have like these living, breathing relationships and I’m like, wait, when did I meet? You could step back there for me.
Pam: Yeah, I remember sitting on your front porch and it was like the first time we’d really had a conversation and the boys were playing and it’s like, okay. And then it was all very natural. So it works out.
Erica: Always boys. Yes. Always boys running around.
Pam: Oh yes. I remember your cool Lego table that you had. Yeah. That was so cool. So, okay, so when it… you were very much in the infancy business was still called Mad Skills, which is now Instant Teams. But what made you decide and you and your partner to go the for-profit route? Was that a big discussion that you had? Did you waiver? Did you even think about going nonprofit? How did that play out for you guys?
Erica: From day one we knew we were going to be a for-profit model. And kind of my background, I guess that brought me to that point is, you know, I’ve been a military spouse for 17 years, active duty, my husband’s active duty army and I really lived and breathed the first probably good 10 to 11 years in a fully volunteer-type role as a spouse. I volunteered in all the boards for all the units and funny enough like the skills that I utilize now as a COO or a business owner, those are the things I was able to trial through as a volunteer. It gave me these amazing opportunities to like, well, let’s see what I can do here. Nope. Financial Management. And it’s not me. I don’t need to be, you know, I learned so much through volunteering and through being a part of the nonprofit space.
And then I ended up through trial and error, 10 moves at that point, jobs in and out of MWR and I think as spouses, we take opportunities when they’re given to us, even if it’s not like where we think we want to go. It’s not in our education or our background. So that point in this time when I was like, oh, I’ll just try it. It opened up this whole world of the startup phase to me. And I was completely fascinated because I was working with veterans startups who were building for-profit. They had business models, whether it was service or product related, but the very same time they had this social impact to a community that they really cared about. And I just found that really unique. And at my point either I saw those as very separate, whether you’re building a business and you’re selling a product and that’s all you’re focused on, or you’re in the nonprofit space and you’re just helping people. And I think that’s a mindset that sometimes we don’t realize in the spouse community can come together beautifully. There’s nothing wrong with building a business. There’s nothing wrong with needing an income or a second income or financial planning for the future. Those are all things that we need as families to thrive and survive, you know, for current and generations down the road.
So when I saw the gap that I had seen and what I ended up doing during that time was consulting for these startups and building these little tiny pods of spouses because I was the consultant, but I was being asked to do things like graphic design, like I’m not a graphic designer. So I was finding just these people in my kind of close network who had these skills and putting together little packages and taking them back to my, you know, clients and saying, hey, this is what we can do. So I kind of replicated that enough. One client said to me like, holy cow, I didn’t know like this many spouses were this talented or had these skillsets. He’s like, people should know about this. And that was kind of my aha moment for like, you’re right, there’s a model here that could be scaled, like at a very large level, serving companies across the nation, while also pulling in the spouses who have these skill sets, who want that flexibility of remote work.
So having that experience of knowing how spouses have all those skills, their struggles, and then seeing how you could kind of build that in to give people financial stability. Let’s try this. Like I really think this is a way… there are amazing nonprofits that support the military spouse community. And that’s the only way I believe we’ve gotten to where we are. Like, we have a privilege of being a part of all of that nonprofit support to bring a lot of us now to where we’re like, hey, now we see the gaps where, you know, sometimes nonprofits aren’t able to do certain things just because of how they’re structured. So where can we support and where can we partner? And it doesn’t have to be a, you’re a for-profit, you can’t talk to nonprofits. Like those are very symbiotic. And it’s been really cool to see how that works as we’ve continued to build it up.
Pam: Right, right. And I also think that, you know, when you said that… well, and there’s also this misconception, I’m sort of jumping around in my brain right now, money that military mates, right? It’s not a ton, you know, we do have lots of benefits and that’s great. But I think even choosing to go the for-profit route doesn’t have to necessarily be because you need the money. You know, I think it’s okay, and I think women struggle with this so much more than men, to – you know, it’s not wanting money in like a greedy, dirty salesman kind of way. It’s a no, it’s okay if I want to be able to, you know, afford a few things that are going to enhance our life or going to add, you know, an extra family vacation during the year and things like that. So, I just, I feel like so many times as women, we have this tough time saying like, no, I would… it would be nice to make an impact and to make some money with that too. You know? Because I completely agree that nonprofits are amazing. Absolutely serve a wonderful purpose. You know, I have worked with many too and I’m very grateful for them and love them. But yeah, that’s just not the route that I chose to go either. And there’s really not any, you know, shame or negative with going either route. They’re just slightly different.
Erica: Yeah, yeah. When I saw even, you know, beyond wanting to be able to afford an extra family education or have savings, you know, there’s all these kind of scary statistics about military have enough money to live mostly day to day, but like you don’t have backup plans. We don’t have these huge financial nest eggs for when things happen. So I thought that working with veterans in transition for several years wasn’t only the veteran in crisis, it was now also this spouse in crisis because they hadn’t worked in 20 some years and had nothing to stand on to go back. So all of a sudden you don’t have one person in a family unit in crisis and unemployed. You have two. So that’s for me, personally, I’m like, oh my gosh. Like, I need to start doing something now so that when my husband decides to retire or, God forbid, something happens and he has to get out before we plan, like have to have something to stand on. So for me, it was bigger than like, yes, I’d love to have extra money not to like be like, yeah, should I really buy this, do I really need this? Or like, you know, that family vacation, it was really kind of long-term value of how can we start setting up spouses now with something in their lifecycle as a spouse, that will allow a smoother, longer transition because you have two people who are bringing in, you know, income.
Pam: Right, and also the purpose that it gives you as an individual, I think, because in this military spouse lifestyle we get so sort of lost and consumed in all of the demands that fall on our shoulders. Because, you know, my husband’s away right now, so there is – I’m happy to take it on. You know, I can do it, but I also love that I have my work, that that is also sort of my escape from all of this other stuff.
Erica: I think that identity factor is huge and I feel like people have only started to talk about that in like the past two to three years, like empowering each other to say, you know, because when somebody first positioned it to me, I was like, oh wow. Like if your husband gets out tomorrow, your spouse or your wife is done, you’re no longer a spouse. Right? So you can not build your whole life on this identity of only being a military spouse. Because that’s, as hard as it sounds to hear, that may mean nothing, someday. So what can we build along that journey that is you and something that belongs wholeheartedly, uniquely to you that can carry you through those transitions and beyond? And I think, you know, the demands can cap out all of that opportunity of who we are and who we want to be as individuals and contribute to the world and our families and our communities. So it’s an awesome way to discover that being part of the military community and encouraging each other along the way to do that. I think it’s important.
Pam: Yeah, I think I’ve seen it happen with mothers too – every moment of their day is consumed in, you know, being a mother and there are certainly seasons of motherhood that are so much more demanding than other seasons. And then throw in the military spouse aspect too and that’s another layer. But when your whole, everything is wrapped up in being the mom and then they graduate or go off and you’re an empty nester and sort of the ones that are like, totally lost. I have no idea what to do now. Everything was consumed in raising these children and it’s almost like they still want to raise the adults, you know, like they can’t let go of that. So what are some of the negative feedback or whatever that you’ve gotten for choosing this route?
Erica: I think a lot of it is just founded in mindsets of how we, you know, perceive business or perceive money or perceive, you know, people with, you know, maybe goals or ambitions that you don’t really understand. But I think one of them is because the military community is vulnerable to scams and to business are always a little leery when we hear a new idea like, oh, who’s the person? What are they doing? Like, what are they trying to pull over on us? So, I’ve seen that and been a part of that side of new businesses and new ideas. So that didn’t alarm me. I kind of knew we were going to have to do our legwork. Nobody was going to trust us, nobody was going to believe what we were doing, and we are going to have to prove our concept. But I think if you, whether that’s a nonprofit or a for-profit, that’s kind of the mindset when you come out with, I’m going to do something as a military spouse, be expected to kind of be hit hard. Like, nobody’s going to welcome you with open arms, the moment you have that involvement. Your tribe will, so you’ll have people to help you through that. But it’s just kind of how it goes, right? You’ve got to prove your concept to the community. We’ve been bashed and hurt too much as a collective community with scams and things that don’t come from an honest place that that’s kind of our defense mechanisms. So I mean, we were hit with that like, oh, what do they think they’re doing? Oh, great.
The funniest part was everybody assumed we were a nonprofit. So the biggest stereotypes, right, is your spouse and you are launching something, it must be a nonprofit. So then I think when we came out that it was for-profit, people were like, okay, now I don’t understand. Like I wasn’t happy you were trying to [inaudible] a nonprofit, but now you’re making money? Like I don’t, I don’t really understand.
Pam: Right, which definitely probably through some doubts out the way too, like, wait a minute, you’re making money and you’re helping people? I don’t, I don’t get that.
Erica: Right. Which is so crazy. I mean, there are so many amazing, like, socially-founded companies like Toms, I mean like, there’s innovation happening and ways to create a product that is bringing incredible impact to the community. So, you know, I don’t think we knew when we first launched it that our idea was going to grow into what it has in the current place and, and where we’re headed. But what we’ve done and what I think is unique is that we’ve positioned what we do as a business case to companies. They understand the solution we’re offering and we’re able to fill that solution with the military spouse professionals who need those career opportunities. You know, I think this year… so last year we closed out at about right under 15,000 hours of remote work paid back to our military spouse remote teams.
Pam: That’s incredible.
Erica: And I think as of the end of April, we’ve already hit like 11,000 this year only. So I mean, that is just money going paychecks weekly, directly into the military, you know, family.
Pam: Yeah, that’s changing their lives on so many levels.
Erica: Yeah. I think another one of the just kind of negative connotations or stereotypes is, you know, like I guess people questioning your motivation, assuming that you’re a nonprofit out of the gate. You know, questioning, you know, well, how are you making money? What are you doing with the money, and all of those types of things? But the most interesting one is just people always assuming it’s nonprofit. And I think we, especially with the big brand, we’ve positioned ourselves well where people can see the business model kind of happening. But our first year was, “no, we’re a for-profit. No, we’re a for-profit.” You know, I’m proud of the fact that two and a half years later, like I’ve been able to build a paycheck for myself. I have been able to build a check for now almost 50 different military spouses who are working on a remote team. The impact that we’re having while we’re also solving something for customers who are all amazing people in their own business, it’s really incredible. And I think the more we have the foundation of support to get spouses career-ready, resume ready, that’s what the nonprofits who have worked for 10, 12, 15 years to do really, really well. And so we see, okay, how can we help that lifecycle because that’s where that gap was with that lifecycle of all this preparation, all this education, now where do we go?
Pam: Right, now how do we find the work?
Erica: Yeah. So we focus very closely there and we don’t do resume prep. We don’t do your career readiness. And people were like, why? I was like, we have very strategic partnerships with organizations who do that well, that’s what they focus on. We have no desire to do that for the community. We want people who know how to do that and who are dedicated to doing that and are the experts of that. We’re the experts at building remote teams and that’s what we focus on.
Pam: Yeah, no, that’s fabulous. And as somebody, you know, building my business too, you can’t do all the things or you won’t do any of them well, you know. So and then that’s where those, you know, those relationships with others and referrals in the networking and all of that, come into play so well, because then you all are sort of shuffling. Oh no, I can’t do that, but this person can and let me direct you that way. Yeah, no, that’s great. And yeah, you guys really are having such a huge impact, like I said, you’re helping the corporations, the companies, entrepreneurs and then all the military spouses that you’re getting the remote work, for too. Yeah. No, that’s, that’s incredible. You’ve grown quite the team and impact. That is that is great. And I know another subject that you believe in too, is that how at the end of the day, they’re really not that different, the nonprofit and the for-profit. So talk to me about that a little bit.
Erica: Yeah. I mean, from a structural standpoint a nonprofit is a business and if you’re not running a nonprofit like a business, you’re not going to have a nonprofit. And I think anybody running a successful nonprofit out there will tell you that like you have to have a team, you have to have processing, you have to have workflow, you have to have communication, right? You have to have all of the things from a structural standpoint. Nonprofits are businesses just as for-profits are businesses. And I think that something that people who just launch into like, you have this deep passion and you have this amazing idea to help people, people just launch into the nonprofit because they just, they, that’s the automatic assumption of where you need to go, not realizing how much business-minded development you’re going to have to do to make a nonprofit work.
And you know, we work very closely with several nonprofits. I consider kind of some of them, my mentors and peers, they’re nonprofit leaders. We have those conversations and at the end of the day, we’re all talking about the exact same struggles and the same growth and things. It’s just how the money comes in and how the money is managed and how the money goes out or just different between a for-profit and nonprofit. And my kind of favorite, I don’t know, I wouldn’t call it a comeback because it’s not like an aggressive thing, is I like to ask people like how do you think a nonprofit is funded? It’s by successful for-profit companies, right? So, why would you ever question the growth or the ambition of somebody building a for-profit? Because eventually, we’re going to be able to contribute back to the nonprofits and help that lifecycle even more.
So, for me, I mean I’m super proud of our team and what we’ve created and that we’re creating business or creating money right in the military families. And then hopefully we are going to be large enough someday where then we can also contribute right back into nonprofits that are supporting in that lifecycle. So it’s a really cool opportunity, I think – sometimes we just have to step back and see the larger picture of how all of these organizations and all these people actually work together and not be so laser-focused on what you think you see happening or what you think, you know. So yeah, I mean there really is, at the end of the day, there’s really not that much difference. Legal compliance, yes. For-profits and nonprofits are very different, how all of that is tracked. But from a processing and kind of structural standpoint, they’re really, really very similar.
Pam: Right? Yeah, absolutely. No. And they can sort of pass the ball back and forth together too.
Erica: Right. That’s how it works, a very symbiotic relationship.
Pam: Exactly. Exactly. So what sort of unique challenges have you experienced as a for-profit?
Erica: Building a for-profit as a military spouse is difficult depending on the skill you want to go, right? If you have an amazing talent and you’re selling a product or you’ve developed something, you know that you’re selling and kind of like as a direct good, you know, there are platforms and there are things out there to help you do that. You’ve got to figure out sales tax. You got to figure out where to incorporate. But where we’ve gone and we’re remote founders we’re residents of the states that we don’t currently live in… We’ve collectively moved six times in the three years we’ve been building this business together. We employ spouses and nine different states at this point, so for us, building a for-profit and understanding what those compliance-type things look like from a state, local, federal standpoint. It’s just mind-boggling. And that’s when you realize, oh, this is why people don’t do this. The company’s side, right? Because their passion is not fueled by being a part of the community. So, when I think people or companies have the idea of like, “hey, let’s hire military spouses,” sometimes as soon as you step into that, you’re like, absolutely not. Like, this is too crazy.
So that has been a challenge. Just having people understand who we are, what we do, do it, how we do it. I have had some of the craziest conversations with like State Department or insurance companies. Like now, wait, I can’t come audit your paper file, but I’m like, no, you’re a remote company. I can give you access to my software or I can print you out. So that’s been a challenge for us. And then just also facing the stereotypes of who military spouses are as military spouse for-profit business owners. You know we’ve just raised investment money. And that’s a very, male-dominated space. There a not a lot of female founders in that space, let alone female military spouse founders. And we’ve had to learn to be careful with how we introduce ourselves because if we start off with “we’re military spouse founders,” people like almost like condense you down to this, like, oh, sweet little pat on the back. You’re just doing good things out there. Right?
So some of those stereotypes of just understanding military spouses are men, women of all races, all genders, all family dynamics, right? And I actually enjoy that challenge now of like correcting people in a professional way. You know, our community is just as viable for productivity and innovation and business management and business building as anybody on the outside. But it’s a stereotype that we fight against and that’s been very evident to me in the past couple of weeks, just seeing kind of the hate that can be fueled towards the military spouse community, which then is sometimes the only education piece the civilian community sees is some of those stereotypes. So that’s probably the second biggest thing out of just being a spouse and being all over the place and trying to build a, you know, a structurally sound company is those stereotypes that we have to fight against.
Pam: Right? Yeah, no, they run deep, you know, and then, and then sort of the, you have that and then you also have sort of the military spouses that kind of pit against each other too. So yeah, that can be like another layer of it as well, which just kind of stems from personal unhappiness, I believe, which is what a lot of that other was reflecting as well. But no, I can definitely see where that would be a challenge. But that’s smart, you know, shifting to speak to your audience and sort what you know they’re going to respond to, which is good. Yeah. All right. So let’s dive into Instant Teams. I’m going to throw your link up there and I know we’ve touched on a bit of it in a roundabout way, but yeah, explain how people can find you and what it is and how they sign up to become a part of it too.
Erica: Great. Yeah. So we build remote teams for companies across the nation. That’s the easiest way I can explain it. What we’ve done in the past two years is very manual in that process. Like, our team is the touch point of all of that. And the cool thing is that we’ve repeated that process so many times and we’ve been successful with that so many times, we are now able to take all of the learning and we’re creating software. So we’re now becoming like a, having the technology platform that allows that process of creating these teams to become automated, which is just completely fascinating.
But at the end of the day, we are creating remote teams with military spouse professionals. We do have veterans. We do serve the military-connected community, but our first goal is getting military spouses the flexible and remote work that they need. We do focus on some areas. So, I think any nonprofit or for-profit will tell you, in order to grow, you have to kind of specialize and be focused on what you’re doing. You can’t help all and be all to all. Even though we made that mistake at the beginning like I think anybody with a good idea does like, “no, I’m going to help all the people and I’m going to help all the businesses.” It’s just not… you just can’t do it. And you get to a point where you can’t help anybody get there until they get there.
So we focus on admin, marketing and tech roles. So we build out those three different types of teams for our customers. So spouses with any experience or background or education in anything marketing, from graphic design to digital marketing strategy to marketing managers to content development, in the tech and agile space a lot of kind of, development, project management, QA analyst, and then on the admin side, some of our most successful customers right now are tech support technicians, customer support technicians, and we’ve been able to build these really cool, fun teams of spouses working across the nation for these companies.
So, as far as getting in touch with us, all you do is create a profile. So we don’t work, like, we don’t post jobs where you have to apply because we’ve kind of flipped that model to allow us to build these teams fast. So everybody just creates a profile, it’s 100% free. We don’t charge for that and we’ll have some really kind of cool, iterations of that coming out soon where we’re going to have leveling up opportunities and you’re going to go through these different levels and get different badges. So more to come on that and it’ll be really cool. But basically you just create a profile and once you’ve put all your skills in there and you’ve put all the information, our system will be able to identify you and find you when we bring in a new customer, so that’s how we’re able to do it kind of fast. The customer tells us the skillset, spouses have already created profiles, and it helps us match and find the talent. And then we do have kind of a touch point system of you’ll be notified, you’ll do a video, a pre-recorded video interview. We want to see how you act on a zoom camera. We want to see, you know, your personality. So that scares some people. Like, oh my gosh, I have to do a video recording. Like, you have a chance to practice it before you record it. And it’s not a “make it or break it” type thing. It’s just, you know, part of our process to do some vetting.
So you go through those different points once you’ve been identified as a possible candidate for one of our teams and then we have a whole onboarding process. Everything is remote. And then, you know, if you’re one of the ones who’s made it through to a team, you’re an active part of one of the Instant Teams teams. I think what’s different is that everybody is our employee or our contracts are directly a part of Instant Teams and then we just place you out on our customer teams so that we are able to manage that kind of crazy military spouse life part of the movement and the different states, and if you have a PCS, we can be that kind of mitigating party for, hey, this person’s going to need to decrease hours for a little bit because they’re PCSing and they’re not leaving. So we really want to be able to like… I think a normal flow is I work, I stop. I find a job. I work, I stop. I move. And we’ve now seen, going into our third summer, the majority of our team members are able to, maybe, some people don’t even change at all because they can do it on the go. Some may say, “I need to bump down, you know, a couple of hours as I drive from California to Virginia, I’ll be right back up next Monday.” And that’s really cool. That is so rewarding to see people being able to keep a career, keep in check through a PCS. So those are just kind of all the pieces that we’ve built in to be sure that, you know, it’s successful on both sides of the story. But, really long explanation on how to connect with us.
Pam: So what’s like the turnaround? Okay. So somebody, say somebody fills out the application, puts in all of their stuff. What’s a typical turnaround before they actually can start working and start making some money?
Erica: Right. So we have about 6,000 spouses that are registered with us right now and we have 30 customer teams, which is about 50 people. So, I mean, you can see right there, there’s a lot more need than we’re bringing in on the customer side. It’s a growth thing, right? Like we’re getting there, we’re growing, we’re bringing more in. So what we’re working on, again with… It’ll be kind of launched in a part of our kind of candidate experience pretty soon is how to be engaged when you’re kind of in that waiting space. So you’ve created a profile. On this end you’ll be onboarding and becoming, you know, a part of a team, but what’s happening here in the middle? So we’re working on some fun ways to engage people, to just keep people up to date, in on remote work type things, and some of that will be internal, some of that will be external. So I think we get a lot of feedback. Like, hey, I don’t really kind of know what’s happening. And we’re not typical, like you apply, you know in 45 days that position’s been filled, you’re just kind of like, you’ve created your profile and you’re literally waiting to be matched as we bring in. So that can be a frustrating experience from the candidate side. So we’re working to build that in so that people do have more real-time knowledge of what’s happening and staying engaged.
Pam: Yeah, yeah. No that’s great. Yeah, you guys are growing like crazy. So yeah, that’s super exciting. I see you all over the place. Very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been really great. I’m glad we could break some of this down and push some of that back and talk about Instant Teams because what you guys are doing is making such a huge impact in so many lives. So I know as a military spouse we greatly appreciate the work that you’re doing and I can’t wait to see how much further you take this because that just blows my mind that you’re building software now. That’s insane.
Erica: All right. Thank you for having me on. I think all of these conversations are just so important to have and thank you for your bravery of stepping out and being like, hey, let’s have some conversations that most people don’t have. I love it. And think that’s kind of the rhythm of where the community is going in and being more open and aware to just be honest and vulnerable. I’m a huge Brené Brown fan, so yeah, we can open the Kimono and talk about things. I think it’s really great.
Pam: Exactly. I know. Yeah. And so that’s my sort of my whole goal with this series, you know, even if one of the topics doesn’t exactly resonate with you, hopefully, something within it will and, yeah, we just need to get the conversations flowing. I think it’s just very helpful on so many levels. So thank you for joining us today and don’t forget to go sign up for the free live training and that is happening tomorrow. The link is in the description and go create a profile on Instant Teams and I will see you next Wednesday when I have one of the co-founders of the Paradigm Switch. Did I just say that right? Yes, I know that’s one of your buddies too. So we are actually going to be talking about something completely different – wine culture and moms and sort of how it’s so excepted and so easy to sort of cross over to the other side where it can become a bit more of a problem than just having a glass to unwind. So we will see you next Wednesday and thanks so much Erica, for being here. I really appreciate it.
Erica: Yup. Thank you so much. Bye.