JULY 25, 2018
Episode 23 – Cultivating Communities That Last
Alex Winkelman from Hello My Tribe and Hayley Wakefield from The Refinery
On today’s show, we welcome Alex Winkelman, Founder of Hello My Tribe an online community for mothers, and Hayley Wakefield, Founder and CEO of The Refinery (now defunct) a co-working community and event space in downtown Austin. Alex and Hayley have both built successful communities, online and physical, that serve the needs of their members and foster growth and creativity within each member. We explored how both guests became successful by spreading their messages, building support, and connecting communities. Listen now to one of our most endearing conversations yet!
Read the Transcript
Lisa Graham (00:00):
Hello. And welcome back to another episode of Change The Rules. I’m Lisa Graham, co-founder at Notley. And in the studio today, we have Dan Graham, also a co-founder of Notley, as well as two very special guests. I’d like to welcome Alex Winkelman Zeplain and Hayley Swindell to the studio. Alex is the founder of Hello My Tribe, a collective of mothers offering support and engagement through digital and physical community. Thank you for coming, Alex. And Hayley is the founder at The Refinery, a co-working community located in downtown Austin, catering to creative entrepreneurs and small businesses. She also recently launched Canvas at The Refinery, a modern event space, perfect for everything from intimate dinners to conferences. So thanks for being here, Hayley. So this is really fun. What I wanted to start out with though, was hearing from each of you about how your organization started. So Alex, can we start with you, and can you tell us how and why you started Hello My Tribe?
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (00:53):
Sure. So, Hello My Tribe was started out of my own personal need. As a new mom, I was desperate for community. I was desperate for support, for information, for understanding, for opportunities and I couldn’t find it. And when I started researching and learning more about motherhood and learning about maternal health in our country, I realized I was not alone in my feelings. And I realized that everything possible existed for a baby. And there was a lack of attention and resources for the woman who was transitioning to motherhood. And then again, like I learned about maternal health in this country and realized there were some really big issues that we needed to tackle. And so, Hello My Tribe was an answer to my personal needs and issues at the transition into motherhood. And it’s an answer to, you know, many of those similar experiences that other women and mothers face and what’s going on in our country with how women are treated as they enter motherhood.
Lisa Graham (01:54):
Interesting. I’m going to talk to Hayley quickly about The Refinery, but I want to come back and I’m going to address something with both of you about finding your people in this. So Hayley, how about The Refinery? How did that come to be?
Hayley Swindell (02:06):
So, The Refinery started when I had my first very failed business. I was working in nonprofit development and on the weekends started a side hustle called The Hip Humanitarian. It was a subscription box company. I had no clue what I was doing. And I felt like I lacked the community. I was too scared to ask questions. I think I was 24. I didn’t major in business. I went to school for political science, and I just kind of dove right in. Super scared. I lived with two boys in a really dark apartment to try to save money. I quit my full-time job, did Hip Humanitarian full-time and really went for it. it was a really dark apartment. Really bad for product photography. Which, as Dan knows, when you have an online company, product photography is everything when you’re selling. So I started seeking out, well, I carried a backpack around with all my stuff and took photos in beautiful places with really pretty marble top bars. That’s right around the time when Flat Lays were really popular on Instagram. I looked super nerdy. A lot of places wouldn’t let me do it.
Lisa Graham (03:22):
Because you would just walk in and be like, can I use your marble top? And they were like, no.
Hayley Swindell (03:26):
No, sorry, you have to buy something. And I didn’t have any money because I had just started my own business, again, living with two boys in a really crappy apartment. So I looked at a couple of different coworking spaces. Nowhere did I feel like I could take that product photography and still feel really comfortable. It didn’t really have the community that I was looking for. I basically was looking for a really beautiful restaurant style vibe, think McGuire Mormon, but a place that I could work and be productive. I needed that studio. I needed the community. And I just didn’t find it. So that’s kind of how The Refinery started. And then here we are.
Lisa Graham (04:05):
And a question to both of you is what both of you are describing a lot of people I think have felt this way. And so, you know, I guess starting with you, Alex, how did you find the first few members of your community? And how did you get the word out about what you were doing? And what was the reception to that?
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (04:22):
So for me, community almost always starts with a story. And in this instance, I was sharing my personal story. I’m someone who wears my heart on my sleeve. I don’t have much of a filter, so I share a lot about my life. And so initially, I would just meet other women and moms and I’d be like, ‘are you feeling this way? I’m feeling this way.’ And I would just start those conversations. And I’d hear from a lot of other mothers saying, ‘yes, I feel a lack of community, a lack of support, a lack of information.’ And then I just started building relationships with these people. And finally, when I had the guts to actually like shout this to the world, how I was feeling and what my response was, which was launching Hello My Tribe, I did it in like a pretty big way.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (05:10):
I got some partners on board. We worked with Austin Woman Magazine. I shared my own personal postpartum journey in there and then shared on my social media channels. And the response was unbelievable. You know, from the support, from like the simple likes and comments, right? To people saying, I want to, I mean, we’re a for-profit business and we had people reach out, say, I want to volunteer. I want to help make this something that succeeds because I need this in my life. And from there the members came, right? They felt the same way. They needed this. They wanted to be a part of it. So it was very grassroots, very authentic, very organic. And we have members in like multiple ways. We have members. I mean, we’re mostly a digital platform, reaching anyone and everyone. And we do have a local membership here. And it’s really still all based on word of mouth. And then we have an Instagram community. I mean, they’re not paying members but we have about 10,000 people on Instagram who they are our members, right? Like they’re our audience. They’re our family. And so much of it is still based on that original story. Showcasing other people’s stories. People can resonate with it. And they want to be a part of it and they need it in their lives.
Dan Graham (06:27):
I would love to dive in just for a second into something you just mentioned, which is, you know, around this idea of vulnerability and sharing that. And you know, I think, you know, as certainly as I’ve gotten older in my career like that seems to be such a powerful thing for learning and getting other people to open up as sort of this idea of sharing vulnerability. I’m curious when you think about building a community, how does that play a role? And you just mentioned a few ways, Alex, but Hayley, like sharing vulnerability and that kinda thing, is that an important piece to your formula for building community?
Hayley Swindell (07:07):
A hundred percent. That’s like the main piece. I think so much of what I failed at in my first business was, again, being really scared to ask questions and being scared to say, ‘Oh yeah, I only have five customers.’ And on Instagram, especially with that being such a strong platform for what I was doing at the time and what I’m doing now and what Hello My Tribe does, Instagram seems like such a perfect world, but really behind the Instagram camera, that’s where it’s really at. And I think I sort of felt this whole sense of relief when I said like, ‘I don’t live in this beautiful place, this is all fake. I went to this restaurant and I took this. I’m actually not Camille Styles.’ And then that person would say, ‘Oh my gosh, me either. I’m actually working three jobs right now.’
Hayley Swindell (07:57):
I mean, I met people that were like, I thought were huge, really successful just from the content that they were putting out into the world. And they were like, no, I’m struggling. But I believe in this so much. And I’m living with my parents right now. I bartend. I do this. I do that. And I think just getting that conversation started helps other people feel more comfortable and then more people ask questions. And that’s how we become successful together.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (08:30):
I also want to point out, when you’re building a brand or a community or an audience, it’s really important to figure out, like, what do you want? What is your mission? What is your voice? What are people going to think about you? And what do they want for it to resonate with? And I think, you know, when you put yourself out there, when you’re vulnerable, it’s laying this foundation that sets a tone and the stage for your brand. And people associate you with honesty, with being authentic, with being genuine, being real. You know, they can really connect with you and your brand and it helps grow the community.
Dan Graham (09:09):
So how do you balance the fact that sort of the social platforms are a significant part and an important tool and community building, but at the same time they represent something that is sort of the opposite of being vulnerable. You know, you can take a thousand pictures and pick the best one to show on social media. And you read studies about excessive use of social media is correlated very highly with rises in depression because of the lies people think that other people are living when probably that’s not true. So how do you balance that being an important tool with this sort of idea that vulnerability and truth about who you are and the challenges and struggles you have is important as well?
Hayley Swindell (09:55):
I think it’s having conversations like this. Being okay with saying, I chose that photo for Instagram because it fits really well with my brand. And you should do that if you want your brand to grow and having that visual content is so important. But then saying that was actually just a really pretty piece of paper, you know, and also being honest about it. And doing stuff like this. And now there’s Instagram stories. There’s Facebook Live. Stuff that you really can’t fake because it’s real-time. And so saying like, ‘I’m on the set today. Here’s what I really look like.’ And then at The Refinery, we host a lot of events where we talk about honing in on your Instagram style. But rather than spending a lot of time talking about how to style your photo, it often turns into a conversation about like, why are we really doing this? And like, who are we? Should we even be on Instagram? What’s our mission? So I think, again, it’s just surrounding yourself with that community, to be honest with each other and be authentic, and be okay with saying maybe I shouldn’t be taking this photo this way because it’s not real.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (11:04):
And I think there’s a happy medium, right? As a brand, like we have to be on social media. We have to be on Instagram if we’re going to build a community. And then the other side of it, where you have like those people with a million followers and they literally are just posting picture-perfect moments and captions. And I think there’s a happy medium in there. We can still have like a pretty feed. But it’s a lot less posed. A lot less filtered. And the captions that you’re presenting, you know, is it something that’s, you know, simply a quote or like having fun on the boat? Or is it like something that will inspire someone to change their lives? It has information in it. So I think there’s a happy medium to figuring out how to be, you know, to have a good looking feed on social media, but also be real and raw and honest.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (11:57):
There’s a lot of that pretty little square out there, you know, approach. And I think it’s our job to actually bring in the other side of it because like you said, and especially with mothers, I think social media has done a huge disservice to us. There’s so much judgment out there. There’s so much comparison. There’s so much, you know, just sitting at home by herself. Like that’s the mother I was in the beginning of my journey. Like I was at home, I was in workout clothes all day. Like, couldn’t put my makeup on, couldn’t put clothes on. Like, didn’t want to leave my house. And it’s like, you see a picture of another mom out there in front of the Eiffel Tower wearing a gown with a pregnant belly and a baby and her hair is perfectly braided. Some of you might know who I’m talking about. Perfectly braided. And I was just like, wait, how is she able to do this? And I can like barely function. And so with Hello My Tribe, I feel like it’s our job to actually be on social media and just come at it from a different perspective so that these women know they’re not alone in their feelings and their feelings are real. And it’s okay.
Lisa Graham (13:04):
And I think it’s interesting what you said too, in terms of, you know, rather than just showing pictures that show the good. You know, thinking about how to inspire others. And I think what you’re saying too resonates with me in terms of, I think when people try to be inspiring, that’s hard. But I think when the authenticity comes through and the honesty, that’s one of the most inspiring things that can really affect people. And, so, you know, being a mother of three very small children like reading a lot of this stuff on your social media, to me, that’s so much more relatable than somebody trying to inspire me in some other way. Because I can sit there and be like, yeah, I remember when I was up at four in the morning, like wondering why the hell I even decided to have children. And we’ve all been there. And that’s just honest. And it feels good. And it’s like, okay, I’ll get up tomorrow and I’ll do this again. And we’ll see how it goes.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (13:55):
One more point. I think you still have to be strategic about the images you choose, right? Like if you have a really strong message, it’s just how the world works, how we scroll through with photos, how Instagram’s algorithm works. You still have to have an eye capturing moment, you know? And you could post the same caption, the same time of day, but with two different photos and one is going to perform better than the other. And you have to be realistic about that. But yeah, you don’t have to have picture-perfect posed, filtered moments all the time.
Lisa Graham (14:26):
So you guys both in terms of creating the communities that you have, you we’ve talked a bit about the digital space, but you guys also have physical communities that you’ve created as well. Can you each talk about what those spaces look like and how you were able to build those? And how that compares to working in the digital world?
Hayley Swindell (14:52):
We were hoping you would ask that. Alex and I were talking about this. So Alex and I are doing an event together at The Refinery, and we’re going through just the difference between having a physical building and having a digital business. And that’s something I had no clue about going into The Refinery. I had no idea how labor intensive it was going to be. I mean, changing toilet paper. And like yesterday I scrubbed the toilets before we had a big event planner meeting. Like that said, I don’t mind scrubbing the toilets genuinely. But like somebody has to do it and like it had to happen right now, so I’m going to do it and I don’t care.
Dan Graham (15:45):
Why did it have to happen right then?
Hayley Swindell (15:50):
Well, we had a bunch of event planners come in and I knew they were going to judge me for having like a pink rim around the toilet, not okay. But yeah the upkeep of an 8,500 square foot building is so much more than I anticipated. And again, I love it. I love it because I’m such a yes person. So everybody can come to me. So having this physical space means I can do all these things. I can have people work there. I can have events there. I have a retail shop there. Samsung did a big photo shoot there the other day. Like all these really cool things are happening in a space that I got to create. And I’m connecting with more people than I ever have in my life. I go home and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. Which is great, and I’m exhausted. I talk all day every day and it’s wonderful, but it’s a lot of work. There’s really no computer time. So I hide in our phone booth a lot. And Alex had her own studio too.
Lisa Graham (16:58):
Yeah. I’m curious to hear from you, Alex, about your physical space, because you’ve gone through different iterations of what you were doing with the physical space and learned a ton and had to adapt and make changes. Can you talk about that?
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (17:09):
Yeah. So, Hello My Tribe’s pop up community space was that. It was a pop-up. It was temporary. It was a test. And we learned so much from it. Mainly in terms of our audience and what they want and what they need. And, you know, in order for us to have the type of region impact that we want to have, a physical space does not work for us right now. So we are completely a digital platform that is not tied down to a physical location. Like Hayley was talking about, like the overhead. It’s a lot more risk. The time. The people. And since pivoting from having a space to being totally digital, the impacts that we’re having, the reach that we’re having, our efficiency has grown tremendously. Our audience has grown tremendously. And so, yeah, I’ve been there. You know, we had this kind of pop-up childcare. And there would be days where I was working in childcare because someone canceled on me.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (18:10):
And that’s what you do as an entrepreneur. You roll up your sleeves and you do it all. But sometimes you have to take a step back and say like, ‘Is this the best use of my time? My resources?’ And for me, the input was not worth the output. Our mission and vision has totally stayed the same. And community is still the main foundation of Hello My Tribe. But it’s how do we build community? How do we bring them together in multiple ways? We’re doing these, you know, local activations. We have this local membership. And it’s actually possible to build community online too. And so we’re going to be launching more digital communities that are membership-based. And, you know, maybe down the road, there’s no plan, but you know, I think it’s amazing to see someone like Bumble, right? They have their tech platform. They’re all online. Yet, they’re opening brick and mortar locations.
Lisa Graham (19:04):
What is a Bumble brick and mortar location? Is it like, come here for a date? Like, what is it?
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (19:09):
I think it’s a mix. I think they call it The Hive. They have one in LA, maybe in New York. Don’t quote me on this, please. But yeah, it’s a place for people to meet in-person, have meetings. I think they have drinks there. I think they have, you know, they put on their own programming there. You know, with Bumble BFF, they might host events there. It’s great. It’s a place for their digital platform to come to life.
Lisa Graham (19:34):
I can also see it being a place where you don’t really have to think about where you’re going to meet someone and plan it and try and make it perfect to like meet. It’s like, okay, we’re just going to go to this place. And it fits with their committee.
Dan Graham (19:44):
I, for one, find it refreshing and really positive that you’re not up to speed on the latest dating apps.
Lisa Graham (19:53):
No, I have no idea what the kids use these days.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (19:57):
Well, I think the Bumble example for our model is perfect because they had to like build the masses first. And the brick and mortar physical location, it’s not key to their business, to their revenue. It’s part of their brand and how they communicate and how they interact and how they engage with their audience. And I think it’s a really interesting model.
Lisa Graham (20:21):
So Hayley, we talked a bit about how creating new environments and platforms around your own brand is helpful. But I know at The Refinery, you’ve worked with a lot of other communities like Boss Babes and Create & Cultivate. And so how do you work to combine those communities with The Refinery community?
Hayley Swindell (20:48):
That is one of the core aspects of what we do is collaboration. It’s one of our values. I think it’s safe. It’s good to admit I can’t do it alone. And we’re like, I’m all about like, I can’t do it alone. The Refinery is super new. Nobody knows who we are. So let’s pull in all these partners and we’ll learn a lot from them and they’ll help us get our name out there. During SXSW, we were super fortunate to have Create & Cultivate in the space, which is a very well-known community-building women’s brand, and it was such a learning experience. And I think really helped put The Refinery on the map. Everybody that comes in is like, ‘Oh, Create & Cultivate was here’, which is great. And I love doing that for smaller brands too. So that’s, again, like Hip Humanitarian was just this little tiny baby brand. And if somebody who was more well-established would have brought me in and done a collaboration with me, it would have changed the game for me.
Hayley Swindell (21:41):
So like, I love, I always ask bigger brands, ‘Hey, can we collaborate?’ And then I always ask smaller brands, ‘do you want to get involved in what we’re doing?’ Because I want to help you build up your brand. And I know just having that one really good event together or having that person speak at an event or having their product at an event, we will build them up, like do everything we can to elevate that experience and build up their brand. Because those types of things have worked out so well for us. And that’s like so much of what our coworking is all about. And I think what sets us apart from a lot of the other spaces, that are really just a place to sit and work with headphones on, everybody at The Refinery are genuinely best friends. It’s feels like a family.
Hayley Swindell (22:25):
Everybody gets their work done. They’re hustlers. But at the end of the day, they’re like, ‘What are you doing? Do you wanna go get a drink? Do you want to go for a walk? How can we collaborate?’ There have been so many beautiful things that have come out just from like kitchen conversations at The Refinery and all these little small brands building each other up, helping each other sell product, tickets to events, help with social. One of my favorite things is to see a photographer in the space help somebody in the studio who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Even just saying like, ‘Let me adjust this light for you.’ And it makes a world of a difference for that person. And seeing stuff like that is so cool.
Lisa Graham (23:09):
That’s amazing. And can you talk a bit about the collaborations that you’ve done? Because I know you’ve done some with Hello My Tribe as well.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (23:15):
Yeah. So, we’re running a lot of different campaigns online. And similar to what Hayley was talking about, like we work with many different partners. We believe in collaboration over competition. And we’re so lucky to be working with so many others who believe that as well. And so our partnerships come in like so many different forms. It can come in written content online. Working with different brands like Women’s Space in LA or Sustain, which is feminine care products that are non-toxic. Working with Health-Ade Kombucha, the founder of Health-Ade sharing her story on our platform why working makes her a better mother. To brands letting us do Instagram takeovers on their page and vice versa. We also want to do that and support other people. I’m trying to think — something that we have going on — Hayley and I are actually collaborating on an activation that we’re launching called Girl Party here in Austin.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (24:18):
The hope is that we do this event more than once. We do it a couple of times a year. And then it’s something that we can actually scale to other cities as we launch communities on the ground in these other cities. And we have to involve other partners. Like Hayley said, like we can’t do it alone. So we bring in wine sponsors, we have a great partnership with ONEHOPE Wine. We bring in food sponsors. We bring in media. We bring in anyone who wants to collaborate that’s on-brand for us with a similar mission, vision, audience. And it’s amazing the ways you can work with other people in this day and age and how you can all support and lift one another up.
Lisa Graham (24:59):
Start wrapping up the conversation a bit, can each of y’all talk about how people can get involved in each of your communities?
Hayley Swindell (25:13):
Yeah. I have so many ways. So, three levels of membership. I won’t go into that. But we do have coworking memberships. We also have our events space, Canvas, so you can host an event in our space. You can host workshops. You can utilize our space for meetings. We have conference rooms. Our photography studio is booked all the time. We’ve had anywhere from bridal lingerie photo shoots on a Tuesday to lots of product photography, lots of portraits, engagement photos. Again, like Samsung style video shoots and stuff like that, which is really fun. And then we also produce a lot of our own events, which again, I think sets us really apart from the other spaces in Austin. Just this morning we had our morning hustle storytelling and it was so fun. So we produce a wide range of events. Anywhere from free events to a little bit higher end dinner series events where we bring in guest chefs. So we have a ton of that stuff. It’s all open to the public. You can also just stop by. I’m usually sitting at the front desk and we can talk about ways to collaborate.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (26:27):
I love that Hayley, you’re so available. For Hello My Tribe, so hellomytrible.com is a great place for people to initially get connected and figure out how to get further connected. We have tons of content and tools on there. Our Instagram, we’re at Hello My Tribe. That’s another great place for someone to get plugged in. And we’re a super engaging and supportive community. We have a community of contributors online who help us create content. We are a safe platform for these women to share their stories and their experiences. People want to be heard and people want to read those stories. And, we also have opportunities for people to edit our content. So it really is a team effort. So there’s lots of ways for people to get involved. When we have future campaigns, we had an amazing campaign in May, our healthy lady happy baby challenge. It was on Instagram. We had a combined network reach of 3 million. And that’s because people got up and they participated and they joined us.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (27:18):
And then if you’re here in Austin, we have ways to get involved. We have our HMT local membership. It’s a monthly membership and we get together every month for dinner. Every month for movie night. And we have a private, behind-the-scenes Facebook group. So it’s a really tight-knit support system. And then we have these local activations happening, like Girl Party in Austin happening on September 22nd at The Refinery. And we’ll be doing more of those, you know, in the future. So there’s lots of ways to get involved.
Lisa Graham (28:02):
That’s so exciting. Thank you guys for what you’re doing as well, and for your authenticity. I think both of you, I’ve known y’all both for a while, and I think every time we talk I’m like, yes, like I have this, like, yes, I get it. Can we talk? And like, I just want to keep talking to you all because it feels that way. And I think that y’all really exude that in what you’re doing as well. So thank you so much for being here.
Alex Winkelman Zeplain (28:25):
Thank you, Lisa and Dan. And all that you do with Notley. Yeah. Thanks for having us.
Lisa Graham (28:31):
So happy to have you guys here. The Change The Rules podcast is sponsored by Chez Boom Audio. Chez Boom Audio is the leading audio post-production company for TV, film, advertising, audio books, and podcasts in Austin, Texas. And we’re so honored to work in their studio with the wonderful Shayna Brown. You can find her studio at https://chezboomaudio.com/. And if you want to hear new episodes every week, subscribe to Change The Rules on iTunes, and we will see you again next week with another amazing story of innovation. Thank you for listening.