Maija Ehlinger, Editor at Hypepotamus
Maija Ehlinger is a business reporter in Atlanta covering the startup and innovation economy. A native Southern Californian, she moved to Atlanta for college and has called it home ever since.
Maija is passionate about telling the behind-the-scenes stories of founders and entrepreneurs in town. She is a graduate of Emory University, Columbia Journalism School’s Lede Program in Data Journalism, and is currently pursuing her MBA at Georgia Tech.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About Hypepotamus
- General startup trends in the Southeast
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Welcome back to the startup Showdown podcast where we discuss pitching, funding and scaling startups. Join us as we interview winners, mentors and judges of the monthly $120,000 pitch competition powered by Panoramic Ventures. We also discuss the latest updates in software Web three, health care, tech, fintech and more. Now sit tight as we interview this week’s guest and their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:39] Lee Kantor here another episode of Startup Showdown podcast, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor Panoramic Ventures. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Startup Shutdown, we have Maija Ehlinger with Hypepotamus. Welcome, Maya.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:00:59] Hi, Lee. Thanks so much. Excited to be here.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:01] Well, before we get too far into things, tell us a little bit about hippopotamus. How are you serving folks?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:01:07] Yeah, absolutely. So we are a publication here in town in Atlanta, but we cover the southeast and we specifically cover tech startups, entrepreneurship and the venture capital ecosystem here in town. So it’s been a bit of a wild ride the last couple of years as the Southeast and Atlanta has really continued to make its mark on the tech scene. But yes, we’re here to to highlight the entrepreneurs and the founders and investors that are moving the ecosystem forward.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:37] Now, can you talk a little bit about the history? I know this started as kind of a venture from several entrepreneurs that wanted to serve the same community by telling the stories within that community.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:01:50] Yes, absolutely. So hydroponics has been around for for quite some time now. It actually started as a co-working space in the Biltmore for people that are familiar with the midtown Atlanta area. Now we’re just an online publication. And by that I mean we we are doing the editorial work to to highlight the great founders that are coming out of the out of Atlanta and across the southeast, as well as be a place where people can find their next job at a startup in town through our our free job board, as well as curated calendars of events to make sure that people know where they can meet people, network and continue to to help grow the ecosystem.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:37] So how did you get involved?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:02:40] Yeah, absolutely. So I joined just about two years ago and my background is kind of an interesting mixture of both startups and journalism. I went to school here in Atlanta and was working across different opportunities within journalism while I was in college. But after college actually ended up working at a couple of different startups in the ecommerce and kind of marketing space before landing full time in journalism. And yeah, it wasn’t looking for a new job, but the opportunity to take over and join hype came about in the middle of COVID, and it was a unique blend of of my background, both in journalism and working at very, very early stage startups.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:31] I think that that’s a wonderful path and I think that a lot of young people should pursue that path. Can you share a little bit about what your experience was in those kind of startups when they’re in those beginning stages where there’s so much energy and passion and hope, you know, to get involved in an organization like that, it’s a lot different than for folks that get a traditional college experience, get a job at maybe an enterprise level organization. It’s a different ecosystem and environment. Can you speak about what yours was at those startups?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:04:04] Oh, absolutely. And I give this advice to to many people who ask even if they’re looking for jobs in journalism, I say a career path is very rarely linear. And I think being having an opportunity to work at a startup is something that everybody should do at some point. Why? One, it gives you stories upon stories to tell. During interviews, you have to be able to learn how to think on your feet quickly, learn how to wear multiple hats, and often you’re going to be working on problems that you wouldn’t be able to do at a at a larger company. So, yeah, so my first experience out of college was doing marketing and operations for a menswear ecommerce brand. I had no background in men’s fashion, most definitely not. I didn’t have anything there, had really no operations experience, but for me it was I was willing to get my hands dirty and figure it out. A lot of long nights, a lot of early mornings. But for me, I use that experience so much in my journalism time now, both because I really understand what it means to join as person number three as a at a team that is literally building something in their basement. So I empathize with entrepreneurs in that way, but also just the opportunity to take on take on a challenge that. You don’t get to do very early in most people’s careers. When you when you’re at a startup, you kind of have to create your own path and be willing to jump in and and contribute to a team very quickly and to help it scale.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:55] Now, having gone through this experience, especially, like you said, employee number three, anything that you learned from leadership in terms of this person that convinced you to join the team, they had to transfer some of their dream onto you because it was their dream to build this startup. It wasn’t your dream. You were probably looking for a job and you were curious and interested. But anything from a leadership standpoint from as maybe including that first time but through the ones you’ve talked to, is how good leaders are able to kind of make their dream, your dream?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:06:34] Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I will say, my this this first job out, a startup out out of college, I followed it was a group of Emory entrepreneurs. I went to Emory and so it was through my network. I would say first. First thing is definitely the the ability to network and find people within your own network is really important. But yes, I think being transferring that kind of dream to me to want to come join a startup that I didn’t necessarily if you would have told me, hey, after college with a degree in history and working in journalism, you’re going to work in menswear. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s what I wanted to do, but understanding the passion that those founders had for building up a consumer brand and an e-commerce platform in Atlanta, I was sold. They’re the really the ones that made me really excited about building something new and building something interesting in Atlanta. And so I would say that was a huge if you’re able to spark interest and excitement in your team, that’s really important. They also gave me a lot of autonomy, you know, having come in as as an early and very young, very green person at the time, they had the the the foresight and the trust to say, hey, if you have an idea, let’s talk about it and let’s see how we can bring it to to life. And that’s something that I definitely think as I’ve stepped into leadership roles, I try to emulate that as much as I can, because that’s how you get interest from and buy in from people on your team at any stage of growth for your company.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:26] Now, having gone through the startup experience, you kind of went back to your journalism roots. Was that always kind of the plan was always to find a way to stay in journalism and tell those stories. And this was kind of a slight detour along the way. Or was this something that if this thing really got a lot of traction in energy, you might have seen, you know, a different a different Maya might be a startup founder right now.Remove featured image
Maija Ehlinger: [00:08:54] Oh, that’s an interesting question. Yeah. I think for me, I’ve always been passionate about writing and journalism, and so that has kind of been my North Star this whole time. And for me, when I was doing operations and marketing at this company, I was able to do a lot of storytelling for for the startup and for the team. So that was great. You know what, I now in this role at hype, you know, writing is, is my passion and the the chance that I get to talk every day with founders who are bringing their stories to life. I get so inspired by talking to founders every day. I see myself staying in journalism. But there are so many great founders out there that, you know, you never know life. Life takes you in different directions. So I wouldn’t say no to joining a startup at some point in the future. I think that, as I said earlier, you know, I don’t think I think a linear career path would be very boring. And so yeah, yeah, I think there’s there’s always opportunities to or potentially opportunities to dive back into the startup world down the road.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:04] So how did you get involved with Startup Showdown and and you know, in terms of being a judge there and and probably you’ve probably mentored people throughout the years as well. Can you talk about that?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:10:18] Sure. Sure. So, as I mentioned, you know, I joined Hype in July of 2020, which is a pretty fascinating time to join a new journalism start a new position within journalism, because, as you know, in journalism, it’s much easier to to network and meet people in person. I understand your sources and meet people in person. So I wasn’t able to do that. But I have to say, the people over at Panoramic who run Startup Showdown were incredibly wonderful and helpful in terms of always talking to me for stories and and pitching me stories that they were of, whether it’s their team or the companies that they’re investing in. So I was pretty connected to to that universe, I will say. And so when they started doing Startup Showdown, it started remotely because because of pandemic restrictions. And so I got to be a judge on one of the first few startup showdowns, and it was a really cool experience. That was my first time ever judging startups. You know, I speak and listen to their pitch competitions all the time, but it was a really cool opportunity to talk with other talk with venture capitalists across the judging panel and really understand what they look for when it comes to a potential investing opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:46] Now, was there anything that when you were kind of working with them and obviously they’re they’re putting their money on the line, so they’re looking at this through maybe a different lens than you. But was there anything that was like an aha moment? Like, Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that was so important or, you know, I didn’t you know, they connected some dots for you maybe that you didn’t see in the way that they saw an opportunity or a venture.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:12:13] Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I steal this question from them, I guess. And because there is an overlap between there are some overlap between the questions that a VC would ask a founder and what a journalist would ask a founder. But I think that they do a really great job at at really pulling out from a founder y asking the question very directly, why are you the right person to build this? Because inherently, as a as an entrepreneur you are, you have to see the world in a in a different way. And you have to convince people that you are the right person. Not only that, there’s a a market for your idea that doesn’t exist now, but you are the right person to to build this and and bring more people in into your vision. And so I asked that question very pointedly now, and that is something that the Startup Showdown team definitely thinks about because yeah, they are investing money and time into a founder and they want to make sure they’re that’s the right person tackling the right problem at the right time.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:23] Now, do you have any advice, since you’re in journalism, any advice for the startup founders that are listening to this right now on how to get the attention of the press? It’s so difficult to get to be heard and to be found in today’s world. How do you stand out? Is there anything you could be doing to elegantly maybe stay top of mind in terms of a reporter or of a publication, a blog, no matter what it is? And today, there are so many different choices out there. But how can a founder get the attention of the media in an elegant way that’s not turning you off and it’s not obnoxious?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:14:01] Lee I really appreciate that question because I’m sure, as you know, journalists inboxes get pretty messy pretty quickly just in terms of the amount of pitches that go out there. For me, I think the best time to talk to a journalist and you should be creating rapport with with journalists and really the general PR world, I guess as well, long before you have news to share. And I say that because when someone raises funding, that story is going to be out there and potentially most likely picked up by multiple news outlets. You want to have a relationship with journalists that that’s before you send out that big press release, because that’s going to create a better story that you have a relationship with, with someone. And they will be they’re going to have more time to tell your story. More. Yeah. You’ll be able to dig a little bit more into what you’re building. I think a lot of times, and it happens probably every day, I get a story that says, Hey, we raised money and the embargo lifts in 2 hours or so. Can you tell our story for me? And I think I think a lot of journalists, too, that doesn’t give us enough time to to really dive in and do a great job.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:15:31] And we’re just we don’t want to just rehash the press release. We want to go deeper. So, of course, you know. I think developing those relationships early is great. Also, my other piece of advice is always pieces that if you can make your startup or frame your startup in more of a human interest story perspective, I think that’s great. You know, founders get very hyper focused on how cool their tech is and kind of the nitty gritty, technical things that make a startup happen. But if you’re not able to translate that story into why a consumer or a business should care about it, it’s going to be harder to get press. And so really take some time to think about why you as a founder are interesting and why your product is so different and unique in the market. I think that those help that helps journalists tell a better story and a better narrative about what you’re building.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:30] And I think that if I heard you correctly, it almost goes back to what you said at the very beginning about relationships being important and creating those human to human connections that help people, you know, so that you know each other prior to the story being told that, like you said, you don’t just want them to tell the story today. But if they had reached out and over time you built a relationship, you might be more interested in their story today than it was when, you know, maybe when it was a glimmer of an idea six months ago.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:17:05] Right. Absolutely. You know, I think keeping in touch is really important. You have to remember that putting putting out a news wire goes out to every journalist. And it’s so easy to to glaze over those a little bit just because, you know, you get you could get easily 100 of those a day. And so you’re reading so quickly through something. And so you want to make sure that if you want to stand out against all the news that’s going out out there, that you have those personal relationships.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:38] And so when you are kind of have a startup, you should identify who those key journalists are. That should be part of your network at the beginning, not just when you need them.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:17:49] Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s it’s very helpful for for us. And, you know, at at hype, we’re very obviously industry focused. We focus very much on on tech startups in the area, but we’re also geographically focused. So we don’t cover there’s there’s great startups happening all over the country and all over the world, but we are hyper focused on the southeast region. And so there’s, you know, four startups that aren’t in the southeast. There are awesome journalists and smaller publications in your area. I’m very sure of it in people who who would like to connect with other people. You know, I’m I’m I’m happy to connect people with with other journalists around the area or around the country, too, because I think that that’s important for people to to know, to know, to know your journalists in town.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:43] Now, if somebody wants to kind of follow hype and the different stories that you’re covering around the Southeast, what’s the best way to do that?
Maija Ehlinger: [00:18:53] Yeah, absolutely. So we put all of our stories out on Hippopotamus Dot and that’s hippie Potti and us dot com publish there pretty much daily. And then we have a twice a week newsletter that goes out as a digest of all of the the recent news and upcoming community events and jobs that are also available. So you can check us out on, on online or if you want to get a curated list, sign up for our newsletter that goes out Wednesdays and Fridays.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:29] Well, Maya, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Maija Ehlinger: [00:19:36] Well, thank you. I really appreciate the time and look forward to chatting with you soon.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:42] All right. This is Lee Kantor Lucille next time on Startup Showdown.
Intro: [00:19:48] As always, thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Startup Showdown podcast. So you get the latest episode as it drops wherever you listen to podcasts to learn more and apply to our next startup showdown pitch competition visit Showdown D.C. That’s Showdown Dot DC. All right. That’s all for this week. Goodbye for now.