[Editor’s Note: This story is part of a “Where Are They Now” series on startups named to NC TECH’s annual Top 10 Startups To Watch list from 2014 to the present. You can find the main story here. There are also six other feature stories on startups from the NC TECH lists that are no longer active standalone companies: Organic Transit (2014 list); Tiger Eye Sensor (2015); Tourpedo (2015); EmployUs (2016); Forecast Health (2016); and Cultivate (2017).]
When Megan Sumrell left corporate life in 2014, she was able to grow a business on her own in a network-marketing health and beauty company. But she quickly found there were huge gaps in the technology available to help direct-sales and network-marketing businesses, which are often women-dominated fields.
The biggest gap lied in customer relationship management (CRM) software. Sumrell was astonished to realize there was no Salesforce alternative to tracking these customer contacts in network marketing. Many women were carrying around pages of handwritten notes with bookmarks to try to keep track of everything.
Soon Jennifer Turnage, a work colleague from Sumrell’s time at ChannelAdvisor, came onto the network marketing scene as well.
“One of the first things she asked me was, what tools do we have?” Sumrell said. “I said, ‘Are you ready for this? They’re telling us to get a notebook and track thousands of names on a piece of paper.’ Long story short, that just led to us being like, we really should do this.”
The “this” was to launch the Raleigh and Wilmington-based startup myBeeHyve in 2017. The company began auspiciously; in 2018 myBeeHyve was recognized by NC TECH as one of it’s Top 10 Startups To Watch.
myBeeHyve’s core product was a streamlined CRM app designed for direct-sales and network-marketing businesses. myBeeHyve allowed users to import their contacts right into the app, track the last time they connected with customers and prospects, make notes on conversations and set reminder dates for follow-ups.
The days of carrying around old notebooks and flipping through them to find reminders were over, Sumrell said. myBeeHyve went even further and provided full email and message functionality, which was cutting-edge at a time when group texting software hadn’t become mainstream.
“We really wanted to empower all of these women who were launching businesses for the first time to have the tools that they need to actually treat it like a business and not a hobby, and to empower them to grow their businesses faster,” Sumrell said.
So many of myBeeHyve’s users were moms building businesses while they attended their children’s soccer practices or ran through the carpool line. To provide everything they needed on a mobile device to grow their business around their hectic lives proved immeasurable, according to Sumrell.
And myBeeHyve developed a significant following from women in network marketing, who quickly became part of the myBeeHyve’s Facebook “hive” where all women could attend weekly training sessions and grow together, Sumrell said.
But not everything is meant to last, and myBeeHyve closed its doors in 2020. In a statement to GrepBeat, Turnage said that myBeeHyve’s demise was due to increasing costs of support and maintenance combined with additional competing CRM platforms at decreasing prices.
Plus, as Sumrell said, technology is always going to cost more to build than you think it is.
Still, Sumrell has taken many lessons learned from the experience of founding and running myBeeHyve into her next chapter as a productivity coach for overwhelmed women to find work and life harmony.
“The power in dreaming so big, I feel every entrepreneur has to have that,” Sumrell said. “That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning.”
Applying lessons learned from myBeeHyve
From myBeeHyve, Sumrell said she learned it was vital to listen to customers and find out what they really need, then pivoting according to their desires.
So it makes sense then that she has taken the many stories of myBeeHyve users—who often struggled to juggle many hats as working mothers—into her programming. With her online courses, physical products and speaking workshop engagements at companies, Sumrell is able to teach other women her own proprietary time management system: the TOP planning system.
Throughout the pandemic, women were often forced to scale down their work schedules or leave the workforce altogether. According to Politico, nearly 1.8 million women dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic as more demand was placed on them to be caregivers and teachers for their children during traditional school hours.
“Our lives are so integrated in ways they weren’t 20 years ago,” Sumrell said. “You’d go to work. You’d come home. Never the two lives crossed. And now everybody’s lives are so integrated, and the old-school time-management systems just don’t translate well for women in today’s world.”
Sumrell said so many women feel like they’re losing their identities as they struggle to be be Wonder Woman and have it all. This year, Sumrell projects her business will do three times the revenue it did in 2021. As employees return to the physical workplace, Sumrell also spends more of her time at companies providing her coaching as a service so that women at work are not stretched too thin.
“I think that there are so many interesting opportunities for women right now to start out and have their own businesses that they can bootstrap, that doesn’t require investments from venture capital,” Sumrell said. “I feel like we’re just standing in this huge open field of incredible possibility, and a big part of that is due to the technology that we have available to us.”
[Editor’s Note: Turnage, mybeeHyve’s other co-founder, has continued to support entrepreneurs as the CFO and Chair of the Screening Committee at xElle Ventures, an early stage angel fund for women founders by women founders, executives and investors.]