An Interview with Jhanelle Elissa, Founder of Jiive

Founder Visibility is an interview series that highlights founders that inspire us and shares how they found their firsts: co-founder, customer, capital, and confidence.

Jhanelle is the Founder of Jiive, a new type of events platform for real-life community and live experiences. She explains some of the challenges she has faced as a solo founder building an early-stage company and shares words of wisdom for all first-time founders. Read her story below.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

“ ”
I would say to my younger self, “Trust your gut, live out the mission, and align with people who will help you go in the right direction — not those who will mislead you.”
— Jhanelle Elissa, Founder of Jiive

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey leading up to starting Jiive.

I’m Jhanelle Elissa, and I’m from Miami, Florida. I grew up in South Florida and went to the University of Florida. My family is Jamaican, and it was pretty much expected I’d pursue a track of medicine or education, but growing up, I loved the arts, and I loved performing. After getting my Associate’s Degree at UF at 19 years old, and doing a semester abroad in Italy, I decided to take a gap year and then transfer — ended up getting into Chapman University in Southern California to pursue a BFA in screen acting and follow with an on-camera career in film and television.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Chapman due to a last-minute financial fallout. So I ended up relocating to Los Angeles and starting my career three years earlier than I had planned. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing at the time. All I knew was that I loved movies and storytelling, and I wanted to use my talents and passions to make a real impact in the world.

Starting out, I had no friends or family in the industry, so in a way, I had to work and build my career from scratch. I think I got really lucky the first year because I found a fantastic career coach and acting coach who helped me learn the business, and I started booking commercials right away. I also purposely did not get an agent my first year, so I could see what it was like to be my own agent, pitch myself for projects, and see how far I could actually get on my own.

After about a year and a half, I came across a few unique opportunities to create fresh content and began directing. I also enjoyed working on sets and started producing projects, mostly in the short-form, experimental space. Also, having a life-long passion for live experiences, music, entertainment & concerts, I found a fitting side hustle working in live events and brand marketing whenever I was not on set. I also recently co-founded a nonprofit initiative called Playlist of Color, connecting musicians of color with sync licensing opportunities in media.

Something I’ve always been passionate about is experiencing life in person. In the past few years, I’ve witnessed a powerful and grim correlation between the rise in widespread social media use and the growing mental health epidemic with issues affecting people at every age. This was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as so many people around the world were stuck inside of their homes, forced to interact only through digital means, and depression and suicide rates tripled. That said, I felt really pushed to do something about it — find a way for people to interact and create the type of tangible offline community I wish existed pre-pandemic. I remembered this idea I had back in high school that would truly connect people in a fulfilling and sustainable manner and allow people to create real-life friendships. That idea and mission quickly developed into Jiive.

What are some of the challenges you face as a solo founder?

Not having anyone to bounce ideas off of is very challenging. Let’s just say I’ve annoyed the heck out of my friends. Having a co-founder is great for talking through more intricate challenges that come up when building a business like this, especially if a mentor or colleague is not readily available.

Another struggle solo founders like myself can face is not having a counterbalance. I am a big-vision, big-picture type of person. Even early in my film and television career, when I had no significant credits, I would be thinking of producing a project, and I’d say to my team, “I don’t see why this can’t be on a streaming network.”, which is a big feat without being an established name. It’s a great way to think, but oftentimes, big-vision people need others in their life to ground them a little and advise on tangible, digestible paths forward so that they can accomplish those big ideas. Given that I don’t have a co-founder at the moment, I try to surround myself with people like that — who see and understand the vision but who also have an objective eye to it.

When it comes to investment, aligning with the right people has been an interesting challenge. When I first started fundraising, I was reaching out to everyone who called themselves an investor. It was a huge learning curve, seeing as, at first, I didn’t know the differences between pre-seed, seed rounds, etc. I also ran into a lot of investors who were simply not aligned with the heart behind Jiive.

Around this time last year, the Black Lives Matter movement happened. A big part of my mission with Jiive is to provide widespread access to social experiences and serve communities that do not have the privilege, resources, or finances to put on or attend fun, high-caliber events. I came across over 10 investors who showed a very clear misunderstanding of the concept of privilege and did not seem to believe that they even had it. I’ve been on phone calls and navigated racially insensitive comments. I’ve received emails saying, “we don’t think someone like you can run a company.” These experiences are ongoing and are still very difficult to digest.

How did you find your first customer?

Jiive is quite early. We’re essentially raising $500,000 to build our platform and get the word out that we’re coming post-pandemic. Before we have that platform built, we thought it would be a good idea to host pre-launch events to garner a ton of buzz and bring awareness nationwide. We just want to get people outside and meeting face-to-face again in a fun and safe way!

We hosted an event this past Saturday, and a customer came who was part of one of the Facebook groups that I promoted the event on. I could tell that he had a genuine interest in meeting other people and fully understood the mission behind Jiive. He truly inspired me and gave me validation in the sense that I’m doing the right thing. We had a blast with the event, played a ton of fun games, even played “Red Light, Green Light,” and ran around like we were kids again, and it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves!

How have you approached funding?

So far, I’ve had two investors give us a ‘soft’ yes — one who was interested in coming in at $100k and the other at $50k. However, both of them wanted us to have a lead investor first. As an early-stage, first-time tech founder, startup finance is new to me, but outside looking in, I find this investment trend to be a little strange, given that I’ve always spearheaded my own projects and have never waited for anyone to do anything.

To quote my mentor, “Investors want to know that other people have RSVP’d to the party before they decide to come.” So I’ve been on the hunt for that lead investor, and I’m really excited for when it does come in!

What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self before starting your company?

In the process of looking for investors, I felt trapped to please them and spent too much time taking advice from people who don’t know much about live events. So I would tell myself to trust my gut a lot more. Don’t take action solely because someone with money told you to take action.

This also applies to the fact that I am a solo founder. I’ve been told so many times to get a co-founder, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best thing for the business. Trust your gut.

“I would say to my younger self, ‘‘Trust your gut, live out the mission, and align with people who will help you go in the right direction not those who will mislead you.’

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jhanelle.

VisibleHands logo