REPEAT is a special interview series underwritten by CliftonLarsonAllen where we take a deep dive inside the minds of Minnesota’s rare repeat technology entrepreneurs. Repeat means to start a tech company, exit said company, and return start another one.
Mary Meehan co-founded Iconoculture with Vickie Abrahamson in 1992, a consumer trend research firm that raised $12m and grew to 120 employees before a sale to Corporate Executive Board (CEB) in 2010.
Following that, she established Metametrix in 2013 to introduce a scalable software platform for delivering big data to big brands that want know where the puck is going within their target markets.
When and where were you born?
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1955, and I grew up in Wayzata.
What’s your earliest memory of business, entrepreneurship, or money?
When I was a kid, my father had his own business as an independent insurance agent. He was essentially self employed, part of a bigger network, but had his own office and small staff. My older and younger brothers have also always had thier own businesses, and so there was always this ‘in the air’ sort of feeling for us growing up.
Do you remember talking with him about it, or was it more observatory in nature?
I was aware…I was somewhat exposed to his job. We lived in the heart of Wayzata and his office was right there on the main street. He was a city councilman, and we went to the local parochial school…it was very much a small town life that we led. It was so different then.
Do you have other siblings?
I am a middle child, I have an older sister, older brother and a younger brother. My younger brother, Jeff, became a very successful entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry.
When and what was your first job?
As a kid I started by babysitting, and then by 13 I was working in an office very part-time, I don’t even remember what it was called or much about it. I also remember my dad hiring me to clean his office as a kid.
Most kids don’t get jobs at that age, do you remember why you did?
I think it just came natural. There was certainly a motive to have some of my own spending money and have some control…I think it was about independence, to start becoming an individual, and drive towards self-reliance.
What other jobs did you have throughout high school?
I was a line cook at a Bridgeman’s…I was also a waitress at a place called Uncle John’s.
What was your parents attitude towards you working?
They were always agreeable, there were no restrictions around that. There was definitely a work ethic in our home, though there wasn’t really any encouragement about going into business for myself or becoming an entrepreneur.
How would you describe that work ethic?
Well, my father wasn’t a workaholic by today’s standards, but he was highly committed to his business and we lived a comfortable, middle-clas life. That certainly became ingrained in me, even as a young adult.
Where did you go to college and what did you study?
I went to MCAD in the mid 70’s. There wasn’t anything at the school for theatre design, so I petitioned the dean of the school to create that department, and he agreed. Looking back,l that was a pretty interesting and empowering experience.
How did you finance your college education?
My parents paid for college under the condition that I held a job.
Did you work while you were in college?
Yes, I worked at a satellite of Abbott Northwestern, that is no longer there. I was on the janitorial staff. It was just about money, really. I always had the confidence that I could get a job, it was never a question of whether or not…
Did you acquire that confidence or is it just in your DNA?
I don’t think that, certainly for teenagers, that confidence is a constant. It boiled down to my desire to be independent. You have to want that enough to endure the jobs that aren’t that glamorous.
Do you think your jobs in the service industry affected you one way or the other?
Yes, it really gave me an early interest in people…why they do the things they do.
What did you do after graduating from MCAD?
I did a lot of independent study during college and worked at a lot of theaters by the time I graduated and realized that it would be nearly impossible for me to pursue a career in that field. So I gravitated into retail, and actually got a job with Dayton’s after graduating, at Ridgedale Dayton’s, on a management track. From there I got into merchandising and eventually marketing where I ran product development as a new division. Looking back, this was kind of like be an intrapreneur within Dayton’s, I was around 30 at the time.
In the early 80’s, I was working in a department known as moderate sportswear. We had lots of sweatshirts that weren’t selling so I cut the sleeves off (think Flash Dance) and they sold out. As product development, in the marketing division, I had a leading role in the Santa Bear product line. I was part of a huge team that executed on a massively successful strategy. Experiences like that really helped me think about cultural trends and what sells and why. It was a highly unique and rewarding experience.
Why do you consider that important?
It really reflects my interests now. I became curious of understanding and exploring more about why people do what they do…to make meaning out of it…and eventually I turned that curiosity it into a career.
Sounds like you had success with Dayton’s…was there anything there that you didn’t succeed with?
My tenure at Dayton’s was fantastic, but I had less success as an employee. I loved it there, the people, my boss was brilliant and so many things about the job and company, however, I just don’t do well with rules.
Why is that?
Rules are restrictive…they just don’t jive with my creative and independent streak. I am by no means a lone wolf, I love collaborating with others. I just don’t like ever feeling like there’s a fence around me.
How long did you last at Dayton’s?
For a decade! In 1988 I left after there was a leadership change. It was just time for me to go. I had a great experience and got to do and learn so much. I don’t regret any of it. I just really wanted to see what else was out there, see more about what was under the hood, my hood…I wanted to see what I was made of.