This article was originally published on July 23, 2020.
From designing travel apps for the government to helping raise millions of dollars for earthquake relief, Michelle Tran Maryns has quite the resume. Now, she’s helping underestimated entrepreneurs take their business to the next level with AI assistants at We Sparkle Co.
This is A Workday With Michelle Tran Maryns, Founder & CEO of We Sparkle Co.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always been interested in starting my own business because my mom was an entrepreneur. She had a successful fabric business back in Vietnam, but when my parents immigrated to the U.S. as part of the first wave of refugees who arrived in 1975, she didn’t feel confident in continuing her entrepreneurial journey because of all the language, cultural, and systemic barriers that she faced in the small Kansas town where our family settled. I always wondered what she could have accomplished if she had.
That’s why I dedicated my own career to issues of economic empowerment and what I focused on during my Master in Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I began my career as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) at the U.S. Department of State. In my first FSO assignment, I helped redesign Travel.State.Gov, build the first State Department app (SmartTraveler), and partner with the American Red Cross on a “Text Haiti” campaign that garnered $43 million toward earthquake relief.
After working on websites at State and the U.S. Department of Justice, I worked in the private sector for awhile as a strategy consultant advising clients like Target and Capella on their technology strategy before leading digital at the American Academy of Neurology and serving as the Chief of Strategic Initiatives at Meda. Now, I’m bringing this cross-sector experience together in a social enterprise called We Sparkle Co., which is a public benefit corporation focused on helping underestimated entrepreneurs start, operate, and grow their ventures via our suite of AI-powered software tools.
Have you experience burnout or rough mental waters during your business journey? How did you cope with those times?
Yes, I have definitely experienced rough mental waters during this business journey. Thankfully, I have been able to cope with these times because I have an incredibly supportive husband who makes sure that I eat and sleep. My Corgi, Huggleberry, also ensures that I take regular breaks to walk her or play tug. The rest of my family, friends, and team members are also amazing at helping me stay balanced.
Who is the person you go to for support during the highs and lows of the business journey?
My husband is definitely my go to for support. We usually talk through the highs/lows of the day as we cook, eat meals, or walk Huggleberry.
What’s a recent work-related challenge you had to conquer? Walk us through your process.
Right now, I’m working through the challenge of finding the right investors to join our seed round. We were recently selected by Forge North/Greater MSP to represent our region at Collision from Home (one of the largest tech conferences in the world) so we had the opportunity to connect with a few investors during that conference. We’ll continue following up with them and others in the coming months so that we can raise the funds we need to hire more team members to accelerate our work.
What time do you rise and shine?
I usually rise and shine between 7 – 9 a.m. every morning.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
My go-to breakfast is Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola.
What’s the first work-related task you tackle each morning?
The first work-related task I tackle each morning is to review my schedule for the day and to answer any urgent emails or Slack messages that may have come in during the night/morning.
What is your workspace setup?
My desk is filled with sticky notes, thank you cards, and family photos. My walls are all dry erase boards so I can jot down ideas or sketch out user flows. My computer is a MacBook Pro.
What’s the most interesting/fun/meaningful thing on your desk?
The most meaningful item on my desk right now is a “2020 Junior Achievement (JA) Impact Award” that JA recently sent me because I am currently the Entrepreneur in Residence and teach a new program called JA LaunchU! for middle school and high school students interested in entrepreneurship.
What do you need to get done before lunch to feel like you had a productive morning?
I need to have my daily standup with my team and be up to date on my emails.
What are you listening to these days?
I listen to my husband’s music every morning atto get up and ready. I can also hear him creating new songs in his studio throughout the day, so there’s always a soundtrack and steady rhythm in my life that motivates and inspires me to keep going.
What podcasts are you listening to?
It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders. Sam and I interned at WBUR together when we were in grad school and I’m so glad he stuck with NPR because it’s really fun to hear his voice on the radio now!
How about TV?
My current TV obsession is “Queer Eye.” They are such a force of positivity and hope right now. I especially enjoyed the two seasons they did in my old stomping grounds of Kansas City/Lawrence, and I hope they come to Minneapolis at some point!
What’s the last movie you saw and what would you rate it (out of five)?
The last movie I saw was “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” It was pretty funny and entertaining so I would give it a 4/5. Right before that I saw “Pursuit of Happyness,” which is based on an inspiring true story that is very moving. I would give it a 5/5.
What book would we find on your nightstand?
How do you fend off the post-lunch lull?
I try to walk around and get some fresh air to fend off the post-lunch lull.
What do you use to stay organized during a hectic day?
I live by my calendar so my #1 tool to stay organized is my Sparkle Assistant. People can just text my Sparkle Assistant to schedule calls or Zoom sessions with me and it automatically fills my calendar with all the pertinent information.
What’s one thing everyone could do to be more productive?
Buy and customize your own Sparkle Assistant 1.0! It’ll save you a lot of time going back and forth trying to identify the right days or times to meet, or copying and pasting Zoom info into a calendar invite.
If you’re a freelancer, solo entrepreneur, or small business, we’re rolling out Sparkle Assistant 2.0 soon so that you can customize it to upsell your products/services and encourage customer reviews on your behalf. If you want to beta test 2.0, feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
What’s the last work-related thing you do at the end of a day?
Check my calendar for the next day to see what my first meeting will be and what I have going on throughout the day.
How do you decompress at the end of a long workday?
Cook and eat dinner and go on a walk with my husband and Huggleberry.
What time do you hit the hay?
Around 11 p.m.
Anything new with We Sparkle Co.?
People should check out Sparkle Assistant 1.0 at or discover great local businesses by downloading our We Sparkle Directory. We’re rolling out updates and some of our other tools soon, so follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @WeSparkleOrg for the latest. We’re also seeking investors to join our seed round, so email us at email@example.com for more information.
Photos courtesy of We Sparkle Co. and Michelle Tran Maryns.
If there’s a community thought leader or founder who you’d like to see featured in our “A Workday With—” series, contact us on Twitter @TECHdotMN or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “A Workday With— Submission.”
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