Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Maria Vandenburg and I founded a company called We Are Just Us. The mission of We Are Just Us is the evolution of ‘me’ to ‘we’ with the realization that we are all enough. JUST as we are.
What does that mean? It means that I created We Are Just Us with two main intentions
- To provide a safe and loving space for people to show up just as they are however they are feeling in a given moment (sad, mad, upset, hurt, joyful, any of the spectrum of human emotions) and know that it’s enough, that they will be loved and supported no matter what
- To provide a space for people to launch and develop their own group courses and journeys, to help facilitate someone else going through my own personal journey (more on that to come).
My Flagship Product is my own group course/journey called “Becoming Authentically You.” This will re-launch in April 2021. Becoming Authentically you are about spending a month focusing on embracing who we are and how we are authentically feeling at any given moment. Each week has a different focus
- The first week is about becoming conscious of our thoughts and how powerful they are
- The second week is about our shadows - which goes hand-in-hand with my book; Crown Jewels: The Akasha Records. Crown Jewels revolve around the premise that every single human being has a “Shadow” but they aren’t actually bad. They are our subconscious made manifest in the form of an animal, and through working with them we can learn to love and embrace all of who we are. Crown Jewels are also the Science fiction/fantasy companion journey to the Becoming Authentically You.
- The third week is focused on getting visionary about our futures
- The fourth week we are asked to then take a look at what is holding us back from believing that the future we long for can be ours.
Every single month though, we go through a different group journey that is hosted by whoever created it in the first place. Designed to take just 15 minutes a day. It has already proven to be incredibly powerful as we have a group of dedicated people willing to show up every single day for themselves.
They’re also willing to bravely and vulnerably share what they are working through. It holds us all accountable, and especially now when social isolation is a very real and powerful thing, I’m so grateful for what we already have and I only anticipate it deepening in impact.
Monetarily wise we are still very much in the beta phase. I soft-launched the company in November 2020 with the hope to brainstorm what it might become, we moved into the launch of the first of our group journeys in January 2021. Right now we are running on a Pay As You Wish model to give people the chance to check the space out, eventually, we will switch to subscription-based once we have attracted a larger base.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My heartfelt desire with the formation of We Are Just Us is to provide a safe space for other people to go through my own journey.
Being gentle and compassionate with myself in knowing that it will all unfold as it’s supposed to.
My story begins a few years ago when I was living in my aunt's apartment and heavily drinking wine and watching Netflix (not that there's anything wrong with either of those things, but in moderation). I took the term binge-watching, to the extreme. The point is, I felt stuck and helpless. I knew there was more for me, but I couldn’t see it or feel it.
What got me out of my funk though was two different things:
- Dedicating time to myself every single day for my own development
- Finding a loving community to support me and remind me that I’m never alone
Over the course of the next few years, I dove in and really learned to believe in myself. I had a really good friend say a few weeks ago that we are told to love ourselves all the time... but no one ever tells us how. That’s what I spent the last two years doing, learning how to truly love and be there for myself, no matter what.
And through that practice, I learned to believe in myself and my voice in ways that I never thought were possible. With that belief came a deep longing to then want to show up and share my story and my voice with the world.
With We Are Just Us, I hope to provide a safe space for others to do the same. To deepen in knowledge, awareness, and love of themselves, but then also to provide a space for them to cultivate and develop their own group journeys, courses, etc.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
This is all still in-process actually. In January, we launched our very first group journey called Writing Our Story.
Writing Our Story revolves around the idea that we all have the ability to create the future that we want to be living in, so how do we do that? How do we begin to tell and write that story? Every single week we reveal a new chapter and every single day there is a new page.
The journey/course has daily affirmations, micro-challenges, and reflection prompts (as do all of our group journey’s/courses).
We have just launched our second group journey called “Embracing Body Love”;
What we believe in we often create into our reality. Focusing on hating your body will only lead to more low-level emotions like hate, sadness, and anxiety. Instead, we can begin to flip the focus from loathing the body to appreciating how amazing the body is at any size, all that the body does for you, and how you can start loving the body back.
Meaghan McElroen is our tour guide as we take a journey to more self-love around body image. She is a passionate health coach and fitness trainer focused on guiding others to love their body, let go of problematic eating habits, and embrace more self-love daily.
For March, we are moving toward more self-love, body appreciation, and acceptance.
In addition to that, we also host an Art Room, where we meet bi-weekly to explore our unique connection to our creativity, and a Writers Room where we meet bi-weekly and I guide everyone through reflective writing practice.
It is all still very early in the game with We Are Just Us, where we are testing and experimenting as we go.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We soft-launched with our very own Mighty Network in November 2020. I spent the last two months of 2020 forming a core team to then more formally launch in January 2021 with We Are Just Us. I use the term “launch” here very gently because, in all honesty, I view 2021 as our year of figuring out exactly what we want to do moving forward.
Marketing efforts have been purely word of mouth and referral based with the occasional social media ad spend. This is really where a lot of my current effort and energy is focused. I do believe in the power of We Are Just Us, every single day I log in and see the lives impacted and not from anything that I am doing but from the simple act of people committing to themselves and knowing that they have a safe space to show up and just be who they are, what I need to work on and figure out this year is
- How to really get our message out there so that those who might need a space to know that they are enough just as they are… would know how to find us
- How to attract appropriate funding/profitability models. Right now we are donating based which makes sense for the team and the people on the space now but long-term is not financially feasible or sustainable
This part of the journey is still very much unfolding.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I think one of the main differentiating factors for We Are Just Us, is that it really isn’t about “me”, it’s about the “we.” And the people in space know that, not only do they know that it’s OK to be exactly as you are, they also know that their voice, input, story, EVERYTHING matters. I intentionally formed the space wanting to co-create it and that is what I am in the process of doing.
So to answer that question, what retains my “co-creators” as I call them, is the fact that they know they really are an important part of the community, the ecosystem, that it wouldn’t be the same without them.
In terms of outside marketing efforts, as I said above, I’m just getting started in this arena. I’ve tested the waters with Facebook Ads and need to explore other avenues, so again, very much a work in progress.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we have a core team of about 8-10 of us that meet every single week to brainstorm and collaborate on what’s to come. The creation of writing your story was birthed out of these weekly meetings.
As mentioned above we have three different areas on the platform to engage, two different rooms (the art room and the writer’s room), and every single month we have a group journey we move through.
As to the future? You know I’m honestly not sure, because I view the space as a growing and evolving thing. I hoped to create space for others to create and launch their own courses. I am working on a few with my founding members, so we will have the eventual launch of their courses, beyond that it depends on who gets involved in the space and where the energy and momentum take us, that’s the exciting (and nerve-wracking) part of the “we.”
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The main thing I learned was that I can do it. Really you wouldn’t think that would be some big life-altering lesson, but for me it really was. I can successfully say that I have launched my own company and that it has made a direct impact on people's lives.
Can I tell you exactly what the future holds for us and exactly where we are going? No. But I can tell you that we have started and it feels really really good. I heard the saying once that often the hardest thing to do is just start. Taking that initial leap was such an impactful moment in my own life.
I’ve also learned that isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, I have to manage my own expectations and keep myself in check ALL THE TIME. Just a few weeks ago, I was repeating a story in my head that if we weren’t reaching millions, we were a failure. Because we are JUST in our beginning stages, of course, we aren’t reaching millions. But then I went back to what I had long ago decided that “success” meant to me, and that’s the ability to touch just one life. We’ve done that, we do that, every single day. There is a voice in my head that likes to convince me otherwise, so the second lesson for me is just being gentle and compassionate with myself in knowing that it will all unfold as it’s supposed to.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Mighty Networks. I can’t rave enough about this space, I love everything about it in terms of building a community. I also have Facebook and Instagram profiles that I am still working on developing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Alchemist, which probably isn't the answer you are looking for here but I don’t care, it’s one of my favorites and inspires me every time I read it. And in terms of podcasts, I love Brene Brown, my work though is pretty focused on vulnerability and authenticity so without fail she always seems to inspire me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Keep going! As you can see if you read this story, We Are Just Us is very much still a work in progress, but one thing is for sure, I’m not giving up and neither should you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I require a graphic designer and someone to help me with marketing and social media (i.e attracting our tribe), position would be unpaid
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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