Fuel Love Creator and Founder Melissa Muszynski recently shared her startup experience with Innovation Destination Hartford.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: When and why did you launch your startup?
MELISSA MUSZYNSKI: I explicitly remember the morning Fuel Love launched. I was getting ready for work and closed my eyes for a minute to send positive energy to a relative going through a difficult time. Suddenly, the words “fuel love” came to my mind. It felt like the “ah-ha moment” so many business owners describe.
I visualized a logo on a shirt. It must have been my intuition saying, “launch a business to help connect people through love.” It was a surreal moment.
I followed my intuition and within days we were designing shirts. A few weeks later we were selling them in stores throughout the state. I’m a spiritual person and I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe we’re destined to do something greater than we could imagine. That’s why I created Fuel Love.
I often ask people, “Do you believe the world needs more love?” Every single person says, “Yes!” Our mission is to inspire people to do good and love more. The brand reminds people to ask themselves, “How can I make a difference?”
IDH: In your startup process, did you connect with any Connecticut business resources?
MELISSA: Yes. Early on, I connected and collaborated with other women-owned businesses, which has been critical to Fuel Love’s growth. Establishing these relationships early on enabled my brand to grow organically with the support of talented, successful business owners.
I’ve learned and grown as a business owner because of these women and the inspiring relationships we’ve created. We all see the importance of supporting one another and we’re creating a community of business owners who genuinely want to help each other. It’s positive and empowering. I hope someday I can give back others like they have to me. Larissa Lake, founder of Larissa Lake and Co./Linden and Kimberly Pedrick, founder of dwell New Haven are two business women who believed in my brand from the beginning. I cannot thank them enough.
In addition, I’ll begin two major endeavors as a new business owner this year. In February, I joined reSET’s 2019 Impact Accelerator Program, which is designed to provide entrepreneurs with access to the knowledge, networks, and resources they need to grow their businesses and their social impact. The program focuses on connecting entrepreneurs with early-stage customers and industry-specific experts and mentors, while providing them with coaching along important startup milestones.
Later in the spring, I’ll attend Cornell University to participate in its Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in partnership with Bank of America. This first-ever pilot program and strategic partnership will provide women entrepreneurs with the skills, knowledge, and resources to build, manage, and scale a successful business.
IDH: Who is your target client and how are you marketing?
MELISSA: Our customer base is primarily women in their 20s to 60s who shop for themselves and young children. Many are mothers who want to teach their children about love and kindness and believe our merchandise offers them a good starting point to have those conversations. Some of our customers have gone through challenging times in their lives and feel connected by our clothing.
We’re marketing on social media and via social media influencers, as well as in person and at major events throughout the state. We’re also growing the brand by establishing retail partnerships.
IDH: How did you develop those partnerships? And do you intend to find additional distributors?
MELISSA: Our products will be available at more shops in Connecticut (and one in Rhode Island) and we’ll be growing that list in the months to come. I made those connections by having in-person conversations with the business owners about the brands they look to collaborate with as they gear up for their fall and spring buying. We’re also selective about the stores where we sell. They all have the mindset of empowering people with merchandise that does the same.
IDH: What’s your biggest startup challenge?
MELISSA: Time! I have an enormous amount of energy, but not enough hours in the day. Being a wife and a mother to two little girls who have bigger social lives than me, while growing this company has been a major balancing act. However, with it comes the learning lesson of how to prioritize and manage deliverables in all areas of my life.
IDH: What are you most proud of that you have accomplished in the last year?
MELISSA: Since our launch, Fuel Love is empowering people to offer more love, kindness, and compassion into their daily lives. We receive stories about how people are making a difference and that’s what our company strives for—seeing people fuel love.
IDH: What resources do you need most to move your company forward?
MELISSA: We would greatly benefit from collaborations with major retailers and social media influencers while creating robust and interactive communications and developing marketing and public relations campaigns.
IDH: Any advice to others thinking of launching a Connecticut startup?
MELISSA: Don’t think, just do it. Take the leap of faith and believe in yourself and the product/service you can provide. We have one life to live and we have to make it count. None of us want to look back and have regrets.