Why Brett’s a Hawk to Watch:
Fair warning: You might want to grab a snack before reading about our November Hawk to Watch, Brett Striker, CEO and founder of the Minneapolis-based popcorn company Maddy & Maize. At Maddy & Maize, Brett and his team are feeling the holiday rush in full force, popping up small batches of chocolate-covered, caramel-drizzled, sprinkle-coated gourmet goodness to satisfy the appetites of a hungry seasonal market.
A career that requires being surrounded by popcorn may sound delightful, but Brett’s road to entrepreneurship was often an uphill struggle, with numerous obstacles and rejections along the way. But with a solid understanding of people from his KU degree in psychology, and a determined, ‘keep at it’ mindset, he was able to turn his vision into a delicious reality.
Check out what Brett had to say about his experiences with business start-up, how Maddy & Maize came to be, and see what kernels of wisdom (pun 100% intended) he has to share with KU students and aspiring entrepreneurs. Discover why Brett’s a Hawk to Watch.
Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:
I am the Founder & CEO of a popcorn company called Maddy & Maize.
How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey?
I knew that I wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t have a clue as to what type of business it would be. I spent years coming up with ideas in my head – whether it was an idea for an app or taking an existing business model and trying to figure out how I could improve upon it, or simply developing a completely new business that didn’t exist yet. I was pretty obsessive about it.
Eventually, when I thought that I actually had an idea that had some legs to it, I’d research what it would take to get started and then try to find a way to raise some money. I did this for many years and with multiple business ideas that resulted in enough “no’s” to last a lifetime, but it was absolutely necessary for me. Although it was a long and difficult process, I learned so much about business. I began to develop new perspectives as a result of talking to smarter people than I who either explained why my ideas wouldn’t work or would ask me questions that I hadn’t yet thought of. So, in one sense, it wasn’t necessarily a moment when things came together because it took years; however, I do remember the exact moment when I had the idea for popcorn. Finally, after everything I had learned, this idea made some sense. Now, I just had to figure out how to make it!
What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement so far, without a doubt, is that I haven’t given up. Starting this business has been so much harder than I would’ve ever expected – and I expected it to be extremely hard – but, I never let myself give up despite wanting to so many times.
What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?
There have been many days when I felt so down and defeated that I couldn’t even move. I have no doubt that I will face more days like that in the future, but I’ve learned to never get too up or too down. I guess the key for me is expecting low moments and viewing them as opportunities. I know it’s cliché, but it’s truly how I view any obstacles in front of me. I feel fortunate that from a very young age, my mom would always stress to me that I need to look at every bump in the road as an opportunity to learn and grow. I’ve definitely become mentally stronger over the years, but fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know how a person can learn and grow unless they also experience challenges along the way.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
In 10 years, I hope to be in a financial position where I can mentor and invest in aspiring entrepreneurs and growing businesses.
What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
I’d probably tell myself that the years right out of college are going to be extremely challenging, and although it might seem from the outside that all of your friends look as if they are happy, successful, love doing what they are doing and have it all together, that probably isn’t the case. They are all just like me. We are all freaking out about not knowing what we want to do with our lives and looking around as if we are the only one. But rather than doing something that seems like it will make you a lot of money, it is actually the time to enjoy the unknown. Take risks. If nothing else, you’ll learn what you don’t want to do and meet awesome people along the way. Oh, and 30 isn’t old at all. It’s not some magic age where you need to have it all figured out. But the 18-year-old me probably still wouldn’t have believed me!
What’s your best career pro-tip?
Meet with people that make you feel intimidated. Ask to meet with them for a coffee and pick their brain for advice. Don’t worry if you don’t really have any deep questions to ask. You’ll quickly start to feel more comfortable around people and in situations that make you nervous the more you put yourself out there. Networking is crucial and those are the type of people you should be looking to meet. One of my favorite quotes, even though I don’t have a clue who said it and I’m likely paraphrasing it is, “everything you’ve ever wanted is just outside of your comfort zone.”
How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?
My degree taught me a lot about people and how they think. I learned that we all have our own internal struggles, and for the most part, we are all trying our best.
What do you do after you’ve clocked out?
I don’t really ever truly “clock out” but I try to hang out with my friends and relax as much as possible. I like to read and workout, but the truth of the matter is I need to do a better job of turning it off.
What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?
I have a twin sister named Erin who also graduated from KU. She’s pretty cool.
Be like Brett. Chase what excites you, even it takes you out of your comfort zone. For more information, visit the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas and Maddy & Maize.
Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.