Black History Month is a dedicated time to remember, reflect and honor African-American history and achievements. At BigCommerce, we’re honored to celebrate Black entrepreneurship and dive deeper into some of our customers’ stories year-round, but especially this month.
With this year’s Black History Month theme of Black Health and Wellness, BigCommerce Senior Brand Manager Leah Spector sat down with Marc Washington, founder and CEO of Muniq, to discuss the unique challenges and victories of being an African-American entrepreneur.
Take a look look into their conversation and the impactful story behind the Muniq brand:
BigCommerce Q&A with Muniq Founder and CEO Marc Washington
Marc Washington is the founder and CEO of Muniq, a company that produces a proprietary blend of meticulously sourced prebiotic fibers that have been validated by hundreds of clinical studies to improve blood sugar, weight loss, gut health, cholesterol and more.
Washington is a first-time entrepreneur, but has made his career as an executive in the space of health, wellness and all things better-for-you. Washington was President and Chief Operating Officer of Beach Body before he threw his hat in the ring and started Muniq in 2020. He says health empowerment is his personal passion and a career path he’s been fortunate to chart.
Leah Spector: What inspired you to launch this business? Did you have a certain mission or vision?
Marc Washington: “The way I describe it is really a head-meets-heart moment. I’ve always been in the space of helping people live healthier, but I knew there was a better way. Despite all the advancements in technology and the food and health care systems, the fundamental issues of human health and underlying conditions are getting worse every year. I knew there had to be a better way, a more evidence-based, science-based way to help people transform their health, especially those who need it the most.
“But this is also a personal story tying back to my sister Monica. Monica was an unbelievably colorful personality, full of life, vivacious, hilarious. Unfortunately, she struggled with her health, just like so many others. She struggled with her weight, and she lived with diabetes, hypertension and a number of chronic conditions. She tried lots of different things over the years to get better control of her health, but nothing ever stuck. She tragically passed away six years ago during complications from a high-risk pregnancy, ensnared in all the different health conditions that she was dealing with.
“It struck me to my core, and it’s one of those things that just never went away. It really lit a fire in me to do something. I thought, if not me, then whom? And if not now, then when do we actually do something to help people?
“We needed more solutions about empowerment and hope — the kind of solutions I wish Monica had. She’s really an inspiration for me deciding to start this business, and she’s the inspiration for our brand. The brand name Muniq is actually Monica plus unique. Her legacy is all about helping others chart a path towards hope, empowerment and better health.”
LS: That’s really beautiful. You and your sister’s stories, and the impact you’re having, are so powerful.
What goals and aspirations do you have for Muniq in 2022 and beyond?
MW: “Something I’m very passionate about is that food is medicine, but it is difficult in this society to actually make healthy decisions. Our whole mission is to provide true food as medicine and reintroduce it in a sustainable, accessible, even enjoyable way.
“This year, it’s all about expanding on this mission. We’ve seen unbelievable success reaching a number of individuals and impacting their lives in massive ways. This year is about scaling so we can make a significant impact on a large number of people, moving us closer towards our mission of making a fundamentally positive impact on public health.
“The aspiration is to really create a movement of folks who decide to give this a try, and then hopefully share with others and help build this movement of people that are feeling empowered and supported, with Muniq as a helpful partner.”
LS: Big, noble, worth pursuing. I’m hearing a lot about education and engagement. How are you activating this kind of marketing and customer outreach?
MW: “It’s never just been about the products for us — it’s about an experience. That’s a big part of our business model and why we decided to go direct-to-consumer — not just to sell but also to connect with people.
“When we launched Muniq we simultaneously launched our community, the Muniq Lifers. When someone decides to give Muniq a try, we invite them into our private online community where they see they’re not by themselves on this journey. There’s a lot of peer support in our Muniq Lifers community, and I am personally there every day, cheering people on, providing support, providing education and content. Engagement, community and content — those are all critical aspects of the overall Muniq Life experience, as we like to call it.”
LS: Switching gears a little bit. We are celebrating Black History Month, and we’re really thankful to hear from successful business owners like you. What does Black History Month mean to you, especially as a Black entrepreneur?
MW: “It takes on special meaning for me as a Black founder trying to advance the good of the community. This year’s Black History Month theme is near and dear to my heart: Black health and wellness. That theme is woven into who I am as a person, and it is who we are as a brand.
“One of the benefits of starting your own business, and one that brings me a lot of joy as an entrepreneur, is building a brand that has meaning, that has soul, and that aligns with your own personal values.
“Our aspiration is to play a role in closing some of the significant health disparity gaps that exist predominantly for Black and brown communities. When you look at just about every chronic underlying health condition, unfortunately they almost all significantly disproportionately impact Black and brown communities: diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and so on.
“There are a host of different reasons why that is. Instead of just talking about it, let’s do something about it. I truly believe that if we are successful in our mission, we can have a positive impact on increasing health equity and close some of these health disparity gaps, in particular for the Black community.
“Black History Month is a special time of year for me to recognize everything that has come before us, all the trailblazing within the African American community, and everyone today that continues to uplift and build the Black community. I’m inspired to do our part in particular around this topic of health equity. The time is now to start turning the corner and closing some of these health disparity gaps, and I hope Muniqthe media can play a role in that process.”
LS: Well, I know Muniq is making a difference, and that was beautifully said. Thank you for sharing.
Has the Black Lives Matter movement impacted your business at all?
MW: “It has only caused me to double down on our commitment, and it has given us a bigger platform in some ways. This was already woven into the essence of our business and our brand, but the renaissance of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last couple of years has provided more of a platform for a Black-owned brand like ours to have a megaphone to shine a light on the different aspects of inequality. It starts from the standpoint of police brutality and civil rights, and I do believe that health care and health equity is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our times. Black Lives Matter has helped elevate some of these conversations to be a bit more front page than they have been throughout history.
“These health issues aren’t new, and Covid has definitely accelerated some of them. You can imagine someone like me launching a brand new startup business, like, here we are all in the office, trying to get this thing off the ground, and all the sudden we’ve got Covid, we’ve got Black Lives Matter, and people were asking me, should we pause? When I stepped back and thought about it, I realized there had never been a greater need for what we’re doing than right here, right now. Black Lives Matter has only reinforced our motivation.”
LS: Do you have any advice for other Black entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their businesses?
MW: “The first thing I advise to any entrepreneur — the risk involved in starting a business is not for the faint of heart. Take a deep breath and make sure this is a pool you want to dive into. If you have an idea or a concept, be thoughtful that you are solving a real problem that affects a number of people. You have to create some good or do something different than everything else.
“For Black entrepreneurs, be prepared to be in an environment where you might feel like the only one. Black professionals are typically underrepresented throughout corporate America, and we’re even more of a minority when it comes to entrepreneurship. The founders and investors who are in this game of entrepreneurship typically don’t look like us, and as a Black founder, you have to be prepared for that. You’re probably not going to look like 99 percent of the other founders that they have decided to write checks to.
“It can be a challenge, especially in an early stage like venture capital, where a lot of it depends on investors who are used to things that look a certain way and investing in a certain type of founder. You’re going to have to break that mold. For Black entrepreneurs, you need to anticipate that in advance so it’s not a shock to go into that environment and not see people who look like you and not have investors that have invested in other Black entrepreneurs.”
Are you a Black founder looking for support? Check out DivInc, an organization on a mission to remove friction and barriers to enable people of color and women entrepreneurs to build successful high growth businesses. For more information on DivInc, visit www.divinc.org.
LS: What are some of the challenges you have faced or, alternatively, some of the biggest wins?
MW: “I’ll start on the win side — I tend to be an optimist and can’t help myself in that regard. I get the most inspiration when we’re empowering real health transformations, even on a tiny scale, like with even one person. Many individuals have felt powerless on this roller coaster of fad diets and medications, and seeing them engage with our product, with our community, using it regularly, it’s like a light goes off. I call it shine. When we help an individual unlock this very personal moment of health empowerment, that shine is the best feeling in the world. I’m fortunate that in this business, we see that literally on a daily basis. We have direct, close relationships with our consumers whose health transformations we get to see firsthand.
“Even on a tough day, I’ll wake up knowing we have a lot of things to figure out, and then I’ll go into our Facebook community and see a couple of posts from a Muniq Lifer who has just reached this personal moment of shine, and all the sudden I am ready to attack the day. This just reinforces our goal of bringing this moment of shine to the masses, so that we can achieve a magnitude of impact at scale.
“On the flip side, it is a startup, so we have challenges. Even though we were able to launch in the midst of all the Covid craziness, we had real issues actually getting our product produced with supply chain and labor shortages. There was a significant period of time where we were on this growth path, right, I had just raised a Series A financing round and we were growing. Then all of a sudden, we didn’t have any product to sell. We kind of had to stop attracting new customers just to protect our core customers, because literally we couldn’t produce enough product.
“There have also been some changes with Facebook and Instagram, which are primary ways we raise awareness about Muniq and connect with consumers, and that has just fundamentally changed over the past number of months. Sometimes these external factors can affect your business so much, which isn’t fun. But it has been a good forcing mechanism to be innovative and creative and diversify how we connect with consumers. You get some of the good and some of the bad — it’s all in a day of being a startup.”
LS: Similar to your best part of your days when you find how you’re making someone’s life better, that’s my favorite part of working at BigCommerce — seeing how we can really help empower our merchants and their businesses. Thank you so much for trusting us with your business, and thank you for sharing your story.