Melissa Strawn sits in a brightly colored room inside the earthship her and her family built by hand in Seattle, Washington, scrolling through menu options for an upcoming meet and greet where she’ll get a chance to speak to some of the helpers on her site. The mother of five lights up as she recounts some of the experiences she’s had and really comes alive when she mentions some of the lives she’s changed through her sharing economy site, MyPeopleNow.com. She taps her rose gold iPhone and turns the screen around to show her husband a mockup of a new feature he’s to code in their next release.
“It needs to be influencer-ready,” says Strawn, dressed in a black Calvin Klein pants-suit and matching black platform shoes. “I think we are starting to see that the site’s super users are live-streaming everything – from the services they consume to the work they are doing for others – it’s really helped boost the amount of time people are spending on the site.”
What Uber did for ride-hailing, Strawn has done for every type of service one can think of. Like other gig economy sites, she has leveraged the power of technology to gain both critical mass and a faithful following of people willing to help others on an on-demand basis. But while other sites focus on transactional relationships that end when your food is dropped off or your dog has been walked, Strawn has proved adept at making productivity and random acts of kindness both social and addicting.
Married just three years when this story publishes (their anniversary is December 20th) and with five sons to raise (including twin infants when they began), Strawn and her husband, Jord Sonneveld, run one of the hottest social network and gig economy sites ever. MyPeopleNow launched three years ago with an MVP that was barely hacked together where people could list their services and others could book them and has sold more than $630 million worth of services since, including an estimated $330 million in 2020. Even using a conservative multiple, and applying our standard 20% discount, analysts value her company, which has since added a social network and crowdfunding component, at nearly $800 million. Strawn owns 80% of it.
Add to that the millions she’s earned from government contracts aimed at helping social services recipients achieve self-sufficiency and from speaking engagements around the world, and $60 million in estimated after-tax dividends she’s taken from her company, and she’s conservatively worth $900 million, which along with her true rags-to-riches life story make her the most interesting person on the sixth annual ranking of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. (We estimate that 37-year-old Kardashian West, for comparison, is worth $350 million.). But she’s not just making history as a woman. Another year of growth will make her one of the most impactful self-made billionaires ever, male or female.