About the episode:
This episode features Elena Nuñez Murdock, an entrepreneur, former youth minister, and the founder of Mission to Launch among other companies (yes, that's plural!). We talk about Elena's background working in ministry, her transition from ministry to working in the corporate world, and what she's doing with Mission to Launch to encourage more young, Catholic professionals to step out in faith and live out the dreams and calling that God has for them.
Listen to this week's episode:
Meet Elena Nuñez Murdock
Elena Nuñez Murdock has worked with executives from the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, UBS, Atomix Ventures, Succession Investments, over 70 startups such as Sheerly Genius, Family Offices, Private Equity Firms, and Venture Capital Firms investing in tech you can touch, food + AG tech, medical, luxury retail, blockchain, green tech, fintech, and education. She is passionate about serving visionary entrepreneurs and works to establish them as national thought leaders by placing them in top-tier podcasts, tv shows, digital and print media.
She coined the term "tech you can touch" for Venture Capital firms working with startups in "hard tech," a term now used in the vernacular by seed-stage VC's on the West Coast.
Elena managed a 350 million dollar brand, has developed PR strategies for 2-25 mil tech products, and co-rebranded a 1.5 billion-dollar company in under 90 days.
Her third company, Mission to Launch, addresses the need for virtue based content for Catholics and Evangelical Christians who are professionals and looking to thrive in their workplaces. Mission to Launch has courses in English and Spanish taught by CEOs and senior executives. Classes include the “Art of Interviewing,” “Translating your Christian Values into Effective Negotiation,” “Networking 101,” and 10+ others. To address the lack of mentors available to professionals, alt-Mentors hailing from privately owned and public top companies such as Goldman Sachs, KPMG, Boeing, and over 30 Fortune 100 companies serve members through interactive interviews. Mission to Launch also has a peer community and internship program in partnership with over 15 companies.
She holds a BA from Franciscan University of Steubenville and studied Organizational Design at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Elena is passionate about philanthropy and advising, sitting on the boards of the Catholic Community Foundation of Los Angeles, the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America.
00:10 RACHEL WONG: This is The Feminine Genius Podcast, a podcast that celebrates all women of God and their unique genius. I'm your host, Rachel Wong.
00:30 RACHEL: After many years of serving in ministry, Elena Nuñez Murdock pivoted from her time in ministry to become a full time entrepreneur. It was a process that taught her many lessons about resilience and self confidence. But best of all, she was able to build on her experiences in ministry and bring them into the workplace. With this in mind, Elena founded Mission to Launch, an all-in-one platform that equips and mentors those who are ready to transition from ministry into the corporate world, and encourages them to live life to the full. In this episode, Elena and I talked about the experiences she gained while working in ministry, what inspired her to found Mission to Launch and the fact that we're not just made for scarcity: we're made to thrive and live abundantly.
01:33 RACHEL: Hi Elena!
01:34 ELENA NUÑEZ MURDOCK: Hi, Rachel! Thank you so much for having me on.
01:37 RACHEL: It is my pleasure! Thank you for being here, and I was wondering if you could start by introducing yourself to our listeners and sharing a little bit of what it is that you do right now.
01:47 ELENA: Sure. So I currently work in PR [public relations] and in strategic networking for mostly venture capitalists, private equity executives, real estate developers, and family offices. So pretty much anything in finance, PR, business-wise I deal with, and I absolutely love my job. Prior to that, though, I was the director of youth and young adult and college ministries in the Archdiocese of Miami, I did that for about three years. And before that, I got my degree in theology at Franciscan University. But since then, I have an alt-MBA from Northwestern University at the Kellogg School of Management, and I studied at the Stanford Business School. So I started out in the Catholic world, and then I kind of transitioned into PR, which is what I currently do as my main business. And then during COVID, I launched my third business called Mission to Launch.
02:34 RACHEL: I'm always so impressed whenever I hear your story. I've listened to a couple interviews that you've given about the work that you do, and of course Mission to Launch, which I know we're going to jump into, but I'm always just so impressed and inspired, because I feel like many people struggle to start one business, and here you are, and you've started your third. So congratulations all around and God bless the work that you're doing, because I know that there's such an intimate tie between your faith, of course, and where you've come from, and the work that you're doing now. So that's really cool!
03:02 ELENA: Thank you, thank you.
03:03 RACHEL: As I kind of alluded to, and you mentioned this as well, you have your degree in theology, but I'd love to hear if we go even prior to going to Franciscan, if you could share a little bit of your faith journey and how you've come to know Jesus in the way that you do now.
03:16 ELENA: Sure. So in high school, I didn't really... our family went to mass on Sundays, I was starting to go to daily mass. I would say my senior years where I really got serious about my faith, because I parents wanted to homeschool me because they had discovered homeschooling and I had four younger siblings at the time, now I have five! And I did not want to be homeschooled to those you know, your senior year is like the year you know, you don't want to leave! So my parents said that if you can find a way to get to school, which is over 40 minutes away, then you can go. You just can't drive there and you can't take the school bus that comes from the school to our town to like pick people up specifically.
So I did a pretty much like a mini perpetual novena to St. Therese [of Lisieux], and I started going to mass every day during that summer at like 8 AM. During the summer for high school student I guess is unusual. Long story short, I did get a way to go to high school, finish out my senior year. Because of St. Therese, my firm belief—and that's why, I don't know if you can see her, but I have a huge statue of her behind me—but that's when like, I started to really believe that God was real, more than just going to mass and like, okay, like we do this thing on Sundays. That's when it really kind of hit me that there is somebody out there, you know. It wasn't a question that that He didn't exist ever, so that's a good thing. And I know a lot of my friends in high school struggle with that. It wasn't like a thinking thing, but it was more of like a conscious like, like, okay, there is someone here for me.
And then I went to Franciscan and I studied theology. It was kind of the opposite path that my parents have taken because they went to Stanford, my dad taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, so I very much went the opposite way of my parents. It was more of like a 'blazing a trail of my own' versus wanting to go to a Catholic university, but I did visit Franciscan. And like, as soon as I stepped on campus, it was so much peace that I had never experienced before in like a place. Like I had been to the Vatican, we had traveled and been to like Lourdes, which is very peaceful, but it was still like with my parents, so it was very much part of what they were doing. But when I went to Franciscan, I remember like coming up on the hill. And I just remember there was just so much peace. I'm like, I want to stay here forever kind of thing.
I ended up going, studied theology, and then after that I became a youth minister. But I would say St. Therese really helped me. Anytime I needed help with a job—and still with clients—I pretty much asked her for help. And then Mary... interesting that I picked today because I've had a difficult relationship with Mary. And it was like she... this year that I did a emergency rosary novena. And I realized I had trouble relating to Mary because I never thought that she was a woman of action, and I very much view myself as a woman of action being in business. And then I was meditating randomly on the Visitation. And I was like, "Oh, wait!" Mary made this decision to go visit her cousin, which is a brave and bold decision that a woman could do 2000 years ago,. That wasn't like the cultural norm to like, go and make decisions on your own. So I realized that I could relate to her and that completely changed it. So that was the recent of this year. It's been an interesting relationship with Mary, for sure!
06:20 RACHEL: Oh, that is so beautiful. Yeah, I mean, two incredible women! You know, you talked about Mary and St. Therese, and you kind of alluded to why it is that you chose the Visitation in this relationship with Mary for Mission to Launch. But just before I get there, I want to jump back to why you chose St. Therese. Is there a particular reason like growing up or why you were drawn to her and eventually why it is that you prayed that novena during that senior summer to her?
06:47 ELENA: So when I was growing up, I had back surgery, and I was actually on the feast of St. Therese, and my spine is all fused up with titanium like Wolverine. But [laughs] it's like totally normal! I don't even notice it anymore. But the surgery was on her feast day and I picked her for a confirmation saint, so I'm not entirely sure like what drew me towards her and it just has always kind of been there.
And then also when I was in high school, I was thinking briefly for a time that I wanted to be a Carmelite cloistered nun because of the St. Therese. I read the Story of a Soul, my family is also very close to a couple of Carmelite monasteries in Georgetown, California, which is a little bit farther north of Sacramento, beautiful area. And so I had this idea for a while that I was maybe called to that. I was obviously not called to that because I would be there currently! But she's always kind of there. And just, she's always, like, come through for me more than any other saint, I would say.
07:41 RACHEL: Wow! I love that so much. You know, we go through our lives, like you're saying, you had all these experiences, you know, some difficult and some extremely miraculous, and she has always been there, she's always come through. And you know, so many people have said to me, yeah, it's not really us that pick the saints, the saints that pick us and befriend us. And just hearing you share all of that just kind of rings true for me where yes, the saints are looking out for us and it's not this, like big chasm where they're inaccessible, or they don't care about us. They desire to journey with us and that's really cool. I love that so much.
08:18 ELENA: There's something that I say about the saints too, especially for those of us in the working professional world, that the saints are [an] executive board in heaven.
08:26 RACHEL: Yes!
08:26 ELENA: They get to like, you know, advise us in a way and you know, they're close to the big man Himself, so! You know?
08:33 RACHEL: Yeah, yeah, and that's such an apt image for you being in business, being a woman of action as you described. But just as we look at that transition to business—and it's interesting that you mentioned your dad had taught at Stanford, or maybe still does teach at Stanford. So obviously, you spent a period of time working in ministry, you were doing youth ministry. I was curious to know what that was like and what was then the, I guess, the moment that you realized it was time to transition?
09:01 ELENA: Sure. So I did middle school, high school, confirmation, young adult, college, altar service, and parent ministry, and like other odd ministries in between, like anything relating to the school. Middle school and parent ministry were my favourites. There was not really a huge middle school program when I went in, but middle schoolers are such sponges, and they're like, they don't hate you yet! Like high school is so hard, because they're just so much of a, you know, the hormones and the personalities. They're just like, all coming out in the same time. And they're like usually not there of their own accord. But the middle schoolers, I built it up, and it's called the Sparks Ministry. And I actually built that ministry in a couple different places as a volunteer, but I loved the middle school. I think it's such a critical age. If you answer their questions, and like get to them and they like absorb it and they understand it, I think they have a much higher chance of staying with the faith, versus if you get to them in high school. They're kind of have been like almost made a decision already, and it's much harder to get through to them in a sense, because everybody's trying to get through to them. And then I also love parent ministry because parents teach their kids catechesis first. And they're hopefully with their kids more than they're at school. So for me, it was critical to answer questions and minister to the parents, which I'm still very passionate about. I think every parish should have focus on a parent ministry, versus just having like kids ministries.
I enjoyed it tremendously had a great team of volunteers. It's definitely working in the professional world, like non-ministry world is much easier, in a sense, because you don't have to wrangle volunteers. Like as... in youth ministry, you have to wrangle all these people and be like, people are not paid to be there. So I think it's quite a miracle for people who are in ministry in general, like you have to wrangle a lot of people and train them. It's like herding cats! I don't know it was, you know, it's an amazing thing, really! [laughs] It gives you a lot of skills. But I really enjoyed it.
Where I realized I needed to leave is I... in the United States, when [Barack] Obama was president, and he came down with this, like, 40 hour workweek, basically, and there was at a certain point, people who were in ministry could not be exempt. Some positions were, some positions weren't, and my position was not [exempt]. So I had to fit all of my ministry time into 40 hours a week. And I was like, "You cannot build relationships in 40 hours, like that's not possible!" And PR, which is all about relationships, I work probably 80, 90 hours a week, but it's you know, it's super fun. But I was very frustrated that I couldn't go to like kids' games, and I was like, not even reporting hours, and I was getting in trouble for going like super over hours. It was just so frustrating, um, and I wasn't allowed to do a lot of the work that needed to be done to build those relationships, because of the hours constriction. And I was like, "This is ridiculous. If I'm not recording the hours, why does it matter?"
So at that point I was like, I really need to, like get out because I was getting burned out. I was seeing kids not being ministered to and families that needed kind of like those extra couple hours, I wasn't able to give that. So I was like, well, this is not gonna work. So I ended up leaving in 2016, and then from there, my dad actually was the one who told me, he's like, "I think you'd make a great entrepreneur." [laughs] And he was right! Just my skill set. I think a lot of people actually coming from industry in general have the potential to be amazing entrepreneurs because you create things out of nothing. You have a lot of skills and people management and dealing with very difficult people, which happens a lot, especially as you're building your business, you do have to deal with a lot of people, you can't really say no a lot of the time. So I think coming out of ministry, it built me up in a great way to be an entrepreneur, but I loved having my own businesses ever since. But being in ministry was such a joy and I really do miss the middle school and parent ministry, High schoolers are great too, but middle school is best!
12:49 RACHEL: And I have to agree with you, they really are saints in the making, because like you said, they have to do so much with so little sometimes. And then on top of that, like you're saying, what really struck me was just how you can't do all of the relational things, like, you can't build a ministry in 40 hours a week, like there's no way. My sister's youth minister, and you know, I see her sometimes working odd hours or just trying to fit things in here or there. Because sometimes like that's when people are online, especially now in COVID. You have to do online ministry or you have to reach out to people in a certain way, at a certain time, that may not fit very nicely into your typical 9-5, 40 hour a week work week. So I just find that to be so exciting. It's a real joy that certain people have these skills and also to the drive and the desire to continue to pour out of themselves, even though it might be awkward and challenging with the hours and stuff. So thank you for the work that you've done and what you continue to do!
Once you made that transition out of ministry, and you heard your dad say, "Yeah, I think you'd make a really great entrepreneur." From there, what did you study and how did you kind of get to that place where you're like, "I think I'm ready to start my first business"?
14:03 ELENA: Yeah, it wasn't as [laughs] as organized as that! It was more just like, "Okay, I'm leaving ministry, I must, you know, do something to support myself." So I pretty much immediately went on to consulting for non-profits, 'cause that was the closest thing. And I had had a couple of offers to do marketing, I learned how to do marketing in youth ministry, 'cause you have to market to people and understand your audience, understand what they need and what they want, which is a lot of basically what marketing is. So I started doing marketing, and I wasn't super good at it. Like, what I was really good at was the relationship building, but I didn't know necessarily how to do PR [or] what that was.
So I ended up working with a major donor from a non-profit. And he was like, "I really need what you're doing but like for me! I need something called a personal brand." And I was like I had no idea what that was at that point. [laughs] I was like, "Okay, but I don't know what that is. So I can't really help you." He's like, "Well, here's a budget and go figure it out." He's like, "I'm on LinkedIn." And so I went on LinkedIn, I figured out how to get him trending and like hashtags and on LinkedIn News. Started learning a little bit about PR then, got him into something in Forbes, something very basic. And then kind of just started growing, and I was in Austin, Texas—I had moved from Miami to Austin, Texas at the time—was working with a couple of parishes and building up ministries as a volunteer, but then really more focusing on LinkedIn specifically and building up somebody's personal brand. So then I sort of became an expert, there's not a lot of people who've worked specifically with LinkedIn, so I built up quite a few clients around that, which was wonderful. But it wasn't like, "Oh, I'm going to decide to launch a business," it was more like, thrown into the fire, like "I need to do this to earn a living." And so it just kind of happened and growing along the way.
I started taking courses at Stanford University, at Northwestern, and just kind of where I needed to learn skills, I would try to go to university instead of... I know a lot of people find skills on YouTube. But I was like, there's a lot of burn rate on YouTube, like you can Google a lot of stuff. And there's a lot of content there, but not all of it is useful. So I just went straight to like the quote unquote, "authority". Basically, you got something called like alt-MBA from Northwestern. So I took all the MBA classes, I just never actually got my MBA, because I was super busy running my business. I learned a lot about communications and a lot about organizational management and design. So I implemented all of that on the fly when I was doing that work. So I still don't have an MBA, probably won't have time to get an MBA ever, but that's okay, because the MBA doesn't really teach you a lot about business, it teaches a lot of theory, and what you need to know to run a business we really learn when you're getting burned and thrown into the fire, essentially.
16:40 RACHEL: Wow, being thrown into a fire is a perfect image, because as you're telling the story, and it's kind of like, oh, my gosh. I would be so stressed out. Just to be like, you know, "Here's some money, learn how to personally brand me!" And I'm like, "What? I don't I don't know how to do that!" So what was that like to really navigate all of these new things. Like, you had to take on so much probably, and you had to really learn a lot of things in a short amount of time—again, another great skill to take with you! It's a wonderful asset. So what was that experience like to just have to do all that and learn things so quickly?
17:12 ELENA: Yeah, it wasn't really a thinking thing, it was more just like a doing thing. And unless I thought about, like, the fact that I don't know how to do these things, and more just did them, it became easier. I was super stressed. I've been probably stressed for the last four years consistently! [laughs] It's really a question of like, how do you manage that stress and how do you pray through that and how do you have a work life balance, which is something I've neglected, unfortunately this year and had to take some time off. It's just more of a doing thing. And the less you question yourself, the less you think that like, "Oh, I can't do this," or like, "These people have done so much more than me," all the things that run through your head in terms of like imposter syndrome, which is a very real thing. And the more you just do things, and the more, I think also, responsibility you take on, the more you become more competent. And you're like, "Oh, yeah, I can do that." And then you can mentor other people, and give them a leg up, hopefully.
I'm very passionate about mentoring, and also about philanthropy. And then I also learned about sitting on boards in terms of non-profits, which led me to my top goal for the next, I would say, two years or so, is to be the youngest woman in the United States to sit on a publicly traded company board. So the youngest woman right now is 32, I just turned 30 last month, which gives me so little time to do that! I think having really big goals and dreams, really important. And I think also growing up as Catholic, we're not—at least, I wasn't—taught how to dream and how to have bigger goals and accomplish those things. It was really more, again, trial by fire, which I think it's so important. I think people ministry are uniquely equipped to handle it. Because there is so much stress in industry, you're worried about, like your kids, and you're worried about budgets and you're worried about different relationships, and there's always infighting, and like so many things! So again, it's a very doing thing. And I would just, you know, encourage people who are listening, if you're thinking about something instead of thinking about it, I would just do it. There's definitely prayer, yes, you should start with prayer, but you can't just pray the entire time! We're not in cloisters and monasteries! You do have to act.
There's a lot of action involved, whether you're in college, or whether in the professional world ministry, you do have to act. So if you're have a dream that you haven't really like, "I'm going to achieve this, you know, in so many years when I have X, Y and Z", like it's going to happen if you don't start acting now. So I'm very, very much proponent of taking big, bold, brave actions.
19:29 RACHEL: I love that. Yes. And it's so good and it's so important to pray. And like you said, Elena, you really should be doing that first, you know, trying to center what it is that you're doing—a project, a business, a podcast, whatever it might be, you need to center that and root it in God Himself, because He really is the one that will lead you and help you to make whatever decisions, make whatever moves you need. But ultimately, at some point, you have all the maps drawn up, but you're going to have to get in the car and start the car and start moving! So I really appreciate the use of that because I feel like so many times we do get paralyzed in fear and paralyzed in all the things that we need to do. But sometimes the best step is the first step. I just appreciate you sharing that.
And I think it's a good time, maybe, to pivot and talk about Mission to Launch. You know, like you said, it's the newest one of your ventures as we're recording this and it very nicely fuses together everything that we've been talking about. So obviously, your history and your background in youth ministry and working in like parent ministry and doing all those kinds of things, and then eventually transitioning into business and how you have this alt-MBA. And then in particular, what I love about what you just shared was this passion for mentorship, and it's so clearly woven into the fabric of Mission to Launch. So I was wondering if you could share with listeners what Mission to Launch and whatever you want to share about it, because I know there's so many aspects to it. So I'll let you take the reins from here.
20:52 ELENA: Thank you! Yes, Mission to Launch is an e-course experience. And it's more than just like classes. We also have alt-mentorship, a peer community and also an internship or job board. And I started Mission to Launch because it was in youth ministry and I went through a transition even though I knew that I wanted to have my own business, I still went through a very difficult transition, even though my dad told me that I, you know, should be an entrepreneur. My parents told me that, you know, "You won't succeed because you've been in ministry and you wasted your early 20s." I was told by mentors that I had from Stanford, "You were just in ministry, and you should have been Stanford, you know, you're not going to be able to be successful." And then from youth ministry mentors, who are now lifelong youth ministers—which very few people actually have a calling to, I believe—also told me like, they may have tried to leave ministry at one point, and were telling me from their experience, they're like, "You're not going to make it either, you're just going to go back to ministry and this is going to be like a fun little experiment you have!"