“Hacking the Human Experience” with the Co-founder of Elm


Elm - Mia and Elissa

Mia Pokriefka enrolled in User Experience Design in January 2014 at General Assembly’s Los Angeles campus. Before long, she was able to combine her passion for serving and empowering people with her newly-learned UX skills into a site called Elm. Together with her best friend, Elissa, and a former classmate, Amanda, Mia is building her own company. Elm teaches everyone the skills you need for life based on other people’s shared experiences. 

What were you doing before you came to GA?

I worked at Invisible Children (of Kony 2012 fame), where I experienced what it means to ‘go viral’ and learned the importance of a good action step.

You were searching for a UX course for about 7-8 months. What made you choose GA?

Simply, the teachers.

Let me explain: I knew I wanted to learn more about the current state of UX. I was already designing the platform for my startup without knowing the finite details of how to execute such designs. I thought about going back to university, but the idea of being taught by experts who lived and breathed their practice won out. I wanted to learn from someone who truly had experiences worth sharing.

Tell us about Elm.

Elm is an online platform to hack your human experience.

We host Guides to Life, which focus on providing the knowledge and tools for specific events—all of them: Work, Love, Loss, Productivity, and more. Elm Guides are created by humans who have been through it all.

These aren’t your typical Master Classes. Hell, they are so much better than a class. We want to be more than inspired. Every guide shares inspiring stories BUT also gives you the tools to channel that inspiration.

Currently on the platform, we have “Finding a Job with Meaning” by my former boss and CEO of Invisible Children, Ben Keesey. We are also featuring a Guide from a well-known startup on Dating in the 21st Century.

What is Elm doing that your competitors aren’t doing (or aren’t doing well)?

We built Elm based on what our Millennial users want. They want to be able to search and discover solutions to life without all the woo. They want to connect with influencers they admire much quicker than they could on other platforms like Twitter. They want to wrestle with their new knowledge collectively. They want to feel entertained, not like they need help.

So, Elm provides a robust, entertainment driven experience broken down into bite-sized material that Millennials can fit into their busy schedules.

What has been your biggest challenge with building the platform?

We have the usual challenges, like how do we build quickly, yet sustainably. However, from the beginning, we have seen Millennials searching for answers to life’s dilemmas, only to find boring self-help.

We’ve been working to create a narrative around self-care that makes it cool, appealing, and valuable. Our question has been “How do we communicate that?”

Tell us about your co-founder, Elissa. How did you two meet?

Elissa and I have been best friends for 5 years. Before building a platform focused on hacking the human experience, we both worked at Invisible Children. Part of the culture there was collectively watching TED Talks. Elissa and I loved those experiences, but found it difficult to actually change our behavior. We realized we needed a bit more than inspiration. We wanted to know what the immediate next step was. We wanted to help others who were going through what we were.

It was bothering us that the Internet, with all its knowledge, didn’t have anything for us. So that is why we created Elm: a place to explore your human experience, learn from relatable, genuine people who aren’t afraid of vulnerability, change your behavior, and wrestle ideas with an amazing community.

Are you still using your UX skills as a founder?

YES! Everything you see on the site and in the profiles are my creations as the product-facing CEO.

You’ve hired a fellow GA alum, Amanda Conrad. What’s her role? How did you two connect?

Amanda and I were placed in the same group for our class project. We built an organic gelato shop (hey, we live in LA). We got so involved with our project, we were working on it outside of class and even continued to work on it after we graduated. We had a lot of fun. I got to see her graphic design work in action on that project and when the time came to hire a designer, it had to be her.

Now that you’re an employer, do you have any tips to share with GA graduates looking for work?

Two things: Know what is in your toolbox & Timelines are fluid. Follow up often.

And what advice do you have for other GA entrepreneurs?

Again, two things: One, your product is never finished. Two, make a list, right now, of whose opinions you care about. When you put something out into the world, only care about those people’s opinion.

What are the next steps for your company?

That’s a secret I’ll never tell. xoxo. JK. We have big plans to help empower, entertain & educate you through your human experience. Guides to Life are just the first step. Keep an eye on www.elmexperience.com. New stuff is always being added!

Who’s your favorite teacher and why?

If it has to be a person, I would say J.K. Rowling. Both of our moms have MS and Rowling helped me understand how to work through that. I came out with a much deeper understanding of empathy, which I now use whenever I design experiences for others.

Find out how you can immerse your own company in UX-based success.