With Loss Came Light: Mary Tiffin’s Startup Journey

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“My product, which was born out of my personal darkness, has not only illuminated my path, but has also lit the path for tens of thousands of runners, dog walkers, hikers, and cyclists.”

I had the great pleasure to interview Mary Tiffin, the founder and CEO of Mangata, LLC. Most everyone in today’s society has been taught that exercise is a necessity for good physical health. But for one individual, exercise was also the necessity that catapulted her professional success.

What is your backstory?

My most beloved husband died of cancer 16 years ago, leaving me to raise three very small boys alone. It was sudden and very unexpected. We’d just welcomed our youngest son Stephen into the world when David was diagnosed. To follow we had many dark days and challenges, but 12 years later I was relieved when I sent my first son to college. I celebrated this accomplishment by carving out some time for myself. I decided to start running again, but because I still had two active boys at home, the only time I had for myself was at night. And because I was running at night I had concerns for my safety. After several different adaptations—and a lot of night time testing—I created the RunLites product.

My product, which was born out of my personal darkness, has not only illuminated my path, but has also lit the path for tens of thousands of runners, dog walkers, hikers, and cyclists. I have enjoyed several very different careers. My first was in Manhattan where I worked for the industry leader in the accessories market. There I learned everything that I needed to know about bringing a product from drawing to life. It was a great training ground for me, and provided me with wonderful experience and strong connections.

When I met my husband and moved to central Pennsylvania, I learned and truly enjoyed a very different career in the world of voice and data networks. I enjoyed this as much as fashion, but in a different way. My next career was in healthcare, where I combined tech with my creative side to create data and web-based programs to assist in the psycho-social needs of patients and their families. However, no other “job” could have prepared me as well as my role as a single, widowed mother. It is in that role that I grew the most, learned the most, and learned that with focus, persistence, determination, and the right attitude, all things are achievable. My undergraduate degree was from Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia and I have a master’s degree from Marywood University.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

There are tons of stories where I have embarrassed myself horribly and laughed a lot, but I’ve learned from them. These moments are key elements to success. If you don’t experience them, then you will buckle when the first one happens. When you make a mistake, you need to recognize it, rectify it, and then quickly move on, becoming wiser from the experience.

Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our product is all about creating light, and in the same way we want to create light for those in need. So with our efforts of bringing light to the darkness, we started a nonprofit called the Live The Light Foundation. Through this foundation we are able to donate and give products to kids in need. Our primary focus has been children in summer cancer camps around the country. We do our best to help them feel like kids again and not patients.

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Although the product was originally created for runners, we have had great pride in assisting disabled veterans. For many in wheel chairs, being seen in the dark is a huge issue. When we meet wounded warriors and they tell us the stories about how our gloves have helped them feel safe, it brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction that we are helping those great Americans.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?

  1. Be ready to commit a significant part of your life to your career. If you carve out a certain amount of time in your day to devote to growing your business, you better double it! That will at least give you a realistic starting point!
  2. “No,” means that a conversation has just started, rather than ended. Understand that when you get a “no,” it is a sign that people are listening, and sometimes that is half the battle!
  3. Stay true to your values. This is important in your job, personal life, and beyond. Your integrity will always win.
  4. If you keep in mind that you’re here to help (serve a need, help your customer) your task will be easier. If you keep focused on why you started and what you set out to do, your work will be focused.
  5. You will learn more from your mistakes than your wins. Evaluate them, hold them up to the light, and let them impact your business in a positive way.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Either Robin Roberts for her grace, faith, and values, or Oprah — what woman in America wouldn’t be inspired by her and wish to have lunch with her.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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