By Sara Schaer
As a parent of younger children, I felt the intense pressures and emotions tied to keeping everything running smoothly both at home and in the office. Though I managed, it felt crazy. I tried every possible work schedule.
There seemed to be no good solutions out there—until my co-founder Siva and I founded Kango, an app-based “Uber for Kids” service that provides safe transportation and childcare for kids, by background-checked, fingerprinted drivers and sitters.
If you are reading this, you may well feel a calling, like I did. Perhaps it’s an idea, a problem worth solving, or a mission you care about. If that’s the case, it’s time to go for it!
If you feel driven to found a startup, here are five tips, based on my own recent experience and success:
#1 I found a problem I was passionate about solving.
Aim to solve a problem you’re intensely, emotionally driven to solve. That mission will propel you through the tough times more than anything else. When I was working at a startup, as a mom of two young kids, the pain of everyday conflicting priorities was intense. Several times a day, I had to cobble together a way to get my kids home from school before aftercare closed, and figure out how to squeeze more work time out of my day.
Once I left the office late and my son was the last child left at school after closing time. That was not a proud moment. And if a child fell ill, or if a meeting went over, the carefully orchestrated plan for the day fell apart in an instant. Because of the daytime hours spent driving my kids, I had to work late into the night every day, and exhaustion set in, which made things worse.
My husband worked 60 miles away outside the city, so he couldn’t help. I tried changing my work schedule, but that didn’t really solve the problem either. Constant carpooling proved stressful as well. I had to find a way to live the life I wanted to live, without sacrificing my kids’ needs. That’s a powerful motivator.
#2 I teamed up with a co-founder with skills that complement my own
Starting a company takes all kinds of skills, and you can’t be expected to have them all. Find someone you trust, who shares your mission, and who is amazing at key tasks that you aren’t.
Fortunately, that’s exactly the case with my co-founder, Siva. He’s a brilliant coder and architect, and completely owns the Kango technical platform. My background is in product management, and I’ve worked with engineers for decades, so we work well together. Yet our responsibilities don’t overlap at all.
#3 I refused to give up
Even in Silicon Valley, many people are risk-averse. However, where there is a will, there is a way. In order to innovate, you have to break down barriers and overcome obstacles – again and again. Don’t listen to the naysayers!
In our case, we didn’t get into 500 Startups on the first try. It was our first investor pitch, and we were advised to go back, make progress and try again, which we did. It seemed like the odds of getting accepted were very slim, and bootstrapping was tough going. Plenty of people, even friends and family, were skeptical that anything would ever come of our efforts and told us to “get a real job.”
But when we got into the program, and received our first investor check, we realized that our challenges were similar to that of other founders—and that there was no reason to think we couldn’t succeed.
#4 I practiced self-confidence
This is critical to your success. Focus on your strengths and your passion, and be yourself. Seek out trusted advisors who can support you in your mission.
Don’t let yourself be intimidated and prepare answers to the ‘gender questions’ you may be asked, so that you don’t get ruffled during investor pitches or partner presentations.
I was asked more than once during early investor meetings, how I was “going to run a business and take care of my family.” It was especially ironic because I founded Kango in order to solve that problem! I was determined not to get frustrated nor feel bitter about those comments. I learned to take them in stride, confidently answer the question, and focus the pitch on more important matters.
#5 I had fun
It’s easier to stay in it for the long haul if you love what you do. Surround yourself with people who are as passionate as you are, but don’t forget to blow off steam!
Personally, I’m a big fan of celebrating successes, and of using humor to lighten up the stressful moments. When we have a Kango booth at a school or street fair, I wear a head-to-toe pink kangaroo suit, complete with a joey in the front pouch. The kids love it—and when I talk to people, no one suspects it’s the CEO dressed up as a kangaroo!
Being an entrepreneur is genuinely hard. People won’t always understand what you are doing, or why. You’ll be asked to explain yourself more times than you think necessary, and be rejected more times than you think fair.
So, why do it? Or better yet, how? Listen to the voice of your “why” rather than to the naysayers. Keep your inner fire tended. Focus on your inner spark, what makes you tick. That is what must burn brightly through the long nights and many challenges. It will carry you through!