Career Nav #58: How to Start a Technology Business from Inception to Fundraising
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Naomi Freeman, Women Who Code, Advisory Board Member | Chair - Strategy & Technology Committee, sits down with Shadiah Sigala, CEO at Kinside, and Claire Schmidt, Founder and CEO at AllVoices. They discuss “How to Start a Technology Business from Inception to Fundraising.” They share their journeys as moms and how COVID-19 impacted their businesses.
Tell us more about your business and where the idea came from.
SS: I'm a first-generation Latina. I was born in Mexico, came here, grew up in the US, poor. There is no one path to be at the top of your career in tech. I also want to acknowledge that there's a lot of privilege in having pedigree backgrounds in Ivy League schools and incredible networks. There's no one path or moment that one decides I will be a tech founder of a venture-backed company. Kinside is my second tech company. Kinside is a childcare app for working parents. I'm a mother of two, so add that to the cauldron in the mix of non-traditional tech and CEO. When I founded my first company, HoneyBook, a late-stage, awesome venture-backed company, I became a mom.
We all choose how to invest our time, which usually comes from a need. It was having a career as a tech founder, having a baby, and experiencing the most universally leveling thing of my life. I looked at how we could support employees in the organization in their working parenthood status, specifically in childcare. When I went out to look for a product in the marketplace, basically a childcare benefit, I found that nothing was available in the modern sense. That was a spark for launching Kinside.
CS: Shadiah was my advisor and chief people officer at HoneyBook. My background is also non-traditional. I never expected to start a tech company. I started my career in management consulting and went into the nonprofit world. I spent five years working with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, helping them build tech tools to combat child sex trafficking. I like identifying issues and spaces where there are problems to be solved. That's been a thread that's been consistent throughout my career. I read Susan Fowler's blog post about her experience at Uber. She spoke about how, as a society, we are asking people in relatively vulnerable situations to risk their careers to speak up about harassment, bias, mistreatment, bullying, and other challenging situations they're experiencing in the workplace. I started doing research. I talked to many people and realized there was an opportunity to build something unique in this space. That's how AllVoices was born.
With Covid and other major events occurring, have you found the impact on business positive or negative?
CS: Covid caused the usage of our tool to increase. I think whenever there are anxieties combined with more fear, the tool will be used more. Also, we have a diversity equity and inclusion module in our tool. We've seen how this movement has just taken over public consciousness right now, which is extraordinary. Employees have opinions about how their company should move forward and respond publicly and internally. This tool can be so flexible that it can be used for whatever happens. The tool is there for whatever employees are dealing with in real-time. That's one of the values of having it.
SS: Employers were worried about their employees returning or not returning. The silver lining behind this is that the consciousness around childcare as an essential need for our employees has been heightened. We've seen more movement, press, sales meetings, and deals than ever. Covid exposed how fragile the childcare infrastructure is in the United States.
How does being a parent add to your experience professionally and create some interesting challenges you didn't anticipate?
CS: My husband and I are currently living with my parents and having my parents watch my child. I haven't lived with my parents since I was 18. Luckily, I don't need to be physically in LA, where my company is. Your business is your baby, and your baby is your baby. You have a very different relationship with each of them, but you have to take care of it and protect both. This is not something that I recommend, but I didn't take maternity leave because I was in the middle of fundraising. As a female founder and someone with a baby, you don't have the same kind of experience you might have when you're in a mature company and have three or four months of parental leave.
SS: When I founded Kinside, I had my second child, breastfeeding through Y Combinator. I needed to get paid. There is no shame in that game. I had a family. I had a responsibility. I had a mortgage. I needed to pay myself and have very structured working hours. If you're a founder, you have the privilege of doing whatever you want to do. The circumstances might limit that, you might not have funding, you might not have revenue, but remember, there are no rules. I don't work in the evenings. I have some years of professionalism under my belt. This is my second startup. I have a little bit of that privilege of having shortcuts built in. I am very selfish about my resources, time, and money.
How did you begin to navigate the space of having non-traditional, non-technical backgrounds and being working moms?
SS: Practically speaking, whatever product you have, get 20 customers. Build a spreadsheet, do that lean startup, prove it to yourself, and then you sell the shit out of that story. Walk into an investor's office or angel, get your introductions, and walk there like you own the world. Tell that narrative.
CS: I found the first fundraiser easier because you're just selling an idea. I had a concept and a PDF mockup of what the tool would look like, and that was it. People had to be on board with the vision and were okay with no traction because I needed the money to build the product. Then, when you raise your next round, you're being judged on everything you've done between that first raise and then. Everybody has a different idea of what you should have done. Be confident and tell the story however you want to tell it. Let them know that you will be moving forward regardless and would love to have them involved, but you don't need them. Take whatever data you have and make it sound exciting. That is your job as CEO and a fundraiser.