Where did you first get the idea for Nanno?
My co-founder Desi and I are both working moms. When we met, I was a startup lawyer and Desi was a software developer. We were neighbors and were both involved in the Denver startup community. We both had very client-facing professions, so we knew that one childcare fail, like the daycare being closed for a snow day, was a serious problem for parents like us — and it was something we had no way of solving with current technology.
Desi agreed to meet with me to talk through an idea I had for a co-working space with drop-in childcare. In that first conversation, we realized that the real challenge would be finding high-quality sitters available on short notice, so we could always make sure to have just the right number of sitters depending on demand. We realized that the drop-in daycare only solved part of the problem — and that if we were going to build technology to have a pool of sitters available on-demand, the better solution would be to make those sitters available for parents to book at home too.
What’s your team like?
Everyone on our team has some experience or connection to the problem we are solving. We have five people on staff; most are moms, and one was a nanny before she joined us. We’ve actually had parents approach us to join the project, which is great. It’s important to us that the people working for us have experience as parents or caregivers. They get it. They are our users and understand how important what we’re doing is to both parents and caregivers.
How do you handle competition?
Honestly, the biggest challenge is that none of our competitors have succeeded. Care.com is probably the biggest competitor out there, but they’ve recently taken a big dive following a Wall Street Journal article revealing that they don’t background check their sitters. But even before that article, they only captured a tiny fraction of the available market. We believe the problem with all of our competitors is that they didn’t have the right solution for parents. We think a true on-demand solution is it.
What was your life like before Nanno?
I’ve always been a super hard worker. I laugh about it because this reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband when I was first thinking of starting Nanno. I remember he told me it was going to involve a crazy amount of work and time, and I said, “I already work all of the time!”
That being said, it has been an eye opening experience to understand how much more intense it is to found a startup.
There’s good and bad to it, but in the end, it is very fulfilling.
Describe the moment you decided to leave your legal career behind.
This sort of happened over time. I had my own practice before I started Nanno — I had already left the big law firm and had my own law practice, working mostly with startups. Later that year, Desi’s consultancy closed their Denver office and she started doing consulting work on her own too. So we both had more flexible schedules and could work on Nanno on the side. At some point it went from us pushing the ball forward with Nanno with the time we had, to us realizing that we were holding the ball back by not being able to work on it full-time. That’s when we both decided Nanno needed us to be full-time.
I’m not going to lie — it hasn’t been pain-free or easy. We’re still in the early stages of the startup, but we reached the point where us not being 100% in the business was going to impair our growth.
Has anything surprised you when launching the business?
Absolutely. We actually launched with two major features we thought would be really important to the user, but actually turned out not to be. To start, we thought people would want caregivers recommended by other people in their social networks. So we built a whole social network component to the app where people could book caregivers based on their social media circles. We realized very quickly that parents didn’t actually care as much about this; they just wanted a great vetting process. That was a big pivot for us.
We also expected people would only use Nanno for last-minute booking, or emergency situations. That was our main use case. I figured if parents had a few weeks to find a sitter that they would just book caregivers the traditional way. We didn’t realize how much people were looking to technology to manage all of the logistics for them. They wanted an easier, digital way to vet, book, and manage their childcare for every situation.
Most startups fail — what’s your relationship with risk?
I’m a former lawyer, so it’s always been my job was to help people avoid risk! But I’ve always had a risk-loving nature. I may be naive, but I’ve always taken into account the Paul Graham quote, “Startups are more likely to die from suicide than homicide.” And I know myself, and I know Desi, and I know we will never quit. I really do believe that the only thing that will cause us to fail will be us giving up.
What have you learned as a founder — any unexpected skills?
I definitely feel like everything I’ve learned in my life — every job and experience I’ve ever had — has come into play into building this company. From doing graphic design on my college newspaper, to working as an editor in book publishing, to my work as a lawyer, to even working in restaurants when I was younger — everything I’ve done, including being a mom, has come into play with this company.
Have you had to develop any particular skills as a female founder?
Honestly, the hardest thing about being a female founder is staring down the barrel of all the daunting statistics.
Being an entrepreneur is super hard. Raising money is super hard. For everyone.
But when you’re faced with statistics telling you that female founders get only 2% of venture capital, that just makes it extra daunting. If you start letting the statistics get to you, that just takes something that’s already super hard and makes it that much harder.
I think I’ve always been a resilient person. But being an entrepreneur — and especially fundraising in the face of 2% odds — has taken my resiliency to a whole new level.
How has being a mom impacted your business?
I have two girls, ages 6 and 8. They were clearly the inspiration for the company, and they have just been amazing to share this journey with. They have been able to roll with this crazy lifestyle and are even learning how to be entrepreneurs themselves. I can hear it in their conversations and how they talk about the world.
In a way, the company is like a family member. It’s our third child. It’s part of what we all do, and the fact that my family is so supportive and that my daughters are learning about leadership right from the front row is especially cool for me.
Tell us about your experience in 500 Startups.
500 Startups was a phenomenal experience. In fact, I would tell every first-time founder to participate in an accelerator. It filled so many gaps for me that I didn’t know I had. For example, testing our marketing channels. We were always very devoted to testing, and we were doing a pretty good job. But the growth team at 500 Startups helped us bring our testing to a whole new level of sophistication, so that we can really see the impact of our marketing efforts and use that information to decide what to do next.
Every founder is on a journey of perpetual learning, but the accelerator really kicks your education to a whole new level.
What is your superpower?
Problem-solving and information consolidation. I have a strong ability to take a lot of information from a lot of different sources and consolidate it into an understanding of the basic principals behind it all. This is really important for an early-stage founder to be able to do. I found that so many people want to give you input and advice, but no one is going to tell you exactly what to do. You have to be able to listen, appreciate their expertise, and consolidate it down to a nugget of actionable truth.
What’s your kryptonite?
I’m too logical. I believe everything can be reduced to science and logic. I also know that to get people excited about your business, you need to get them excited at an emotional level, not a logical one. It’s not just about the market size and percentages. I realize I sometimes look at the world as very black and white, and the real world isn’t like that. Sometimes I overlook the human and emotional story of our company in favor of the spreadsheet.
What are some of your favorite apps?
I’m not the biggest app/gadget person, but I love Brain FM, an audio app that gives you music that has brain wave stimulators in it that help you achieve focus or sleep. It’s really amazing. If there’s a task you really are not looking forward to, you can just plug in to Brain FM and when you raise your head two hours later, it’s done.
I also love Insight Timer, which is an awesome free meditation app.
What’s something you wish you knew more about?
I always wanted to learn to how to code. In fact, way back in high school, I wanted to be a software developer, but I let myself get talked out of it. This was back in the 90s, and I was told, “That’s not for you.” I have always really regretted not pushing back against that.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Figure out a way to test a super-duper light version of the MVP, and use it to test the marketing as much as you’re testing the product. We thought we were doing that with version one of Nanno— and to a very significant degree we were, and we learned, and we pivoted a lot in those early days. But I wish I had figured out the lightest possible version to test just so I could learn what features people cared about and what they would actually use. We launched a really thought out, great product, but we probably didn’t need that to do an initial exploration of the market.
We still use a lot of the technology from our first version, but ultimately, I would advise founders to be really agile, get out into the market as quickly as possible, and a take a really scientific approach to testing, so you not only learn what to spend time building, but you can also show investors early signs of traction, even before you have a fully built product.