What’s the inspiration behind Flexable?
The journey started eight years ago, in 2012 when I was working in the Brand Management field at Nestle Purina in St Louis, MO. I loved everything about my job and where I was in life, but then I had my first child and everything turned upside down. My priorities completely flipped and now I loved this little jelly bean that looked like me more than anything else in the world. I truly struggled with trying to balance both work and life, and my employer wasn’t helping too much in that balancing act – I was still expected to work 50-60 hours/week and travel.
After two years of struggling, I ended up leaving my career to be a full-time stay at home mother (SAHM). It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but it allowed me to spend more time with my kids and I wouldn’t have gotten that otherwise.
Leaving my career is what brought me to Pittsburgh, and after two years of being a SAHM, I started a consulting company to help startups and small businesses. But I kept running into the same issue which was I couldn’t balance work and home because I couldn’t find childcare at the last minute. I couldn’t attend networking events or client meetings unless I brought my kids, or I’d have to skip completely. This inequity lit a fire under me to figure out how to help more working moms in my position find access to last-minute childcare, and thus Flexable was born.
Covid-19 has drastically changed the notion of work/life balance. How have you navigated the new demands of the corporate workplace?
COVID-19 has completely obliterated the lines between work and life, and as moms ourselves, we’re right in the middle of it. I’m not in the corporate workplace and therefore haven’t had to navigate the incredibly difficult conversations with my employer on how to handle both work and homeschooling. I have, however, had to set a cultural tone for my team members on how to balance both life and work and it’s been a struggle. As a mom of a ten and six year-old who are in hybrid and cyber elementary school, it’s been extremely difficult managing the complexities of modern school + modern work + modern life. What’s even harder is as we start entering cold and flu season, the added burden of keeping ourselves and our families healthy will be a make or break for many families, possibly even those within Flexable. As CEO, my job is to continue navigating this extremely intricate and unprecedented environment with, above all, grace and compassion.
How did your time with ROKI influence your founding of Flexable?
ROKI was my first “business baby” and therefore will always hold a special place in my heart. My time with ROKI directly influenced me founding Flexable because I was unable to find childcare at the last minute if I had a client meeting or a networking event I wanted to attend. Oftentimes I would either drag both my kids to client meetings or wait for my husband to come home to then leave for meetings or networking events. It was so frustrating to have to hinge my professional growth to my personal care network, which wasn’t as reliable as I needed it to be.
Two real stories: I had lined up a nanny to start watching my then nine month-old and three year-old (whom I was just home with and working while they were napping or at school). The morning that the new nanny was supposed to start (also corresponded with a day I had an in-person client meeting), she emailed me and said she couldn’t help me anymore and backed out. I was left in a complete lurch and had to start over from scratch. Another story – I brought my kids to a networking event once and it was so disruptive to both me and the other attendees; both of these are prime examples of when backup care would have been supremely helpful to my professional career.
What is your favorite part of being a B2B company?
Hmmm, this is definitely an interesting question. Some people believe it’s easier to run a B2C company because as a marketer, there’s a lot more creative freedom to market directly to customers. In a B2B model though, you get to connect more closely with your customers and that’s definitely my favorite part. Being able to create lasting relationships with your customers is such a great advantage that you may not get to have in a B2C model.
You were a member of the 16th cohort of the AlphaLab Accelerator, what was that experience like?
It was honestly great – when my co-founder and I applied, we applied with literally an idea. We had gotten together just a week before to think of a name and put our idea into a presentation. When we walked into the interview, there were 12 people around a conference room table, which was super intimidating. But when we got through the presentation, the entire room was so collaborative and inviting and we were thrilled to be accepted! The entire cohort was full of very smart dedicated founders with unique visions, and it was fun to be in such an innovative and collaborative environment like that for four months.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Competition means you’re doing something right – if there were no competitors in your space or for your product, that means that your idea may not be fully validated or flushed out, or it may be too difficult to execute. Competition means your idea has been tested and validated in the market, and there are opportunities to improve on what’s already out there. As far as risk, being an entrepreneur is super risky – I don’t think any founder would be a founder if they didn’t have some level of risk tolerance. That being said though, I’m risk-averse when it comes to the brand we built. I know how precious brand equity is and how hard it is to build, but how easy it is to lose.
Childcare frequently falls to women, even in these modern times. As a leader of an all-female team, and a mother yourself, what do you hope to see change in the American workplace to create a more equal childcare culture?
Wow – time to get on my soapbox. My vision and mission for this company have always been to create innovative solutions to help “Life & Work Fit” better together because childcare ALWAYS falls through, and most often, it falls on mom to fix. This has led to 865,000 women leaving the workforce in September 2020 alone, and overall around 45% of high-performing women leaving the workforce on an annual basis, with nearly three-fourths citing childcare as their reason for leaving.
My vision for the American workplace is better foundational structures in place to support working parents at every professional level, and that happens with concerted efforts from both the private and public sectors. State and federal legislation need to be created and passed to provide more access to childcare, and organizations need to step up to subsidize access to childcare for ALL their employees, making it a part of the fundamental benefits suite (with healthcare, dental, etc.).
Partnerships between the private and public sectors to bring more access to childcare can help create a more equitable landscape for working parents across the country.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
I have launched and relaunched my company (after COVID-19) and the biggest challenge has always been finding the time to keep things moving. It’s ironic that I’m trying to solve a problem I’m living, so my #1 issue is making sure I’m productive enough with my kids around. With COVID-19 and the remote school situation we’re in, these last few months were incredibly difficult for my family and I, but I still managed to bring a team of stellar performers together to relaunch and build a new company basically from scratch. If I had access to the types of childcare I’m advocating for, I’d be way more productive and would be able to do so much more than I’m capable of doing now.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned a lot about my resilience and willingness to keep going even if it's super hard to put one foot in front of the other. Building something during a pandemic/childcare crisis is next to impossible but the Flexable team managed to do it! I’m also amazed at how much I truly enjoy being a homebody and have become somewhat of an introvert. I love nothing more than unwinding with my family in the kitchen at the end of a long day, or playing a game with them at the end of the week.
You’re a TEDx speaker! How did that come about? What did that experience teach you?
OMG, that was one of the best experiences of my life. We actually worked with TEDx as a client here in Pittsburgh and had provided pop-up childcare for them at numerous events. When it came around for them to call on speakers, they reached out and asked if I’d like to talk. I said yes without even thinking about it! It took me about a month to write my speech, but that experience taught me how to focus my thoughts down and deliver them in a concise yet hard-hitting way. That night, Mr. Rogers’ wife, Joann Rogers, was there as well. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers, so being able to speak with her and give her a hug was a highlight of the evening. When she said, “Fred would be proud” of me, I burst into tears – I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
What’s your team culture like?
Our team is a group of women, mostly moms, who work really well together in a nebulous and fast-paced environment. Above all, we value authenticity and flexibility in everything we do, and because of that, we collaborate really well – even remotely! We have team members across the country in different time zones but we are able to come together and create magic. I’m constantly blown away by what this team is capable of doing!
What is your superpower?
Oof, I’m not sure if I have any superpowers, definitely not alone, but one thing I am good at is bringing smart people together to build a super team. My motto has always been “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and I sincerely believe that.
What’s your kryptonite?
If this means what am I afraid of, it’s spiders….definitely spiders.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Since I’ve been working from home, and now that the weather’s getting colder, I’ve been pretty consistently wearing this huge black and white poncho. My husband makes so much fun of me.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
We’ve talked a lot about this as a team, especially since we’re primarily moms. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have time for any real hobbies anymore – between work and homeschooling the only downtime we have is spent on either getting food ready or cleaning up the house. The things I try to make time for are exercise and meditation. I often try and combine the two, by walking and listening to podcasts about mindfulness.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
It’d definitely been a very up and down path. Funding has been hard, but that’s why it’s helpful to have platforms like Republic to help, since still just 2% of funding goes to female-backed companies. And being in the FamTech space is hard too – with COVID-19, though, our category has become much more relevant and I hope it continues to stay that way.