They Told Her Sittercity Wouldn’t Work. So She Proved Them Wrong. – with Genevieve Thiers

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Investors didn’t just tell Genevieve Thiers that her idea for a matchmaking site that connected mothers and babysitters wouldn’t work. They patronized her. They said they didn’t want to invest in a “babysitting club.”

Her entrepreneurial optimism didn’t let her give up. “It only made me more determined,” you’ll hear her say in this program. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is great! This is so great even the investors have no idea how big it is!'” And it did get big. Today, over a million caregivers have profiles on her site, Sittercity, and hundreds of thousands of care-seekers turn to it to find babysitters, pet sitters, and more.

In this program, you’ll learn how to she did it. How she personally put up fliers when she couldn’t afford advertising. How she talked to mothers. How she learned to get publicity. How she learned to create a product for corporate clients. And how her company’s revenues got so big it made Inc’s list of fastest growing private companies — TWICE.

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About Genevieve Thiers

Genevieve Thiers founded Sittercity, America’s largest and most trusted online source for child care, pet care, senior care, housesitting, housekeeping and tutoring. Sittercity has a network of more than a million caregiver profiles nationwide, and helps families and individuals across America find the perfect in-home care provider quickly, easily and safely.

You can see her site at Sittercity.com

And you should say hi to her on Twitter.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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For the rest of them, it’s okay as long as he helps entrepreneurs, I think Dimitri [xx] is happy. So thank you to all my sponsors, thank you to you for listening and really understand that these guys are here to support you. So, check out their site and more importantly, use what they’re paying for, use the ideas in this program to build up your business. Here’s the program.

Here everyone, it’s Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Today I’ve got with me the founder of Sitter City, her name is Genevieve Thiers. Genevieve, what is Sitter City?

Interviewee: Hi, Andrew, how are you?

Andrew: Good to meet you.

Interviewee: Sitter City is Americaís first and largest network to connect parents with caregivers online, kind of like an online dating service, but to connect parents with caregivers. We have a little more than a million caregiver profiles across the country at this point, million caregivers across the country in five divisions ñ childcare, petcare, senior care, homecare, and tutoring. So, it’s your one-stop shop for a nanny or a caregiver if you’re looking for one.

Andrew: So if I’m looking for a babysitter, you’ve got a pool of potential babysitters for me. To get access to that pool, do I have to pay?

Interviewee: Yes, we’re a subscription model and again, kind of like an online dating service when you join the site, you can either join for a monthly fee or a yearly fee. It depends on what your need is, if you just need a Friday night sitter, you might want to do the monthly. If you would like a fulltime nanny, perhaps, you want the year. But, it’s really just about $9.99 a month for both plans, the monthly has a startup registration fee as well of $39.99.

Andrew: My plan for this interview is to go through the biography of this business, how you came up with the idea, including maybe what you did a little bit before you started, how you built it, how you got a million caregivers. Most people can’t get even a million hits to their website, you’ve got not just a million hits but a million participating caregivers. I want to find out how you get people to pay for content online or for access online in a world where everyone thinks that everything needs to be free. Thatís an important thing that you’ve been able to do as an entrepreneur. But first, let’s talk about this. Before we started the interview, I asked you to give your revenue to my audience and you said what?

Interviewee: I said no. No, we’re a private company and, basically, when you’re in a hypercompetitive industry, there’s a reason we’re being coy. We invented the online caregiving world, and thatís really exciting. It’s a funny story, I actually saw a 9-month mother trudging up 200 steps to post flyers for a babysitter, and I thought, ìMy gosh, thatís ridiculous. Someone should just put it on one place.î So we invented it back in 2001.

Andrew: I’m going to ask you more about that. I promise this whole interview is just going to be about that.

Interviewee: What I was mentioning is just that now that there’s an industry, it’s become more competitive, and so we’re very careful about our numbers. When we were first launching, we werenít as careful because there wasnít really anyone else around. But now, we’re pretty careful, so I can’t release revenue numbers, but I can say we’re on Inc. 500 list two years in a row.

Andrew: What does that mean that you’re on the Inc. 500 two years in a row?

Interviewee: So, Inc. 500 is basically the 500 fastest growing companies in America. So, being on it two years in a row, I mean, the first year, we were number 287, and the second year, I think, we were somewhere in the 300s, and it’s an honor. You get listed on this list and, suddenly, you get a deluge of calls for weeks afterwards from people that are interested and excited about what you’re doing. So, I’m just very glad although I’m not surprised because this industry is just huge.

Andrew: The last revenue number that I saw, and this is the last point that I’m going to make about revenue, the last revenue number that I saw in a recent Inc. article was that revenue was $5 million before you decided that you, guys, can’t give out revenue numbers anymore.
5:00min

Andrew: And the last revenue number that I saw, and this is the last point Iím going to make about revenue, the last revenue number that I saw in a recent INK article was that revenue was five million before you decided that you guys canít give out revenue numbers anymore. So, Iíll leave it at that. Okay?

Genevieve Theirs: Well that was several years ago. Yeah.

Andrew: [Indistiguishable] Like that too.

Genevieve Thiers: Weíve been growing like a weed ever since. So. [Laughing]

Andrew: Alright, so I want to find out how youíve grown like a weed. How is it that itís a tough market in the internet space and because youíre competing against everybody and most of us are struggling to build a big audience and youíve got a giant audience? Lets go back to what you were doing before you started this business.

Genevieve Thiers: Sure. What I was doing before it, well I was a babysitter. [Laughter] I am the oldest of seven kids. So I was born, you know, with so many brothers and sisters you just naturally started. I just naturally became, you know, a caregiver at the age of, you know, six, eight, or whatever because there were so many siblings running around. I also, with my twin sister, had a monopoly on a lot of developments around our house in terms of caregiving. So she and I, we used to do two or three jobs a day. I clocked in an enormous amount of babysitting and nanny jobs. Actually, I also trained primarily as an opera singer too. So, I have that odd thing going on as well. So, Iím sort of, in some cases, a singing nanny. A singing babysitter; which I think is funny. But yeah. I went to college and majored in English and music and was babysitting the whole way through. Thatís actually my background. Iíve never taken a business class.

Andrew: Oh wow.

Genevieve Thiers: Yeah, in my life, which I look back sometimes and think ëthat would have been niceí to have done that. I learned on the fly.

Andrew: Actually, before we continue with the story, Iím curious about what you would have wanted to know from business school. What is it an entrepreneur, who didnít have formal training, do you wish youíd known.

Genevieve Thiers: Well, learning financials. Learning how to read financials took a few years. Just to, you know, obviously, anybody understands, you know, like, ëthese are your costsí and ëthis is your margin.í There were a number of things that, you know, depreciation for example, that were beyond me when I first started simply because I had never been exposed to them before. EBEDOG, that sort of thing. Theyíre simple concepts. I just had to learn them. The other thing I wish Iíd learned was just business cycles. I came out of school in 2000 and, to be perfectly honest with you, the dot com crash; I didnít even realize I was in it. Thatís probably why we were so successful. Iím just going to build this, you know. It didnít even occur to me that I should be raising capital or doing this or doing that. I didnít really even know what venture was when I was launching Sittercity venturecapital. It would have been nice to have known about those things, particularly because while we actually did quite well in the last recession, the 2008 recession, because caregiving is a necessity not a luxury. Momís going back to work needed it more, I just had no idea what was going on. I mean it was very scary. I feel like 2008 was the first time I really lived through a real business cycle. Its hard. Its hard for everyone.

Andrew: Alright. I also saw that you worked at IBM at the time? Is that right?

Genevieve Thiers: Yes, I did. I did. I came out of college. Its funny because I was really not sure what I was going to do with my life and I was sitting and I was starring at these steps and drinking hot chocolate doing homework. I saw this mother walk by. So I had the idea for Sittercity three days before I graduated and I bought the domain. I had to buy it using my dadís credit card. I called him and I got his credit card to buy it. I came out and I needed a job. My parents are teachers. I just had nothing. Nothing at all. So I ended up working as a professional information developer for IBM Lotus in Cambridge. Lotus had just been bought by IBM. So I just became, basically an editor for them. It was a great job. Although I have to admit, because the acquisition was happening, things were a little up in the air. So it was an interesting time there. A lot was unclear.

Andrew: I see. You said that you called your dad and asked him to borrow money to buy the website. How much money did it cost?

Genevieve Thiers: Well, it was [from] MSN dot com that I bought Sittercity. I mean. I ran back and I was searching and searching and I really didnít see anything like this. So I found Sittercity. It was a hundred and twenty dollars, I think, at that time. And, it was the first domain I bought. Ever. In my life. So I really had to figure all that out. It was interesting. I used my roommates computer because I didnít have one. [Laughter]

Andrew: Really?

Genevieve Thiers: Yup. [Laughter]

Andrew: So you just had an idea for a business and this was the first business that you launched?

Genevieve Thiers: It was the first business I launched. Yeah. I just, I think it was funny but I just saw a problem.

10:00min
Interviewee: I just saw a problem and I thought, Oh! I think I can fix that, and I didn’t even really realize I was an entrepreneur. I just saw a problem and I thought, “I’ll fix that! That’s great, you know, something to do.” And I went off, and I did it. Now I realize that that was a really good thing for a lot of people that I did that. You know, it was just, it was funny, though, it was like growing a garden, you know. Because the dot-com crash had happened in 2000, 2001, I couldn’t, I couldn’t get any funding. I went in front of investors and I said, “Hey,” you know, I was in my first suit, “This is gonna be great!” You know, I had my financials and this opening budget. I got laughed out of the room. You know, I heard “My wife handles that, it’s babysitter’s club…” I just heard, just no, and so I ended up getting 20,000 fliers, I flier-ed 400 dorms to get the first 600 sitters, I hired college friends to build the website, I chased down moms in supermarkets to get them to join, I did every, I did everything just completely organically and bootstrapped it. I didn’t even think I really knew what I was doing when I did it. It was a lot of luck.

Andrew: How big a business did you think this was going to be?

Interviewee: I always knew it would be huge. That’s the other thing, I just, I never doubted for a moment this would be gigantic and I think it was, it was almost exacerbated by the fact that I went in front of these investors and, you know, they were great guys, but they were guys. You know, they didn’t quite get it. They were older men that had never really babysat or anything and so it only, it only made me more determined. I thought, “Oh, this is great, this is so great even the investors have no idea how big it is!” And I was completely right, you know, because they had no clue. I knew this would be the answer to an enormous amount of pain. When you see a 9 months pregnant mother struggling up 200 steps to post fliers for a babysitter, there’s something wrong. And what was going on at the time was essentially that if you were a parent looking for a caregiver you could either go to a nanny agency, which would charge you $2000 just to get started or you were on your own with your friends and family network. And I can’t even tell you the amount of parents that, you know, I would do a babysitting job and I’d come back and my answering machine, it would be blinking with, you know, 6, 7, 8 different messages from other parents that had heard about me from the first one. They were utterly and completely desperate and so to me it was as clear as day that this would be gigantic. In fact, we’re not done yet, we’re just a domestic company right now, I mean the world has this problem. It’s not just America.

Andrew: You know, I’m noticing this a lot in my interviews here, this entrepreneurial optimism. It’s almost crazy that the world says the smartest people who are there to evaluate businesses are saying there isn’t a real business here, and we’ll find out later on that you did end up getting investment from these smart investors, years later after it had been proven out, so-

Interviewee (interrupting): Oh, I have two awesome investors and they get it. They get it. They’re dads, they’ve, yeah. I, I-

Andrew: But there you were with people who should have gotten it, they still didn’t get it, you weren’t, you didn’t give up. You didn’t think that this just wasn’t the right idea, why don’t I go back to what I was trained to do. Was this always a part of you? Where did it come from?

Interviewee: Well, I guess, I guess it was. I mean, I, I, had nothing to lose I owned literally nothing. I mean-

Andrew: You didn’t even have $120 to pay for the domain.

Interviewee: Oh, gosh, I was in debt, I mean, I just owned absolutely, utterly nothing. Except for maybe my dorm room furniture, which nobody would have bought it even if I tried to sell it. So I had nothing to lose and that was, you know, I am beginning to realize now that is one of the most potent motivators anyone can have. But the other thing was just I guess it seemed so simple to me. I mean, starting a business, you just, you’re solving a problem. You’re alleviating pain. There are three kinds of pain. You can be vitamins to someone, you can be aspirin to someone, or you can be morphine to someone. And this, this analogy I learned later but I always knew it. It depends, you know, how much money you make, how big a problem you solved depends on the amount of pain you decide to go after and when you’re looking for a caregiver that’s morphine. Your entire life depends around that individual. And I just, I guess, the, the, you know, entrepreneurs that are the most, we’re all this close to insanity, but you know there’s also that, there’s that element as well of just simply understanding. It’s like wearing certain glasses. You just see the world through problems. I don’t, you know, if I walk out the door and something hits me on the head or I’m inconvenienced, I see a business in that, I don’t, I don’t get mad, or yell, or hop around. It’s just weird, it’s a different way of seeing things.

Andrew: Okay, so you’ve got this idea, you, you got the domain name for $120, you borrow someone’s computer in order to buy the domain name. You’re clearly not a developer, you’re not someone who can sit down and code up a website. What did you envision the first site to look like?
Andrew/Interviewee 15:00-20:00

Andrew: What did you envision the first site to look like? The first version?

Interviewee: Actually, I sketched it on pieces of paper, and it looks very similar to what Sitter City dot com looks like today. Which I think is hilarious but I also think that’s a hallmark of a morphine problem, use. The answer to that is the answer. We never needed to go and iterate or become something else or change our model. We’re the same thing nine years later that we were back then and I think that’s testament to how potent a solution that was. We did add things over the years. I got really lucky the whole way through. I ended up, I was researching match dot com and I ended up meeting my now-husband, Dan Ratner, who’s our CTO. I met him back in 2001 just as I had built the site. So on our third date I was sitting there, showing him Sitter City. It was really funny, I mean, he immediately jumped in and began to help me with things like, he understands development, he understands strategy, legal. So he really became my mentor and kind of, he still works with the company today, but I had all of that, but I think that a lot of entrepreneurs, they end up, they’re searching for their half. Either business half or not, mine happened to be romantic as well. But they do fall over in the opening stages because “I’m a salesperson, I’m great at PR marketing, all the outward-facing stuff but I can’t code”. So that was just interesting because he took the other side. So to be honest, between he and I, I think we’re the perfect entrepreneur. On my own, like most people, there’s loose ends, there’s loose things that I don’t have.

Andrew: Let’s dig in and get more specific. What was that first page supposed to look like? Was it supposed to be text and hyperlinks and you were manually going to put in people’s information? Was it going to be a form on a site where anyone who wanted to be a babysitter can fill out the form? What was it going to look like?

Interviewee: Well, when I sketched it, it looked like it did today. It had the home page, it had the parent registration page and the sitter registration. The sitter profile has changed very little except we added a few things. It started by having about 40 different pieces of information about the sitter. So their name, their major, their college, their allergies, that sort of thing. Where they were located. And then as we moved on we iterated with things like pictures and they can add videos now and stuff. But something, from the very beginning, has stayed the same which is the idea behind Sitter City is we’re not a nanny agency. What we do is we simply take the thing a nanny agency is doing that made the process so expensive and we put it in the parents’ lap. So from the very beginning Sitter City’s had a screening process built into the site. So the parent is the one who not only finds the caregiver but screens them as well. So in the beginning, I believe that we had a three-step screening process. 18181818181818It was references, you could call or email the caregiver, it was feedback from other parents, it was used as an interview process. And then a bit later, I think three or four years ago, we also were the first site to premier the online background check that the sitter could purchase. So we started working with the background check provider and the sitter began to purchase a background check as the fourth step. So now it’s a four step screening process with the background check, the references, the interview and the parent feedback. And it’s about as comprehensive as you can get, it’s much more than parents do on their own.

Andrew: I see, so you allowed sitters to add themselves to the site. Parents then got a directory of them?

Interviewee: Sorry?

Andrew: Parents then saw a directory of all of the sitters who added themselves to the site? They would screen and…?

Interviewee: Yeah, absolutely. So the sitters would join and fill out their profile. I only did, I believe I manually entered one or two that got confused at the beginning, but most of them understood it and just went on a signed up. And the parents could just, from the other side, they could join the site, and initially it was $39.99, so our prices really haven’t changed that much. You know, the monthly fee was an iteration, but they could either do a search to find the caregiver. So they could say “I need a caregiver, I need a babysitter Friday night that has a car, speaks Spanish and isn’t allergic to cats, from seven to six.” They could customized their search.

Andrew: That’s a pretty intense site. You built that yourself, or this was your now-husband who built it?

Interviewee: Well, I had built it by the time I met him, but I had hired two college friends to build it. So I just drew it on pieces of paper.

Andrew: And then these two college kids, they did it, they built it for you?

Interviewee: Yeah. One was a designer and one was a developer, so, yeah, and they were just friends, acquaintances that I knew.
Interviewee: …acquaintances that I knew and I just had given them a chunk of money to do that. It was pretty simple.

Andrew: How did you get that chunk of money considering that you had to get $120 from your dad?

Interviewee: Well we’re not talking tens of thousands here, I think I was paying single digit thousands you know, so I guess it was my job. Yeah. I used money that I was just making through my job with IBM Lotus. Wasn’t making much, you know, we’re talking about a 40, 50K salary here, but it was enough. I just ate Ramen noodles and this was all I did, so.

Andrew: And you were just paying them off your salary as their bills came in? There wasn’t any I’ll pay you in the future when the site is built or when we get revenue? We’ll just do it and I’ll…

Interviewee: Nope. Well, I just paid lump sums back then. I mean, they were sort of a contractor relationship. And for the parents too when they were coming on to the site, they were just paying I believe it was $39.99 to join. And it’s interesting too, because the functionality has changed over the years, because for parents, it used to be that you could just search. And then I think back in 2003 or 2004, that’s when we added our “post a job” feature, which is actually like Monster or something like that. You post it and they come to you. That’s actually a much more effective way of finding a caregiver. So the “post a job” feature was one of the bigger changes that we made over the years.

Andrew: I see. So if I’m a mother, I would post a job saying I need to find a babysitter and the relevant group of people within this one million caregivers whose profiles you have on the site would be notified and they could come in and bid on the job or…

Interviewee: Essentially, yes. So what would happen is a mom would post her job with the details and every morning at about 3 am in the morning, our servers would blast it out to all the caregivers within a 50 mile radius of that mom. And we still do that today, so if you post a babysitting job today in Chicago, tomorrow morning it will be blasted out to a little more than 35,000 caregivers that are active on the site. And they get emails every morning about that. So it’s very, very effective. If anything, one of the issues we’re dealing with here is that we solved the problem too well, so some parents have started complaining about too many responses.

Andrew: I see.

Interviewee: So we’re working now on the problem of too many responses.

Andrew: And then because they have to go in and screen them or to figure out which is the right person and they want ideally to just be told this is the perfect person. And as close to that you can get them to, they’ll be happy.

Interviewee: Right. So it’s kind of funny because it’s definitely a good problem to have in our mind, because we solved it. We might have just solved it too well.

Andrew: Why’d you decide to charge instead of offering it for free and hoping to make money off of revenues off of advertising?

Interviewee: Well, I needed revenues to build the company. Remember I couldn’t get funded, so I simply needed revenues to build the company. Also, I have to admit offering it for free was a bit counter-intuitive to me, because you’re dealing with the demographic of parents where if they got desperate back in 2000, the only option they had was a $2000 nanny agency. So if they were willing to go, and the pain was such that they would buy that, then they should be willing to pay something a whole lot cheaper if the screening tools are put into their hands. I think it’s a little odd for people to assume that everything should be free, to be honest. Because there’s a company here, there’s 35 people here working very hard all the time. Part timers and full timers. Just logging along, building this site and handling calls. Doing this feature development, listening to our customers. And a business really is as good as it’s revenues, I think. I mean, it’s meant to make money. The idea is you have to solve a problem, make things easier for the consumer, but there has to be give and take. So I’m not the biggest fan of free. If it’s something that people truly wouldn’t pay for, okay fine, free is fine. But you don’t have a business. You just don’t. If you’re building something that people truly need and you price it at a price that they can very much afford, which we did. We priced it at a really good price for parents. I think it’s a very, very helpful relationship.

Andrew: Why’d you decide to only charge the parents and not the caregivers too, who are going to be making money from the site?

Interviewee: So the caregivers were basically college students in the beginning. And a lot of them still are. The average age of the caregiver on our site when we were launching was about 17, 18. Now it’s 28. So things have been at work there. You know, obviously it’s gotten to be a very popular model across the United States, but also the recession has something to do with it.
minute 25 to minute 30

Interviewee: ÖBut also the recession has something to do with that, kids coming out of school, they can’t find a job, people are getting laid off. So, I think that the reason we initially did not charge the caregivers was because they were all broke like me. When you’re in college, you donít have money for this, you’re not going to pay for it. We would have, basically, shortchanged our supply to the point where we couldnít serve parents.

Now, today, the caregivers do have more disposable income. You know, there’s talk every now and then here about, you know, is there a way to provide them with more value on the site? Is there a product we could give them that they might pay for? But, I think there’s something about making sure that they’re happy, too; it’s not just about the parent being satisfied. The caregiver, we’re talking about a really great person here. I mean, she, generally has a childhood education major, she’s looking for work, 45% of them consider childcare to be a career or a potential career. This is just a really, really great girl thatís coming in. It’s important she’s happy, too. So, it ended up being the way that the model worked best.

Andrew: Before I ask the next questions, can you lift the camera a little bit. Sometimes you’d go off camera, I want to make sure. So, let’s see where we go next. I think, next, we should talk about how you get all the caregivers. In the beginning, what did you do? What’s the first thing that you did? I think you talked it but let’s come back to it, just in case.

Interviewee: Yes. I printed out about 20,000 flyers over the course of several months, stacked them in a backpack. What I did was I went to college campus after college campus and flyered. What that meant was it was quite difficult. I got a map of the campus online and I would highlight where the dorms were. I looked like a college student, Iíd just gotten out of college. So I’d go to the campus and I would stand outside the dorm until someone came out, take the door, go in to top floor and flyered top to bottom. I did this for, at least, 400 dorms.

It was really very funny. I learned later, this was guerilla marketing, I didnít know it at the time. But, I had a bit of war going on some campuses where I would post up 20 flyers, and the next day, theyíd be taken down, so I’d post 40, and the next day, theyíd be taken down. I mean, it was very funny. I also did fly out to other areas, and I did do this for other areas as well. At the time I was doing it, when I first was building the site in early of 2001, it was fine. It didnít really seem to be much of a problem. After 9-11, it got really hard to do this. But by that point, what I think I’d done is I’ve built up a viral mask of this kind of sitter, this quality girl, she was just like me. I’d found enough of them that it went viral and it was able to percolate to other colleges and other cities. I hadnít flyered like get the viral follower that it needed to pool those caregivers on to.

Interviewee: Maybe it’s because I was a business student or maybe it’s because I keep hearing about the issue of scale in business. If someone were to come to me and say, ìAndrew, I got an idea of how I’m going to get the first people into my site, I’m going to go and put flyers up in colleges.î I wonder if it made sense because it couldnít scale, you couldnít reach enough colleges, and I’d suggest maybe find an online way of marketing. Why did you decide on that, of all things?

Interviewee: I didnít have any money. So, when you have nothing in the beginning, you simply have to be as creative as possible to get to people. I was creative on the parent side, too. I would just go to a mothersí group and speak for them; I’d chase Moms and stand in supermarkets. I just didnít have the resources to go online. I knew that I could go online and I knew that I could maybe put a job up on MonsterTrak or ExperienceSurf, some of those sites. Although to be honest, back in 2000, there werenít nearly as many of them as there are now, there were only about two.

But at the time, you have to understand, when the dot-com crash happened, dot-com was a dirty word. I couldnít even say it without people flinching. So, online methods, while they made sense, it was just a weird time. It wasnít like anyone was going to sit there and challenge me to go online to do the recruitment anyway. It’s just online, it just wasnít something you invested in. [xx]

Andrew: [xx] the issue scale, you could only talk to so many mothers. How do you build this big business that you’re envisioning if you have to talk to mothers one at a time? What were you thinking would happened next?

Interviewee: Having not gone to business school, I mean, scale, for me, I simply thought, ìWell, I’ll just go find everyone and talk to everyone I can get my hands on.î
Interviewee: I mean, scale, for me, I simply thought, “Well, I’ll just go find everyone and talk to everyone I can get my hands on.” I mean, you know, it just, It made sense to me that that would be the way because moms talk to each other. Women talk to each other, we’re an incredibly viral group. So I did just know from the very beginning, just, sort of, because I guess I was a women and I guess I knew how we worked. That this world, the babysitting world was insanely viral. And so, I had no idea how many moms I had to get to. Was is 300? Was it 200? Was it 400? But I knew that it would take off at some point. So, I did just literally, single-mindedly, just try to get, you know, anyone I could get my hands on I just converted and then I would move on to the next person. For the, for the sitters, once we reached, let’s see it was like once we reached a thousand care givers it really began to take off virally. I saw a number of really interesting things. I graphed it at that point, and I graphed the costs versus, you know, versus the traffic, or versus the sign-ups. And it was really interesting ’cause it went like this as a graph and then it, and then it split off and it went the other way. So it was, it was really neat, to see. Other cities were really difficult in the early days, up until about 2005. City by city, Dan and I were tracking ratios, we were, I would go in, I would flyer. Or I would pay other care givers to flyer, that was the second step that I took, you know, other sitters on college campuses to flyer. And we would just push, and push, and push towards a certain number, because we new at a thousand sitters it would flip. And, you know, we found out in Boston, it was 400 parents, when it virally tipped. And then, you know some markets it was different, you know, in New York it took total about a thousand parents before it virally tipped. Cleveland it tipped at 200, so it just, it totally was different each market. And, and, I hadn’t read “The Tipping
Point.” “The Tipping Point” came out a little bit, I believe, well it wasn’t, it was a little bit before this had happened, so it was still a new book, so I hadn’t read it. I didn’t even really know what was happening. I just knew that there was a viral thing that I could get moving. And it seemed just natural to me. It didn’t seem like any kind of, you know, business thing I was doing. I was just talking to people, that was it, you know…

Andrew: Did you do anything to help spur it along? To get, once it tipped did you do anything to just encourage it to avalanche?

Interviewee: Yea, oh absolutely, so with the sitters, what I would do in the beginning because I didn’t have a lot of money and it was quite expensive to go on and post a job on some of these online job posting sites, you know, in the early days, what I would do, is first I would flyer, and then, when I, after 9/11 it got harder, so I would hire a sitter from the campus to flyer. Then I started hiring college students to run tables in their cafeterias. Then, finally, I began to flip over to using websites, you know different kinds, experience, MonsterTrak and, you know, JobTrak, and whatever those sites were. That was how we did the sitters, but for the parents, it was interesting because, you know, for them, you could do certain things that would make sense. So, I went from working with mothers groups, to, you know, there were some print ads that made sense here and there. So we’d buy a print ad. And then I learned that it really made sense to do radio ads on the right networks. So, we were kind of goosing each market, as need be, with different things, but I had so little money and I was running it off of revenues that if it didn’t work some times, I was out of luck and I had to wait several months until we got the revenue up again so I could buy another print ad or get another block of radio ads. So it was very carefully done.

Andrew: Wow, that’s incredible, this really is a bootstrap business, where you have to earn every dollar that you spend.

Interviewee: Well, it isn’t anymore, but it was for seven years. And it was very wonderful that I was able to do that, see, I’ve realized since, a lot of entrepreneur don’t get that luxury, or they don’t, well I would say they don’t give themselves that, but the market doesn’t give you that luxury. The Dot Com Crash ran three years of interference for me, so I had this beautiful time with this company, where I was able to just grow it in this pure way, where everything that came in I could put it back out and it was Dan’s and mine. And we did raise angel, we did raise some angel, but we grew it off of revenue and angel up until 2008. By 2008, for about a year at that point we’d been looking for capital, ’cause we knew a storm was coming, we knew there was, you know. And we also knew how big this was at that point and our investors are fantastic. The one in Boston had been working on us for quite a while to work with us and I really liked him, so it made sense to do it at that point. But when we got to them we were the latest stage series eight they’d ever seen. You know, they were, “Really? Wow!” You know this whole, big company, that had been through fires so many times, danced along the cliff edge for, you know, seven years. We were a machine when we got to them.
35:00
INTERVIEWEE: We were a machine when we got to them. And I think they were impressed by that. And we were impressed by them. So, it continues to be a wonderful relationship.

ANDREW: Dan Blank (?) in the audience is saying that hiring somebody to send flyers isn’t free. It costs money. He’s saying that it costs money to print ads, and radio ads. He’s just asking me, I guess he’s asking me how much money did you spend. Do you remember at the time how much money you were spending on some of these gorilla tactics?

INTERVIEWEE: Yeah. I can give you some examples. In some of these, well, I did work for two years, you know, in my day job…so I did have a little bit…

ANDREW: Oh! So, you kept your day job! And that was still funding the business in the first couple of years?
INTERVIEWEE: Well, what did happen was, because I was ??? at Lotus there had just been serious lay-offs around 2002, in the beginning of the year.
It was just, it was an acquisition that was in progress, so I did work in my day job and was doing all of this in my spare time. You know, at nights and weekends.
That being said though, most of it was revenue that I was just taking from one side and putting back into it.
And, you know, print ads often was about 850 to 900 dollars, you know, a radio block could have been as high as 200 for a block of 70-80 spots.
ANDREW: 200 bucks? Is that all they cost?
INTERVIEWEE: Oh, pardon me, 2,000. It was generally between 800 to 2000. So these things were a lot of money for us. In fact, it was a lot of money to print brochures. A lot of money to print flyers to the point where, with brochures in particular, when I was trying to give them to people, the first 3 to 4,000 of them, I hand cut them with paper cutter. I literally cut off the edges, and I had to fold every single one of those brochures and they had been printed out on an inkjet that somebody had given to me. So, it really was bootstrapped as much as it could have been.
But I am glad we did it. Because, you know, today I am able to work along with Dan. We are a majority shareholders, it is kind of wonderful . A lot of entrepreneurs donít end up in that position.
ANDREW: This is the kind of the story that people keep asking me for ???. They want to hear about a person who is a strappy entrepreneur who was willing to work, willing to come up with ideas that are sometimes a bit out there, that sometimes they put themselves out there . I can’t imagine it was easy to go a college campus and start posting flyers everywhere.

INTERVIEWEE: I thought it was kind of fun. Well, I hear the James Bond theme song in my head the whole time.
I am an opera singer. We don’t do anything small. We’re not really happy unless we’re trying to do something that knocks the world sideways. So, I really am a little bit like that, you know.
We are a strange breed. If you’ve been in the opera world, anything is easy after that. Itís a brutal world. I mean, 0.1% of you make it. You often sit in front of a panel of judges that just scribble on pads the entire time you are singing. Youíre baring your soul and they are checking out their shoes, you know. It’s a very hard world to be in. A glorious world, but very hard.
So, to me business was easy. I mean, you solve a problem for people and they pay you for it. Whoo-hoo! There’s no subtlety. There’s no, you know, 70 million muscles you have to have working all together at once, the notes need to be in an exact pitch.
It’s very simple. So, I don’t know. I donít know if that helps them understand, I was trying to say it has all been a bit extreme but I am only happy when I am doing things that are really extreme.

ANDREW: No, I get it. I wouldnít have thought, actually, that opera would prepare you for it. But I can see once you have prepared yourself to be judged by that and you can still go out there and take some of the risks that are involved in business itís easier because most of the risks that are in business are just in their own heads.
Theyíre like: what happens if I try to put up an ad in a college campus and somebody throws me out? What happens if somebody says that this is a ridiculous business idea? You got past that, I really feel you got through a major part of the battle.

INTERVIEWEE: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I donít know. Itís just really fun to do. I will say one thing though, which is I had gone to business school I would have ended up thinking a certain way and that mean that I would have definitely changed how I would have built it.
There are a lot of people that say you should never try to change user behaviour and finding a babysitter online versus finding it through your family and friends is a really drastic change in user behaviour. I didnít know this, so honestly I was like totally idiot savant that bumbled in and though ìoh, great, Iíll do thatî.
And didn’t even know I was getting into it and thatís probably why it worked.
40:00
Interviewee: And didn’t know what I was getting into and that’s probably why it worked, because you know, if I’d known what I was getting into, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

Andrew: You know, I think that the most important and maybe the only important class that I took in college around business was accounting. It just tells you how to think about the numbers, tells you to think about the whole business, it tells you about the key elements you have to care about like depreciation that don’t come naturally when you think about business.

Interview: Yeah. Absolutely.

Andrew: By the way, earlier, when you said it might have cost eight hundred and fifty dollars for a print ad, I did the math. That’s just twenty-four, twenty-five, new registrations that you need and you could do that math pretty naturally because you’re charging. You’re not hoping that one day in the future you’ll make up enough advertising to cover this, this group. You’re not saying…you don’t have to expect this group to stay with you for months and months before you see the revenue and have to predict whether they’ll actually live up to those preparations. That’s a great business to be in and how did you keep track of that? With all these print ads, how did you know whether they were covering your costs?

Interviewee: Well, I didn’t in a lot of cases, I would have to rely on gut and you know, what I saw coming in. So, basically when, you know, so yeah, you’re right. It would have been twenty-five parent sign-ups, so after a week, maybe, this is…we’re talking back like back in O-two, O-three, you know, maybe we’d get five sign-ups a day from parents. So, you know, I would definitely do it that way and in terms of tracking return, Dan had really gone in and worked on the site once it was up and you know, he was just wonderful through those years too. I mean, having him, he built it in a way where people could choose what they had, you know, they could choose how they come to the site, so it would say how did you hear of us, radio, TV, flyer. That wasn’t one-hundred percent effective but it was something so I was able to take a look at that. But also, I mean, it was wonderful because I was close to the heartbeat of the business because I was watching the sign-ups every single day. So, if I ran an ad in Boston for example, and I do remember that this happened I’d run an ad and the next day seventeen sign-ups would come in. And I think that worked. You know, or I would do a radio spot in Chicago and twenty-four sign-ups would happen, I think that worked. Another thing that I did in the early days which was incredibly helpful was a ton of PR. So a lot of moms are anchors and a lot of moms work in the news. And we began getting PR from the very, very beginning. I mean, we did interviews with the Boston Herald, you know, just really pretty big news sources from the absolute beginning because I would just, I printed out, I made a press release, I didn’t really know how to but I made one and just sent it everywhere by fax. And it started getting pickup right away. One story begat another story begat another story, so, there were some stories. Like one story ran in the Cleveland Plaindealer for example, that just, I mean there was just a ton of parents that came in the next d
ay, eighty parents, right? That was a lot of parents for us at that point. That was, that was a lot of revenue. So you could see what was happening and it continues to this day too, I mean, we just, it’s just really interesting to see, you know, how one thing that you’ll do will affect the site. But I mean, these days though, we have a team around all of this and we know…

Andrew: So back before you had the team, I understand you put together a press release and it happened to hit. I’m wondering why. What was it now that you look back now with all your press experience, what do you think it was about that first release that worked?

Interviewee: I think it was just, it was something everybody needed. I mean, we were getting cakes and cookies in the mail that first week because people were so happy that I’d done what I done. I mean, it just, I think it was just, wow, look at this..oh, wow, you know, I’m never gonna have to struggle finding a babysitter again. People were thrilled. Moms were utterly thrilled…

Andrew: They got it right away? They weren’t worried about what someone in the audience, I think it might have been Daniel in the audience who said, what about the danger? That you don’t know who you’re bringing to your house, you’re bringing someone who you saw online, which is a little scary?

Interviewee: Well, so there was the first movers and there were the ones that watched it for a while and made sure it was safe. When they got onto the site, they saw that there was this three or four-step screening process, you know, depending on the the time period. It did tend to take away a lot of fears. I think the interesting thing about it was just that need was so, so extreme. This was a product, you know, women would crawl over glass to get so, they were really, really excited about it when it did launch. And I think that the need as well was part of what helped with the trust barrier so a lot of people don’t realize that using Sitter City is safer than hiring the next door neighbor. You’re not going to take the next door neighbor and you’re not going to check her references, you’re not going to look at feedback from other third party people. You’re probably not going to do an interview…
Interviewee: You’re probably not going to do an interview, because you think you know her, and you’re definitely not going to do a background check. But on SitterCity, it’s people who live all around you, so it’s the equivalent of your nextdoor neighbor and you are doing all of that. So it actually is a lot safer. I think it’s just in this age of a lot of different websites that I won’t name that a lot of people are nervous about, they look at us and they see “online” and they think, “Oh, it’s scary..” and so it took many many years for us to get over that trust barrier but I think that being able to do a lot of press, being able to talk to a lot of people and say, you know, this is great, it’s safer-

Andrew: Where did that come from? When you explained why it’s safer than the nextdoor neighboor, you didn’t just say it’s safer because you can do research on the person. You had a really well thought out set of arguments that were persuasive. That doesn’t just come naturally in an interview like this. How did you put that together? How did that list come up and get so comfortable that you can answer me with confidence and have it flow freely and be as persuasive as it was?

Interviewee: Well, after you answer the same questions, you know, hundreds of times or millions of times, it gets to be a very common answer. The funny thing is the first person I had to answer that question to was my mom. My mom said to me, “Is this going to be safe?” And I said, “Mom, of course it’s safe.” I used to work for nanny agencies and I used to be a babysitter, and I understood that this was the same process, just put into parents’ hands. And the parent is the one – it’s your house, it’s your kids – the parent is the one that should do the screening. So when I was explaining it, it just came so naturally.. it was just problem-solution, you know. Don’t you want to be the one screening your caregiver, and here’s the screening tips..

Andrew: Did you ever sit down though, and brainstorm an answer for this, or write it out formally, or think it through?

Interviewee: No, I didn’t have time. You have to do everything on the fly, so-

Andrew: So, just answering your mother, you might come up with a couple of ways of explaining it, and then answering a reporter gives you another way or two, and then as you do more interviews you get better at expressing and you add more to that list.

Interviewee: Yep, it absolutely evolves. Everything evolves. Every answer, every pitch.. If you allow it to, it will evolve into the perfect one. It’s, you know, it’s like sanding it as you go.

Andrew: I don’t actually see the value in this question, but so many people in the audience are requesting this. I’m going to ask this.. maybe they’re smarter than I am about this. They’re asking, “Have you ever had any lawsuits from parents or sitters?”

Interviewee: No, we’ve never had a lawsuit. And I think the reason for that, again, is our model. So a lot of people look at the caregiving world and they think about a nanny agency, and a nanny agency is a bricks and mortar business, very localized business, where they employ maybe 30 or 40 nannies, and they’ll send them out to parents, and then the nanny agency is the one that both screens the caregivers, so they do the background checks and references, etc. but they also are the ones that employ the caregiver. We just went way far away from that model and said no, that’s very inefficient. If you had that money, you know $2000, that’s great. If you don’t have that, you should have another alternative. So we really are like an online dating service, and I think people get that when they come to the site. You have to sign a terms of use that states “I am who I say I am. I know I’m finding and screening my own care”, and then once you’re in the site, it’s your job to find the caregiver and to screen the caregiver. Now, the feedback mechanism is useful. I think that if there is an issue or something, maybe a parent shows up two hours late or a sitter claims they don’t get paid, they can talk on the site, they can post feedback, and respond to each other on the feedback chain, so it’s a bit self-regulating, actually, the site, and I think that for us, the way that we changed the model, the way that we were disruptive, the way we changed this world was we said, “Here’s the screening. You’re the one that’s in charge of it, parent. We’re putting it in your hands and for that, you get a much less expensive fee to access all of the best caregivers in your area. So, for that reason, I think we’re actually very, very, very safe to use. One other thing I’d say too is that we have a corporate program now, so scores of programs: Avon, Mastercard, Fox Networks, Pitney-Bowes, they use us, they bought SitterCity for their whole employee base. It’s like a corporate program that is b
ought by their work-life or HR departments. In fact we now serve the Department of Defense as well, so that’s another-

Andrew: I saw that, that’s an incredible idea. It’s a.. first of all, it says something about the safety and quality of the product, that all these companies and the military, the Department of Defense, are customers. But I love the idea of saying, I’m going to open this business up to businesses that can buy in bulk and not just individuals. Where did that idea come from?
Andrew: Where did that idea come from?

Interviewee: Well, it was just listening again to what people needed, so four years ago, at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a hospital, an intern there called us and said, “Hey, I’m a SitterCity sitter. Have you ever thought about serving companies?” And I said, “Yes, we have a corporate program,” and we didn’t, but I said, “We do now!” and she and I put together a pilot, and it just exploded since then, because what was happening was it was another area we could be disruptive, and companies only had the alternative to buy several different solutions, but those solutions, they weren’t totally complete. They were great solutions – day care is a wonderful thing, but it only helps you from 9 to 5, and in the end, people need help on the weekends and the weeknights too. And so, we sort of became the icing on the cake, that if you had a day care or you were using a back-up care service, you could also on top of it, layer in SitterCity for your employees and all of their needs would be covered. It just makes a lot of sense. It’s a great alternative. Some companies use us just primarily, as their only source. Some companies use us in conjunction with other things. But my note from before was, on the liability side, using SitterCity is wonderful for a company because again, it’s the parent’s responsibility to find the caregiver, to screen the caregiver, so though unlike other solutions, where there might be a lot of liability, there’s very low liability with us. So, it’s very counterintuitive, I think a lot of people, they see “web caregiving” and they just think, “Oh, bad recipe!” but it’s actually a really good one.

Andrew: Let’s see what else. It sounds like the business was doing well. Why did you bring in angel investors? Actually, at what point did you bring them in, and then I’ll ask why..

Interviewee: Oh, angel investors, well, we did an angel investment, and this was friends and family really, my husband’s family has an angel investment firm, so we did it in 2004 to get an office and hire the first few people and to just jumpstart our growth a little bit.

Andrew: This is three years afterwards. Three years after launch.

Interviewee: Yes, three years after launch, Summer 2004, and we used that to get our office, our first few team members. It made a big difference, so then we were able to grow even more. So the angel made a lot of sense, in terms of the venture capital it also made a lot of sense. We just felt very strongly that if we were going to take on venture capital money to the tune of millions, we just wanted to know exactly what we were going to use it for, and by the time we got that money, we knew exactly what worked and exactly what didn’t, and that’s so important. If you are taking venture capital and you are using unproven methods, I don’t know, you’re really playing with fire there.

Andrew: And once you take venture capital money, you’re on the road for an exit, aren’t you?

Interviewee: Well, yeah. I mean, who knows? Anything could happen. We could go public, we could acquire someone, we could be acquired, I mean, who knows? Venture capital allows you to grow at a very fast pace, and the opportunities in terms of what comes into us have always been plentiful, so we’ll see. Who knows what will happen? But I do know this essential concept, and that’s we’re not done yet. Our mission isn’t finished yet.

Andrew: At what point did you decide to go beyond babysitters, and do house sitters as you have on the site, pet sitters, and others?

Interviewee: Well, people began to sort of break the site. They were sneaking in and they were posting jobs for an elder or posting jobs for a pet caregiver, back in 2003, 2004, and so we saw that all the way back then in 2004, inside the site, we built people that were in it a way to search for different care sites. We pulled that out in 2007.. 2006, 2007.. we began to build out the care types on the homepage, because we realized having them internally didn’t make much sense. So the first tab we brought out was a pet tab, and that was sort of a test, and that worked very well on the outside of the site, so we brought out the senior and the tutoring and the home care tabs, and I think it was a great decision. One thing for the corporate program, that a lot of people didn’t realize, is that you want to be presenting employee cases with a unified solution that can help everybody. You know, you don’t just want to be selling something that can help people with pets or people with that, so it was a very very good idea, and we had it in the works for quite a long time.
Andrew: So, right at the top of the page, if someone wants a pet sitter, they just click the tab and essentially what they’re getting is a page that helps them get access to that portion of the overall caregiver profile list.

Interviewee: Yeah, and we have hundreds of thousands of caregivers in all of the categories, so really, like I said in the beginning, a one-stop shop for any kind of in-home caregiver.

Andrew: Let’s see.. Esprit is asking, “What is the user lifespan?”

Interviewee: The user lifepan. (Laughs) Oh, you guys, you really want to know a lot.. I’m just kidding. So, I can’t actually relate to that, I’m sorry. That’s probably too much information. I just want to be careful.

Andrew: OK.

Interviewee: But she’s talking to the average number of months a user stays with us as a paid user?

Andrew: Yeah, I’m guessing she means the, let’s see, the care seeker. How long does a care seeker stay?

Interviewee: I can’t release that, sorry.

Andrew: OK. You can’t release that. You also can’t release how many paid care seekers there are. We talked about this before the interview. I think a lot of people think that I ask questions to, I don’t know.. I’m not looking to bully numbers out of anyone. We had a conversation before the interview the way I always do, and I got a feel for where Genevieve felt comfortable and where she doesn’t. I don’t go beyond where she’s comfortable because I want to bring out your story and not make you feel like you’ve got to be on guard the whole time. If you’re on guard the whole time, I don’t get your story. I get your defense answers, and that’s not really what we’re after here.

Interviewee: You’re just so darn nice about it all!

Andrew: I’m great! Look at me, I’m wearing a vest. How could someone who’s wearing a vest be bad?

Interviewee: (Laughs) Absolutely. Come on!

Andrew: Impossible! All right, I don’t know if you noticed, but I take notes as you talk to make sure that we come back to some of the things that you’ve said to fill in the gaps and something you said early on that I’d like to come back to is the down cycle, that you didn’t realize how bad the cycles, how bad the down cycles would be.. so, this latest down cycle, what was that like for your business?

Interviewee: Oh, you mean the latest one, I’m sorry.

Andrew: The one from 2008, when the economy went south.

Interviewee: You know, ironically, both down cycles were extremely good for us. You know, so the latest economic period of turbulence.. what ended up happening was a lot of moms had to go back to work. In fact, we’d run a survey and we’d found that a lot of that was happening, so that actually ended up necessitating more of a need for caregiving. Like I said, caregiving is a necessity not a luxury, and so we actually did well, I mean we grew throughout the entire down cycle. We were growing at a healthy rate through it. You know, it’s interesting, because certain things began to happen as well, like the caregiving site obviously shot way up because what was happening again was sitters were getting out of school and there was no work, or you know, they were actually getting laid off from a job and coming to the site, so we actually found that not only did jobs posted on the site increase by quite a bit, but also caregivers in the site increased. Again, in the worst year of it, 2008. 2009 was actually a wonderful year for us as well on the corporate side, because that’s when we started working with the DOD and things like that, so it worked out very well. The first economic downturn was also quite good for us, now that I can look back and see what was happening because it forced us to grow organically, and really, there wasn’t any other way for us to grow. If I had gone out and tried to, you know, slog it out and get a bunch of capital, it wouldn’t have worked, and so I might have given up, or I might have tried something else, some other idea. I’m glad that it was a combination of my not knowing too much about this world and (laughs) the economic downturn, because what happened was we grew in such a healthy way up until our venture raised in ’08.

Andrew: I’ve got another note to come back to you about PR. You get a lot of publicity. A lot of shows have you on because you’re great, I mean you’re great on camera, you’ve got a great tool that people want to use, but this is.. how did they even discover you? How did you get so much press? I’ve got The Today Show, CBS Early Show, CNN, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and then I just got tired of typing and I said “etcetera”. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get press, who wants to get media?

Interviewee: Solve a really big problem? See, the thing is, what happened was, when we did what we did, we solved an enormous amount of pain, so people paid attention because we solved such a big problem.. but there was also an incredible amount of things that people in the caregiving world did not know. When we were launching Sitter City, you’d ask the average parent what the difference is between a babysitter and a nanny, they had no idea!
Interviewee: If you stopped anyone in the road and said, “What’s the babysitting rate in your area?” No clue, no clue. And so we actually have done an enormous amount of education primarily, its not that we’re just popular. Its that people need to know a lot about this…

Andrew: I see so when your in the media its to teach about this space not to promote your business.

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: I see, so you’re saying the difference between a nanny and a babysitter you’re teaching people how to find the right price how to find the right person I see.

Interviewee: And we’ve built things on the site, we have a rate calculator that we’ve built a couple of years ago that will tell you what the rate is in your area. You just answer questions that will tell you, so there’s no more mystery around that. That’s a huge source of problems and we do enormous amounts of interviews on etiquette, bonuses, raises, when to pay them, how to pay them, the whole gamut. How to identify warning signs if it might not be going well. What to ask during the interview. How to prepare the sitter on the first job. So most of it is education and I think that what you’re seeing in a lot of the press that we have is primarily just the need within the market to understand in home care giving. It hasn’t had a champion, it hasn’t been an industry until we did what we did.

Andrew: Yeah I wouldn’t know, do I give a tip or is that inappropriate? Do I pay it first or do I pay afterward?

Interviewee: Right, how do you know?

Andrew: Do you make arrangements for every weekend?

Interviewee: Yeah (laughs). And there’s a lot to know, so much that I wrote a book afterward called “Love at First Sit” that is just all about what you need to know about hiring and screening and setting up the perfect babysitter. And its funny, there are a million books on nannies and au pairs and everything else in the market but nothing for parents and babysitters so its helpful.

Andrew: One last thing that I saw when I did research on you, and again Inc Magazine has been really a great resource for me in learning about you. There was an article about how you’re starting a different kind of incubator. This is, well actually I’ll describe it and ask you a little bit about how it works. You had extra space at your office, you wanted to sublet it. You couldn’t find people to sublet it from you and you decided to bring in female entrepreneurs to come run their businesses from your space, you’re not going to charge them for the space. You’re helping to incubate their businesses. Are you taking a share of their business in return for the space?

Interviewee: No, its paying it forward. I am not interested in taking something from somebody who really doesn’t have anything right now. Essentially what I’m trying to do right now is just use the resources we’ve got. Sittercities has this gorgeous office space we moved into it about a year and a half ago. And there’s a smaller back part of it that we had originally thought we’ll sublet it but the market’s just been a little odd and we haven’t found the right match so what we decided to do instead is open it up. We’re a very collaborative company, we love entrepreneurs. In fact if employees here say they want to start a company that’s a good thing for them in the interview. That’s a nice good old check off in the interview which we like, its in their favor. So it just was a natural thing for me, there’s a number of women entrepreneurs I’ve always been connected with in the area. There’s a lot of women trying to start companies and some of them needed space. So again, there’s really no big plan behind it, its just that we have space, you have a company, come on in. We’ll give you what we can. I don’t plan to take a piece of their company or anything for it but I do hope that they’re able to solve a problem that women face. I think the thing behind this is that when I was launching Sitter City a lot of people considered it to be a woman’s issue. Babysitting, oh women they’ll figure that one out, right? And that was really kind of a pain to hear because it isn’t just a woman’s problem its an enormous multi-billion dollar industry!

Andrew: I wouldn’t have thought of it as a multi-billion dollar industry! I see myself, I hate to admit it, being one of the fools who you would talk to and say ah yeah, maybe it is a babysitters club. What are we talking about here, revolutionizing the posters up in college campuses and have those little tear sheet businesses? That can’t be big enough.

Interviewee: And I talked to this woman the other day and she was almost ashamed she had a company around your nails. It had to do with faster drying nail polish, how to quickly dry your nails when you left the salon. And I was, you know, that’s the kind of thing that would make women so happy they would almost cry not having to sit in the salon for a half an hour to let your nails dry. And I said, that’s great! You get half an hour of your time, your life back. I told her to just knock it off and go do the company because its another thing because its not just a woman’s problem you know. Not just something to scoff at. Its an enormous industry and so she’s going to go off and do it. Its just funny how we tend to brush off our own problems as women.
Interviewee: –and I think that we need to take them very seriously and understand that theyíre big business.

Andrew: Iím going to ask you for your help.

Interviewee: OK.

Andrew: I want to interview successful entrepreneurs here on Mixergy. I donít have enough female entrepreneurs. Itís my own fault. Iím not looking to cover every female entrepreneur out there. I should be able to find 10 a month, five a month. Iím not finding enough so itís my own fault. Thatís why Iím asking you for help. Do you have any successful female entrepreneurs, they donít even have to be in the Internet space, that you can introduce me to? Not ones that are starting out, but ones that have a track record that they could come here and talk about and describe and inspire us, the way you just did.

Interviewee: I can give you at least 20. We go yachting over here. I mean, we have a club.

Andrew: I would love it. I saw that you have a club. I would love it. Whatís the best way to do it? Can you give us one name here and that way people can know who to expect? And then Iíll follow up with you by email?

Interviewee: Absolutely. If youíre in Chicago, youíve got to talk to Nicole Loftus with Zorch, youíve got to talk to Thalia [sp?] [xx] with eVet Services, with Katrina Markoff with Voges Haut-Chocolat, Shelley Young, the Chopping Block. I could go on and on. Katie Carter, Itís HipHop, Baby.

Andrew: I hope our transcribers got every one of those names because I wasnít able to write them down fast enough. But I will follow up with you by email. If you could introduce me to any, I donít even have to be in Chicago. Iím in Buenos Aires right now, we can do it by Video Skype.

Interviewee: Youíre in Buenos Aires?

Andrew: Yeah.

Interviewee: You could tango! [laughs]

Andrew: Yeah. Tangos, [xx] and [xx].

Interviewee: I love it. [xx] Buenos Aires.

Andrew: Have you been here? Are you coming here?

Interviewee: I was just there. I love it.

Andrew: I wish we would have known. My wife and I would have taken you and your husband out for dinner. It would have been great. I owe you dinner next time you come down here. I would love to take you both out. Thank you for doing this interview. I will follow up with you with introductions. I want to bring you guys, if youíre watching itís my own fault, I want to bring you guys more female entrepreneurs. Genevieveís going to help me. Genevieve, thank you for doing this interview and guys, check out SitterCity.com.

Interviewee: [laughs] Bye.

Andrew: Iíll see you in comments. Bye.

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[This interview happened because Anthony Cerra introduced me to Genevieve Thiers.]

Share

  • http://twitter.com/Justyn Justyn Howard

    Video seems to hang at 43:01. Couldn't get it to go any further.

  • http://www.Escapingthe9to5.com/ Maren Kate

    Awesome a chick entrepreneur, I especially love these since it seems like there aren't as many women (aka chicks) in the online entrepreneurial realm as there are offline.

  • http://www.girlstartup.com Girl Startup

    You know I read the title as “sincerity” and I thought how cool! She is very sincere as well ;)
    Clever lady.

  • Chui

    Totally awesome. I loved it where she goes into campuses with her flyers running Mission Impossible theme in her head.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. Most people would have been embarrassed or afraid. It's inspiring to
    hear how she did it.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Sorry about that Justyn.

    Did this happen for anyone else?

    Tell me here:
    http://mixergy.com/contact

  • http://www.ratracerevolution.net/ k.hill

    This was great and really inspiring. I'm looking forward to seeing more women entrepreneurs come to the forefront of the online entrepreneurship arena. I especially enjoyed hearing about the guerilla marketing tactics Genevieve used in the beginning. As we all know, boostrapping your way to success is a killer!

  • http://andresiregar.com/ Andre Siregar

    I'm a few days late with my podcast, but I just want to say that this is one of my favorite Mixergy episodes. She's very articulate and Andrew asked a lot of good questions. Great stuff!

  • Jerome

    That was one of my favorite parts of the interview too. (It was the James Bond theme actually) Wow, good for her. She totally deserves her success. This was such a great interview.

  • Madhav SBSS

    Terrific, very useful. Please do more such bootstrapped startup interviews, it is always very inspiring to see and hear the rags to riches startup stories. VC startups are interesting but not as inspiring, as DHH would say “It's not my money, why should I care”

  • dpatru

    Excellent interview.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks!

  • http://www.ChrisMower.com Chris Mower

    Love this interview. Thanks for sharing. I think it's great how she realized there was a problem and figured out a solution to that problem. It's amazing how much people didn't know about babysitting vs. nannying, etc.

    Goes to show how some of the best businesses are built from a simple idea to solve a problem. I think it's also cool how hard she worked to get to the point she is now. She worked to fill a dream and knew it would work.

    Thanks!

  • buraddo

    Amazing interview.. Still huge growth potential. I am a classic target for this service (dual income family, very internet connected) and I have never heard of it. I wonder if there are better routes to market for this type of business..

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I never heard of it either. And it's incredibly useful.

  • http://andresiregar.com/ Andre Siregar

    That's a valid question, as there's always room for improvement. However I don't think she has failed in marketing Sittercity, as the growth numbers has shown. The internet is full of long tail services and it's impossible for everybody to know everything. Certainly it helps to appear in Mixergy (and get coverages in other media) where Sittercity is indexed and searchable.

  • buraddo

    No criticism from me.. Just interested in different marketing strategies for services targeted at family households.. More of an open ended question.. Next time i'll word a little better..

  • thereviewguy

    Man, what a truly natural problem solver that she is, after watching this, I will pull the trigger much quicker.

  • thereviewguy

    I also can't help to comment again: this is the type of entrepreneur interview that I most am interested. She is so easygoing, low key, whatever she said, the conversation between you two, everything seems to fall into the right place. I wish entrepreneur mentor system can be like this: less intimidating, more interesting.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    One of my favorites. I wouldn't have gotten to meet or know about her if not
    for this interview.

    Really proud of this one.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    One of my favorites. I wouldn't have gotten to meet or know about her if not
    for this interview.

    Really proud of this one.