The Number One Goal is Getting Started - Avni Patel Thompson of Poppy | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "The Number One Goal is Getting Started - Avni Patel Thompson of Poppy".


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Intro (00:00)

So, Abnie, you, by traditional standards, were incredibly successful in the traditional world. Like you get an MBA at Harvard, you start working at these big companies. What made you decide that you wanted to leave that world when you're clearly on a trajectory to just be successful that way? Yeah, it's a great question.

Career And Entrepreneurial Journey

How Abniesha built her career in the corporate world (00:16)

It's one I sometimes ask myself at three. No, so the way I think about my career, so I actually have an undergrad in chemistry, which is a little bit kind of random maybe. I started my career at Procter & Gamble in brand management. And that a lot of, it was just because, you know, as a young person, when you don't really know what you're wanting to do, you sort of take the opportunities that I kind of put in front of you and see what that leads to. And that has really served me well. And when I got to Procter & Gamble, they make things like Tide and Pampers and Craster. Lots of different consumer things. And what I ended up, I didn't even realize this until I got into it, but what I ended up falling in love with is like consumer psychology. And they taught me how to really see consumers' problems. And so not as they say them, but as they actually experience them. And so that actually means like going into people's homes and not just like listening to what they're saying, but how they're actually their behaviors and things like that. Is that your job? Yeah. So as a brand manager, your job is for the product that I worked on was actually in pharmaceuticals, so as drugs. And I was working on, for example, a packaging project. And you can have people come in to do kind of focus groups and stuff like that. But when you have them come in and even bring their little pill packs and stuff like that, they'll say, and you'll just ask them, "Hey, how's the packaging working for you? Any issues or things like that?" You'll try to ask it in non-leading ways. But inevitably they're like, "Oh no, it's fine. You know, I don't know any issues with it." And then we'd go do in-homes. And there'd be fewer, like maybe just a couple of them. But you now see them kind of in the wild. And you'd see their homes and then just all these different things. I just still remember this one time. I walked into a home and I saw the pill pack on the kitchen table and there was a pair of scissors next to it. And the woman had just completely cut the damn thing up and had set each of the individual pill pack things into like, you know, those daily kind of pill counters. So pill pack is like the blister pack, right? It's like the blister pack, yes. It's like the tin foil. Yeah, the tin foil situation in some kind of cardboard packaging. So she takes us as her cuts them out, puts it on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Right. And tried to approximate that. And I think the thing is, is that like, obviously like child resistant and all these types of things, but sometimes those can be challenging on the other end if you're older and got arthritis and things like that. So the insight there was here we're spending all this money on this beautiful pill pack with all this kind of stuff and people are just ripping into it and there's no delight there, there's friction, all that kind of stuff. And so that was really powerful for me because I realized the importance already of talking to your users, but then also like seeing their problems in real life and not just taking them at face value. So that's where I think also like surveys and things like that can be limiting because people sometimes they can't articulate what their problem is in the way that they want to. But sometimes there's other emotions at war like shame or embarrassment or things like that insecurity. And so that, you know, I started in pharmaceuticals. I then went and got my MBA. I then went to consulting so very, very standard kind of background. But the thing that was consistent was they were all consumer companies. So even the consulting worked on like grocery brands and drugstore brands. And then after that, you know, good stint in consulting, but then went to Adidas and did footwear and apparel for a little while. Yeah. So again, the thread in my life has never been necessarily the what, but it's just a really compelling human kind of problem or like a really interesting brand problem to kind of solve. And so I went to Adidas and it's kind of funny. It started there in Boston and then my husband was asked to move to China. So we actually moved to China and he worked there and I continued to work for Adidas in China from China and did strategy there. And that was just a phenomenal experience. Yeah. It's one of my favorite quotes is the Steve Jobs quote that says you can only connect the dots looking backwards. And I think even though, even though the arc appears very traditional, I think the choices that I've made with my career have been a little bit unorthodox. But I think that's fine because now as I'm in startup world, I'm connecting these dots that I've kind of come to me from the past. But we lived in China for a while and that's also where I was pregnant with our first daughter. And so we decided to come back to Boston to have her embark on that journey. And I think when we did, we realized this whole thing of like, you know, both my husband and I are these people that have loved our careers, have moved around for them and love all that. But when you have a kid, man, that's a life change. And they tell you, but you really don't understand it until you have a kid. And so we decided we needed to get closer to family. My family lives up in Vancouver, Canada. And so we made it as close as Seattle. At the time, my husband went to Amazon and I went to Starbucks, still a very neat and tidy kind of corporate story. But I think at that time to sort of circle back to your question is I've always had this sort of entrepreneurial kind of, you know, inkling that I wanted to start something. My parents were small business owners. And so I've always been around business and entrepreneurship. And I always figured at some point I'd take my shot. So most people wouldn't think that once you have a kid is when you're like going to go take that shot. But for me, it also is an interesting thing because when you become a parent, and I can only obviously speak as a mother, but your calculus on your time kind of changes. And so for me, what I wanted to do with my time, I knew I wasn't a stay-at-home mom. But if I was going to be away from my kids, I knew I wanted it to be something that I personally felt a little bit more was worthwhile of my time. Just I want to continue with the story, but I have a question related to your story.

Advice for moving for your partner's career (06:08)

What's your advice to people for moving for their partner for a job? Like you're both career-minded people and you moved all the way to China. Like what do you tell other people? I mean, obviously like a female founder, that's an even like, it's probably a classic example and whether or not that's good or bad. Yeah. So what do you say to people? Yeah, I think it's a great question. I think it's a really relevant question. I think for me and my relationships specifically, my husband and I have always looked at ourselves as sort of equals in that way. And so even in this instance, though I was the trailing spouse, if you, that's how it's called, there have been other instances that my husband moved, for example, to Boston when I was doing school there. And so it's always been this idea of we have a conversation and we say, what is the net good for the both of us? It isn't always perfect. Seattle is an example where we manage to both end up moving at the same time and find really interesting jobs for both of ourselves. But I think there are trade-offs, right? So I think where one of us could have probably accelerated faster or further in either of our careers, what we have always said in the arc of our lives, are we making the choices? Are we doing the things that is really true to us? And I think China, that was actually a particularly difficult one for me because I had just started, like maybe seven months prior, that job. So if you think about it from a resume standpoint or anything, like sort of rational, that's not a good move to make for your career. But it's crazy that you could even stay in the same company. Yeah. So I think that's also a testament to when you work hard, when you focus on doing the work, you buy yourself self options. Yeah. So in that instance, in seven months, I was able to prove myself still. Yeah. And I think that's a good way to prove that I was someone that you should give a chance to, to do something very different in a different role, sure not part of the plan. But also I was prepared that if that didn't work out, I was prepared to not perhaps be working while we were in China. Okay. And those are conversations that you need to have and be prepared to do. And there can't be lingering resentment. Like you have to own your choices. And so I think whether it was me or my husband or for whatever the reason is, I think that's really important. It's also really important as founders now. You have to own your choices. It is hard. Yeah. But you have a choice every single day to do it or not to do it. And so as long as you own your choice, I think that's an empowering thing. And so you're not thinking about it through the lens of regret or what ifs, but you're thinking through, no, this is my choice. I made it. Now I'm making the best of it. And that opens up really cool doors. And I think managing careers with dual working spouses, I think A is not a topic that's really talked about a ton. But B, I think there are ways. And I think it doesn't necessarily always have to be in the context of trade off. But there is this, you do have to have the honest conversation about it. Yeah. And so what are your pro tips for managing two careers and kids? Yeah. Yeah.

Managing two careers, AND kids! (09:11)

So that's a lot of layers. When it comes to careers, I think the conversation for both of us has always been, we are people that get engaged by ideas. And we are not people that can do a job just because it's rational and right and necessarily pays well. And there are days that I wish I could be that person. Even leaving my consulting job. I mean, if I had stayed there and was a partner in consulting, it affords you really nice things. And I'll say this super honestly, for those of us that come from somewhat more humble backgrounds, where money isn't always a assured thing, I think that drives us to go and I know it drives me to never be in the position to have to question money. And so I will say very honestly, that is something that I struggle with now today in starting a startup because I've now got myself in a position where I am not financially sort of sound and where all my previous choices have been at least around, like if not going all for financial security, but at least in a comfortable place. And that is something that needs to be talked about because it isn't, it's a reality. And you need to address it. So from a pro tip standpoint, I mean, it sounds sort of silly, but it is communication, right? So I think people don't have hard conversations often enough and deeply enough. And so it is saying, hey, this makes me uncomfortable, but we need to talk about it. And any time you start feeling something shifting into just like a little bit of fester, you need to just talk about it. And when it comes to kids, I think it's the same kind of thing I've had founders kind of ask me when's a good time to have kids? Or you have like, and you know, the same way that there's no good time to start a startup, it's no good time to have kids, you'll figure it out. I think that's it's sort of like, you know, cop up answer. But for me, it is having a combination of family and incredible nanny and a dance, like every single week it's a dance. And everyone needs to have like no other spots and like all their roles. And as long as all that's working, it's working. Okay. One person six, somebody has a business trip, something else happens and that throws it off and you have to work to bring it back to neutral. But that's the constant. Okay. And so now is your husband still working in a traditional like big company job? No. So now he's also made the lead to tech and to startups as well. And I think again, that's the same thing. It's like, you could say that, nope, one person has to, you know, hold the fork down. That's what I was thinking. And it sounds very rational and it sounds very reasonable. I think the thing is, is that there's so many things happening and to say tech is a silo or tech is a vertical is sort of an incomplete kind of statement. Tech is everywhere now. And so for both of us, we're get so excited about the way that tech is touching everything. And so for him, yeah, he's just equally as excited.

What was it like living in Shanghai? (12:01)

And so he's doing his own thing. I'm also working on startups. Interesting. So before we get into the full poppy story, what was it like working in China? Oh, so this is in 2011 and we're in Shanghai. I don't know. It's wild. It's, it's, it's, it is hard in the sense of we have moved around. We're both Canadian. We've lived in the States for a number of years over a decade. And our work has taken us all over the world, but nothing really prepared us for China. I think it's a fascinating culture, a fascinating country. Its history is really obviously informs a lot of its current, but everything from language to, you know, because Mandarin is a very difficult, you know, going to Hong Kong, we're like, you know, we've been to Hong Kong. Maybe it's somewhat similar. It isn't mainland China is a thing of its own and to live in Shanghai at the time still felt like the wild wild west. There weren't a lot of expats. And you know, to get around, you still need to learn a base amount of Mandarin. So we picked up Mandarin while we were there. And the most, it's like a drug, I will tell you, you start working there and 40% growth rates feel like sandbagging. And if you can imagine something like that, and we're coming from the US where one to two percent is like cool, we're growing, 40% is sandbagging. And so it's everything is moving so fast. You're hiring people. You're trying to do all these things. The world is changing. They're building buildings so quickly. There's an energy and a buzz in the air. Yeah. And I'll tell you the truth, having lived in Shanghai for that year and then coming back to the US, having our kid and then coming back, that truly was also an impetus to want to get into startups because it has this drive of things are happening in the world. Things are changing. People are doing exciting things. And I need to be a part of that. And so coming off of living in China, working in footwear apparel, which is a really hot category at the time, just sort of showed both of us how we could just get out there and take big swings. Well, it's not a coincidence that big companies, a big art, a lot of celebrities in LA, whatever, they come from certain places because it's not only to the people that want to work in that industry, move there, but then you're surrounded by people that are your peers and they're all doing this stuff and you're like, I got to keep up at the very least. That's exactly it. And then, but what the beautiful thing is because you come from other places, becomes this amazing mosaic of different ideas, but we're speaking the same language because we're trying to do the same thing. And that's often what I love about YC is because we come from very different backgrounds. We're doing very different things, solving very different problems, but we speak a common language. We're trying to do, we're trying to all talk to users. We're all trying to build product. We're all trying to grow companies and disrupt archaic industries. And so that commonality gives us the common language to talk, but we come from fascinating different backgrounds. Right. Like today. Yeah. I've found this conference in Seattle.

Why did you start Poppy? (14:59)

So Gustav, partner of YC asked you, why did you start Poppy? Yeah. So maybe I can fill in the blank also in the intervening time of working at my traditional background and companies to starting Poppy. I actually started a separate startup. And so I have always been passionate about raising culturally curious kids. So the idea of, you know, we've moved around a lot. And if we can't live and move around and live in all these different countries, then how do you bring that to your kids and have them grow up to be sort of globally savvy? I think it's just super important for the next generation to understand differences in backgrounds and be conversant and not make it feel very threatening and things like that. So anyways, a friend and I had this idea and said, why couldn't this be? This is also the era of subscription boxes, you know, in 2012 or so. And so we thought. So funny how they're like chapters. But within the past five years. Okay. No, there are. There definitely are. And so that was when you're seeing other folks doing it, like, no, no, I could do this for this vertical. And so very similarly, we thought, you know, let's build subscription boxes that have each month a different culture. So, you know, India one a month, China and Japan. And instead of doing what we call saris and samosas or like, you know, sushi and samurai's very like stereotypical stuff, let's take you into a market. Let's talk to you about language and food. The things that really inform people and how they think. And so we were really still, I'm super passionate about the topic. But I think the way that I approached it or we approached it, you know, was very, you know, very conventionally, I guess, but we had built a business plan. We pulled market numbers. We had a story, right? Because you can find any numbers you want. And we focused more on product of what we wanted to have in the box, less what we thought was going to solve the problem. And so we built this and we thought we were being scrappy and did it in about six months and launched and started to get going. And as you know, e-commerce is hard. Customer acquisition costs can be crazy. The long term value or LTV is not necessarily there. And so we learned that the hard way. This is a very niche market, even though people, so this is where I, when people tell me, oh, I've been talking about my idea and everyone loves it. I say be careful. Because everyone loves you or you can sell an idea and there's nothing, no skin off their back to say, no, that's a really great idea. I can't believe no one's thought about it. We use that as validation and that was sort of wrong because the only real validation is their money. Even with your friends, like, oh, absolutely. I know it's kind of trite to say like your friends were going to yes you, but most of your friends won't just give you money straight up. They won't. So you can actually ask your friends, even though, even if they want to make you happy. This is also why I don't believe in friends and family discounts. And it's not to say that you don't maybe give them discounts or things like that, but just don't give it to them for free, right? Because that won't give you the right signal for whether they're actually valuing it.

Learning from the Imminent Failure as a Founder and Starting Sittercity (17:54)

So anyways, the long story short was that we spent about a year and truthfully about $20,000 of personal money, bootstrapping. And ultimately came to the realization that this was not a fundable scalable company. And instead of running it as a small business and sort of like a lifestyle business, we were going to shut it down. And that was a really hard thing. I think because I figured this was my go had startups. I had bought myself like a year of time of not taking a salary, which was a hardship for my. Oh, you would already quit. Yes. I put my job because I said, you know, if we're going to do this, we're going to do this. Well, we had been talking about it on the side for about a year. And we both had kids. The funny thing is, maybe not so funny, is that the day that I gave notice that I was going to quit my job, I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. So life choices in me. No, and I think it is motivating. I don't believe in wasting another day if you don't think that that's going to serve you. And so for me though, we now had two kids. I felt like I had taken my shot at startups and failed miserably. If not like holy, I learned so much. But it still feels like failure. And so used up all my money, used up basically all the time that I had said, hey, can we swing it with savings and stuff for me to not make any money. But as you're failing or closing something else down, for me, what was really important is I needed to learn from the next experience. And so I started talking to parents and saying, hey, if this thing isn't really necessary in your life and isn't really important, then what are some of the big problems in your life that you face on a daily weekly standpoint? And the topic kept on coming back to childcare. And I mean, I knew that because I live the same thing. Like both of my husband and I work. We had, we didn't have family that lived in town. And there's all these kind of random things that would pop up, you know, nanny's sick or, you know, meetings running late and just little things like that can just throw off your complete week and add stress in a marriage, add stress in the family, all the things like having kids is hard enough. That is just like a slap in the face. And so as I started to hear that, I realized that what people weren't talking about was just needing a sitter or nanny. What they were missing was this idea of their village. And so everyone says it takes a village to raise a child. But you know, all of us are moving around for our careers, for education. Neighborhoods aren't what they used to be. How many people know their neighbors and such that you would, you know, leave your children with them. And with all of that happening, we don't have any safety net as parents. And so that realization started to, you know, kind of pop into my head. And so even though I don't have any childcare experience like in that industry, I have no marketplace, you know, background or anything like that, certainly no tech industry background. I quickly saw how or at least hypothesize how you might, you know, solve that. And so for me, this is where my chem degree kind of comes back and I broke it down into like a nice, like tidy equation. And so for me, it was that if a village is a function of, you know, someone that you trust is a fit for your family from a like a values standpoint and is there when you need them to be. Could you break it down from technology from a vetting mechanism, a matching algorithm and a scheduler? So again, it was this whole thing of like, let's just break it down continually. And then I figured, okay, well, how would we test that? And I could see an app, but I can't build that up. And so for a little while, I was, you know, stressed out about that. But then finally, I was like, if I was going to, you know, when for a lot of founders, I hear this, you get obsessed with an idea. Yeah. You literally can't get out of your head.

Getting Obsessed with an Idea and Moving Forward with it (21:42)

It's, you're sleeping, you're, you're talking about it. It's just in your head all the time and you're just super distracted. And finally, I remember my husband said, you just have to try the damn thing out because it's like, either do it or don't do it. Oh, man. I have friends who've been talking about ideas for like five years. Right. And it's just like you, you want to say do it or don't do it. But you know, you got to figure it out. Yeah. And so finally, I was like, well, I don't know how I'm going to do this because I have no money left. I have no time. Well, we should talk about that, right? Like, so you try the box, start up. It doesn't work. Yeah. Like, did you honestly consider just finding a job? Like what was the moment that made you decide to like double down? Yeah. So truth be told, I was pursuing three and a good risk of risk kind of right. Three options. Option A was just returned to my corporate career.

decisions, decisions (22:29)

Yeah. I knew I could do that. I knew I was good at it. It didn't excite me, but I was like, you know, you can make some money and figure the next thing out. Regroup. The second thing was, you know what? Now I'm into startups. I don't have to start another startup. I could work at another startup. That's another way to go and do that. And actually for some time, I did actually go, there was a local travel startup with nothing but engineers and I was their first non-technical hire. And even though it was for only a couple of months, what that taught me was I now start, like I met engineers for the first time in a really compelling way, started to see how software was built and that was really cool. But that was my second path because I just figured that's what I'm going to do. For some period of time, I'm just going to go work at another startup, lend my passion and experience to another startup, which I think is a compelling opportunity for a lot of different people. And then the third was just go at it again. And so I think the problem was that even as I was thinking about the more, I guess, rational or responsible opportunities, the idea just kept on getting steam. And as I kept on thinking about it, I was like, it doesn't matter. I can't build an app. I could use SMS. I could approximate it by I could just go and find a couple of caregivers and I can go find these parents in just my neighborhood. It doesn't have to be a big fancy thing. And honestly, there are kind of vanity emotions and stuff like that. People didn't even realize that I had shut down my first startup. So I didn't want to make a big hoopla about starting another one. And so that was kind of good because that gave me no expectations. So I literally, this is where this whole idea of the four week test was, I figured, and my husband said, just go try it out, go figure it out, I figured if I gave myself the space of four weeks, and the whole point was by now I'd started reading some of PG's essays, I'd never been in hacker news and all that kind of stuff. That's not my background. But I started reading this stuff and I was just so interested in what ideas. And so I started reading this and started watching how to start a startup. And this whole idea of can you just get consistent weekly growth? And can you talk to users and build product? And that resonated back to my PNG days of doing that and that spoke to me. So I thought if I could find myself four weeks, I had like 200 bucks left in my business making account.

everyone is welcome to text you (24:49)

So I was like, you know what, type form, like square space, I can do a four week trial type form, do sign ups and things like that. I can use Excel as a database. I can use Google Calendar as a scheduler and SMS, try on a connected all your personal cell phone. Yeah. Yeah. And people my personal cell phone number and for the longest time, even to this day, I will have like old school parents still text my phone. It's like, hey, I need a puppy. It's wild. No, so I set it up as a four week test and I still remember the day I was like, am I going to actually do this? Because it feels janky and it feels scary again. But I said, I have to know. So literally sent an email to 15 parents and just said, hey, I've got these three amazing people. If you need them, just text this phone number and I gave them a phone number as my phone number. And that day got our first booking and that week I got four. So that week was, okay, that's my base. If I've got four, the next week, 10%, I need to get five. Okay. So I think six and the week after even more, I need week after even more. And so I think more than the actual numbers, it was this idea of consistent growth and then it feels different when you're not pushing people to try your product, but people are pulling you to give them more. That felt very different. And so anyways, that was the genesis of Poppy very almost accidental in some ways, but very driven by a specific need. I had a problem. I needed to solve it. I figured I had a different hypothesis than the other very crowded people in this very crowded industry.

How to figure out the problem in a limited time (26:16)

Yeah. So someone from Twitter asked a question. 494 asked, they heard about your four week test. What are your suggestions for someone who doesn't have four weeks or works full time job or say is a college student, generic, busy person? What are your tips? Yeah. So the reason I love the, and this is just in retrospect, the reason I like the construct of a four week test is that for a lot of people, and especially underrepresented founders and things like that, we face disproportionate number of hurdles, whether it's you have kids or you have to care for aging parents or you come from communities that don't have startup things. The point is you have to get to growth and you're going to have to double down to prove that you deserve funding to be around or whatever else. Just pressure from your family. I know a lot of my friends who like, you know, they have a big fancy job somewhere and their friends like, why would you ever leave that? That's exactly. I've never had a 401k or whatever stock options. That's exactly it. And so if you use the construct of a four week test inside of four weeks, you can know whether you have something or if you don't. And that way, at least, you know, if you do have something like I ended up having that gives you the confidence, it gives you the rationale to be able to go tell your family or whoever you tell yourself, no, no, I can do this. There's something here. If there isn't, then there isn't, at least you can kind of either like regroup and learn or whatever and you can decide your commitment to it. But you have to be focused, right? So say the question this person seemingly is asking is like, you don't have four weeks of, you know, 40 hours a week or whatever. So how do you, how do you kind of like figure out the problem, figure out what to spend your time on if you're just going to, yeah, do it and limit time? So I would challenge people that you probably have more time than you think. And again, it is, and I don't mean to be flipping, but you know, at the time, I think my second daughter was maybe three or four months old. My older daughter was three years old. I was still in the process of wrapping up my other startup. So that's just to say there was a lot of noise. But when you're, when something takes a hold of you and you can't, you have to do right by the idea. And I think about it, I actually love that I started startups as I started a family because a startup for me, there's a lot of parenthood parallels. You would do anything for your kids. You become a mama bear and you don't care if you're afraid. You would do anything for your kids. It gives you a courage that you don't know where it comes from in the same way for my startup, for my second startup, because I knew it had to exist, not for me and for any vanity reason, but because I know my users need it. I know it does something amazing in the world. My job is to make sure it doesn't die. And so for that, I will do anything. I will talk to anyone. I will hire like, you know, I will, you know, I will do any work that it takes to make sure my startup doesn't die because it has to survive in the world. And so I think my point is is that if it is the right idea, it is the idea that you're going to commit. And I think here's an important point too, is that it isn't about the starting because if you're lucky and you actually have something, you're about to spend the next five to 10 years of your life. This is a big misconception. It's like, Oh, all right. I shared Poppy V one is like, congrats. You just started. Congrats. You just signed up the next five to 10 years of your life to devote to this mission. So again, be very sure you want to do that. But if that's my point is that if this is something that you're meant to do, that you are committed to doing, you will find the time. My second point when it relates to college students, that isn't to say, um, lots of young people don't or can't start really great startups, but don't feel the pressure to start it. I've loved that I've had a very disparate kind of, um, kind of younger phase, if you will. I've had the chance to go and do lots of different things, um, experience the world, all that kind of stuff. And all of that has been fodder for building a more thoughtful, more interesting company. And so if you're a college student that just feels like you want to start a startup, but don't really necessarily have that specific idea or whatever else it is, I would say, go focus on your studies, like go take really cool courses, philosophy or like whatever else it is. Um, go get interesting experiences that will then serve you down the road when you go meet your co-founder and you actually have an idea and you want to go do it. Um, I think it makes sense, right? Cause like to what you were saying before with, you know, the, the, the first startup didn't work out. Something that's not talked about is that a lot of the most successful, like, you know, monetarily, it will use that metric. Yeah. Um, many of those people just have a high batting average. They didn't shoot the ball one time. Totally. They didn't never talk about the dumb stuff they've worked on, but like they made all these stupid projects. They weren't precious about them. Yeah. And I was, I was that guy in college like, I was like, all right, I'm going to come up with this company idea and this is it. Totally. That's not the average by any means. So I'm Canadian.

Persistence through tons of rejections (31:02)

So I'm going to use a hockey analogy, but you miss a hundred percent of the shots that you don't take, right? Wayne Gretzky. Michael Scott. There you go. Um, and so I love that because it's absolutely true. Yeah. Um, I, I applied to YC three times. And so I think that's also something that is misunderstood or kind of glossed over. Um, persistence, right? If you think it's the right. Like half the batch applies twice or more. Totally. And, um, I think what people misunderstand is that I think somewhere in the glossiness of startups and all that kind of stuff and no founder, I bet, will tell you this, but most of us have had to persist through tons of stuff, tons of investor rejection, tons of consumer rejection, tons of just like rejection. Yeah. So if you have to have enough, um, faith in self and faith and vision to be able to see you through, and if the thing is the thing, like for me, YC was the thing that I thought, um, very specifically was what I needed and wanted to help me. And so even when I was rejected the first time, um, I worked very hard to make it be something that, um, would make it like increase my chances of getting into YC the next time. But I guess the point by that time also was even if I hadn't gone into YC, um, by that time I had a thriving company and I had customers and I had all, and so then I was like, screw YC if they don't, like, you know, if they don't fund me, I'm going to do this anyways. Yeah. But I think that was the right thing. I was not there with my first startup. I said, I'm going to need to get, I want to get into YC because of the vanity badge and then I've made it or I want to get funded by this VC because blah. But with poppy, again, it puts everything into the right context because I wanted to get into YC because I wanted to accelerate my company and make it into something bigger and work with the best minds in tech to help improve my probability of success.

Demo Day and choosing investors to partner with (32:34)

Same thing with investors. I have now realized there are amazing people that see our vision and their capital is helping to fuel our growth. Um, and there's other people that don't see it. And in fact, even if you offered me money, I wouldn't want it because I need the people that see our vision and our partners, um, and aren't just checks. Um, there certainly will be times when you just need the money. But, um, I think especially for a mission driven company like mine, you have to have people that are bought into the mission to the timeline because they're not always the same. I'm not building this to, you know, a quick flippant kind of thing. Child care is not that category. Um, so you need the people that see why you're doing this and believe in it and therefore, and then also write checks for it. So if you're, I mean, a lot of the people that listen to the podcasts are interested in pursuing the VC route. So we can just kind of assume that, right? So say you're going to build like a mission back company, like similar to yours. What, what do you think about fundraising? Like how do you go about that process? Because it's true. Like your, your numbers aren't, you know, WhatsApp numbers. Right. So how do you, how do you find those investors? How do you convince them? What do you do? Yeah. So I think, um, I think definitely it's hard for me to say what factors kind of play into it. But I definitely know that in the early days of me raising, it was certainly hard, harder. Um, because on the surface, it appears a very crowded market. Um, it is hard for anyone to understand why a person that's coming off of a failed startup who doesn't have a technical background. Um, you know, all the things like I, if I was pitching me, I would say no to, right? Like there's no data to suggest that I'm the one who's going to make this thing go. Yeah. But the beautiful thing, that's also where YC kind of came in was, especially what YC says is go prove it from your users. Right. If you go prove that you're making something that people want. And that's why I was like, you know what? I can do that. And so I went and I let the growth do the talking. And so, um, there's one thing that like, you know, around YC that we say that growth solves all problems. And I love that one because if there's nothing else I can do, I go and try to figure out growth. Growth helped me find my eventual CTO and co-founder. Um, growth helped me go and raise money. If not everyone saying yes, the right people started to say, Oh, well, there must be something here. Like what are those people? And then those people went and talked to parents or the caregivers. And so the people who are interested in your mission as well, you will find them. You just have to, again, it's so in Gretzky, you have to take more shots on goal. Yeah. And it's a numbers game. But the point is, is that again, because I refuse to let my company die, I double down on talking to even more people and making connections. So every person, even if you say no, introducing me to three others. And that's sort of like this little kind of breadcrumb trail that leads you to all the craziest kind of places. But eventually you will find your people and a couple will tip and that's the momentum you need. Yeah, absolutely.

Industry Insights And Advice For Entrepreneurs

Measuring product market fit with retention (35:41)

So let's do one more question from Twitter. So Deepak Chugani asks, how are you measuring if your company has reached product market fit? I think that's like what the billion dollar question is. I think it's a tricky one. So as best as I can tell, I look at it a couple of different ways. One, I think is from a retention point of view, right? So if you've got product market fit, you have built something that is working for people and they're coming back to it. They're using it. They're coming back to it. They're not churning it like some massive amount. And so for me, product market fit has to do with that. Stripping it down, for me, again, I think about it from a consumer standpoint, product market fit has to do with the fact that you're solving their problem. You're solving their problem, the friction that they experience in their lives so well, so completely that they have no choice but to come to you. And so I think a lot of those things from like a Lyft or an Uber or an Airbnb, people who completely, in what, five years, completely change how people think about a category. Like the people can't even fathom going back in time. That's what we're doing with childcare and parenthood. And so my thought on product market fit is how do we make Poppy something that parents just can't even fathom being a parent without? And we're getting there. We have that here in Seattle because people will talk about it. We even had just a parent yesterday and we have a text interface so we talk to our users literally every day. And someone talking about moving outside of our service areas and making, just talking about how that would make their lives just so much worse to not have access to Poppy. And so that is like goosebumps stuff but that is also product market fit. When you have people that can't get enough of what you're making and you're scrambling to just keep up with that demand, I think in a lot of those types of terms. Okay, got you.

Future of parenting (37:35)

I have a very random question then. Just about parenting in general. I saw this interesting video about three parents in one child. They were like, it was like this interesting relationship. Yeah, I'm just curious like, do you have thoughts on the future of parenting and how it may be different than the traditional traditional model that we used to? I guess most of my thoughts are kind of almost come back to the past where I love this idea of I don't know if it's communal living but like multi-generational living. My parents are Indian and when we would go back to India, my grandparents' farmhouse just literally had in the same farmhouse, my three uncles, their families, my grandparents. And you would go there and literally like we wouldn't see my parents for like weeks, because they'd be somewhere. But like, you know, it is communal parenting, right? My parents would watch out for their kids. My aunt's and uncles would be watching out for us and that struck me in a very early age because I didn't have that for the rest of my life when we're living in Canada. And just the ease, the naturalness where parenthood isn't in crisis, right? It doesn't feel like a crazy thing that you're like, what am I supposed to do with this kid? So how people do it in the future, whether it's multiple parents or whatever it's more fluid, for me, the only way that it works is that my nanny and her husband live in our house, right? So like, you know, yeah. So they, yeah, so it's like an opare-ish kind of situation. We have like a separate kind of apartment. We have an in-law apartment. And so instead of renting it out to somebody else, we rent it out to my nanny and her husband. That's great. And the incredible thing is, and then when my parents come over and if they're staying over, they stay in our attic kind of like, you know, but it feels wild because this is what I feel like it's meant to be. The burden isn't supposed to be all on my husband and I, right? It allows us to have much needed breaks. It allows my kids to get to know their grandparents in a really compelling and like natural way. It allows me to have my nanny who feels like, you know, family, be a part of the family. And for my kids for it to be just very inter- like, you know, interchangeable. I think that's really important. I've read a lot of research on, I like the idea of resilience in kids. I think that's a really important quality that we don't necessarily talk about a ton, but there's studies that say resilience is correlated with the number of positive connections a child has with people related or not. And so that's also what I think about when I think about Poppy because we here we have these incredible caregivers that go into the lives of, you know, these families and kids and they can be these positive role models and we can build, you know, lots of families have lots of different, you know, situations going on stresses or whatever else it is. No, you can never tell from the outside. But what I think about is that the more you can put positive relationships, positive kind of role models in the lives of children, you give them a better chance at being these resilient kind of grown up. So kind of following that line, what are your thoughts and probably advice around like parenting while being a founder, well, like two founders now, like, what are your thoughts? Richard, what do you tell other parents?

Advice for entrepreneur parenting (40:48)

So I think there's sort of two pieces for me. One is you have to be very specific about boundaries. And what that means for me is there's certain days that I'm on and I have to be a hundred percent founder. I can't think about, you know, it sounds sort of harsh, but I can't think about my kids and like all the other things that are on. There will be days that my husband's just like primary parents. So if a teacher has to reach out or if there's PTA meetings or any of those things or for nanny needs anything, my husband's on tap and there are other days that I am. And so that is just very clear. In the evenings, who's night is it, right, to work late? There's certain nights that I'll be my night, certain nights I'll be my husband's night. And there are nights that my mom will come over and stay over. And that kind of gives it or nanny works kind of late. And so the point of that is that again, it is very scripted. There are nights that we have to one of us is traveling or somebody else has a meeting or something that has to shift. But we're very specific about what those are. And the more that you make it routine, the less disruptive it is for our kids. They're just like, oh, yeah. And do you guys operate on the normal weekend schedule? Do you have any like habits or traditions where you're like, all right, Sunday, dinner or whatever it might be? We're like, we're checking out, like turning off the phone. So a couple of them. First of all, I think, you know, talking about the kids is really important because I want my kids to feel that I am present and both of us are and all that kind of stuff. But at the same time, so there will be times that I'm working for my home office and they're like very welcome in and out of the house. But because my parents, we actually dropped them off for like sleepovers at my parents' house some weekends. And that gives my husband and I important time for us to be ourselves connect. We try to do this tradition of like Saturday morning dates instead of like evening nights. So we'll go do yoga and have a coffee or like a spin class and coffee. And that is something that we did when we dated or went before we had kids. The importance of that is we remember ourselves before we became parents. And that I think is really important for parents in general because I think I've heard this idea of and I felt it too when I became a parent of like you lose yourself. You lose your identity. And that is almost more harmful than anything else. And so for us, that's really important that we square away time for just him and I or just ourselves to take care of ourselves. And then the last thing is we do have Sunday dinner. You know, I like I'm a big believer of eating together and that's just like the whole cultural aspect of that. And so at the very least we have Sunday dinner where we cook and like my parents will come over and all that kind of stuff. And I think that's also important for my kids to kind of see. Yeah, that's great.

Advice for female founders (43:24)

All right, last question. So we're at the female founders conference. I should probably ask you what's your advice for a female founder? Just getting started. You said it right there. So I think. I think there are so many people out there and it can be female founders. It can be other underrepresented kind of founders or people with just like different situations. I think too often we have really interesting ideas in our heads and we just think about all the obstacles that fall in our way. Yeah. All the reasons why we can't and that stops us from starting and just having a shot at it. It's why I'm a big fan of this whole like I made it up but like it was just like a construct to fool my mind about like the four week test. Just give yourself something small to get to 100 paying users, right? Because I love the idea of like having a hundred is a tangible target. It isn't so far off but it's pretty stretch paying users to our previous point about no, they people vote with their dollars. And so breaking that task down, I find gives people tangible reasons and a way for them to get started.

Just start (44:27)

Yeah. But and especially when it comes to women, I find that we are perfectionists. This whole idea of we don't want to mess up or if we are going to start something, it should be perfect. And so we like plan ourselves to perfection, which means we also don't start and we have to get really comfortable with it being messy and complicated. But the number one thing is we have to start and we have to take big swings.


Big idea (44:47)

They can't be, you know, I have no idea. I don't have a tech co-founder. I'm not technical. How could I possibly? I had the exact same thoughts and if I had those thoughts and I let them stop me, I wouldn't have started Poppy. So big swings means like not doing something like too easy or like, I think so this is a controversial, it can be a controversial comment because if your vision and if your mission is to do something big, then have it be as big as possible. If you want to build a nice smaller retail service business or whatever else that is, that's great. But let's not confuse that with startups. Let's not confuse that with high growth, venture backed ventures, basically startups. I am a biggest supporter of small businesses having been the daughter of two small business owners. But if we're talking about startups and big swings that are going to get angel and venture funded, then we have to talk about big disruptive technology. And if that's the case, then we have to talk about all the ways that that can be possible. And if we're not talking about that, then we're not, we're like, you know, dead in the water before we even start. Totally. Yeah. I heard, I think it was on Tim Ferriss's podcast with Chris Saka and he was talking about his investment strategy. And one of them was give yourself an opportunity to get rich and like all these people make these like $10,000 bets and like you can never really win that way in the same way. Like if you have an idea, like maybe it's a small business, that's awesome. You can crush it. But like if you're going to take venture money and the max you can do is 10 million a year or something, then like you're kind of, you pick the wrong game. Exactly. And I think in my motivation in this, certainly, you know, you know, down the road, maybe there's the financial aspect, but for me, it really is if we're going to do this, certainly there's the 10 million version of what I could do. Right. But if we're going to do this, do it for the whole damn thing, right? Like if we're going to do this and solve this for parents everywhere, let's solve it for parents everywhere. Yeah. And that makes it the billion dollar idea, right? I have no idea how we're going to do it yet. But I definitely know how we're doing it here in Seattle and how we're about to do it in more cities across the country. But so solve the problem that's in front of you, worry about that first. Yeah. And just live to fight another day. And I think that's the biggest thing is that you have to get started and just going because if we don't, then we're just talking about it. I think that's great advice. All right. Thanks for coming in. Thank you.

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