What Shutting Down Your Startup Feels Like - Avni Patel Thompson of Poppy with Kat Manalac | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "What Shutting Down Your Startup Feels Like - Avni Patel Thompson of Poppy with Kat Manalac".
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Introduction Of Kat
Kat’s intro (00:05)
Why don't you introduce yourself before we talk about Avni for an hour? Cool. So I'm Kat Manielek. I'm one of the partners at YC. I work a lot on outreach to applicants. So everything we do with an external focus at YC and I help a lot of companies in the batch with their launches. I had the pleasure of interviewing Avni at least once. One of the times she applied to YC. When you rejected me. Yes. I had to send her the rejection email. But since then I've gotten to see her go through YC and go through the process that we'll talk about today. So I'm excited to be here. Thanks for coming on the show. Avni, you've been on the podcast before. But for people who haven't heard of you, what do you do?
Discussing Avni'S Experience With Poppy And Its Closure
Avni’s intro (00:45)
What's your deal? My name is Avni Patel Thompson. I suppose was the founder and CEO of Poppy. And what we did with Poppy, the mission was to build the modern village. And so how I envisioned that was to find and vet really amazing child care providers and then connect them to families when they had gaps in child care. And so we started that in my neighborhood in Seattle about three and a half years ago. Grew it and continued to build it out as a kind of the testing ground for something that could help the millions of families across the country. And recently decided that looking at all of the things, the economics and everything, that it wasn't a viable scalable proposition. And so made the hard decision to shut it down in December and kind of going through the process of all that last month, this month. And just I think that's something interesting to think about. Yeah, absolutely. So there are a million things to talk about here.
When did it become clear that scaling Poppy wasn’t working? (01:45)
But maybe we can talk about the economics in the beginning and then we can shift towards the emotions, how you felt, how it went down. So at what point did it become clear to you that this couldn't scale? Because I think many people would say like, that's a YC, maybe even YC interview question. Like how do you grow this thing to a massive scale? Why did it take three years for you to realize that? Yeah. So I think it's a multi-layered kind of question. For me, at least in this space, even from the beginning, I knew that parts of it were against the odds. And so what I mean by that is if you know the category that I'm working within is child care. It's already an inherently margin challenge kind of category. So what I mean by that is like, what parents are willing and able to pay for this kind of work? And then what caregivers need to make, the ones that are like highly skilled and everything like that. So and then can you make some kind of margin in between as a company that then facilitates this stuff? And so even from the beginning, I really kind of built this company and looked at this company as kind of this series of experiments. And so kind of like a mad scientist. And so in that vein, I knew that we were up against kind of challenging economics, but I always thought about it knowing that we then took a look at pricing from like a membership model and transaction revenue. And I can certainly go into the details of that. But it was always understanding that it was going to be a challenging kind of category. It's not where things like travel, maybe the frequency isn't there, but there's high ticket. There's high average value that you can make some good margin. This one had higher frequency, but you had to then believe that you could also make decent margin on that frequency. So that was all the like what the hypotheses were based on. One other thing that I think is important to note is that what it looks like at a certain scale is very different than what it looks like, even at the next level. And so what I mean by that is when you're doing 10 bookings a week, it looks like something with like maybe three caregivers and maybe, you know, 50 families or whatever. It looks very different at the next level when you're starting to do 100 bookings a week. And it looks different yet again when you're doing 500 bookings a week. And so, you know, why did it take the three years or whatever to really understand that? It's because every single time you kind of go through those kind of step changes, it changes. And so to dig into that a little bit further, when we started doing something like 500 bookings a week, now you're talking about working with hundreds of caregivers and like thousands of families. Well, that is a very different thing than when I started as like a mom in the neighborhood that knew every caregiver and like by name and had personal conversations with every parent, you have to look at everything as a variable that you're experimenting with. But by necessity, when we were smaller, we did feel like that mom and pop shop. It doesn't matter that we were building the software, but it felt like that. It felt like, you know, we're an SMS based kind of platform from the interface. It felt like people knew who were the on the other side. But again, if you're going to look at scaling, you have to think about that differently, right? So now you have to have a team that is going to be behind the SMS. You have to not necessarily know every single caregiver personally. Those have implications because that changes the value proposition where that caregiver might have, you know, felt like, oh, I have an in with like knowing exactly who the team is and all this kind of stuff. It changes my work. At a bigger scale, it turns into yet another kind of gig economy job, which isn't good or bad, but it just, you know, has an implication when we're looking at is that what that labor pool wants to do is yet another kind of gig job. And so that just changed the economics. Can you talk a little bit about some of the experiments you tried that made you optimistic about the space and the work?
Experiments Avni tried with Poppy (05:20)
Absolutely. So lots of different things. First of all, there's tremendously talented people that live within our neighborhoods. And I don't like, I don't think I should need to say that, but folks who are teachers or students or stay at home parents, all these folks, my hypothesis is always they do exist in our communities. And it is our job to not only find them, qualify them, kind of say that they've been vetted and then do the connecting part. But we weren't making them. We weren't creating them. They did exist in the community. And then anyways, that was a big hypothesis at the beginning that we did prove was, in fact, true. Because if it started to become that actually they don't exist, then that would have been a bigger problem earlier on. But no, they were there. And we created a mechanism for folks who are otherwise working at Trader Joe's and just had recently graduated. We had more than a few who were pursuing like dance careers, but they were working at Trader Joe's to make ends meet. They then started popping and then quit their Trader Joe's job because it worked within their construct of like dance was their first career and their first priority. But then they got to, you know, live their second passion, which is working with kids. Well, this is supply that isn't on other, you know, like care.com or any other kind of marketplace. So we would unearth things supply that wasn't otherwise in the category. I thought that was tremendously powerful, because otherwise we were giving access to people that weren't working in the space. So that was a really positive and encouraging dynamic. And then other things were, for example, we started running experiments towards the end where we did a thing that was started as a marketing kind of community thing called bring back brunch. And so we partnered with a really great restaurant that had a kids area. And we would have poppies there for a couple of hours in the morning on Sundays and parents would come and they could enjoy brunch while the kids enjoy themselves under, you know, supervision. Well, the hypothesis there was just, you know, can, you know, we're trying to enable this modern village where people can like parents can enable connection and everything. And kids can just still enjoy themselves. And so some of these things were like really successful kind of experiments. But, you know, again, when it comes down to the core of what we were trying to do, which is connect a large number of caregivers with a large number of kind of families against a number of different dimensions, that started to get complicated. One of the other things that were started to get complicated was that has a good and a bad side, which is people were very skeptical that parents would be okay with a range of different people for their kids, right? So, you know, you don't really care who your Uber driver is as long as they get you from point A to point B. And people were highly skeptical that we would be able to solve that because the their thesis was that, you know, you really only want the one or two people. Well, we were able to successfully get parents to a great range of people. I think the average towards the end was like, you know, six to eight folks. And the reason was because we had my my counter thesis was that, you know, if you have standardization and you have a great range of people, actually, it's amazing to have your kids interact with a range of different folks. This person is a drama teacher and this person is a nurse, but you know, and that came to bear. But in so much as this population also is somewhat transient in the sense that, you know, they're doing this for some period of time in between grad school or while they're, you know, in the early days of their dance career, they eventually move on has most parents kind of know that proved to then be a little bit kind of tricky because once you then have them all moving on and then you have like the number of folks that parents want, you know, eventually again, over time, you start to see how that gets complicated. Where in the beginning is like, Oh, no, this is actually working quite well. Over time, you start to see different economics and dynamics. And so was that just a growing sense that you had or was there one particular moment where you're like, you know what, I think we might have to shut it down? No, I think I would say probably about a year ago, it's always something I've tried to be mindful of.
The last six months of runway (09:25)
Yeah, I do. And I can speak to this a little bit later, because I think it's really important, but I've always done monthly investor updates, mostly because I think it's important to have that that discipline against myself as a CEO to, you know, have to read out to somebody else, like the results that we're seeing and all that kind of stuff. But also to be able to understand like, what are the dynamics that are going on? And then if other people are seeing is that successful? Is it not? Is it growing fast enough? And that's all a relative kind of thing. And so throughout, you know, the growth of Poppy, we've always been solid, like we've always been solid and growing. But to the point of like maybe five to 10%. And that's not bad. I mean, in fact, like for some of these kind of marketplaces, that's really good. It wasn't though taking off in the ways of like 15 or 20%, like you know, just like as earmarks on that. And so it is something that was in the back of my mind, you know, for the last like maybe year, you know, I've just like trying to understand what are the dynamics going on. And that just made made me want to experiment more and more boldly. Now, the other thing I think is super important is even from the beginning, had the mind towards revenue. So we certainly weren't profitable, but we are always making revenue. And I think that's also important because I was able to then take the little bit over 2 million that we raised and have that last over, I think like three years. And I think that's just important because that bought us the time then, if we weren't growing necessarily as fast, that bought us the time for more experiments. Yeah. And so that's the way I thought about that. The writing was starting to be written on the wall. And for me, I wasn't done with the experiments, right? So I still thought there was, you know, maybe we could do Poppy Pool, which is, you know, pair parents or pair of kids together and get a little bit of leverage out there and make it cheaper. I thought we could use stay-at-home parents as another tier because they're people that live within the community. And so maybe you won't see the same amount of churn. So while I still had kind of these experiments and like hypotheses in my head, I wanted to live to fight another day and run those experiments. And so it wasn't until the last probably six to eight months where we started to experiment a lot more boldly because it was quite, it was becoming quite apparent then with the scale that we were at that that vehicle wasn't going to necessarily work. And so we started experiment with some of these other things. But at some point, and that's also where Runway is necessarily a good forcing factor, but where as we started to dwindle down now to like six or eight months of Runway, that's when it really, I will say that that was a forcing function of having to make some important decisions. But I will say it was always, it had been for some time consideration. And we can get into it, but it was at that point that I was like, okay, no, now we have to really look at what's in front of us and what are the different options. But it's not like it was like one day, I'm like, oh, this is completely different. It was a slow build. It's that, you know, as a founder, you can read data in multiple different ways, right? Anybody can. And it was more as the evidence started to stack itself up in not what it is today, but will it get better or will it improve with even further scale, further investment, all that kind of stuff? That's the real question that I had to ask myself. And as I became a parent that it wouldn't, that's when it really was, let's evaluate this. Can you talk about that moment of what was the final moment where you decided this is how I have to move forward? We have to shut it down.
Choosing to shut Poppy down (12:55)
I don't know that there was, there was a moment and it was probably sometime in November where it was more the realization of I don't think this is working the way it is. And so some change has to happen. And so for me, I looked at it with sort of three options. One is because we were still burning the money that we were burning, we could pivot. And I think that's a hugely popular, whatever, like, that's a very popular option. But what that would have necessitated is cutting probably 75% of our team, bringing that burn really down low and essentially starting again. To make that happen, though, I would have also had to shut down the service. So not poppy wouldn't have had to stop, but the service would have had to stop. And I would have had to ask like 75% of our team truth be completely told that was my in going assumption that that's what we were going to do. But that was like sort of like option number one. Option number two was get ourselves acquired. And as you guys know, like it's it's it's a very lofty and a very optimistic kind of view that somebody's going to ride in and like, you know, I don't know, throw us like some money for like the things that we've built and then also our formidable team. But it was an option. And so I wanted to explore that with folks that I thought would be good partners. That would enable us to continue our mission just in a different way with different resources. So I thought that was an admirable kind of option to pursue. And then the last one was truly shut it down, call it and do all that. And so for me, I pursued all of those. I had conversations with folks that I thought were interested in acquisition or good partners. I will say this is an interesting learning through that process is that these these CEOs were very willing to get on the phone. They also showed me a kindness in the fact that they knew what this call was about. And without having to like play games around it very quickly in the beginning of the conversation, because you're also like, how do you go into a conversation like this? Like I was talking to my team and like, what are you going to say? I was like, I have no idea. But as you go into these conversations, they kind of know what this conversation is about. And a lot of them were towards the beginning was like, listen, this is really great to connect. Let me just get it off like right off the bat. We're not in position to acquire. So if you want to do partnerships or think about some of these things, but that for me was a kindness. Because if we could just not beat around the bush and you could really know what it is that I'm kind of looking at and kind of say it, then that definitively removes that option for me. And that is I think the biggest, the hardest thing for founders is that you're always trying to assess all the information you have in front of you. And there are very few paths that get definitively kind of shut down. And so as much as you're able to kind of do that, that actually helps you to go figure out what the path is. And that it isn't to say that there couldn't have been someone out there that eventually, you know, could have done. But also as I was evaluating that, that would have meant you're having to continue to operate your thing. Because if you're trying to go for acquisition, you're trying to go from a position of strength. And what would it take to actually continue with the team to continue to grow and all that kind of investment as you're taking down the clock, because again, runway. And did I believe that we were going to be in that ultimate position of strength to be able to negotiate from? And again, take off the rose colored glasses and truly, truly, what is the probability of that thing actually coming through when the most likely acquirers had already kind of said about out. It was at that point where I was like, if that chance is going to be like less than like two or 3%, then let me understand that but keep it over here. But that's not going to be my go to I'm not going to be unduly optimistic and run my company into the ground. So then I'm going to have to go from a position of like, I don't have very many options. Then it was the option of like, are we going to pivot? Or we're just going to call this one. And I think that's a much harder question, because I don't think that there's a right answer. I think it was just the what was the right answer for us.
Pivot or shut down? (16:55)
I think the truth of the matter is, is if we had wanted to pivot, we probably should have done that, you know, six months prior. If I was going to cut the team and leave a good chunk of money in the in the in the bank to be able to do that, I probably needed more time. And so as I started to evaluate that, like which part of the team would I be cutting and like, what would it be enabling? And then more importantly, pivots, as a lot of people know, aren't these magical things that just happen, right? You actually have to have a compelling idea that you're going to then be putting forth almost again from the beginning, you have to be pivoting from something, right? And I was looking at the probability of success to do that successfully with the team and with the amount of money that I had left. It was interesting Fred Wilson actually wrote a post. I want to say like maybe the same week after I'd decided I think it's called something like pivot or die. And in his point, there was, you know, a lot of people want the pivot to work, but pivots sometimes, if they do work, they're still painful because investors more likely than not didn't invest in that idea. Sometimes consumer companies turn into like B2B companies and things like that. It's certainly not what the employees came on to sign up for. And it just gets messy. And it isn't to say that it isn't a compelling kind of option and it can work for a lot of folks. But as I was thinking about that before even having read that, a pivot was unlikely. It also didn't do, if it didn't do right by the mission of what we set out to do, what we raised that some of money, what we got this team assembled for, then for me, that's ultimately when I started to consider is a better to cleanly call it. And not I'm not saying that any part of that was easy, but that's when it wasn't like a morning that I said, I think we need to call it. It was more that it started to I started to live with the idea of, oh, actually, what if we called it? Because even through this whole process, I still assume Poppy would kind of continue, even if we shut down this business line or kind of product. Most of me was like, okay, no, it's going to be okay, because I'm still going to be CEO of Poppy and we're still going to figure it out. There was a day though, right around Thanksgiving that it became clear that actually, I think the right thing to do is call it, because we set out with a hypothesis and we raised money on it and we built a team on it. And if that hypothesis wasn't going to pound out the way that we thought it was, then let's shut it down as well as we could and start afresh. So were you communicating this all with your team or were you talking to your partner, your investors? Because I think leadership, a lot of it is being optimistic and excited about the future and you talked about it in your article about founders living in the present in the future, right?
Who did Avni have these hard conversations with? (19:40)
So you have to be excited. But then when you're facing this reality of like, maybe running any more money, it's not going to work out. How do you go about having those conversations and who did you talk to? Yeah, I think that's a really great question. So for me, even towards the later months, I think it's a hard thing when you have, when you start to have a team that has striations and like, you know, some folks are juniors, some folks are like your lead team. I learned the lesson. I generally as a leader, try to be as transparent as possible. Even towards the end, our investor update went to everybody. From the most junior folks to my COO, I believe in transparency, I believe in educating people on what do the numbers mean. So even that very last investor update, every single person saw exactly how much we had in the bank balance and the default deadline. It isn't comfortable, but I don't think we're not in the business of, you know, being afraid of uncomfortable, right? I wanted everyone to understand the place that we're at. The difference though was I had to have a lot of these conversations with just a couple of the folks that I, on my lead team that I deeply trusted with, not only the hard conversation, but I think in the beginning, when we were only like three or four people, we would have conversations in the open with everything. What I soon realized as we started to grow towards eight, 10 people is that I can talk about these super ambiguous things, but I also have the power to do something about it. For more junior folks, you have to be, you know, what's the kinder thing? Because you can certainly talk about transparency and kind of tell everyone everything, but if they don't have the power of the tools to do anything about that, that is just anxiety provoking, right? You're not giving them the tools to do anything about it. You're just giving them information and then there's nothing else there. And so I tried to toe the line, also to keep in mind, like if I made the decision, maybe the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we made the final announcement on December 3rd, there wasn't a lot of time. And I can certainly go through that, because I also thought that that was important. Because I didn't want to operate in a space where part of the team knew something and then, you know, we're also not that big. And so part of that decision was, or the decision making process was there's some folks that I trust immensely. Everything from some investors, some mentors, all that kind of stuff. Folks with whom I talked and I told them where I'm, you know, this is what I see. What are my options? And, you know, even after like only five or six kind of conversations, it really came down to these things. One, what do I want to do? Because the reality is, is that anything is possible. There's a massive variety of things that are possible, but it has to be led by what do I want to have happen. And so while that wasn't helpful hearing it, it was tremendously powerful in the doing of it. The reason is, is because what I ultimately realized is there is power in choosing how this went down. And so even though all of this is painful, nobody made us do it. Nobody, there was nothing, no outside forces driving us to do it. And so folks that have gone through this will understand what I'm saying. But, you know, when you can control the narrative, when you can control how this happens, there's tremendous power there. But just to come back to your question about like, who did you talk to and how did you do that? There was a short period of time where I tried to collect information from people I respected had been through it, all that kind of stuff to understand the range of possibilities. Then understanding that, you know, what did I want to do? And it was becoming more clear that I think it was better to shut it down. I did have conversations with our investors because I think that was important. Because from any sense of the, you know, my duty, you know, just doing right by their, their investment. And then I at this around the same time, I was also talking to the rest of our team. And so it was through that process that it became increasingly clear that I had made a decision. And then I was communicating it. There was a small, a smaller number of people that I was taking, taking data from, but once the decision was made, then it was about like, let's communicate it. Mm hmm. So you got a bunch of questions from Twitter. And I think this one could have been related to a few things.
Communicating with investors during the process of shutting down (24:05)
But Osborne asked, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome from investors? And so on the topic of investors, I'm curious about like, how did that interaction actually go down? Because that's definitely not talked about. People write medium post-spell, like, you know, winding down my company, it didn't work out. But they don't talk about, this is how I, you know, dealt with my investors after I raised millions of dollars. Yeah. So I think, I mean, obviously, I can only speak from my experience and from what we did. I think it actually part of its stems from how I ran the company, I believe anyways. So, as I mentioned, I've always done monthly investor updates. I think that in retrospect was tremendously helpful in doing this, because I was completely transparent about what was going on, how we were doing it, how we were thinking about things, and the state of, you know, how much money was left in the bank. And what, what their capital was being deployed towards. So if at any point, there was disagreement on what that was being deployed towards, like, I was open for that conversation. So super, super importantly, when I started to have the conversations, I shot out the emails, I picked up the phone to talk to them, it wasn't a surprise, right? Like, people knew that this was coming. It was within the realm of possibility. I think where it gets complicated is when this is the same thing that I've always believed in feedback to folks that report to you, it should never be a surprise, right? So if you're trying to deliver, you know, hard feedback, if it's a surprise that's a failure on you, that's not a failure on them. And something similar here, that wasn't a surprise, right? Because people had seen, like, the economics that we were battling, the challenges, the status of the bank account. So that was one piece that was in retrospect, really, really helpful for that hard conversation. But that was investment that I'd made over the process. Then when it came down to actually having that communication, I think that here's the other piece. I'm going to say I'm tremendously lucky or grateful for the people that I have on my cap table, but that was also work. That was also a decision made very early, that we were only going to have the folks that really believed in the mission. And I can say that that's really nice and easy to say now, but I like scrapped to get that money together. So I don't say that lightly. But it is in times like this, where it becomes so, so evident that they were and are a part of the team that I was then reporting back and saying, Hey, guys, like, this is what's happening. This is what I've decided to do. And I'm sorry that this is where the story ends, but, you know, this is where it's at. And I will say, I was frankly surprised, but pleasantly surprised, almost 201. Everyone was like, I'm sorry, because that sucks. But it's quite clear that you did everything possible to take this to where it needed to be. And what's next? And I think that was also heading into probably the hardest week, that was tremendously powerful to know that you had the backing of the people whose money you took. And that you were like, I think I have stewardship and duty to that. But they gave me the gift of saying, no, I understand like there's times that this doesn't work. And you did what you were supposed to do. I think that's a really important point is that we as founders have these really amazing ideas of how we're going to change the world with these concrete kind of plans. And then we raise money or capital. And we bring these teams together to go do that. Well, I did what I was supposed to do, right? Like I did all of those things in a very transparent way. And the fact that it didn't work out the way that I had necessarily thought that isn't failure necessarily, that's just, you know, just a different way that ended up going. And so that's my experience. I think being, I think it's rarer than you know, having founders who keep their investors so closely tied in and doing those monthly updates, I think that is so helpful throughout the process. And I think that's probably what in the end made all the difference. I agree with that. And I will say it's like, it's painful. It's hard when it's going well, it's super easy. Like I've got all the emojis and the exclamation marks and the bolding. And that's all really fun. And when it's not going well, it's embarrassing. It is like, I feel like I'm failing in my micro kind of failures. But because I held myself to the standard that like, you know, by the fifth of every month, there had to be an outgoing out. That in many ways like saved me from the harder conversations at the end, because there was transparency. So like, if there's one thing like, you know, there's other founders out there that just start doing that. If you don't do that right now, mostly because even during the time, it wasn't for the eventuality of something like this, it was because it held me accountable for what I thought was like super important. So yeah, no, for me, from the investor side, I think doing right by what you set off to do was the ultimately the thing that people wanted to see. Of course, everyone wants to see like the 10x, the whatever X return. But understanding that that's not going to happen for a great percentage of the portfolio, I believe that they'd rather have the transparency, the honesty and like, you know, visibility into most of your investors, I assume invest in more than just poppy. Yeah, like they're all with the place. So I've heard it talked about many times at why I see that when those updates start to get a little bit slower, a little infrequent, they're just assumed to be dead. So they kind of know the deal anyway. Right. And so better that, because here's the other thing, I should hope that the vast majority of founders that did a thing that didn't work out, you take all that learning and then you put it towards the next thing. Well, when there's the next thing, you want to then work with the best folks and you want to work with the folks that you enjoyed working with the last time. Well, for me to have a chance at salvaging that, I have to do right by it right now. So again, this is not like perfect. And it's like, that's the way that I just believed was the way to move forward. It's also a way that I, there's so much stuff coming at you in that it's like a very much like a swirl, right? So so I think as I was thinking about how to make this decision, I tried to break it down into well, who are my constituents, right? So I have duty to investors, obviously, and how do I think about that? I've duty to my employees and my team and I deeply felt that because that's the people, those are the people that you're interacting with every day. Duty to my users, right? Like what does right by them? And then I think one thing that gets under looked as well, but duty to myself and my family, right? So like, how do I kind of, what is right for me and my family and kind of going forward? And all of those things are really important in making that ultimate decision. Because the decision to have poppy go forward in like some different form or to be able to call it in some ways had to do right by kind of all of those folks. So I actually wanted to ask, how are you? So many founders, their identity gets wrapped up in their company.
How does Avni feel since shutting down Poppy? (30:50)
And so now that you know, you have, you know, shut down poppy, how is that making you feel? How are you doing right now? And, you know, it's our from there. Yeah, I think if you would ask me three weeks ago, it'd be a different conversation. I think that's absolutely right. I started poppy when my second daughter was four months old. So for me, poppy isn't even just like a part of me, but it was a part of my family, right? So we had so much of it. It takes up like a presence within your life. And so, you know, part of it, my identity is very much a part of poppy in the last kind of couple of years. I think the more important thing for me is that my passion for the space doesn't go away. Even if poppy, it isn't kind of carrying forward. It took me some time. I think the thing for me was that there is a, there was the heat of the moment, which is that you have to make the decision, you have to act. And so there was those like months or like weeks that was necessary. And in that, I didn't really think a lot about myself because I don't think you can. And this is just me speaking from my experience, but I actually didn't talk to any of my friends. I couldn't. I had lots of friends that were reaching out because I knew if I started talking to them, I would break down. And then I wasn't useful for all the things that had to happen for our users, for our team. There, I think people also don't know all the things that you have to do. Right. So when you send out the little newsletter that says we were no longer going to be doing this, there's still a tremendous amount of things that have to get done. Also, that's your choice. Right. But for me, to do that, we announced, and then we made a decision to do a number of things to help our users so that they could still connect with caregivers on their own and kind of vice versa to do right by that. There's our team, so you have to make sure that they're landing in good places and try to see how you can help to make sure that they have like good jobs. That's excruciating. Let me tell you, like you work so hard to find these amazing people and then it breaks your heart like a thousand times to hear how you're going to have to go give them up to other people. So that's painful. And then there's all the like the legal, the accounting, the stuff, like all that litany of things that you have to go through. And so for a period of time, I didn't think about me because I couldn't because I just had to like be sort of robot and just go through the motions of doing the things. But there's also a reason why I wanted to do this at the beginning of December because there was the decision of like if we're going to make the decision to do it, we can either kind of go forward for a couple more weeks and we can belabor and do it into January. I thought using the holidays was actually a really helpful thing for everyone involved because then it would be almost forced time for folks to be able to take time, process all that kind of stuff and figure out their next path, myself included. And also if you're thinking about in terms of runway, right, every month that you continue to kind of persist your burning money, right? And for me, it didn't feel responsible to continue to do that. Instead, could I repurpose that and say, hey, we're going to call it as quickly as possible, conserve a little bit of that capital that might go towards like severance or doing this as rightly as possible for your employees, not a ton, but a little bit of breathing room. And so in doing that, then, you know, set the team up as best as possible and users as best as possible. And then for my part, I literally just said I had to get to December 17th. That was my date in my mind where I would then I would be able to take a break. We announced on December 3rd, December 17th gave like two whole weeks to kind of deal with a lot of things. And then December 17th was, you know, okay, like, let's take stock. And I think everyone processes things in different ways. I think part of the realization, and I wrote even opposed because like for me, I write to process things that it almost does like personal therapy. I think for me, there's a grieving process. And I don't want to liken it to like, you know, to people. But there is in for me, anyway, it's like poppy, it was an entity was like almost like a living breathing thing that was with me for four years longer than any other person was. Right. And so there's a grieving process that I had to be okay. And that's what other founders, I will say this, the notes that other founders sent me on that day was by far the most meaningful. It isn't to mean that like, you know, so many people, you realize how well you're like loved and all that kind of stuff with all the notes that you get. But the other founders really understand the complexity of emotion that you're feeling. And so for me, a lot of them were saying, you know, give yourself the time and the space to grieve it, to appreciate what it is, and then kind of give yourself just the time to like, not consider anything. And so that's for me with the magic of like the three weeks over the holidays were, because I could take time to there was nothing I could be doing on email or a slack or like, nobody asked me for anything, nobody like any of that kind of stuff. And so to spend time with my family over the holidays, that was the best I think healing, I guess, I kind of give myself. And then there's a lot of folks that will reach out and say, Hey, I think we should grab coffee. And like, what's next and all that stuff? I also set for myself a goal to say like, I'm not going to have any of those conversations until like January 4th. And so like doing those little things gives you then it's the same way that I loved about why I see when you're in batch, you're able to just tell everyone, I'm sorry, I'm doing what I see. So like, I'll get, I'll see you in 12 weeks, right? And it's a beautiful kind of space that you give yourself to then do nothing, but this one thing. In that same way, I kind of gave myself the three weeks to say, I am doing nothing, nothing that is going to be of anything. But it's that that thing is just me kind of healing. And so that I will say I feel, I still grieve popular, like it's more than like, jabs now, right? So like, if I see like, if I walk into our offices, which are still trying to like, you know, wrap things up, that hurts, right? Because you like all the memories, I'll kind of associate with that. If I see something that's poppy branded or something, or if someone talks about it in good ways, because we had tremendous impact in Seattle. And so now, you know, people talking about like the in the past dance, but like the world that it had, it's nice, but it's like turning into nostalgia, but it's still there. Because you can't take for granted, spinning up a company and getting it to be a thing, right? Like, you know, none of us do or can. And so part of me, there's like the doubts of like, can I ever do that again? Or will I ever do it again? And you sort of have to like live with those things. Also in so much as our non our society, but like our, you know, we have we try our accomplishments with our our beings and our worth, like, you know, so, so tightly, you know, for me going to networking things, or like, you know, just those things, it's complicated. It's just like, Oh, so what do you do? That was my next question. I was like, because I know it's unfortunate in many cases that people just identify as their job. Like, this is my thing. And people who start companies even more so right there. Like, I'm the founder. When it comes to your family, do you find that they care at all? No, also, like, so it's interesting, I was talking to a friend, they were saying like, do your daughters kind of get it?
Tying self-worth to your accomplishments and how it feels after shutting down (38:00)
You know, they're four and six. So no, they only know that I so it's funny. They they're like, but you're the boss, right? And I'm like, like, in terms like that, like, what does the boss do? Like, so that's kind of cute. They don't really get it. Yeah, here's the thing. My friends, my husband, like all the people close to me, my parents, my brothers, like, they know I'm not done, right? Like, so like, for me, like, and I think that's the bigger thing. That's the conversation I want to have more broadly is that, again, it's a total choice of some people are like, this was my thing, I'm tired, I want to go back and do a different thing. But for me personally, I found the place I'm supposed to be working in. And that is in like the frontiers of like trying crazy ideas out and spinning up teams and doing that. And so for me, I'm not done. And so that's why also, for me, the way that I think about this is that this is what trying looks like. This is what this whole endeavor looks like.
This is what trying looks like.” (39:00)
It's a little bit more messy and public, because I think a lot of folks go through these processes of pivots and things like that within the like private confines of I raised a bridge round, and I pivoted to this product, and I had to go through layoffs. Like, if you listen, you're actually hearing this narrative everywhere, like people are going through these processes. For me, I'm choosing to do it, you know, in this kind of way, where I had this hypothesis to raise the thing and went to do it. And now who knows, like what's the next thing? So I think for the folks who are closest to me, they want to make sure that I'm personally okay, like mentally and like emotionally. And I appreciate that. But I think because I still see so much work to be done, like for me, actually, surprisingly, I'm good. Like, I, you know, like after three weeks of taking some time, and that isn't to say I'm like rushing into what the next thing is, I don't know what the next thing is. But I'm not done, right? And so, and that's what I hope also this conversation or for other folks who are in similar situations. One thing over the last six months was I don't know if I can't shut it. It feels like a dead end. It feels like failure. It feels like, you know, investors are going to be super angry. Users will never like love you again. Like, you know, all that kind of stuff. And so I think it's an important conversation to have that it is an outcome. It isn't the desirable outcome, not by anybody, but it needs to be an okay outcome. Because the more that we can have this conversation, the more that we can be okay with it, the more we can get like through it, and do it in as right away as possible. If there is that because there are considerations as I've realized, there is a right or way to, you know, if you think about your team and what's next for them, like they're not getting any kind of financial thing. I'm like, none of us are. But if you think about setting themselves up for the best next chapter, there's a right way. There's a better way to do that. If you think about investors, and if you kind of know that you're not going to be doing that, if there's a possibility of like, you know, returning capital, maybe again, not the outcome and not why they deployed the capital. But if that's the thing, then yeah, sure, let's go do that. Let's be responsible with that. And that goes with even like, you know, even for myself, like, I didn't want to go through a belabored process under like on a Hail Mary kind of belief that we could either get acquired or do some kind of pivot, because that would have drawn into all of our emotional stores as well in a way that I wasn't comfortable with if this was what the call is. Again, it's very different for different people in different situations. But that was sort of how I looked at that. Yeah, so I mean, side note, I love the philosophy of not stopping because the people that make me most angry are the people that do one thing and quit forever. Even if that means do one thing and make money, and then they quit, right? That's like, oh, you had so much potential, and you stopped forever. The thing is like, I don't know what the arc of the timeline is, but certainly for me, I don't look at what we built for three and a half years was, I mean, it was meaningful. It was valuable. But more than that, it was learning. So again, this is like the way that I think about things almost academically is that my job was to have a question, put forth a test plan, and then, push forward the knowledge and the learnings in the space. What are the mechanics? What are the economics? All that kind of stuff. Well, I just spent three and a half years in learning a thing, like in all the different ins and outs, to not continue with another hypothesis is almost like, not irresponsible, but it's incomplete. And so for me, and I'm not going to judge any other founder because I get exactly how hard these years are with different sacrifices and things like that. But for me, it's that if we can have these conversations with more fluidity between this effort and the next, then maybe the hurdle between one and the next isn't quite so big. Yeah, I just don't know why the myth is so pervasive because if you look at people like Michael Seible or Justin Kahn or a bunch of these people, they didn't start one thing. But yet, people think you just try once and it works out. And I mean, I think it's also narrative on how we think about it, because a lot of other folks did try their first thing, the Airbnb and Amazon and Apple. So again, I don't think that there's any kind of one way to do this. I think the other problem is how much money we raise. And I think it's an important point to think about.
The effects of having raised money (43:30)
We raised a significant amount. So I'm not going to have a great gratitude for the amount that we did raise, but at a little bit over $2 million, there weren't massive checks from any one of our kind of investors. And so therefore, the theatrics or the gymnastics I had to do to do right by that capital was different. Then if I had raised maybe 15 million from a couple of different folks, I think it just changes how people have to think about of what they need to get back, what promises were made. And so again, for me, I tried to be very careful about which promises were made and then how transparent I was on how I'm doing against them. So I think that allows certainly way on some of these things. And I'm not saying it is hard. Different people have different businesses. I didn't have like CAPX and I didn't have these assets or I didn't take people's users' money or things like that because of the type of software we were building. So different things are different. But I think as cleanly as we can keep each try and then just say, okay, well, that one didn't work. Let's get on to the next thing. I think that's where you do see the building. If you look at the folks like Slack or Twitter, they are like this notion of serial entrepreneurship. It's not that they just magically turned into or even Pinterest. It isn't magically that they started on this thing. It's that they collected knowledge in disparate kinds of things and tries and that they finally put it together in a way that really unlocked the big thing. I'm still hopeful that that's what I'm going to do. I have faith. So I mean, yeah, how are you thinking about what's next? I know you don't have a thing. You're not here to announce a venture fund or anything. Definitely not. Thank God. It's still good to need to get funded. But you've learned a lot with Poppy. Obviously, you like the space. How do you start thinking about what you want to do next? Yeah. So I think even a part of the three weeks to assess things, I still want to understand what am I deeply still passionate about?
Contemplating The Future Post-Poppy
Starting to think about what’s next (45:30)
What am I deeply still curious about? What do I want the work to be? And I gave myself the space to say it could be anything. I'm deeply interested in books and travel. And it really could be anything because I think that's the nice thing about this moment. But I think what it ultimately comes down to, I am still so passionate about the problems of parents. And moreover, the problems of working mothers like me, if I had to pick one person, I pick myself. I pick the problems that I and the friction that I still experience in the world, in that I think millions of other people are. And again, Poppy was one hypothesis. Let's build the modern village to provide safety nets for these parents because my parents don't live in the same town or whatever else it is. That doesn't go away. So I think for me, I'm still thinking about what do those problems look like? How might I want to tackle it? Which piece of that do I want to do? But I think ultimately, I feel that my life's work is in this space. I don't know what it looks like specifically. Does it start another venture? Do I go work with someone for some period of time to again learn? I think the other thing that needs to be understood is that startups are ultimately creative endeavors. And so if you think about artists or things like that, you need to have space and time to actually have collected some kind of inspiration to go off and do that. And so for me, I'm also trying to do disparate things. I'm actually finally learning, trying to learn how to code. And so I'm doing cooking class. I'm doing art classes because I'm having just conversations with other parents and things like that. I'm trying to observe, go back into the space of observing and noticing retail spaces. How are they concocted? How do people come together? Those are all things I'm super interested in. And without terrible judgment of what's it for? I'm just trying to let it all sit and see where it goes because I think that was the beauty of Poppy that I learned, which was it came from an ultimate curiosity that it was like a thread that I just had to I felt compelled to keep on going and then solving the next problem next. I want to get back into that space. And until I get to that bar of things, I don't think I think it's actually irresponsible to try to say, I'm going to start another company, what it's going to be, I don't know. So that's kind of how I'm thinking about it. I personally can't see myself going back to a big company. I've done that for a good chunk of my life. I love that experience. It is formed kind of like who I am and how I do it. But I love this idea of imagining a future, this whole idea of like imagine the future and build what's missing. I think that's hugely compelling. Yeah. I mean, but we talked about this on the last podcast, like before Poppy, you're a pretty tracked person, right? Like you had your fancy MBA, you had your fancy job. So fancy. You know, you're like, yeah, you get married, you have kids, you do all that stuff, right?
Struggling with unstructured nothing (48:30)
And so now you're just like, I know why I got to say I'm very uncomfortable. I literally have to sit on my hands. It's funny because my husband was, I've, so when I said like I'm doing the coding and all this kind of stuff, I actually realized I'm not someone that can just do unstructured nothing like unstructured, like sitting on the couch and watching Netflix. And that's okay. I can be someone that needs to check off a box and said, did I do my hour of like coding today? And did I do my hour of whatever? Because that for me, teams, the like monster that says you're doing nothing with your life, but still allows me to continue to explore in a kind of a productive way along some kind of timeline. So I have my, like little things like that. It's also to be again, like, if there's an overall lesson in all this, it's going to sound really silly, but it's kindness.
Value Of Kindness
Because it's kindness to myself to say, I'm sure I didn't get this all right. But it's that it'll be okay. It's kindness to say, give me space and like get yourself the space to go figure out what's next. It's kindness in saying what is the kindest thing, even though it doesn't look like it to your team, to your users, to not labor under false pretenses, to call it, have super hard conversations, but then kind of move forward. And so it's really, really weird. But I mean, maybe that's why I'm like as whole as I feel for right now. But it's just that, you know, leading with that point of view of kindness kind of gives you space to kind of do these interesting things. So yeah, I don't know. I missed terribly. I can't believe I'm saying this, but like my 930 AM stand-ups, right? Like there was purpose. There was like, you know, everyone has to fire to like 930. And now at 930, I still, I have to shut off the slack notification. But like, it's like, you know, join the thing. And I, it's just like, it's just little reminders. But now it's getting to a place of like, no, no, I know I'm going to be back to that. But there isn't a rush to get there. And so I think that's, I hope that that's what other folks are just kind of like in similar areas. I hope the thing, the thing for me is that the one challenge is that, yes, I think you could take a look and say Poppy was a failure. I think in some lenses, like that's the narrative. But I sort of push back on that because I don't think Poppy was a failure. Poppy set out to do and did the thing, especially for thousands of parents and like, you know, hundreds of different caregivers, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. And it did tremendously well. The fact that it doesn't go on to then scale and scale was what I was interested in. There was also an option to say, let's just make this a nice high-end tech-enabled agency. And folks were like, why didn't you just raise prices and do all that? I could have. I 100% could have. And turned it into a nice kind of like side business or whatever else it is. That wasn't my mission. That wasn't my intent. And that still isn't. What I want to do is go find the solutions that work for the millions of people. And I was never, I never was like two ways about that, right? And because, and so some people have a hard time understanding that, especially users, which is unfortunate because, you know, Poppy could be still existing if, you know, I had chosen that path. But that isn't what was true to me and true to what I thought, like our mission is. And so I think that's the thing that I think we need to have more conversations around is that as long as you're true to that, I think you have lots of leeway to make some of those decisions. Because yeah, they're hard and there's no one right answer. But as long as you kind of can articulate that, I think it gives you some space. Cool. Well, this has been great. Thank you, Anthony. Thank you.