Co-Working Experience For Parents with Katie Carlin
Conversation with Katie Carlin, Founder & CEO, Equal Play Co-Working Spaces
Co-Working Experience For Parents
November 27, 2019
1. What problem is your business solving and/or how is your business making life better? What is your product?
At EqualPlay we provide co-working space with childcare to solve the pain points that parents experience when they try to navigate the professional world. We offer high quality childcare for children three months to six years old–filling the gap in care for when parental leave ends and when preschool begins.
I founded Equal Play as a way to stem the tide of maternity attrition in the technology space. After observing conversations in a Facebook group called “Moms in Tech,” I started to think about this idea of a supportive workspace, and I realized that this was my market: ambitious and talented parents.
Currently we have one co-working location, our pilot space in San Mateo, CA. We hire caregivers who are kind, smart, and love children, and we pay them well. Caregivers are a critical component of a child’s life, especially from infancy to childhood. It was important for us to create a culture where people feel valued by offering a decent wage and flexibility. For us, ensuring people feel valued feeds into their work caring for children. So we have to fill them up and make them feel cared for so that spills over into how they care for the children.
2. What obstacles have you overcome as you have been working on your solution?
When we started I did not have any background in sales and marketing, so I ended up making a mistake that I think a lot of entrepreneurs make. I had a great product so I thought I was done. But sales and marketing are just as important as the product and that was a steep learning curve. Honestly, I’m still on it.
We have had a lot of growth in terms of revenue and in users, but it has all happened organically thanks to word-of-mouth. I really feel that once we get a sales and marketing budget or role filled, we’ll take off which makes me excited.
We actually just finished a pilot with SurveyMonkey. The global head of SurveyMonkey came and toured our pilot location and immediately saw the importance. So we worked with their employees’ kids for fourteen weeks to see if it would work for SurveyMonkey.
After the pilot, SurveyMonkey did an internal survey and it turns out 100% of employees would recommend us to their colleagues. That’s really something we should be advertising in print. It’s very validating to be recognized and to know what we are doing is working. People are happy when their kids are happy. I knew that if I could get that piece right then parents would be able to focus and do their best work.
3. How important is managing people and a timeline to your business?
I have found that people respond really well to kindness. Creating a culture where people feel their needs are being met and that they are valued is so important. My people really feel like they are giving their best all of the time, maybe it’s because they are given the benefit of the doubt or maybe it’s because they are fairly paid.
I expect my employees to tell me what they need. So if they need a day off, they don’t have to explain why, they get that time off—we encourage it. We all work better as a team and as an organization when people aren’t worked out.
4. What tools have you used to grow professionally?
I participated in a great accelerator program called All Raise which was founded by female venture capitalists who want to increase investment in women-founded companies. Right now, single female founders get less than two percent of all venture capital dollars allocated annually which is ridiculous. That imbalance is hurting our economy.
Equal Play was selected to participate in a four-week training program with All Raise to learn how to move in the system of venture capital and investors. It was an eye-opening experience. The best part was that every night we would listen to a five- or six-person panel of female venture capitalists and founders who collectively controlled millions of dollars.
At All Raise I learned what it was like to be a founder and evolving with your company. But they all had these moments of self-doubt or thinking that they didn’t know what they were doing. Everyone had these ups and downs of being elated and then nauseated. It was very reassuring to know that these feelings didn’t mean that I was in the wrong place or didn’t know what I was doing, those feelings were just a part of the process. That really helped me to redirect and stop second-guessing myself. Being scared doesn’t mean I need to quit.
5. Have you ever used a career or life coach?
I have not but I feel like I should. I often feel like I am alone in my work and shouldering a lot of responsibility. On good days that really feels very empowering, but on bad days it is overwhelming. A good coach could probably help me feel less overwhelmed and learn skills on how to refocus and be productive. I think coaching would really take me to the next level.
I have received a lot of advice, direction, support, and encouragement from our clients. We make it a point to talk to them and see what it is that they want and need. We really aim to create a place where you can bring your baby and laptop and we take care of everything else.
One woman called the other day asking if our caregivers were TrustLine certified. They aren’t, but I do know them well and they all have early childhood education degrees. But that just wasn’t good enough for her. So, I started looking into TrustLine and they really are the industry standard. So I took her feedback and now it’s something that we are going to do for everybody.
6. What are some of your current challenges?
We really were a “if you build they will come” company which is the most expensive way to launch. I definitely will not do that for our next location, I’ll make sure we have our market and our customers before we open our doors.
7. What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
I love to hear about female founders. There is a woman named Lisa Fetterman, founder of Nomiku, she is an outspoken ally for women founders and investors. She’s so bold, unapologetic, ambitious, unafraid to call people out, unafraid to lift people up. She’s very inspiring. There are others too, I am just very inspired by women who are doing this with humor and bravery. They make me feel like I need to keep going and that we are going to burn down the patriarchy.
8. What are some of the positive surprises in growing your business?
Something I didn’t anticipate was that paying my employees well would improve my business. Our childcare workers genuinely care about my business and about me. We are a team that is about encouraging each other to do the things we need to feel our best so that we can give our best.
A lot of our growth is because people come for an hour or two and realize that they love this option for childcare.
I actually have a masters in Decision Science, so one of the metrics we look at is childcare hours delivered (where one child for one hour is one hour delivered) and our biggest week so far is 181 hours. We hit that number on our one-year anniversary which tells me that we are on the right track. We also look at repeats which shows us who is happy and satisfied.
9. What are some of the negative surprises in developing your business?
I think a lot of us who are trying to innovate do it in part because it’s such a cool, intellectual challenge, but then we find ourselves immersed in the everyday running of a company. Doing payroll, figuring out scheduling and calendaring and all these administrative tasks that really takes you out of the excitement of doing what we hope is trailblazing work.
The great thing about tackling a big problem is that when you start looking at it you get all this interrelated feedback that creates a stronger solution and works symbiotically to build something stronger.
Since I come from a legal and regulatory background, I know the policy and handling things to create consistency across locations. But I don’t know how to make it run perfectly. I have to work on it by just doing it.
I just really feel like I am in the right place where all these disparate things I have worked on and being a mother are coming together to make this and it’s the path to be on.
10. What are your personal or leadership goals for the next five years?
Right now I am focusing on proving our product-fit, understanding the business model, and determining how we should work financially. Over the next four or five years I really want to focus on building and scaling a sustainable and transformative company that is focused on changing people’s lives for the better.
In our single location, people are happy, connected and are able to work more, and I want to scale that. I want parents to earn more money, have more fun, be happier in their families, and sleep better at night. It’s realistic, feasible and extremely important. I think we can help them do that.
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
In the next one to three years we are going to scale to multiple locations in the Bay area. Then we’ll figure out a model to push this nationally.
We get in-bound requests every month, if not every week, asking when we might be able to have other locations. I am considering a franchise model that would allow people to open an Equal Play in their town. I think that every town should have a co-working space with quality childcare to serve the needs of families.
Conversation Date: September 17, 2019
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