When Parenting And Entrepreneurship Collide: Colorado Business Owners Inspired By Their Kids

By Tamara Chuang The Denver Post

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Denver moms Desi McAdam and Liz Oertle are the founders of "Nanno", an invite-only matching system of vetted child care professionals and parents. They joined a growing number of parents navigating their own path in the land of entrepreneurship.

The Denver Post

There are plenty of entrepreneurs who are parents. But a much smaller subset are the ones who start a company because they are parents. They have a different inspiration: their kids.

Like Desi McAdam and Liz Oertle. The two Denver moms met because their kids attended the same school. Both had great jobs -- Oertle worked as a lawyer, McAdam a software developer. But juggling full-time work and kids with earaches or other last-minute emergencies meant missing work.

"We started talking about child care, like why isn't there a Lyft for child care? Surely that has to exist," McAdam recalled about an early meeting with Oertle to discuss something else. "We really got inspired not only because this was a problem that could be solved, but we were uniquely capable of solving it."

They started Nanno, an invite-only matching system of vetted child care professionals and parents. In doing so, they joined what is probably a growing number of parents navigating their own path in the land of the startup.

Entrepreneurship, in general, has been growing since 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for parents looking for special startup advice, there's no hotline for emergency child care, no pamphlet on prioritizing co-parenting and no agency training new mothers on how to attract venture funding between nursing.

Fueled by in-home passion, such entrepreneurs dive into the frenzied pace of starting a business and balancing a growing family by winging it as they go.

As Nanno co-founder Oertle puts it: "When we first started this, my husband said: 'This is going to be crazy. It's going to be a crazy style.' I said: 'Look, we're already lawyers. We already have a crazy lifestyle.' "

Now multiply that with being nine months pregnant.

Two years ago, Kristin Langenfeld, an electrical engineer, returned to her day job after giving birth to her first child.

"I bawled my eyes out on my first conference call and decided I wasn't ready to go back," said Langenfeld, who quit and switched to an adviser role at the company.

But really, she didn't want to do that job. Within 10 months of quitting, she jumped at the idea of starting a company with "wing mom" Jessica Crothers.

The two started Arvada-based Good Buy Gear, a white-glove service for busy parents wanting to easily buy or sell used children's goods. While there's an added level of stress involved with startups, you have more control especially if parenting is a priority, she said. You can time to pick up the kids from school or take them to the doctor when they're sick.

"You don't have to hide that you have a baby," she said.

Last fall, a pregnant Langenfeld met with potential investors. That helped her truly see who had her back. The company closed on its first seed round in November for $750,000, led by Kirk Holland with Access Venture Partners in Westminster.

"There are so many risks that are seen going into investing in a company and frankly, being pregnant is a risk. We insisted Kirk come to the warehouse and see what we were doing," said Langenfeld, who completed the deal two days past her due date. "It was awesome that the verbal came in on the due date and then on Monday (two days later) we got the paperwork."

She gave birth the following day.

Great ideas and passion get entrepreneurs started. Keeping it going successfully is where many stumble. According to U.S. Small Business Administration, the failure rate of new businesses nationally is 50 percent after five years. About 22 percent fail in the first year. And with few obvious resources, parents often don't go further than their own network to find out if it really is a great idea.

"What you're finding is that moms are getting all their advice from people who love them. You're missing at least one giant blind spot," said Sue Heilbronner, who cofounded Mergelane, a business accelerator and investment fund focused on women-run startups. "If you create a business without talking to someone who is objective, you just might not understand that your market is smaller than you think it is."

Heilbronner calls the problem "confirmation bias" because the entrepreneur often looks for people like themselves. "You really have to go out and find strangers who look nothing like you," she said. "If you're a mom in your 30s, go to your toddler's music class for customer research. But then go to the opposite type of person for (business viability). You can find that person at startup events. But you can also find that person at the park. The point is to look for people who don't look like you because when that happens, they do their slide about their market and they think the market is huge."

The Colorado Enterprise Fund, a nonprofit lender focused on helping small businesses, is familiar with parents who are starting a business, said Robert Anderson, its manager of business acceleration services, who tries to help founders focus on critical tasks.

He often meets founders in their homes where there are "little kids, big kids, dogs, a crying baby, a nursing baby, a child running around saying, 'Mommy, I need this,' " he said. "To me, that's fine. People who work with small businesses understand that this is a multifaceted lifestyle. ...They juggle pretty well like most parents juggle pretty well. The presence of a business in the juggle just means the juggle has a few more balls in it."

Serial entrepreneurs such as Kerry Gilmartin, founder of leak-proof nursing pads Bamboobies in Boulder, advise new entrants to get their finances in order before plowing ahead. She kept her real estate business running because it brought in cash while growing her startup, which sold 4 million pads last year and expanded into 6,000 stores.

"Reducing the risk increases the stability of your bank account -- and marriage," she said.

But her other advice is to learn the true downsides before jumping in.

"Find someone as close as you can get to what you want to do and ask them about their worst day or the struggles they face," she said. "Entrepreneurs may be unrealistically admired because of 'Shark Tank.' It's hot right now but the truth is that it's a struggle every day. ... If you want to make a baby product, can you do it in the U.S. or do you need an active visa for China and be away from your kids?"

She also created her own network of not just moms, but moms who were starting their own breastfeeding-related businesses. She calls them her "titty committee."

"We support each other at trade shows and if we have a problem with a vendor, or need to do co-marketing," she said. "It helps to get support outside your own business by people going through similar experiences. I'm not talking about employees, investors or board of advisers. Getting advice and support and even high-fives from people who are non-competitive entrepreneurs is really helpful."

And while running a business is more challenging with children, Gilmartin said that being a mom and founder is priceless.

"I'm excited that my kids know I'm an entrepreneur," she said. "We talk about money more openly with my kids. The enriching things and the sacrifices, too. We just try to be really open and upfront with them on the decisions. ... It's fun because I run a (consumer product) company, so my kids can come in and touch what we make. I can go to Target and show it to them on the shelf."

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