How One Founder Made It Into 500 Startups

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After launching her startup, one founder hit a few bumps along the way. But her perseverance paid off. By Sara Schaer (Co-founder & CEO, KangaDo) I was finally ready to move on to do my own thing.

For years, I had dedicated myself to building online photo site Snapfish.com with a passion -- from its early days post-launch, to its acquisition by HP, and finally through its growth to a global business in 22 countries.

Along the way, I had become the devoted mom of two active boys. The intense pressures and emotions this created in my life were a source of my inspiration for my startup idea. When working at Snapfish, I tried all possible schedule permutations in an attempt to juggle everything: Taking time off for the baby, consulting, part-time in the office, part-time both in the office and from home, back to full-time in the office.

By the end, I had built and managed a 50-person global team. Though I made it work, it felt crazy. And there were no good solutions.

So, with my former Snapfish colleague and gifted engineer, Kaliyuga Sivakumar, I founded KangaDo. It’s a collaborative mobile service for busy parents that helps them connect with their communities and quickly find help with their many child-related tasks: carpools, childcare, play dates or whatever else they need.

From Women 2.0 to 500 Startups

At the SF Women 2.0 conference in 2013, I attended a presentation by Match.com co-founder Fran Maier. I was struck by how closely her recommendations about building useful products for women matched our vision for KangaDo. Fran later became one of our startup advisors.

After a beta during the back-to-school season, we released our KangaDo iPhone app. Then we applied to 500 Startups, were selected as finalists, interviewed, and… got rejected. Though disappointed, we were encouraged by the fact that we had made it to the final 100 candidates, out of well over 1,000 applicants.

At the Women 2.0 conference this past February, I heard Holly Liu of Kabam tell her story about overcoming startup hurdles. At the Y Combinator Female Founders conference, I heard yet more inspiring stories of perseverance.

When we applied to 500 Startups again, we weren’t set on joining an accelerator. In fact, we didn’t apply to any others. But as first-time founders, we felt we stood to learn much from a network like 500 Startups. As with kids, it takes a village to start a company!

And as it turned out, we landed a spot in 500 Startups’ Ninth Batch.

The Road Ahead

Long a champion of diversity, 500 Startups stayed true to their values and admitted a diverse group of startups with 40 percent female founders. The 500 network is indeed a world-class resource, and our batchmates are awesome.

As expected, we’re learning a ton, and… working like hell! Quotes like this tweet from moms across the country make my day: “I don’t tweet about apps normally. But this is freaking awesome for parents! @KangaDoapp #thebest #helpful #playdates #carpooling #kids”

There are of course challenges and a long road ahead. But as a founder, you have to believe in yourself. As one CEO at a Founder Friday put it, “Plan for the worst-case scenario, but work as if failure is not an option.”

So, here are my five tips for first-time founders:

1. Find your passion

2. Believe in yourself and be headstrong

3. Build relationships and ask for what you need

4. Move fast and minimize burn

5. Don’t give up!

My 11-year-old son caught the entrepreneurial bug and started a mini-business on the school playground - for which he ended up in the principal’s office. It’s against school rules! After the incident, I shared my five tips with him.

But I added that just maybe, the school playground wasn’t the best office space for his new venture. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with over the summer.

And if you’re debating whether to pursue your own new venture, take the shot! Just do it.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from rejection?


About the guest blogger: Sara Schaer is co-founder and CEO of KangaDo, a mobile service that helps parents find help with carpools, childcare, playdates and more. Sara lives in SF and is a mom of 2. Follow Sara: @SaraSchaer. KangaDo is part of 500 Startups Batch 9. Download it free at: http://goo.gl/PEMhUu