community

Komae Founders: Building A Village Through Free Babysitting

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Can I tell you something? Typically, when I think of BEING BRAVE (this month's theme on This is Thirty Four), I think of things like fighting cancer, standing up for social justice issues or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. What I don't think about when I hear the words BEING BRAVE, is starting a business. Can I tell you something else? I WAS WRONG. 

Over the past few months, I've seen firsthand the incredible amount of courage it takes to launch a company and pursue your dreams. I've also realized more than ever that it truly does TAKE A VILLAGE to help you pursue your dreams. That's why I'm ridiculously excited to share this interview with Komae founders Amy Husted and Audrey Wallace. I met Amy and Audrey at RISE last weekend and got a front row seat to watch the two of them boldly share their company and their passion.

These women did not waste a single opportunity to tell people about Komae and how it helps women build relationships and save money through swapping free babysitting with friends. When they got five minutes with Rachel Hollis? They told her about Komae. When they met Jen Hatmaker? They told her about Komae. Watching them BE BRAVE and tell people what they're doing and why it matters was inspiring...AND IT WORKED!  Rachel Hollis mentioned Komae on stage and gave Amy and Audrey the chance to talk about the app in front of the entire conference! 

I just downloaded Komae and started sending it out to friends that I already swap sits with. The app is perfect for church groups, book clubs, neighbors, anyone in your circle of friends who you trust and want to build a relationship with. In a world where busy schedules and social media make us simultaneously more and less connected, Komae does more than just facilitate free babysitting. Amy and Audrey's company reinforces the importance of friendship and face-to-face interaction and challenges us to be the village for our friends and their families. Whether you're building up the courage to launch a company, need to know how to pitch investors or want to find a free and easy way to get babysitters, you will love this interview.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Tell me about yourselves.

Amy & Audrey (A&A):  We are two stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) turned co-founders. We share a dream and the determination to bring it to life, but we also have very different skill sets and personalities. We believe that our differences are what make us successful as co-founders. We build this belief into the Komae brand as we encourage other moms to be who they are without guilt and shame. We believe you can have different opinions and do life differently, while still maintaining a friendship and living life together.

JP: So, what is Komae and what inspired you to start it?

A&A: Komae is an app that empowers parents to exchange free babysitting with their personal network of friends—a solution to a very real problem to find trusted, affordable, guilt-free care for our children.

We were two stressed out SAHMs, each trying to run our own side hustle while maintaining healthy marriages, friendships, and self-care.  The balancing act of mommy-hood is no joke. And it can quickly leave women feeling defeated and depleted, making way for the dreaded and inevitable mommy guilt.  So we decided to do something about it.

We put together a traditional babysitting co-op between us and 10 of our closest friends. After running this co-op for a year, our 10 friends had exchanged babysitting 165 times (nearly every other day!) and had saved $10,000 in babysitting costs. Friendships were strengthened between the moms and the kids.  Marriages were strengthened because date night was no longer just a dream.  And parents were getting the chance to do a few more of the want-to’s in life. It was glorious.  As we were beginning to catch the attention of other moms in our community, along with long-distance friends who were looking to recreate something like this for themselves in their neighborhoods, the wheels began to turn, and began develping the Komae App!

JP: Talk about the process of launching the app. What has the last three years of your life since launching looked like?

A&A: How exactly do two SAHMs go about developing an app?  Well, if we had really known the answer to that, we may not have tried. Lucky for us, as first-time entrepreneurs, we didn’t know better than to throw our heart and soul into this crazy dream.  And throughout every step of our journey, our ‘why’ has been stronger than every ‘why not’ that could be thrown our way.

The past three years have been a whirlwind. All we set out to do was bring free babysitting to families around the world, yet we found ourselves in business meetings learning more about technology, fundraising, HR, business development and legal than we ever imagined.  We took every meeting and said yes to every networking opportunity. We participated in multiple business accelerators, the most noteworthy of all being Project Entrepreneur in NYC. 

People always told us it would take twice as much time and money.  What I didn’t realize is that it would make us twice as strong.

JP: What are your top 3 recommendations for someone looking to create an app or launch a business?

A&A:

Go for it, but don’t go for it alone. If you can, find a co-founder. If you can’t, then make sure you connect yourself with the entrepreneurial resources in your town. Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey and you will need to have others around you to pick you up and push you on when times get hard.

Show up and speak up. You never know which networking event you attend or hand you shake is going to be the one that takes you to the next step. Showing up is the first step, but make sure you speak up while you’re there. Make yourself known. Ask about others. Leave an impression. It takes a village to raise a child, but we also believe it takes a village to build a business.

Get some grit. Without grit, entrepreneurship will break your heart. Not everyone will love what you’re building. You will have investors tell you no. People on social media will say rude things. But you’ve got to desire success more than you care about the opinions of the crowd. Because along the way, if you hold onto that grit, you will find your supporters, your cheerleaders, and your niche.

JP: You have investors. Talk about the process of putting together a pitch.

A&A: Over the course of the last three years, we have won ten pitch competitions and lost one. Not a bad batting average! Our pitch competition success resulted in many equity-free grants and also local press. These wins were truly the building blocks of our funding story.

As for pitching investors directly? We can’t count how many of those meetings we’ve had. Winning over an investor is challenging, especially being two female entrepreneurs solving a problem felt primarily by millennial females. The average investor isn’t a millennial female that has felt the pain of our customer, so getting them to see the need and buy into what we’re building isn’t easy. Where we have been most successful at receiving investments is when pitching local female investors. In fact, a group of 20 women in Northeast Ohio recently came together for a combined investment of $125,000. It was incredible!

JP: I've seen you pitch Jen Hatmaker, and I know you pitched Rachel Hollis. That took guts. What does BEING BRAVE mean to you and how do you find the courage to do things like pitch famous people you've just met?

A&A: BEING BRAVE is all about stopping and asking yourself, “what is the worst that could happen?” Usually the answer is very insignificant. Rachel could have chosen not to respond to our Instagram message. Jen could have nodded and smiled and excused herself to the restroom. Neither of them would have laughed or poked fun because even if they wanted to, that would have looked bad on them. So really, what was there to lose?

On the other hand, what was there to gain? Did we really believe Rachel would reply to our Instagram message, invite us to RISE and say she’d love to hear more about our business? And that she would go as far as to call us out from the stage and tell the whole conference about Komae? Heck no! But she did! If we had lived in fear rather than in faith, we would still be sitting on the other side of the computer wondering “what if?” And that’s not the way we want to live our lives. We’d rather rise.

JP: “Living in faith, rather than fear.” That’s good stuff and something that I not only strive to do but also want to pass on to my boys. You are both moms as well. How have your kids inspired your work?

A&A: Our company is 100% inspired by our kids. If we didn’t have them, then we wouldn’t need to swap babysitting with each other and wouldn’t have realized the problem we needed to solve.

This isn’t only about how we as moms can get free time. It’s also about the socialization that this brings to our children. Our kids LOVE going to a Komae sit because they get to play with friends. They don’t see it as being babysat at all. In fact, Audrey once asked her son Rowan what Komae is and his answer was, “it means I get to go play with my friends.”

Bonus: since you hand-select your village on Komae, that means you hand-select the role models your kids have in their lives. My kids are building relationships with their peers and with the other parents I trust to have an influence on them.

JP: Part of what This is Thirty Four is all about is living with intention and leaving a legacy. What type of legacy do you hope to leave after your time on this earth is through?

A&A: At Komae, we hope to grow a brand that becomes a household name. We hope that Komae becomes a verb and that you hear people say “Hey Honey, let’s Komae the kids and go on a date night.” If we accomplish this goal, then we will be leaving a legacy that says community is important. Date night and prioritizing your spouse is important. Taking care of your mental health as a new mom is important. Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.  

JP: This is all so good and so useful. How can people find you guys?

A&A: We are all over social media and our app is available in both the Google Play store and iTunes. Find it here ->

Website : www.mykomae.com

Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/mykomae

Instagram : @my_komae

Twitter : @mykomae

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Availability + Authenticity: The Community Equation

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My husband and I are currently deciding where to send our oldest son for Kindergarten this year. I had no idea what a complex decision choosing a school would be. So many things are factoring into our decision, but do you know what factor is becoming increasingly important to us as we search? (Hint: It’s NOT education.)

COMMUNITY.

We’ve looked at public schools, private schools, charter schools and everything in between; and the schools that bubble up to the top are the ones where our son can be part of a diverse community of good, kind kids--and my husband and I can become FRIENDS with those kid’s parents.

The Community Equation

The word community gets tossed around fairly frequently these days; and I think the definition of the word differs a bit from person to person, depending on age and stage of life. 

As a young adult, I found community in school clubs, church singles ministries and at my job. As a mom of two young boys, I find community in other moms of tiny humans and in my older friends, who are either more experienced moms or just more experienced at life. They all provide me with camaraderie, advice and help when I need it. Nearly five years ago, my husband and I moved onto a little cul-de-sac in our coastal California town, and the people on this street—young, old, married, divorced, kids, no kids—are like family to us. And now, venturing into the realm of blogging and social media, I’m finding a new community in people I’ve never met face-to-face but am learning to care about deeply.  

I’ve moved five times and lived in four different states in my life. While I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, I do think those experiences made me pretty good at making friends and building community. Connecting with people, nurturing relationships, and connecting people with OTHERS when they need it, feels life-giving to me.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve learned how to be a “community builder”—which sounds super cheesy and is mostly just a fancy term for being a good friend--by being a pretty crappy one. My early 20’s were a string of broken commitments and choosing significant others over my girlfriends. And phone calls? I wouldn’t return those for weeks. As a result, I have very few close friends from my young adult life; and I have no one to blame but myself.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve made a concerted effort to change my ways. I’m still not the BEST at responding to text messages or voicemails (WHO LIKES LISTENING TO VOICEMAILS??), but I’ve learned a lot from my past shortcomings and I think I’ve landed on a decent formula for building friendships and ultimately, community:

Availability + Authenticity = Community

Availability: Time is the best gift you can give.

You cannot be a good friend if you have no time to spend with the people you’re trying to be friends with; and you cannot build community with a group of people if you are not able to be a good friend to them.

Having time is much easier said than done in a culture that values busyness. In fact, I’m not really a fan of the term “having time.” We all have the same amount of time in a day and very few of us "have" a lot of those hours to spend with other people. What I’m learning is that you don’t HAVE TIME for other people, you MAKE TIME.

Making time means building margin into your schedule. It means saying “no” to things that don’t matter and saying yes to things—to people--that do. It sometimes means putting aside your desire for “me time” or putting away that to-do list in order to have coffee with or take a phone call from that friend you want to connect with.

Most importantly, being available means letting your “yes be yes.” As previously mentioned, I used to be the QUEEN of broken commitments. My husband is the exact opposite. If he tells you he is going to do something, then come hell or high water, he is doing it.

Early on in our marriage, he caught me trying to break commitments to some of my friends; and he called me out on it. I believe his exact words were “Let your ‘yes be yes,’ Jenn.” This is also a Biblical truth, so ya know, I couldn’t really argue with him.

Nearly 10 years later, I still remember that conversation. I legitimately try to do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it--regardless of how much I might not feel like it (I am a homebody at heart) and no matter how many other things I might have to do. (Disclaimer: This is where being a mom to tiny humans makes availability a bit tricky. Breaking a commitment due to sick kids or even questionably snotty ones is always OK. No one wants your kid’s boogers to become their kid’s boogers.)

Authenticity: If you can’t be real, you can’t be friends.

Don’t confuse sharing basic information about yourself with authenticity. People can know a lot about you without really KNOWING you.

Being authentic means being real, genuine and unafraid to share yourself and your opinions regardless of how different they might be from someone else’s. I spent years stifling my point of view and trying to be who other people wanted me to be. If my friends didn’t like something, I didn’t like it either. I just wanted them to like ME.

People can tell when you’re not being YOU. The older I get, the more comfortable I become in my own skin and the more willing I am to share my thoughts and opinions on things. And ya know what? The friendships I have now are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Additionally, the older I’ve gotten, the better I’ve become at discerning the type of people I cannot be my authentic self around. Honestly? I try to limit my time around those people or choose to hang with them in group settings in order to minimize one-on-one interaction.

Don’t misunderstand me, though: Just because someone has a different lifestyle or point of view on a certain issue than you DOES NOT MEAN you can’t be your authentic self around them.

The best friendships are the ones in which you can be honest with each other and talk through issues when you don’t see eye to eye. The best communities are the ones composed of different people from different walks of life, striving to live, learn and love alongside each other. That’s how we grow as individuals, how we grow together and how we change the world.

The Kindergarten Dilemma

I still don't know where my son is going to Kindergarten, and there's no real way to tell if the community of people at the school we decide on will be everything we want, until we get there. What I do know is how I'm striving to build community with the people I'm surrounded with RIGHT NOW. Teaching my son to do the same once he launches into his own community of friends is one of the most important lessons I think I can teach him. 

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