On Entrepreneurship and on creating better solutions for families – Interview with Sheila Marcelo

Sheila Marcelo is the Founder and CEO of Care.com, an online service for families to find trustworthy options for child care, senior care, pet care, tutoring and housekeeping. Prior to this, as an entrepreneur, Sheila has worked as an executive at several successful for-profit start-ups with a social mission: Upromise.com, an online service helping families save money for college, and TheLadders.com, an online job search website for executives.

Care.com aims to provide families with a trustworthy resource to address their care needs. Evolving past the traditional concept of a service directory, Sheila started Care.com to provide families with a more efficient way to find local care providers. In this discussion, we talk about entrepreneurship and addressing the needs of families.

RS: Sheila, this is your third startup. What lessons from your previous startups are you bringing to this startup?

SM: Having worked in a start-up environment for several years prior to launching Care.com, I was aware of the deep personal investment that comes with starting your own company.  It’s like raising a child in its own way.

From my past experiences, I know how important it is for a company in our position to stay focused on what our goal is.  For Care.com, and many companies out there, it’s easy to get sidetracked by any number of great opportunities that come along.  I would much rather us be a leader in the areas that we focus on by providing the highest-quality service, rather than spread ourselves thin by pursuing every opportunity or partnership that comes our way.

Another key lesson that I have carried with me from my past experiences is the need to hire and work with a very talented team.  We have a great group at Care.com, and I’m thrilled to have a team so committed to pursuing the company’s mission of helping families.  The important thing to remember is that with a start-up, strategies can change at a moment’s notice.  It is important to have a team that can adapt and switch gears when needed, but maintain the passion and enthusiasm for what the company is building.

RS: What motivated you to start Care.com?

SM: I was motivated to start Care.com based on the challenges I faced in my own life in trying to find quality care providers.  With my husband and I both working, it’s always a juggling act raising our two sons and caring for our two dogs.  Several years ago, in the midst of managing a career and raising my children, my father needed quadruple bypass surgery.  Living in another state, it was a struggle to find adequate care for him – and the experience made me more aware that many families out there are without options for finding adequate care.  You may have a trusted nanny or a regular pet sitter, but if their personal circumstances change or if they suddenly fall ill, it can be a struggle to find help in a moment’s notice.

RS: When you decided to launch Care.com, there were already a number of service directories. What was your game plan to play in the crowded space?

SM: Actually, I think there were certainly a lot of niche players when we entered the family services space, but Care.com is unique in that we are addressing the lifecycle of care needs under one umbrella.  Many services like senior care can be very localized – so it’s often times difficult for an out-of-state family member to know who the trusted resources are in another area.

I think we also differentiate ourselves from a typical service directory by creating a greater degree of efficiency and safety to the process of finding a caregiver. A typical online classified may do a great job of providing a place to find local babysitters, but you still need to click through individual profiles to find the right fit.  If you are a mom looking for a babysitter with infant experience who is available on select afternoons – it can be challenging to find someone who fits the bill.  We tailored our search metrics to be very specific, allowing families to find providers in their area who fit the criteria that they designate.

Additionally, Care.com offers safety features like free background checks and recorded reference interviews to provide families with a greater degree of confidence when hiring a caregiver.  It is still important to interview candidates and make sure that someone is the right fit for your needs, but by having Care.com address items like background checks and references, it ensures that important steps are not overlooked.

RS: What is the “litmus test” if any to see if the idea is worth executing on?

SM: First and foremost, I think it’s important to be invested in the idea that you are trying to get off the ground.  With Care.com, I had a very personal connection to the services based on some of my own experiences trying to find caregivers for my sons, our family’s dogs and my father. Beyond that, it was fulfilling for me to create a company that addressed a social mission.

It is really important to solicit as much feedback in the early stages – whether that’s talking to friends and family or tapping your intended consumers for input.  It is important to get a thorough read on how viable your idea is, and then beyond that it becomes important to evaluate the scope and scalability of a concept.

RS: What is your advice for “would be” entrepreneurs?

SM: There are definitely a lot of great aspects to being an entrepreneur.  For me, the realization that we are creating from the ground up at Care.com is really exciting.  It always amazes me to look out and see how much we have grown this company even in a short period of time.

At the same time, it requires a lot of work and personal investment to succeed at being an entrepreneur.  Probably the single best piece of advice I can give is to develop a network of professional mentors and former colleagues that you can rely on for advice and guidance throughout the process.  I have a number of people in my life who have provided me with a great deal of advice, guidance and support along the way.  Beyond that, drink a lot of coffee!

RS: Lastly, what can you share about your future plans for Care.com?

SM: We just recently celebrated our one-year anniversary since the site’s nationwide launch – and it has been exciting to see how much Care.com has evolved in that time.  We are continuing to expand our reach nationwide, especially in our services outside of child care.  In addition, we are continuing to actively listen to feedback from our customers to figure out areas of improvement as well as opportunity.