After years working in public health and early childhood development, Alanna Beebe grew concerned that the latest science in her field wasn’t reaching parents. As a soon-to-be mom, it was a problem she passionately wanted to solve. When she discovered that her neighbor, Julietta Skoog, was a child psychologist with her own parenting education business, it felt like kismet.
Together they founded Sproutable, a platform with educational videos and resources for parents. The site provides research-backed content to help parents navigate the early months and years of their kids’ lives.
“Together our goal is to make Sproutable the best online learning experience for parents of young children (infant to preschool),” said Beebe. “We want to be the hub for all early learning expertise.”
They founded the Seattle startup in May and are officially launching this week with a Kickstarter campaign. As of Thursday afternoon, Sproutable had raised more than $2,300 of a $63,800 goal. Skoog and Beebe considered launching the company as a non-profit but felt that a for-profit business would afford them more opportunity for trial and error.
We caught up with Beebe for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand: “Sproutable is an engaging online learning experience for parents of young children.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We are inspired every day by our children, by our friends and family with children and by the amazing work our colleagues are doing in the field. Parenting is really hard work and whenever we can make a positive difference in the life of a parent and child we are inspired.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “For now we are bootstrapping. In fact, we just launched our Kickstarter campaign this week. We struggled to get seed funding before we were able to prove traction so we decided to start with a crowdfunding campaign. Going the VC and Angel route is hard for a startup with two female founders who’ve never built a company before. What makes it even harder is that I’m a woman who is trying to solve other women’s problems. Many of the investors we met with didn’t trust that we were solving a real problem and building a real business opportunity. Sproutable isn’t solely for moms, but we do know that a majority of our early customer base will be women.
“That being said, we did find some support networks for women (something that didn’t exist a few years ago), and it’s a large reason why we’re still here grinding along. I joined the Angel School for Entrepreneurs through FemaleFunders.com and learned a ton. Katherine Hague (it’s founder) has done an exceptional job supporting female entrepreneurs and Angel investors. Katherine has also become an advisor and mentor to me and I am extremely grateful.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our secret sauce is experience, expertise and delivery. People flock to my co-founder’s classes because of the way she delivers the content and we are condensing 14 hours of live class into a few 3-minute videos. Sproutable really is a content company that uses technology to reach our customers. Not only do we bring our own deep content expertise, but we also have great relationships in the early childhood development field from our previous work experience. Even better, Julietta spent years as a professional dancer so she’s an experienced performer. The second she got on camera she was so natural. If we were building a pure software company, she’d be our CTO.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Recognizing the areas we didn’t know how to execute on and learning how to do them ourselves. We leaned on our networks to help us get started and we’ve been very lucky to have a team of supportive volunteers who give us their time and insight. From this, we taught ourselves how to do email and social marketing, build a website, edit videos, shoot film, write scripts and tackle pre-production. We couldn’t outsource this. We are amateurs at all of our new skills but we are learning and doing them all on our own.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “At one point we brought on another co-founder to support the video production work. It wasn’t a good fit but we learned a tremendous amount from this experience. Mistakes are an opportunity for learning. This is something we talk about in our parenting course. For us, it’s important to create a foundation where mistakes are ok and even celebrated. We probably make a thousand mistakes every day and we don’t even recognize 90 percent of them.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates because we are on a mission to change the world. Bill Gates had a vision that every person could have a computer at home. We have a similar vision for Sproutable – we want every parent to have instant access to the best parenting information so we can grow a new generation of deeply-connected, thriving families. Today, the Gates Foundation is taking that idea of technology and innovation and making it work for those in need. We even share a similar goal: Ensure more children and young people survive and thrive. We are starting from the opposite side, going from non-profit and government to a technology company, but it’s the same idea. How can we as humans use innovation to make life better for parents, families, children and eventually the world?”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Right now there’s just the two of us. Anytime that Julietta and I get to spend together not working directly on Sproutable is a gift. Eventually, we will incorporate team-building activities but we’re not quite there yet.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “We have a dream that we can run a parent-friendly business where our employees can find work-life balance. It’s so important to us that we are supporting our families, in fact practicing what we preach at Sproutable. So we are looking for people who love young children, who are awesome at learning from their mistakes and who are innovative and ready to take on the challenge of figuring out how to make the best parent education platform out there.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “When someone tells you that you can’t do something, you can’t convince them with words. You’ve got to show them you can figure it out. Sometimes you have to learn how to do things yourself and you won’t be perfect. In fact, you will likely be terrible at first. Be open to feedback and iterate, iterate, iterate.”