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Leg Up co-founder and CEO Jessica Eggert (Leg Up Photo)

Jessica Eggert was spending too much time and headache trying to research and arrange childcare for her 6-year-old son, Oliver. She wondered if other parents felt the same way.

So Eggert created an Airtable spreadsheet listing Seattle-area childcare options and posted it online. This minimal viable product blew up, drawing 1,000 unique views in three days. Daycare facilities, camp operators, and after school providers reached out to ask for their data to be added.

Leg Up CEO and co-founder Jessica Eggert and her son, Oliver Eggert. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Eggert)

“Parents I’d never met were finding me on Facebook or LinkedIn and thanking me for surfacing the information they needed to find care,” Eggert said. “This problem went far beyond what I was struggling with on a monthly basis.”

With the proof that she needed, Eggert pulled down the rough draft and in January, she and her friend Jonna Bell officially launched Leg Up. The Seattle-based startup is building a marketplace to help parents find daycare, after school care and classes, enrichment programs, extracurricular activities, and camps for summer and other school breaks. The duo will launch a beta version of the product this spring, exact date TBD, and a more polished version later this year.

Eggert is CEO and Bell is chief brand officer for Leg Up. The two previously worked together at The Riveter, a Seattle-based startup that provides women-focused coworking space and has spread to cities nationwide (Eggert was head of culture and innovation and Bell was head of marketing and communications). Most recently they teamed up at Common Engine, a management consulting company focused on inclusion.

Eggert and Bell are building the platform themselves and have 3,200 providers already in the database, which will initially focus on the greater Seattle area.

The site will allow families to tailor their searches by the age of their child, the hours of care needed, the availability of financial aid, if the program serves children with special needs and other parameters. The database will include information such as costs, contact information, addresses and other details. Families will be able to rate programs with a more nuanced scoring system than the conventional 1-to-5 stars model.

While Leg Up is a practical scheduling tool, to Eggert and Bell it represents something much bigger. It’s really about empowerment for working women.

Leg Up is “opening up access for women and breaking down barriers,” Bell said, “and really removing the barriers that keep someone from reaching their greatest potential.”

Childcare is a top-of-mind concern for many moms. A group of “Momazonians” at Amazon recently began raising childcare concerns, asking the company to provide them with backup daycare services as an employee benefit.

Leg Up co-founders Jessica Eggert, left, and Jonna Bell. (Leg Up Photo)

And numerous mothers simply opt for part-time work, if they’re in the workforce at all. Moms are spending 25 hours a week on average doing paid work, according to the Pew Research Center, while 14 hours are spent on childcare and 18 on housework. Some 60 percent of mothers say that it’s hard to balance work and family.

“We’re really focused on solving problems that can help women,” Eggert said.

In their own survey of 300 parents, the Leg Up team found that families were spending more than 30 hours a year managing childcare arrangements and camps.

Leg Up will launch as a free service and eventually move to a subscription model for families. The founders decided to seek revenue from parents rather than providers given that many childcare services are working on margins too slim to afford any additional costs.

While Poppy, another Seattle-based startup connecting parents to childcare, recently folded, Eggert said their approach is different. Poppy matched parents with individual babysitters and nannies, as compared to Leg Up’s approach to helping families find childcare businesses. Poppy was a great service, she said, but “the economics just weren’t there.”

Leg Up is competing against online parenting magazines with childcare listings and sites including Care.com, a public company earning $192 million a year and connecting people with care providers for kids, pets, elderly parents and house sitting. Eggert and Bell think they can offer more trustworthy, comprehensive information.

We caught up with Eggert for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Leg Up is a platform that allows parents to find childcare faster, and helps providers grow so they can keep up with growing demand. It’s a way to remove a barrier to the success of working moms. And a way for companies to retain one of their biggest and brightest talent pools.

Inspiration hit us when: My son started elementary school this past year and I thought managing childcare would get a lot easier. Instead, it got harder. We’re on several two-year wait lists for after-school programs and, because school schedules don’t work with either mine or my husband’s work schedule, we found ourselves looking for a new type of care every month to fill the off days.

I started slowly building a personal database of childcare programs that could help our family now and in the future. Thinking it would be great to share this information with others, I added in additional childcare programs for surrounding neighborhoods, embedded my database in a simple Squarespace website, and shared the website to a few individuals in my network.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had this problem.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’re bootstrapping currently, although we’ll be raising quickly to make sure we give this company every chance possible to survive and make an impact in millions of parents’ lives.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Jonna and I have been friends longer than we’ve been coworkers, but have also been at two other companies together so we work together really well and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We’ve worked for a startup and launched a consulting company. We’ve had some small wins, but have been kicked in the teeth more often than not. This time around, we not only have experience but a really strong network who continues to open doors for us and believes strongly in this idea. We’re so grateful for the people in our lives on this journey. We couldn’t have made such incredibly fast progress without them.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: I would say we’ve done three really smart things so far that have made a big difference.

  1. We locked in our vision from the beginning of how we wanted to help working parents.
  2. We not only talked to and surveyed hundreds of parents and providers, but we talked to people who have built products for the childcare industry and those who built businesses in other industries with strategies similar to ours — both those who have found great success and exits, and those who failed despite being amazing entrepreneurs. We learned what went right, what went wrong and what they suggested we do. We then took a lot of that advice (though not all) and pivoted quite a few times from our original idea. Because we’ve kept our vision in mind, it was just the strategy and how we executed that changed. Our vision has stayed our guiding star from the beginning.
  3. I’ve been building the technology from the beginning with advice from engineering advisors. Although it’s been hard playing CTO and CEO, I now understand the technology we want to build so much better and it’s helped me understand what our engineers and UX designers need to be paying attention to from the beginning. A core belief of mine is to not hire anyone whose shoes I haven’t walked in, even for just a moment. While I can’t always do this in the future, at least I’ll know who I need on my beginning team really well.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Being afraid to ask for money. I’ve asked for a lot of help from investors during this process, but it got to a point where I didn’t need to hear more and more advice (although always welcome). I needed to get money to help this company grow, and to learn while we build.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and read stories of entrepreneurs who were able to tap their friends and family networks to get the first round that would help them grow, test and fail (then succeed) fast. However, it’s always been white men or women who worked for the best companies, who went to the best colleges, or who grew up around the best people. I didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of upbringing and my career has mostly been on the East Coast working for amazing companies whose names no one would recognize here in Seattle.

A lot of imposter syndrome often makes me feel nervous to ask for more or ask to be in spaces where people who look like me or have my background aren’t always welcomed with open arms. Thankfully I’ve met some fantastic advisors and have a fantastic co-founder that pushes me to stop thinking that way and ask for what I not only want, but need.

Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Serena Williams, without a doubt. We have several Olympic athletes in our network who have shared their experiences with us. Their ability to push through mental barriers of not being good enough or their bodies telling them they can’t go any further, is the kind of strength and stamina I want in my corner. Also, being a woman of color brings on different challenges, and the road to get to where I am today has felt really lonely — especially now as I walk into rooms and rarely, or never, see anyone who looks like me. I believe Serena Williams has that strength and stamina that would remind me that I can and will be better, to rise above the noise, and to make an impact in millions of people’s lives.

Also, let’s be real. Having access to her and husband (Reddit co-founder) Alexis Ohanian’s network along this journey wouldn’t hurt!

Our favorite team-building activity is: Every two weeks, Jonna and I head to our favorite nail salon in north Seattle for a mani-pedi. Our nail lady is a perfectionist so it takes a really long time, but we are able to relax, brainstorm, reconnect as friends and humans, and we walk out ready to dive back into work with a fresh perspective and, often, new ideas.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We aren’t hiring just yet, although we are having conversations with some individuals whose work I’ve admired for a long time to potentially come on in the future once we’ve secured funding. Both Jonna and I have been on teams in the past that haven’t truly cared about bringing in diversity or building inclusive spaces, but it’s a huge priority for us. We want our core team to not only be gender and ethnically diverse, but they also need to have built teams and technology that have focused on being inclusive across multiple spectrums.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Have your vision, be ready to work really hard and then be flexible. You may have lots of plans and spreadsheets and strategies, but like Mike Tyson says, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Be prepared to get punched in the face quite a bit along this journey. It’s a long road, but if you do it right, it’s a journey that’s enjoyable and incredibly rewarding.

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