Sara Schaer had worked in the technology space for awhile but it wasn’t until she had kids did she realize that she could be a part of solving a big problem for working parents – how to safely get their children to activities they needed to be at. She started Kango, which provides rides and care- prescreened drivers and babysitters – that help solve both the transportation and the childcare issues so many parents face. The app is currently live in six counties in the San Francisco area with plans to expand nationwide. Sara tells us why she gets queasy at the sight of blood and why you can do it all…just not at the same time.
Tell us your backstory…
I have always been driven to do the most that I could possibly accomplish. After growing up bilingual (English-French) in the US and Europe, I attended Stanford University. Then I went to business school in Paris after deciding I did not want to study law. After graduating I got a job in the Paris office of what was then Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and worked on consulting projects in Paris, London and Luxembourg. But it was the dawn of the internet age, and I knew I wanted to work on new technologies. So I moved back to the Bay Area and soon was working for a startup called Insweb.com, that provided instant online insurance quotes. After that company IPO’d in 1999, I joined Snapfish.com, the online photo and video site, as a product manager. I loved the job and stayed on after Snapfish was acquired by HP in 2005.
However, I had become a parent along the way, and was confronted with the challenge of managing a 50-person product team across 3 continents, while also caring for my 2 young sons. I looked around for trustworthy help with rides for the kids as they got older and entered preschool, then elementary school. But I never got over the hurdle, and continued to do all the driving, since my husband was often away on business. I started to think about creating a solution myself. After discussing it with my former Snapfish engineering colleague – and current Kango CTO, Siva, we decided to build an app for parents to help each other with carpools, to start. Then we received funding from our first investor, 500 Startups. That’s how we initially got started.
What makes families feel safe using the app?
Families build this kind of service into their lives, so it needs to feel as safe, comfortable and natural as possible.
Kango makes families feel safe in 4 main ways:
1) Safety :
Driving someone else’s children is a huge responsibility, and parents want to know their precious cargo is in good, trustworthy hands.
Driver background checks including fingerprinting, driver profiles listing experience and prior customers, the ability to call and ask questions – all this is a prerequisite for a kids’ ridesharing service (which the adult ridesharing services do not provide).
2) Known drivers :
Rides for kids are often scheduled in advance, though Kango also accepts same-day requests, unlike other rides for kids’ services. Parents know in advance who will be driving their child, so they can plan their logistics but also for school sign-out procedures, peace of mind, etc.
Parents need to communicate in real-time with the people involved, such as Kango operations, the driver, and/or school officials and teachers – so we support that via the Kango app.
Finally, the kids themselves need to be made to feel at home before, during, and after the ride – and sometimes they need a little help getting through their day. Whether it’s comforting a tired younger child, calming down rowdy kids, or going back for a forgotten lunchbox or homework, Kango sitters and drivers go the extra mile.
What is your favorite part about being a mom?
My favorite part is seeing the kids evolve as they grow up, and encouraging that growth, though it is their journey. The physical changes of course, but also their opinions, their passions, what makes them laugh, the causes they care about. More and more, I want to make sure I find time to disconnect from time to time and really be in the moment with each of them. They are growing up really fast!
What is one of your superhero mom moments?
I have always been afraid of – and repulsed by – the sight of blood. It’s why I never contemplated becoming a vet, though I love animals. One night, when my husband was out of town on business, disaster struck. The boys must have been ages 1 and 3. While I was changing the baby’s diaper getting him ready for bed, toddler Julien jumped off a couch and crashed into a bookcase, opening a gash in his head. I turned around and there was blood everywhere. Julien’s shirt was soaked with it. Somehow, I didn’t faint. Using some new mom instinct, I managed to slow (but not stop) the bleeding, call the nighttime advice nurse (who said I should go to the ER), call a friend to come put the baby to bed, and then drive my bleeding son to the pediatric ER.
Julien turned out to be OK. But to this day I am not sure how I managed to keep calm and carry on.
Any tips on balancing working and motherhood?
You can do it all, just not at the same time. it is up to you to define what works best for you at any given point in time – how much time and focus you give to each. BUT, just because you choose one priority at a given time, does NOT mean that cannot change! A turning point in my life was when I read “Composing a Life” by Mary Catherine Bateson, which profiles several successful women and illustrates the concept of living your life in chapters – as an empowering and creative process. It’s the opposite of juggling everything at the same time – and much more fulfilling.
If you were to give advice to a new mom trying to balance its all, what would you say?
First, embrace this very special time to bond with and understand who your baby is as a person. So many character traits are already evident! The foundation you build during their infancy will stay with you and your child as they grow older. It’s quite amazing really.
Second, make sure you are able to sleep – or at least have a path to getting more sleep. Whether it is a night nurse, help from a partner, sleep training for the baby as they grow older – it is better for your health, and important to the whole family, that you are able to think clearly, at least when you need to.
Third, be aware that things don’t always go according to plan after a birth – and accept that as much as you can. You may need to restructure your life including your career – and that’s ok.