Los Angeles, CA
It all started with... a joke.
At a child’s birthday party in late 2013, Joanna McFarland and a group of moms were discussing the daily challenge of getting their kids from point A to point B. Joanna jokingly suggested that they should buy a van, and hire all the moms and babysitters in the neighborhood to drive their children around. The idea sparked what would become HopSkipDrive: think not quite Uber for kids but more like caregivers on wheels. Launched in March 2015 by Joanna, Carolyn Yashari Becher and Janelle McGlothlin, the company has completed tens of thousands of trips and received $3.9 million in seed funding. Lesson learned? If you have a problem, be the solution.
What challenges did you face in getting HopSkipDrive off the ground?
We had to think, what would it take for us to use this service and put our own kids in these cars? There was so much to consider, from regulation to insurance issues. We didn’t even know where to start. I had been running businesses for 15 years, but to start something from scratch was a whole new learning process. You learn that when someone says no, you find a different way to hear yes. We spent several months trying to find ways to hear yes! On a personal level I had to consider if I was truly ready to start a company — I had never thought about being an entrepreneur. But the idea became so compelling to me, and it got to a point where I saw so much need for it that I couldn’t not pursue it. So I quit my job and here we are.
You’ve had remarkable growth in such a short amount of time. What do you attribute that success to?
A lot of really hard work and little sleep! But it also comes down to the fact that we’re solving a real problem that families have — including our own — so that alleviates things right off the bat. Also, when parents understand the rigor we put into our driver screening process, they become more comfortable using the service. If you make one parent’s life easier, they’ll tell their friends. It’s really spread through word of mouth.
What are some of the key factors in gaining the trust of your customers?
Using the service ourselves has really helped us shape the product. The first kid that was ever in a HopSkipDrive car was Janelle’s son. We were all watching the monitor to make sure the technology was working, but we were also watching Janelle’s reactions. Even though she’d been intimately involved with the build of the service, she was a mom and that was her kid. I think that first-hand experience has really helped us develop our processes and in how we communicate. We’re also the only woman-run ride-share company, and our drivers are 99% female. So I think that resonates with our customers and driver community as well.
In a lot of ways, having a business is like having a kid. It's way harder than you ever imagined, the highs are high and the lows are low. But it's incredibly rewarding
How has the lifestyle adjustment been for you since launching the business?
It’s been hard, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve never been as fulfilled in any other job. When you hear how you’ve made a difference to a family, or how excited our drivers are to make money with their child in the backseat, that makes it all worth it. I also have a pretty wonderful husband — we work really well together, picking up the load when the other can’t.
How does style come into play when you’re running a business while raising children?
The great thing about being a tech company is that you can be very casual, which suits my style well. My one style luxury is that I’m always in heels (I’m 5 feet tall.) But on the weekends I’ll be in flip flops and whatever I can run around in with the kids. Often it comes down to: how quickly can I get up, get dressed and get out the door?
Any advice you’d like to pass on to other entrepreneurs?
My son was telling me this morning how he wanted to make it to Eagle Scouts from Cub Scouts, but didn’t think he could. I said, "If you think that way you never will. But if you think you can, you have a better shot." I think that applies to everything.
Attitude accounts for a lot. If someone says no, you figure out a way around it. You think, what else can I do? How else can I get this? You don’t stop.
Photographed by Bridget Fleming September 2015