No Free Beer, Just Balance: Tech Co-Founder Creates Workplace Solutions
Sara Mauskopf, CEO and co-founder of Winnie, an app that has been called a Yelp for parents, knows all about the benefits offered by tech giants in Silicon Valley. She worked as a consumer technology and product management at Twitter, YouTube, Google and Postmates.But when she and her co-founder and CPO, Anne K. Halsall, launched their startup Winnie in 2016, she also knew what the working moms at any company did not need. And that was free beer at work.“None of those perks like free food and happy hours worked for our lives,” says Mauskopf. “When I was at Google, I took advantage of the free food and the massages, but as a startup, you don’t have that money, so we offered perks to help you live a better life.”And that is working just fine.After launching with $2.3 million in funding from venture capitalists, according to Business Insider, (a site that also named Winnie one of the 21 hottest female tech startups to watch in 2017), Winnie now has six employees and serves 100,000 customer members in 3,000 U.S. cities.“We treat employees with respect and we decided we should build a culture employees want, even if it goes against the grain,” says Mauskopf, who graduated with a computer science degree from MIT in 2007.Building a female and parent friendly tech culture that was outside the norm of tech bro culture prominent for the last decade was important to both Mauskopf and Halsall, who is a product designer and developer with a background in knowledge systems and consumer technology. Halsall, a mother of two, worked at Quora, Inkling, and Google.The two co-founders met at Postmates and bonded as parents of small children struggling to make it all work, after Mauskopf returned to work when her daughter, Bryn, was born in 2015.“There are not a lot of moms in tech,” Mauskopf says. “It changed my thinking about startups, and instead of delivering burritos, we need to see how to make lives easier for parents.”Mauskopf told Inc., “We got together one weekend and were talking about how there’s all this technology out there to make every other aspect of our lives easier but when it comes to the hardest job we have — parenting — there’s nothing.” She adds, “Although it was a big leap for us to quit our jobs and work on this, we realized that helping parents is the most important work we can do.”With the intention of building the “most family friendly tech start up” ever, Mauskopf says, they encountered the sexism they expected, but the “momism” they did not.[bctt tweet=“Founders of the start-up, Winnie, encountered sexism they expected and #momism they didn’t” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Funders would question whether this was full-time or not. Some funders asked us what we were doing for childcare as if we just left our kids in the car,” Mauskopf says. “We had to work around these attitudes.”According to Women Who Tech, “Currently, only 7 percent of investor money goes to women-led startups. We want to crush this stat that has barely budged in 10 years,” according to the site. There has been a 68 percent increase in women launching businesses between 1997 and 2014. But many would agree, more needs to be done.About persistent sexist issues in tech funding for female-led startups, Avery Hartmans writes in Business Insider, “There’s no denying we have a long way to go. After all, venture capital firms are made up of mostly men, and some continue to suggest that women aren’t cut out for the tech world at all. And way more VC money is offered to male founders than women.”Hartmans writes, “But more and more women are building multimillion-dollar startups, and venture firms like Forerunner Ventures, BBG Ventures, and Female Founders Fund all focus on companies founded by women. It’s paying off. 2016 saw female founders launch innovative companies and raise millions to help them grow, while startups in their second or third year of life began gaining ground.”The culture is shifting in tech and beyond, but so much more needs to happen to make workplace culture equitable for all women, and women caring for their families—children, spouses or parents.[bctt tweet=“Culture is shifting in tech, but much more needs to happen to make workplaces #equitable “ username=“takeleadwomen”]Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, writes in LinkedIn, “The American workplace was set up based on the assumption that employees had partners who would stay home to do the unpaid work of caring for family and tending to the house. Of course, that wasn’t always true back then, and it definitely isn’t today. Men and women alike have taken on more caregiving responsibilities—as partners in dual-earning households, or single parents, or family members supporting their relatives. Many find themselves straining to balance their jobs and their families, and life both at home and at work suffers as a result.”Gates writes, “In fact, most companies are asking employees to work more. The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50 in the time since that issue of Fortune was published. Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.”According to Gates, “When companies assume that the work of caring for a family and maintaining a household is getting done by someone else, it hurts everyone—but it hurts women and minorities the most. Women, of course, continue to shoulder more of the work at home, meaning many can’t dedicate as much time and energy to their jobs, and some drop out of the workforce entirely. And minorities have less access to networks, mentorship, and resources to help them manage mounting responsibilities at work and at home.”Mauskopf experienced this caretaking burden, when her husband, Eric, was diagnosed with cancer. She was launching a startup, caring for their daughter and her husband who was gravely ill. (He is doing well now.)Out of necessity, Mauskopf says she has worked to achieve a life that works well. “It’s a matter of knowing that you can’t work 100 percent of the time and you can’t be with your child—or family—100 percent of the time.” She adds, “At work, I’m focused and at home, I am spending meaningful time with my daughter.“This is where Winnie, the app she created, comes into play. The app that offers community resources, extensive data and more on activities, childcare, nearby parks, family-friendly restaurants and more solves her own family conundrums.[bctt tweet=”#Winnie offers families resources & data on activities, childcare, parks, restaurants, etc.” username=“takeleadwomen”]“I did not want to waste time coordinating things, I wanted to spend time doing things,” Mauskopf says. “I didn’t have the time, so I wanted an app for that. This is solving my own problems.”Problem solving for herself, her employees, and the community of working parents who want answers and resources is what Mauskopf does at Winnie.This aligns with Take The Lead’s Leadership Power Tool # 6, as created by Gloria Feldt, take The Lead co-founder and president. “Wear the Shirt of Your Convictions” speaks to answering the questions, “What are your core values? What’s your vision? How can you make it happen? Stand in your power and realize your intentions.”Mauskopf has done just that and learned from missteps along the way in making the vision reality.“One of the things we didn’t do soon enough was users helping other users. The community has more valuable data than we can get ourselves,” she says. And yes, that data and information is safe and vetted.“We have a lot of experience with harassment, spam or content that is not useful,” Mauskopf says. Her co-founder helped to create Quora, a highly successful information sharing site.“We have high quality moderation behind the scenes” Mauskopf says, “and the users are verified.”Knowing what she knows now, as a tech startup founder and parent, Mauskopf has plenty of advice to share for women wanting to break out and start their own tech companies.“Go for it. If you have an idea, make it happen. No one is better suited,” Mauskopf says. “If we didn’t do this, who would?”As for the sexism and momism in tech culture, Mauskopf is encouraged. “Women are standing up, telling their stories and people are believing them and supporting them. We have a long way to go. We have way too many venture capitalists who are white men.”With the growth of Winnie over the past year, Mauskopf is more convinced every day she did the right thing to quit her job, start this company and solve problems for herself and parents around the country.“Being a parent I consider my super power,” Mauskopf says. “It forces me to prioritize and do the most important stuff.”Want more Take The Lead posts like this? Sign up to receive the Take The Lead newsletter each week. Learn more about Take The Lead training programs here.