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Sara Schaer of Kango: “Mentorship for young women”

I can think of many reasons but here are my top 2. First, the problems they see and the solutions they build, are different from those that other segments of the population see. So, having women found companies that build these solutions, will create solutions that no one else is thinking of — and that will improve […]

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I can think of many reasons but here are my top 2. First, the problems they see and the solutions they build, are different from those that other segments of the population see. So, having women found companies that build these solutions, will create solutions that no one else is thinking of — and that will improve lives. The second is, we need more female role models in entrepreneurship — and more mentors that young women can relate to, and who understand the problems women are trying to solve.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Schaer, co-founder and CEO of Kango, an award-winning, app-based ride and childcare service for busy families. Schaer is a Silicon Valley veteran who helped grow the Snapfish global product team from a team of two product managers through the company’s acquisition by HP in 2005. Previously, Schaer worked as a senior consultant for Accenture and as a product manager for InsWeb (later sold to Bankrate) through its IPO. Schaer received a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University and an MBA from ESSEC Business School in Paris, France. Schaer currently resides in San Francisco with her husband and two sons. In her free time, she is an avid traveler and volunteer mentor at Technovation, an organization that encourages STEM learning in young women.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up, I was encouraged to take on new challenges and experiences, even when I was afraid. One such experience was going door to door to sell girl scout cookies to strangers in our Los Angeles neighborhood. I was very young, perhaps 6 or 7 years old. Another was being put into the Belgian school system after we moved to Brussels when I was about 8. French was the language of instruction, and I didn’t speak French! It was sink or swim, and I was forced to adapt and learn quickly. If I hadn’t pushed myself, I would not be bilingual today. Experiences like these taught me that you can accomplish things that may seem impossible to yourself and others.

In college, I discovered that what excited me most was finding solutions to large problems. That pursuit was an intellectual one while I was a student, but it guided my professional career after graduation. First I joined Accenture as a consultant. Then I became a Product Manager at Insweb.com, the first online insurance quoting site.

My second foray into an early stage company was joining the Snapfish.com team, again as a Product Manager. I helped grow the company from a free roll scanning service in the US, to a global digital photo and video e-commerce company operating in 22 countries. Kango is the third early stage company I’ve worked at, but the first that I co-founded myself. As a working mother, I realized that arranging transportation for your children conflicts often with other obligations such as work or your own projects. I realized that there wasn’t a ride-share service specializing in safe transportation for children, that offered all the elements to ensure safety and give peace of mind to parents, including thorough background checks, driver location tracking and the ability to request preferred drivers. Kango enables busy parents to be stress free while having a reliable, consistent, and safe form of transportation for their kids while they focus on other priorities.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

There are so many!

One that comes to mind is how 49’ers player Joe Staley became an investor in Kango. They say that as a founder you are “always pitching” for investment. When I met Joe at a Superbowl event, I was intimidated by his stature but he was genuine and kind. I never imagined that he would be impressed by Kango to the point of wanting to become an investor in the company, but he was! We are proud to count him among our supporters.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, one thing I sometimes confess to, is that I can’t believe I somehow went from worrying about my own 2 kids, which is stressful enough, to worrying about thousands of them! I wouldn’t say that it was a mistake, but as a mother it sometimes seems a bit ironic.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My kids are my inspiration. They are truly the most amazing people in my life and as much as I guide them and try my best to teach them how to be outstanding citizens of the world, they’re teaching me to do the same. The pride that my kids had when their school first introduced Kango as an afterschool pickup option was heartwarming to see. They were so excited to tell their friends and teachers about Kango coming to their school, it was such a gratifying experience seeing the impact of the app first-hand in our community and my kids’ excitement for it.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book “Composing a Life” by Mary Catherine Bateson, made me aware that in your life you can have different phases, and you don’t need to be working toward all your goals simultaneously. As a mother, this idea was something that I found empowering, and that encouraged me to live my life in “chapters” that worked for me, rather than abandoning goals that weren’t possible to attain in a particular moment.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’ve always admired Steve Jobs for his strength of conviction and uncompromising commitment to product quality and design. One quote that rings true is “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This is the main reason why I founded Kango — it was something I felt deeply passionate about and is the solution to a need that I see as a universal pain point — the acute struggles working parents face.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

For me, I’ve always defined success as achieving my own goals as well as helping others reach theirs. I am happiest when I’m able to help our team members strive toward personal dreams in addition to helping them reach their professional goals.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

When I began pitching our idea to investors, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince people based on a pre-revenue concept. At the time, we were going through the 500 Startups accelerator. Out of roughly 30 startups in our batch, only two had mothers who were CEO’s, and I was one of them. I had been warned that investors might ask uncomfortably specific questions and I never believed it until it happened to me. One potential investor asked me, “How are you going to run a business and a family at the same time?” even though I was clearly already doing it — and had even created a service to help parents do just that!. It was frustrating at first to answer these types of questions, but in time, the business results spoke for themselves, and the questions stopped.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

It was incredibly gratifying to be a mentor for the Technovation program which teaches young women in middle and high school to create a business case and app prototype which solves an important problem, and then pitch for investment. It’s like creating a startup in a nutshell. Getting involved with and mentoring the next generation of women will definitely have an impact on the future.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I can think of many reasons but here are my top 2. First, the problems they see and the solutions they build, are different from those that other segments of the population see. So, having women found companies that build these solutions, will create solutions that no one else is thinking of — and that will improve lives. The second is, we need more female role models in entrepreneurship — and more mentors that young women can relate to, and who understand the problems women are trying to solve.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Here are my 5 things :

1)Mentorship for young women: establish widespread training programs in leadership and entrepreneurship for young women when they are teenagers

2)Build and expand programs that provide internships in companies for young women during high school and college

3)Create a large fund (public and/or private) to invest in female-founded startups

4)Support for working parents #1 : policies at the government level which expand paid parental/maternity leave, and mandate that both spouses take some amount of parental leave, so that it is not only women who are away from the office

5)Support for working parents #2 : educate companies on the value and return on investment of employer-sponsored parent-employee benefits such as flexible work schedules, regular and/or backup childcare, parenting support, etc.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would lead a movement to normalize flexibility in the workplace and equal responsibility for parenting between men and women. Basically upend the stereotypes which constrain and stigmatize working mothers. Being a working parent and specifically a working mother, must get easier.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

As a San Francisco resident and California-born individual, I have followed Vice President Kamala Harris’ career for years. I have always admired her firm approach to justice, policy and decision-making. Her election to Vice President of the United States is something I would love to be able to congratulate her on personally, as it sets a beacon for all women to shoot for the stars!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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