Say goodbye to sleeping calmly at night. Starting a company is similar to becoming a parent. There is always anxiety and self-doubt about your abilities to do the job, but it’s best to healthily integrate this self-doubt into your life. There are always going to be people that judge you and your company so by accepting this doubt, it will help you power through the hard times.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski.
Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski is a co-founder and the Chief Behavioral Officer of the Kumbaya App. She applies her expertise as a behavioral science specialist and product lead in the field of community, wellness, technology and consumer behavior, to enhance the gig marketplace app that connects teens with parents who need care services. She is also a researcher in the field of well-being, human computing interaction and technology and presents her work at universities and organizations in the Bay Area.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before I founded the Kumbaya App with my co-founder, Chen Levanon, I was on track to become a lawyer but eventually became a psychologist after realizing that being a lawyer was not something that I wanted to do. Growing up being a lawyer was ingrained in me by my very business-oriented family. Although I eventually did graduate with a law and business degree, I started working at a psychiatric hospital as I was always very interested in people, the human mind, and relationships. This is what led me to psychology and studying human behavior. I ended up enrolling in a Ph.D. program for clinical psychology soon after and opened my own private practice and consulting business and worked extensively with GenZ teens.
After working several years as a consultant for startup founders in the Bay Area, I shifted my focus towards the tech world. I love technology and the products that companies come up with. I began working on products at startups focused on the well-being of individuals and communities, including a smart journal app based on artificial intelligence for GenZ students and worked as a product manager being part of the entire product lifecycle from ideation to launch. I’ve always believed that technology companies, or any company for that matter, should have an in-house behavioral expert as we understand how people think.
During this time in my life, I met my co-founder, Chen, at a networking event in Silicon Valley. We talked about our reality as professional women and parents, and how hard it is to raise kids while working. Combined with my first-hand experience working as a teen psychologist, I noticed that there is a problem for teens who want to enter the workforce at a young age and be independent, but have difficulty doing so because of their demanding academic load and a shortfall of flexible job opportunities. We began to brainstorm and outline a mobile application that solves the childcare problems for parents and safely connects nearly 30 million GenZ teens with virtual and in-person care-related job opportunities. I felt like this was something really valuable, where I could help millions, and have been working on building the company and Kumbaya App’s exposure ever since.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
My main struggle when I first started the company was that I am naturally a people person and am very compassionate. However, I learned that I have to make difficult decisions that can impact my employees. My company must come first, but I also want to maintain a positive culture within it.
I ultimately had to find a balance between being a psychologist at my core and leading a company.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
The courage that I share with my co-founder has led to my and Kumbaya App’s success. We are not afraid and are always running fast, knowing that things will work out in the end. We trusted the process of creating the Kumbaya App after getting data that supported the market need for the application and quickly created it to help parents find help at home and teens book flexible gigs.
Also, the characteristics between me and my co-founder are very complimentary. We are both fighters and strong women, and don’t have egos involved — we put it aside when it comes to the company. I often say after my husband, Chen is my second soulmate as a work partner and best friend.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became Founder”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Say goodbye to sleeping calmly at night. Starting a company is similar to becoming a parent. There is always anxiety and self-doubt about your abilities to do the job, but it’s best to healthily integrate this self-doubt into your life. There are always going to be people that judge you and your company so by accepting this doubt, it will help you power through the hard times.
- Be your own cheerleader. You may want to fall back and criticize yourself, but it’s best to reflect and see what you did great at the moment and what you can change for the future.
- Keep reminding yourself of your passions. Remind yourself why you started the company and the problems that you are trying to solve.
- Celebrate your victories no matter how big or small. Every Friday my co-founder and I have made it a tradition to sit down and list out everything that was accomplished for the week and what we are most proud of.
- Be open-minded to new opportunities. For me, starting off as a psychologist I noticed many people in my field are scared to venture out and apply their knowledge in different industries. Take technology, for example, it’s important to understand human behaviors and needs before creating a product, so psychologists working at technology companies can make an impact on developing the best products to meet the target consumer needs.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think it’s good to practice self-care. During the pandemic, although a scary time, I found new ways of thinking and going about life. Now that I get to stay at home and work, I am able to arrange my day differently. Before I would leave the house at 7 am and get home at 8 pm. Now I have more free time to add little things, such as spending more time with my kids and finding time to workout.
I recommend setting reminders to spend time with friends or family and also use a gratitude journal so you can share everything that you are thankful for during your journey of starting a company.
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?
I’m extremely grateful for my husband. Before I started the Kumbaya App I had a flexible job, but when I decided I wanted to work full time on Kumbaya App, my husband and I rearranged our family lifestyle. He stepped up and took more load around the house, helping with the kids and everything else. Not once has he complained about this change and he is very supportive of my dream of building a great company with a meaningful impact
I also am thankful for the strong women that surround me, offering advice and support. I belong to a female founder group, and by seeing what they are going through and how they handle challenges makes me see that women can do just about anything that they put their minds to.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I want to spread the word about Kumbaya App and want it to be a helpful tool that parents and teens can turn to when they need trusted childcare or flexible gigs, respectively. I want people to have trust in the company and want to wake up in the morning with a well-sized company full of people that are driven and motivated about what they are doing.
Personally, I want to practice more mindfulness and have a healthier and more balanced life.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope to inspire more people to join the tech advancement movement and be part of it. Whether they are coming from a different field, like psychology, they can help bring in new perspectives. This makes sure people are using tech for good as they try to make tech work in collaboration with humans and not against. I believe this can help lead to the betterment of our society as a whole.
Many think that technology will take over many aspects of life, but if we work to shape it ethically we will have it walking beside us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I’m in my movement right now. I am currently making an impact on people’s lives by providing a technology that solves many problems for both teenagers and parents.
Teen jobs are disappearing. 50% of teen job opportunities have been eliminated in the last few decades, with COVID-19 alone removing nearly 40 million jobs from the U.S. market. Additionally, parents in the U.S. often struggle to find safe childcare and typically spend $2,000 a year when they do find it. Before the Kumbaya App, no sufficient technological solution supported the modern family lifestyles of parents and teens in the market.
Kumbaya App makes it easy for parents who need help to quickly connect with trusted teenagers who have spare time on their hands, all within their circles by using their network and contacts, whether it’s direct or recommended to them. GenZ teens can find gig job opportunities in the care industry, including virtual and in-person tutoring, babysitting, pet walking, music lessons, arts & crafts and more.
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