On Thursday, July 16, dot.LA kicked off the first in our series of "Female Founders Stories," with the aim of holding candid conversations with the minds behind some of the city's most innovative startups.
Chief host and correspondent Kelly O'Grady spoke with WeeCare Co-founder & CEO Jessica Chang as well as DropLabs Founder & CEO Susan Paley about their "aha" moments and experiences as women leading L.A. startups.
Chang said the inspiration for WeeCare came from advice her friends gave her while she was still pregnant: sign up for childcare now.
It wasn't until she started touring daycare centers that Chang realized why they were so insistent. Most daycares came with a one to two year waiting list. And the cost? Sometimes up to $3,000 per month. Chang felt a looming sense that the lack of options would force her to choose between family and work.
That's why she started WeeCare, a startup to help teachers, new moms and caregivers to set up and manage home daycares.
Chang, whose background is in finance and private equity, became a preschool owner and operator during the first phase of her plan. "It took me running three preschools to really understand the inherent nature of what was happening in the world of childcare," she said.
The company began as a childcare marketplace, a sort of one-stop solution for families looking for and managing the daycare process. At the same time, WeeCare offers a "business in box" solution for providers.
Female Founder Stories: WeeCare and DropLabs www.youtube.com
Susan Paley's experience was much different. As the first CEO for Beats by Dr. Dre, she already knew a good deal about the industry she was aiming to disrupt.
Her company, DropLabs, focuses on the "feeling" of sound by adding an immersive layer to media experiences, whether that's watching a movie, listening to music or playing video games. It also makes wired-up sneakers that she says allows 'your whole body to become a speaker cabinet'.
"It's getting people to feel, to connect," Paley said. "It could be that first concert, your first concert you loved so much, and playing that music to transport you to that."
"I'm hoping this becomes a ubiquitous way to experience digital content, which is not going away" Paley added. "Even when COVID goes away, we'll still be completely wired to get all of our consumption on screens. Most of what we're ingesting is two-dimensional and we're three-dimensional beings."
Watch the full conversation in the video above and sign up for our newsletter to get updated on our next event.
About the Speakers
Susan Paley is the founder & CEO of DropLabs
Susan Paley, Founder & CEO of DropLabs
Susan Paley is the founder and CEO of DropLabs, a first-of-its-kind tech company on a mission to enable the world to feel sound from the ground up. With their first release, a sneaker called the EP 01, DropLabs integrates audio technology and footwear to deliver a truly immersive audio-sensory experience you can feel throughout your entire body. Over the course of her 20+ year career in consumer technology, Susan has been the driving force behind some of the most innovative consumer products. Most notably, Susan was the initial CEO of Beats By Dre, where she successfully guided all aspects of the company's unparalleled growth to make it the #1 headphone provider globally.
Jessica Chang is co-founder & CEO of WeeCare
Jessica Chang, Co-Founder & CEO of WeeCare
WeeCare is the easiest way for teachers, new moms and caregivers to start and manage a successful home daycare. We're addressing the $28B home childcare market, offering startup services to navigate the daycare licensing process and providing a business-in-a-box toolset to simplify operations, generate additional revenue and delight parents. Founded by a team of moms, preschool owners and successful technology founders, WeeCare is creating affordable, quality daycares accessible to all families.
Before WeeCare's founding, Jessica worked in finance and operations and gathered experience in early education through owning Los Angeles preschools.
Kelly O'Grady, Chief Host and Correspondent
Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.
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Every venture capital fund likes to insist that they are unique even though they usually all operate from the same playbook. The Fund, which quietly launched in Los Angeles earlier this year — two years after starting in New York — is actually different.
It is a venture fund for those who eschew venture funds. No professional investors are allowed, there is no full-time staff, and it charges a reduced management fee.
Instead of traditional limited partners (LPs), The Fund gets capital from dozens of what it calls "community members" who are all successful founders and operators who invest starting at just $25,000. It aims to have a 1:1 ratio of investors to founders so that founders can get as much mentorship as they need starting their young companies.
"People really want to keep capital here," said Anna Barber, a member of the investment committee who also serves as managing director of the Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator. "We see that more than in other places. We see founders who have had success in L.A. want to support L.A."
Anchor members include Kevin Datoo of Dollar Shave Club, Chad DePue of Snap, Susan Paley of Droplabs, Carolyn Becher of HopSkipDrive, Robyn Ward of Founderforward, Dan Gould of Tinder, and Tony Wang of Agora. (Spencer Rascoff, executive chairman of dot.LA, is also a member.)
The cohort is deliberately spread across different industries. "We want to bring together different parts of the L.A. ecosystem," said Barber. "We have access to knowledge about what is happening and the ability to help companies we've made investments in."
The Fund has already backed two startups – it won't disclose which ones yet – and committed to two more. The goal is to make 50 investments in L.A. over the next two years, with checks in the $50,000 range. It aims to raise $3 million, which is tiny for a venture fund, but Barber sees potential in going smaller as other seed funds write progressively larger checks.
"While there's been growth in early stage investment, we think there's a really big opportunity in pre-seed and early seed," said Barber.
It might seem like a daunting time to be starting a new fund. However, The Fund is hoping there will now be more opportunities at lower valuations and says most of its decisions were made remotely even before the pandemic.
"We really run everything through Slack," said said Raina Kumra, another member of the investment committee and CEO of Juggernaut, a marketing agency. "We're getting pretty good at FaceTime and Zoom. It's not that much of a leap."
If a member sees a deal they like, they post it in Slack. If there is buy-in from the membership, the idea then goes to the investment committee – which also includes Austin Murray, founder of JAMDAT Mobile and Josh Jones, founder of Dreamhost – who meet every week via videoconference and quickly render a decision.
"We want to be respectful of founders' time," said Kumra, who added: "Founders want to be funded by other founders."
Barber says it is intentional that the investment committee is 50% women in an industry dominated by men. Their goal is to invest in a diverse range of founders and companies to build the next generation of great L.A. tech companies.
"People are not as jaded in L.A.," said Barber. "People genuinely want to support entrepreneurship to build a tech community."
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