Sara Schaer, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, is the Founder and CEO of Kango, a mobile app service offering scheduled and on-demand rides and childcare for kids. MiLLENNiAL met up with Sara to learn about her journey as a successful female entrepreneur in the STEM industry.
You’ve overseen two very successful startups with Kango and SnapFish. Tell us how you got your start.
As a child, early on I came to understand that what seems impossible, does not have to be. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Brussels, Belgium for my father’s job. In 5th grade, without speaking a word of French, I was placed in the francophone Belgian school system, to see if I would sink or swim. It was really tough. I couldn’t even write the short story that was my assignment on the first day of school. A few bilingual British kids helped translate for me on the playground. But I was determined, and got evening tutoring in French grammar and vocabulary. My teacher believed in me. And gradually, after 6 months, I was fully fluent in French, spoken and written.
The experience changed my life. I continued in the French school system through high school and the Baccalaureat exit exam, then graduate school in Paris after a degree at Stanford University. Fast forward to adulthood. As a parent of younger children, I felt the intense pressures and emotions tied to keeping everything running smoothly both at home and in the office. Though I managed, it felt crazy. I tried every possible work schedule.
There seemed to be no good solutions out there—until my co-founder Siva and I founded Kango, an app-based “Uber for Kids” service that provides safe transportation and childcare for kids, by background-checked, fingerprinted drivers and sitters. It’s another case of making the impossible, possible again.
Is there a brand that particularly inspires you?
I have to say I am in awe of Amazon. From bookseller to ecommerce giant to technology infrastructure provider (AWS) to creator of voice-activated platform Alexa, it seems there is no limit to their scalability nor their capacity to innovate – which is an impressive combination.
Why do you feel that there is a need for Kango in the world?
Every day, our rides and care service, Kango, enables families and kids to be all they can be – whether it is moms able to juggle their work schedules or even return to the workforce, parents able to pursue their degrees while having a family, kids able to push themselves in athletics or music, or providing logistical transportation help to schools and aftercare programs – we take stress out of their days.
And we are honored to have their trust.
If you could give advice to young entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Aim to solve a problem you’re intensely, emotionally driven to solve. That mission will propel you through the tough times more than anything else. When I was working at a startup, as a mom of two young kids, the pain of everyday conflicting priorities was intense. Several times a day, I had to cobble together a way to get my kids home from school before aftercare closed, and figure out how to squeeze more work time out of my day.
Why do you feel it’s particularly important for women to be involved in the STEM scene?
Just by being a woman and having a job in the tech industry, we can start to change the perception of this traditionally male-dominated field. The sector is far different from when I joined an internet startup back in the late 90’s. I was hired as the second product manager at a small tech startup called Snapfish, eventually becoming Sr. Director of Product. I ended up building from scratch, a team of 50+ product managers, designers and engineers spanning 3 continents, making millions of dollars for the company with the products we released. I stayed through Snapfish’s acquisition by HP, all the while having 2 children along the way.
When I started, the internet field was just emerging. These days, big tech companies are common; yet, the proportion of women in technical and non-technical positions in these companies is still too low. I started talking to other women, both inside and outside of the industry, to find out why. Sometimes it was the dilemma of family vs career, and women feeling like they could not choose both, especially once they hit a certain age.
It’s critical to have encouragement from other women in the tech industry who can relate. We need to be there for each other, and we also need to be role models for the younger generation. I encourage you to inspire young girls, so that they believe they can be the CEO or founder of a company. This is why I personally mentor middle school and high school girls who are interested in the STEM field, through a program called Technovation.
I find it exhilarating and energizing to invest in a generation – girls and boys – that will be able to benefit from more and more equality in the workplace. Plus, the problems they want to solve, and the solutions they create, are so refreshingly different from what other demographics think of! It really showed me the importance of having diverse founders start companies and build new things to improve the world.