As a startup veteran, Lynn has more than 15 years of experience building and growing consumer Internet businesses. Prior to founding UrbanSitter, Lynn served as founder and CEO of Xuny.com and VP of Business Development at Bridgepath.com. At Gap Inc., LaSalle Partners, and Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Lynn gained extensive business and transaction experience.
How did you get into the tech industry?
After college I was working in real estate finance in Chicago, but I was extremely interested in doing something more entrepreneurial. One of my roommates had founded a startup company. He introduced me to cofounders of a startup company in the Bay Area that was looking to make their first permanent hire, a business development person. I joined the company and made the leap into the tech industry. Since then I’ve bounced back and forth between real estate development and tech startup companies. I guess I like businesses that build something.
Tell us about UrbanSitter. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
As busy parents, my co-founders and I saw a need—we were finding it time consuming and difficult to find a trusted babysitter who was actually available when we needed the help. We needed a way to simplify and personalize the process. So we created UrbanSitter to help parents find and book babysitters they are connected to through friends and common affiliations. It makes booking a trusted babysitter as easy as booking dinner reservations. The site and app enable parents to search, book and review trusted sitters within minutes.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to UrbanSitter's success?
One of the most valuable aspects of UrbanSitter is how we integrate a user’s social graph. As a parent, not only do we show you connections to sitters through your Facebook or LinkedIn, we also surface connections through local organizations you trust such as your child’s school or your moms’ group. We have over 10,000 of these schools and organizations on our site.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
UrbanSitter is at the intersection of some key macro trends, including social and local recommendations, the growing trust economy, as well as personalization and mobile transactions. For instance, we facilitate mobile payment to make it easy for parents to pay sitters from their mobile device. Not only is this incredibly convenient, but parents and sitters also tell us it removes the awkwardness at the end of the job when a parent asks the sitter for her rate, struggles to calculate the total, then proceeds to dig in their wallet for enough cash. Paying via mobile relieves both parties from this uncomfortable ending to a job.
There’s a saying I love – "Leap and the net will appear." Throughout my career, I’ve tackled jobs in unfamiliar sectors where I felt my skills and passions could transfer. If the job sounded interesting and offered the potential to learn and grow, I’d take that leap. Approaching each new role with an attitude that nothing great can be achieved without a little risk has been the key to not just the success I’ve found in business, but also to loving what I do.
Your last minute hero.
Your greatest success as founder of UrbanSitter? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
When we launched a mobile app, our sitter response time dropped from hours to minutes. Most of our sitter members are on their mobile phones all the time, so being able to respond to job requests from their phones is not only convenient for them, but also exciting for parents who are looking for a last minute sitter. It’s not uncommon for a sitter to respond to a job request seconds after they receive it. This makes finding a last minute sitter a reality for parents in need of help, which was a big milestone for the company and our members.
Personally, for me, I was thrilled when a parent who I had just met at the park suggested that I try UrbanSitter. The fact that UrbanSitter was being recommended by moms to other moms was very meaningful to me.
One of our biggest challenges was helping parents feel comfortable with the idea of booking a babysitter on the internet. We realized the key to overcoming this challenge was integrating social recommendations from friends and other trusted parent organizations. When parents realized that they could find sitters previously vetted by friends and other parents from their child’s school or moms group, they were excited about UrbanSitter.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
My advice would be to build an initial product or service that is, in the entrepreneur’s opinion, excellent but not perfect. I meet with many entrepreneurs who want to wait until they have the product or business perfected before releasing it to the public. I think this can be a mistake, because you learn a lot from initial customer feedback. Don’t spend too much time planning for what the customer may want versus getting real feedback. I also think you can use this same approach to figure out if you have a viable business idea. If you think you want to leave your current job to start your own business, start by building the product or business in the simplest way possible. This will force you to prioritize and focus on the most important things. If your idea resonates with potential customers then you may be on to something!
Favorite travel destination?
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
A good glass of red wine and a prosciutto pizza.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fun reading)
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith (for work)
Dinner at the Panda Palace by Stephanie Calmenson (to read to my kids)
Role model - business and personal?
Diane Von Furstenburg is known for saying “fear is not an option.” That resonates particularly well with me. In addition to her enormous professional success for 30+ years, she’s also an icon of female liberation and is considered a voice of authority who passes on her wisdom and positive outlook.
When I’m not spending time with my family or working it’s a toss up between watching Scandal while exercising or finding the best cappuccino in San Francisco.
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
Living in San Francisco I'm partial to this headline:
What's next for UrbanSitter?
We are very focused on mobile right now. Our goal is to build out mobile features and leverage integration points that are unique to mobile to “wow” parents and sitters. Instead of offering the same functionality on mobile and web, we are developing mobile components that take advantage of the on-the-go immediacy of mobile device usage.
Lynn is passionate about connecting people with each other. Uniting babysitters and parents is her latest quest. Previous accomplishments include introducing three couples who are now married, matching apartment-seeking friends with roommates in rent-controlled units, and numerous job placements.
Lynn is a graduate of Stanford University. She and her husband enjoy exploring San Francisco with their three adventurous boys.