Meet Shonna Smith, woman in tech behind Coderighter and Kid Care Anywhere. She has used her expertise in both areas to enable women and young girls to achieve their full potential in the field of Tech. Her Kid Care Anywhere solution has filled a dire need for female entrepreneurs to experience the freedom to participate in essential events that will propel their careers forward, while simultaneously assuring peace of mind that their precious little ones are receiving the best care. Her interview follows:
What did you eat for breakfast?
Scrambled eggs, croissant, and mango.
What’s your workout?
Walking, jogging, and dancing.
What picture is on your phone’s home screen? Share it with us.
[It’s a picture I took the last time I visited my Alma Mater – Spelman College, an all-female HBCU in Atlanta, GA]
Creating An Opportunity While Filling A Need
Tell us about your work. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?
In 2012, I started Kid Care Anywhere in Fairfax, VA shortly after having a child and noticing that my ability to stay involved in career-advancing activities/events dwindled. My background is in Agile Software Development and Team Coaching. I noticed how I took better advantage of my gym membership because of their on-site child care. So, I really felt that child care needed to be paired with more businesses and venues. Now, Kid Care Anywhere is still based in Fairfax County Virginia and is providing child care for a lot of weddings and social events, but is looking forward to 2017 being the year where we bring our services to more and more tech conferences and events (such as bootcamps, pitch events, startup weekend events, etc.) where women are typically under-represented.
What do you see for your future?
I see myself making it possible for more women to attend professional events (especially women in tech) without having child care be the reason they can’t participate as attendees or panelists. I also see myself still utilizing my tech roots by speaking, teaching, and mentoring other girls and women in a variety of tech topics especially agile software development. I do still have an active IT consultancy and just started teaching an App Development course to my first cohort of middle and high school girls in partnership with a non-profit that I’ve recently started working with GIRL, Inc.
How large is your business? How many employees do you have?
So far, the Kid Care Anywhere team consists of me and 8 other women.
Tell us a success story about funding your business.
I have been bootstrapping from Day 1 and this has forced me to remain very lean and not invite unnecessary costs (or debt). Working this way has kept me fiercely focused on business priorities that help move the company forward bit by bit.
What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?
EVERYTHING is a challenge when you’re a solopreneur. So, the current challenge is being able to hire help so that I’m able to delegate more often, especially in the areas of marketing and business development. I have some pretty big plans for 2017 and they all require help. I have the advantage of being in business in a city that is very near to our nation’s Capitol. There’s no shortage of opportunities (especially tech-related evening and weekend events) that fit Kid Care Anywhere’s current priorities. There’s only a shortage of woman-power to better seize those opportunities and give them proper care and feeding.
Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame?
One of the earliest mistakes I overcame was attempting to start “too big” – my original business plan detailed a brick-n-mortar child care business. My background in Agile Coaching helped me pivot quickly to a business model that could start small and scale as needed. This is how I landed on the mobile child care concept whereby the team comes to YOU. I knew this was where I really needed to be shifting due to some early ideas and visualizing how to unfold my creative solution to our society’s child care problems. The solidification of those ideas came to me in a couple of places – 1) attending tech conferences (where I was constantly 1 of very few women in attendance – not even a 10% female attendee population in most cases), then, 2) attending a funeral (where some children were being disruptive). I was 1000% certain after that second experience that it was time to pivot to a mobile child care model. I thought that it was far past time for child care to be just as pervasive as Starbucks, especially during evenings and weekends (the times when child care options plummet).
What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love owning my calendar. I’ve looked at entrepreneurship as a journey (and battle) to buy my calendar back from my employer. I own all of the time slots and its my joy (and challenge) to make the most out of this ownership. The thing I truly love now is the extra time I can now give to my daughter, my family and friends, myself, and my businesses. I’ve even decided to check off a bucket-list item recently and joined a band where I sing and (occasionally) play bass guitar (I’m just starting to learn to play the bass). I wouldn’t be able to manage all of these things and maintain my sanity if I didn’t own my time.
What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?
I’ve lived through some very tough times as a woman in tech and I realize this issue spans many industries, i.e. women in medicine, women in law, women in you-name-the-industry. I love how one of my clients has described me as “hacking child care”. It certainly fits my personal narrative – I’m a natural problem solver. And there’s a problem here. In fact, as I see it, there’s two broad problems here that I want to solve in my own creative way. Seeing more women thrive in their careers is one thing I value, but I also want to see our society finally make some much needed advancements in the child care industry. That’s an industry that is in desperate need of innovation and Kid Care Anywhere is just my way of starting that conversation. Also, my coderighter.com efforts is how I intend to keep the tech pipeline full of female talent through teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Either way, I am fulfilled by attacking some popular women’s interests and issues.
What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”
Empathetic listening. When customers, other vendors, team mates, kids, parents, or anyone is talking to me, especially about a problem, I try to do very little talking and lots of listening. I listen for understanding and try my best to respond by cutting to the heart of the matter and offering a way forward to something better. I never argue with people’s feelings. It’s a fools errand. In any exchange, I want it to be crystal clear that I’m interested in forward movement even if I disagree with someone.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you?
I have to cheat and give two answers here. First is my “rock star” answer: Steve Jobs. I admire everything I’ve heard and read about Steve Jobs and the Apple origin story. His dogged dedication to greatness through simplicity and well-built tech products is something to emulate.
Second is my entrepreneur-next-door answer: my former employer and tech company entrepreneur, Solomon Thompson. I spent over a decade working with Solomon at Blue Collar Objects and getting an accidental entrepreneurial mentorship in that experience. He is my Obi-Wan (and every entrepreneur needs one IMO). He embodies the qualities I wish I could bottle and sell to other entrepreneurs (including myself). He’s a calm, decisive, focused, and charismatic leader. And he’s one of my natural collaborators. When I need to think through anything – personal or business – he’s always a good sounding board for me. On top of that, we’re now bandmates. We used to just make software together and have now transformed the relationship into making music together. I’d say, for everything I’m doing right with Kid Care Anywhere, I’d happily give him a lot of the credit. All the stuff I’m doing wrong, well… I will own that 😉