True customer service ain’t pretty.

People talk about customer service like it’s this beautiful, shiny thing. Pleasant and friendly, with an accommodating smile on it’s face.

It’s not.

Real customer service – the kind that makes a difference – is ugly and hard-working and a get-er-done sort. It’s resourceful and unyielding and never stops trying. It’s not pleasant at all on the company side. It takes pulling minor miracles every single day.

Being known for customer service and really excelling at it is one of the hardest things I’ve learned to do. It’s also the thing I just assumed would be natural and easy to do because it’s one of the things I believe in most fundamentally – never stopping until the problem is solved for the customer and then keeping our promises made.

But when it’s Saturday morning and a caregiver calls in sick 30 minutes before a booking you have a couple of choices. Option 1 is that you let the parents know that unfortunately, “due to reasons beyond our control”, the sitter wont be coming.

We’ve all been bailed on by sick sitters so it’s understandable.

But not for us.

Option 2 is to let the parents know and say we’re going to try to fill it with another caregiver as best we can. But when that caregiver inevitably can’t be found to fill in, in less than 20 minutes, you let the parents know “we tried everything we could, but I’m sorry we just couldn’t get anyone”.

This one can be the reality sometimes, but it’s still not good enough.

Option 3 is to spend those 30 furious minutes with your whole team throwing their Saturday mornings aside, trying to find a suitable replacement in time. But when you find a someone who could do it but can’t make it there for 40 minutes and unless you cover an Uber there and back, you see the opening for that minor miracle.

That was this very morning. While one of our team continued to communicate with the parent, another gave the caregiver a call to prep them and yet another volunteered to head to the family’s home to fill in the 30 minute gap between when the parents need to leave the caregiver can make it.

It’s a furious 40 minutes of action but the whole team is focused on making that miracle happen. And when it comes together, everyone is exhausted but exhilarated. It wasn’t pretty by a long shot but it allowed us to live up to our standards of customer service – do everything we humanly can to uphold our promise. Having someone literally tell their family on their Saturday morning, I have to go fill in for the next hour and a half and then go and make it happen, that is no easy thing no matter how “Hollywood-esqe” that might sound. To build a team that actively volunteers to do these things, that’s also no small thing.

And I’m not going to lie – not every situation ends like this. We try desperately and frantically every single time. But sometimes we don’t have someone from HQ that can go or a caregiver than can fill in. Sometimes every effort ends in failure and disappointment and frustration.

But our one salvation is to always know we tried everything possible.

In this moment, when I am incredibly proud of our team and what we’ve built customer service to mean at Poppy, it needs to be recognized how this is not some sleek, strategic air game, but a brutal, grinding ground game.

It takes an open mind and a never say never belief.

It takes the ugly and the impossible to keep promises.

We try never to forget that.

2016: the moments that stood out

Year in reviews – such tidy little wrap-ups to the year. They have been at everywhere over the past week, covering every highlight of 2016 imaginable. When I look back on year, I am thankful that we have our share of those. Going through Y Combinator, which led into closing our seed round of funding, which enabled us to build out our team and move into our very own office space. And we ended the year with the recognition as one of this year’s Seattle 10.

But for me 2016 was more about the little moments. The things that happened in the “between”. I’ve always found those to be most worthy of reflection and review.

So these are my top 5 moments of that so fully captured the year.

  1. PoppyHQ family holiday.
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    Last year there were only 3 of us and not a lot of money to spare, even for the little celebrations. So we didn’t have a holiday “party” or anything close. We were just gearing up for intensity of YC and the holidays were spent getting ready. But I promised myself that next year we would not only do something but that we’d include our families.

    The thing that often gets overlooked is how much our families sacrifice for us who choose to work on something as intense as a startup. And it’s not just the hours. It’s bringing work into every part of our lives – from weekend hikes to soccer practices. It’s telling our husbands to take the kids during Sunday brunch so we can help a caregiver that’s woken up sick but has a booking later in the day.

    I took this photo when it hit me that we were actually able to do it – to get our families together for a weekend of fun and rest. That we had not only doubled the team, but that we were now in a place that we could say thank you and celebrate a great year properly.

    2. “This is where Mama works.”
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    I feel like every day is “take-my-kids-to-work” day because in this business, I’m always wearing my “mama” hat. And when I work from home, my girls are in and out of my home office. But I rarely bring them into our PoppyHQ offices and this moment captures the first time I did.

    It was a Saturday and we had just finished one of our caregiver meet-ups. The girls were more interested in the screens and pens on the desks than anything else. But it was a big moment for me.

    Because 2016 was a tough year to reflect on from a “work-life balance” perspective.

    I was in Mountain View for my first-born’s 4th birthday (something she still likes to remind me). Our nanny has watched and dutifully recorded many a “recital” and class activity. My parents have stepped in to rescue us on countless occasions.

    I sometimes wake up at 3am panicked that, in the quest for making other families moments easier, I’m missing out on all of their little moments.

    Anyone who asks me about the topic knows that I don’t believe in the balance but in choosing to do one thing well and just alternating what that thing is so the overall appearance is “balance”. I am the last person to give any advice on the this because it’s a daily struggle to be startup founder fighting for the life of her company every day while also being the mama and wife I want to be to my girls and husband and the friend that I know that I’m not to all my friends.

    But to have my girls just be in that space, to have them be in the place that takes me away from them for so many hours, that was a biggie for me. It’s important to me that they understand the work that I do. That it’s important that I do it. That they know I am good at it and I’m proud of it.

3. Partner in crime.

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The first job of a CEO is to build the team. I’ve learned that many times over but it was the most true when it was just me and I needed to find the right cofounder. Yes someone that had the engineering skills to build the product that I know Poppy could and will be. But more than that, a complement to me and how I see the world. Someone who shares the vision and the passion but brings their own talent and flair to the table. Miraculously I found that in my cofounder, Richerd. No more than acquaintances when we mutually decided to give this a go, we’ve been though quite the journey in the past 15 months.

This photo was taken at the Adele concert – tickets he generously treated me to, to celebrate our one year mark. It had been a particularly hard day and I hadn’t felt really like celebrating or even being out. But Richerd’s unending optimism and generosity (and let’s face it, Adele) were a surefire solve to any bad day. This moment captures my gratitude in finding someone that was willing to take a chance on me and my dream and make it something we could build together.

4. The first annual Poppies.

Working with kids is incredibly difficult but wonderfully rewarding. I know this just as a parent but also now as someone that looks for those that have the talent and the experience to be a caregiver. Our Poppies (as they refer to themselves) are a crazy diverse bunch. Nannies and therapists and teachers and camp counselors and swim coaches and dance instructors, these women and men epitomize the special group of people that were meant to be engaging with our kids. I have been so blown away by the talents of each, and it gives me renewed focus to make sure they’re being treated well and fairly in their every interaction.

This picture was taken at our first annual “Poppies”. It was an award brunch we put on for our caregivers to recognize and thank them for their service and dedication. This event was one of my personal favorites of the whole year because it went so far beyond my wildest expectations. You can’t imagine the amount of energy that can be held in one room when all of these young (and young at heart) people get together to just connect and celebrate. We gave out smaller recognitions of gratitude to each Poppy and also bigger awards for those that exemplified our core Poppy values. The whole morning proved again to me what is good when you invest in the people that invest in your kids.

5. Home sweet home.
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I love our offices. It sounds silly because there is nothing really special about them (except for our awesome Poppy teal wall) and I can’t explain it. When I stand behind my desk (yup – we splurged on those IKEA standing desks, all $200), in that corner of the office, looking out on Mt. Rainier on a clear day, all I can feel is hope and optimism.

Because after a year of working out of my home and cafes and co-working spaces, we finally had a space to call our own. We finally had worked hard enough and grown big enough to justify it. 

It’s a reminder to me in the most tangible of terms of what hard work and persistence can get you. This is the space that most of the mundane but vitally important work is done. Where our whole team toils in a multitude of little moments that allow us to have the big moments.

So I want to always remember what this view means.

Bonus: The people. Always the people.

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I love this picture so much. Because these are the crazy people who have chosen to be on this wild journey with me. They are talented and dedicated and wicked funny (all in their unique ways). They are family to me. It ain’t pretty every day, but we push each other to do things that none of us thought were possible. This picture says it all for me.

There they are. Five (plus one!) moments that captured the essence of the whole year. Not particularly pretty or significant in their own right. But they tell the story of Poppy for 2016.

Now as we look forward to 2017 I hope for more of the same: Focus and persistence and tenacity. Daring greatly. Pride in the small wins. Humility. Trying, always trying.

And the chance to have one more day to change the world a bit more.

Poppy honored to be one of Seattle’s 10

Poppy is so proud of our Seattle roots. We love being a part of this vibrant community with startups of all sizes as well as organizations like Geekwire.

Poppy is so proud of our Seattle roots. We love being a part of this vibrant community with startups of all sizes as well as organizations like Geekwire. So we were thrilled and humbled to be selected as one of this year’s Seattle 10.


And in a unique twist on awards, Geekwire partners with MOHAI on a project where the startups record their idea on an oversized “napkin”, to hang in the museum for a couple of months and then be archived away.

The Poppy team had lots of fun getting our simple design of “connecting families to their villages” onto canvas.

 

And last week at the grand unveiling the team took a little time off to celebrate and get a little silly.

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It’s on nights like this that we are particularly grateful of our community of family and caregivers that give us the opportunity to do what we do each day.

But we’ve only just gotten started and this Poppy team can’t wait for 2017.

 

 

 

A letter continued.

Poppy is a dreamer. She was born believing that better is always possible. That if you put your mind to it and work harder than anyone else, anything is achievable.

It’s why she chose childcare. Or maybe it chose her. It’s her calling, her passion, her mission.

It’s why Poppy is dedicated to solving the very real challenges that families face each day.

A year ago I never dreamed we would be where we are today. I started with my cellphone, a small personal investment and big vision. Today, it’s grown almost 100x.  I want to thank you for your support.  Without you, it would still be just me and my cellphone and a dream.

Last week we announced important changes to Poppy, including substantial price changes. Since that time, we have heard from hundreds of families.  I’ve read thousands of texts and I’ve had countless phone calls with parents.  It’s been the topic of thoughtful debate and discussion on Facebook groups and in parent forums.

I’ve heard your feedback, and it’s in two key themes:

 

  • You were caught off guard at how quickly the change was announced and implemented.
  • You were surprised at the amount of increase, with our infant families feeling the biggest impact.

As hard as it was to hear, I want to thank you for your feedback.  I want you to know that our small but proud team has taken a deep breath and read every word that you’ve sent us.  At least twice.

I also want you to know that we could have done a couple of things better.

First, I could have given more notice. The simple truth is that these changes have been immensely hard to make and in my haste to find the courage to do what I didn’t want to have to, I did the last thing I ever meant to do – I caught families by surprise. I apologize for that.

Secondly, and more importantly, I could have shared much earlier that what we started with was for testing and learning, and that change was just a matter of time.

Here’s why:

  1. The caregivers make us great, so Poppy needs to be great for them.
    • As parents, we have all struggled to find the right people to care for our kids. It is hard to find those special few that can care for children reliably, safely and playfully. The fact that only a tiny fraction of applicants become Poppy Certified is a testament to this. It takes a lot of effort to find them, but then also keep them – something we do by making Poppy the place where the best caregivers feel rewarded and supported for these talents.
    • Compensation a big part of this. Many families use Poppy as a flexible part-time nanny option (especially for infants) but this requires a completely different level of experience and skills than the average date night caregiver. A level that expects to make more than $16/hr. These new rates opens up our ability to bring on more of the caregivers that your families will love but that we haven’t previously been able to get.
  2. Professionalizing childcare through standards and accountability is a complex endeavor.
    • Anyone that has ever tried to find childcare on their own knows how wildly inconsistent quality and qualifications can be. We all know what it’s like to be cancelled on last minute and be left in the lurch. Poppy works behind the scenes every day to create a vastly different experience. One that is reliable, delightful and safety-obsessed. We work with caregivers to give them feedback and stock them with resources like age appropriate play ideas or CareCards. We work on our technology to create even better matches and more effective scheduling. We are always on call to respond to parent or caregiver questions or concerns. Creating this higher standard of care is a job that never stops, day in and day out.
  3. Innovating new solutions means investing in technology and exploring radically new options
    • Poppy is not another agency. Our ambition is to completely transform childcare for families though choices like PoppyPool – a coordinated nanny share where we can connect two families looking for care at the same time for similarly aged kids. Think UberPool but for childcare – the caregiver is compensated for their experience and families pay half the rate. That’s just the beginning – other programs we’re exploring are better same-day options, screened high schoolers as mother’s helpers or after-school care with nannies that drive.
    • These are complex problems that require significant investment to make a reality. Poppy is committed to bringing these solutions to you but we need to be a sustainable operation first.

For the past year we have worked to understand whether there was place and a space for this vision of childcare – one that was satisfied with nothing short of delight. One that is built on reliability and accountability.

We now know there is.

So we choose to make some hard but necessary changes to give us a chance to keep fighting for the solutions our families so desperately need and deserve. We want to build a village that will endure for you, and for your family, for years to come.

We have thought through how to address your concerns and want to:

  • Offer 2 months of complimentary membership to our existing families to address the short notice.
  • Involve you in where we’re headed.We have made our Product Roadmap public so you’re able to see what we’re working on, what we’re considering and what we’ve “shipped”. You’ll be able to sign up to test new pilots and give feedback: Poppy Product Roadmap.
  • Continue to hear your feedback – however you’d like to give it – text, Facebook, or otherwise. If possible, we’d love to talk with you.  We’ll be having weekly open houses on Tuesdays at our offices and will be as flexible as you need us to be to call/meet/listen.

Our mission at Poppy is big and it’s bold and it’s rooted in a belief. A belief that better is possible and is necessary for every one of our families.

Thank you now, more than ever, for your belief in us and that this is possible.

– avni