Evgeniya Usmanova

EvgeniyaUsmanova3

Evgeniya (“Jen”) Usmanova, a graduate of Georgetown and University of California, Berkeley and a mom of two, is the co-founder and CMO of CareLuLu, a parent-focused startup that connects families with child care providers based on their individual needs. She describes how her experience as both a mother and an entrepreneur led to benefiting other parents.

KC: CareLuLu was clearly born out of your and your partner’s desire to find quality child care for your two children. What pushed you toward launching CareLuLu as a benefit to other parents all over the Northern VA/ Greater DC area?

EU: At first my husband and I thought we were too picky. After all, we visited 16 child care centers before finally deciding on one. I thought that most parents didn’t visit that many places and didn’t have such a hard time finding care, but after sharing my experience with other parents, I learned that we were not alone. The two greatest issues facing DC parents is finding affordable child care and finding openings for infants and toddlers. CareLuLu came out of the necessity for parents to be able to find child care within their budget that fits their family’s specific needs.

KC: What’s been the most difficult hurdle in launching CareLuLu, and what’s been the most gratifying?

EvgeniyaUsmanova2EU: Ironically, the most difficult part of launching CareLuLu has been doing it while having very young kids. Being an entrepreneur and a parent with little ones makes for quite a roller coaster! What’s motivated me to keep going is the idea of building a much-needed resource for other parents and the notion that everything is in my own hands. The ability to see tangible results of my sweat and tears has been extremely rewarding. The most gratifying experience is receiving emails from thankful parents who say that CareLuLu “has been a Godsend!” That just makes all the sleepless nights and hard months of work worth it!

KC: What was the most surprising gap you discovered during your research and review process between the information daycares and preschools communicate to the public and the reality of each center?

EU: Despite living in such a high-tech world, most child care providers don’t have a website. This is especially true for home-based providers. As a result, the biggest challenge is learning anything about the provider at all. Even if there is a website, the common practice is to reveal tuition rates only during the interview. However, tuition is one of the most important factors in parents’ decision making, so it seemed counterintuitive to tour facilities without having any idea of the rates. It was discouraging to learn 40 minutes into the tour that the center was completely out of our budget. This is where CareLuLu fills the gap.

Something else that’s frequently left off of child care websites is information about the caregivers. We have a “Meet the Staff” section in some of our featured profiles that tells parents about people who will care for their child (name, position, years of experience, and if they’re parents, too). This helps parents connect with caregivers before visiting a facility. We also have a search capability based on the caregiver’s level of education and the languages they speak.

KC: How responsive has the child care community been to your work?

EU: The child care community has been very interested in CareLuLu. Providers understand the problem we are solving for parents and think it’s a terrific service. Even providers that don’t typically display tuition rates on their own websites have provided that information to us. Child care providers that have waitlists also find CareLuLu useful as a means of finding additional families and maintaining their brand.

It’s important to point out that CareLuLu not only helps parents find child care that fits their specific needs, we also help child care providers find clients. Many providers typically rely on word of mouth to get new families, but since eight out of ten consumers go online to search for care, CareLuLu helps those providers gain online exposure that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

KC: What aspects of your former job were the most helpful when you were creating and launching CareLuLu?

EU: My previous job at American Councils for International Education included preparing training materials for entrepreneurs, and I most certainly made good use of those. We also helped translate Steve Blank’s book, The Startup Owners’ Manual, into Russian. The premise is the customerdevelopment model: Don’t build a business until you talk to potential customers and make sure there’s a demand for it. That’s exactly what we did with CareLuLu. Before we built the website, we surveyed parents to make sure there really was a problem, and then we drove around with mock screenshots to see whether child care providers would be interested in our business and were willing to pay.

KC: Do you have advice for other parents looking to start their own companies?

EU: If you want to do well as an entrepreneur, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Almost everything I did in the beginning when starting CareLuLu felt unnatural and certainly out of my comfort zone. My advice is to keep in mind that you won’t build a successful company unless you get out of your comfort zone and get used to doing so on a regular basis. If it feels comfy, you’re probably not doing it right. Also, be sure to expand your circle of contacts by networking in a variety of different communities: women-led organizations, alumni of your university, your industry associations, and even neighborhood events. You never know how the person you meet today might [positively] impact your company several months from now.

Photo Credits: Big Bash Photo, LLC @bigbashphoto.com

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