Check your Pulse #20

👶🏼the startup solving the childcare crisis, gross domestic product, and engineers with skin in the game ✈

Welcome to the 20th edition of Check your Pulse, a weekly newsletter that curates thought provoking reads at the intersection of tech, society, and culture. It is read by 2,500+ founders, creators, and other purposeful dreamers and has been described by readers as ‘a yoga class for the mind’. If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can subscribe here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

As the mother of two children in a household with two working parents, I’ve experienced first hand the mountains that need to be climbed to enable professional success while caring for babies and small children.

Parents spend $150b + annually on child-care, and yet the current model is not designed to meet the needs of modern families. It’s limited, rigid, and inefficient - derailing careers, straining marriages, and diminishing families’ wellbeing.

Traditional child-care centers make sense if parents work on a typical 9-5, with a drop-off period in the morning and a pickup at night. But parenting has changed, along with how and where we work.

Who do you leave your kids with if you are a freelancer and have a conference call past 5pm? What do you do if your nanny calls in sick? Or heck what if you just want to go for date night without planning days ahead of time?

As the future of work changes, so will the future of caregiving.

Which is why I was so excited when I met the founders of Brella (launched this week in LA). Brella is changing how child care works. They’ve taken the best of high-quality center-based child care and made it flexible so parents can design their own schedule and pay by the hour. It’s child care that’s responsive — not restrictive.

Parents and caregivers may leave the premises - or stay on site with individual workstations and meeting rooms, as well as curated wellness and educational programming. The centers are beautifully designed, and open on nights and weekends.

Redesigning childcare is a massive market opportunity that has been overlooked by the venture capital community, in part because it’s a challenging category — unlike categories that tech touches that have experienced hyper deflation (software, TVs, phones) childcare has seen rising costs (see chart below).

Massively increasing productivity in a sector like childcare is very challenging. Robots could theoretically be designed to care for children, but it seems far-fetched to think we would deprive our children of human contact for a full work day. Though technology can’t directly impact the number of children a childcare provider can care for, there are other levers that can impact the cost and returns of childcare. For example, the software that enables Brella’s customers to book and pay by the hour is complex and enables parents to adapt the childcare to their needs, not their needs to existing childcare options. Other companies like Weecare and Wonderschool eliminate the real estate barriers associated with starting an early childhood education center by letting teachers and caregivers set up at home. By saving on real estate, the hope is that staffers will get more while parents will pay less.

It seems likely then that the affordability in the sector won’t come from automation but rather from a) reducing the capex associated with launching a childcare center (Weecare/Wonderschool) or b) giving parents more flexibility (Brella). The latter should help reduce the number of women that leave the workforce after having kids, and hence have a massive impact on economic growth and productivity. Nationally, the cost of lost earnings, productivity, and revenue due to the child care crisis totals an estimated $57 billion each year.

Ultimately, parents deserve better, and I’m excited to see more female founders building companies that make life better for modern families.

👊🏽

Sari

"This will always be your struggle whether you are twenty-one or fifty-one. I know this from experience. When I quit the New York Times to be a full-time mother, the voices of the world said that I was nuts. When I quit it again to be a full-time novelist, they said I was nuts again. But I am not nuts. I am happy. I am successful on my own terms. Because if your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”

-Anna Quindlen 

caught my attention

links to love this week

Here is a link to Anna Quindlen’s 1999 commencement speech at Mount Holyoke. It’s excellent. 👩🏽‍🎓

Shout out to my friend and bad-ass businesswoman Cyndi Ramirez on the launch of the Chillhouse flagship in Soho. The launch was covered by Vogue, and the space is swoony. She really is one of the best brand builders out there. 🙌🏼

This was my favorite read this week. Peter Rahal started RxBar out of his mom’s kitchen — then sold it for $600 million. But now, having won that impossible prize most entrepreneurs only dream of, Rahal is faced with a new reality: Who is he now that he is actually living out the fantasy? More money, generally, means less struggle, and if it’s struggle that made him, how does he find that going forward? He speaks quietly, flicking his fingers over his mug, his eyes directed at the kitchen’s luxurious marble countertop, swirled with green. “It’s a problem of ‘it’s never enough,’” he says. “It’s a disease of people who are driven.” 🤑

Amazing things are happening in the world that go unseen and uncelebrated. This is a beautifully visualized collection of good news, positive trends, and uplifting statistics. 📈

A friend recommended this all-natural, ayahuasca hair treatment, and it’s been transformative - true true medicine for your hair. 🍃

In How do we move the needle on progress, Eli Dourado (@elidourado) explores the four buckets of progress that first-world countries should be focusing on: housing, healthcare, energy, and transportation. You’ll walk away with lots of new ideas. 💭

Banksy opened an online store called Gross Domestic Product this week and it’s ridiculously simple and beyond brilliant. Prospective buyers have to register online for the chance to buy one item, and are asked to answer the question, "Why does art matter?"  The site also warns customers that they may have a "disappointing retail experience," explaining, "Everything is produced by a handful of people using recycled material wherever possible in a workplace culture of daytime drinking. So there isn't loads of it and it's not all ready to ship straight away." Brands should take note.👨🏽‍🎨

The problem with Amazon's speedy shipping is eye-opening. Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, package about four online orders every minute. If they stop for a few seconds outside of their designated breaks, it hurts their performance evaluations. So they're bending, twisting, running, and lifting boxes for 10 to 12 hours a day - just to get a package to a customer's door within a day or two. 📦

I enjoyed this crazy story about Boeing engineers and having skin in the game. "The 777 was Boeing's first "fly-by-wire" plane. In other words, the software had to work, as it was purely software that was controlling the flaps and rudder and preventing the plane from falling out of the sky. Due to the criticality of the software, Boeing decided to put all the heads of software engineering on the test flight… I have yet to find a better example of an organization putting software leaders’ skin in the game of high-stakes product development."

An interesting Twitter thread: “What do people do for stress relief that is not drinking or smoking that is relatively inexpensive and not running?” 💯

After seeing this, I want to learn to surf 🐬

Possibly the greatest thing you could ever experience.. 🐬🌊🏄🏼‍♂️ Credits Craig Badger.
#DiscoverOcean
October 13, 2019

A wonderful, refreshing essay by Aeon magazine advocating that having (or chasing) your dream job comes with great sacrifice. For some that's worth it, but many of us consider work part of the equation to happiness. What part work plays in your life is up to you. It's all about dividing your energy and time between work, family, meaning and pursuing your passion, a juggling act between work-for-pay and work-for-love. 🤔

venture corner

a roundup of startupy things I found around the web

The Atlantic predicts that the millennial urban lifestyle is about to get more expensive. For years, corporate promises rose as profits fell. What’s coming next is the promise-profit convergence. Talk of global conquest will abate. Prices will rise—for scooters, for Uber, for Lyft, for food delivery, and more. And the great consumer subsidy will get squeezed. Eating out and eating in, ride-hailing and office-sharing, all of it will get a little more expensive. It was a good deal while it lasted. 💵

Brianne Kimmel (@briannekimmel) recently raised a micro fund to invest in startups transforming the workplace and she made her fundraising deck public. I appreciate her transparency, which is uncommon in the industry. Her investors include Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and Marc Andreessen. 📝

Having built a marketplace business before, this post on WTF is Marketplace Liquidity really resonated. The usual KPIs we think of are irrelevant if the marketplace has no liquidity (liquidity defined as the probability of selling something you list or of finding something you are looking for). One could say that a marketplace without liquidity has no real product because the ability to transact on the platform IS the product. But measuring liquidity is not simple, and this post provides some tools and metrics to do this. ⚡

have you heard of?

Natalist sells a curated collection of essentials for women trying to conceive. Their first product is a “Get Pregnant Bundle” which includes prenatal vitamins, ovulation tests, pregnancy tests, and a beautifully designed Conception 101 guidebook. Besides the book, all of these products can be found at your local pharmacy, but Natalist is giving them a modern look and offering customers a more discrete online experience (nobody likes buying pregnancy tests at the drugstore) with a less clinical/more warm approach to education. According to studies, about 10% of the female population in the U.S. has difficulty getting pregnant. In addition, women are having children later in life — in 2017, for the first time, U.S. women in their early 30s became the group with the highest birth rate. Venture investment is finally beginning to catch up with the unique needs women experience, with funding for digital women’s health companies increasing 8x in the last four years. This includes period tracking apps like Glow, new-age brick and mortar clinics like Tia, and direct to consumer medical tests like Modern Fertility. It’s no surprise, considering the global fertility services market is expected to exceed $21 billion by 2020.  It will be interesting to see how Natalist evolves and positions their product in an increasingly crowded space. They just raised $5m and have expressed intent to address more serious fertility concerns, like PCOS and endometriosis.

overheard on twitter

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, storyteller, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r Labs. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

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Know a founder I should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

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Thanks for being here!

Sari