HUBweek Change Maker: Donna Levin

Donna Levin, Co-Founder, Care.com; Entrepreneur in Residence, Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship

Donna Levin, co-founder of industry-leading online care resource Care.com and Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship Entrepreneur in Residence has a considerable track record of social entrepreneurship. A veteran of numerous technology and start-up organizations prior to her time at Care.com, Donna is also on the Board for the Center for Women and Enterprise, WBUR, The Alliance for Business Leadership, and Zero to Three.

What inspired your founding role in Care.com? At its core, what is its mission and how does this influence your work? Personal experience led to co-founding Care.com. My first child was my five-year project. I was on bed rest for most of my last trimester and half my family showed up at the hospital when he was safely born. His baby naming was a massive and joyful affair.

When he was 11 weeks old, I was preparing to return to work and he had a seizure-like episode. After a day and night of testing and monitoring, my husband and I looked at each other in the hospital room and realized our world had changed once again.

All of the test results were inconclusive — our child would need to be monitored closely — before meals, after meals, at night. Our daycare plans were out the window. One of us had to return to work fulltime and it was going to have to be me. My husband, a therapist, cared for our son during the day and saw clients at night. I cared for our son through the night and worked during the day. This went on for three years until my son’s health stabilized.

The challenges my family faced were not unique. I watched my friend and former colleague, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, struggle to care for her family. Her parents came from the Philippines to care for her two kids and then her father had a heart attack. Sheila became a member of the sandwich generation and had to find care for her children and parents.

Everyone has a caregiving story. At some point we will all either be a caregiver or need a caregiver.

When Sheila approached me with the idea of Care.com, I immediately saw the opportunity to positively impact families worldwide.

The core of the business would revolve around our members — on both sides of the marketplace that we would be creating; focusing on safety standards, vetting, and customer service would be fundamental elements for the Company’s success. I was charged with building the infrastructure, the operating systems, policies and procedures including placement, senior care planning, and backup care as the company scaled.

Care.com launched in 2007 and today it is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care with more than 19.5 million members in 16 countries.

The mission — being there for our members, our partners, and our team — resonates with me and allowed me to be my authentic self.

Care.com provides access to an incredible number of resources and tools — from child care to pet care and home needs, there seems to be a solution or tool for nearly everything. Do you feel that the need for such diverse offerings has always existed, or has the shift to an “always on” work state driven this need? The vision for Care.com has always been to be the destination to find all of the caregiving resources you need to find care for your family and home and the tools that you need for vetting and managing care.

There has always been a need for care giving services across the lifespan. Two things happened after the last recession that greatly impacted the way we work and our care giving needs. The first is that people went back to work, but a significant number of people were unable to return to traditional full-time employment. Many have had to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.

The second is the rise of the gig economy, sometimes called the freelance economy. People are finding new work opportunities that offer greater flexibility, but fewer to no workplace benefits. Some studies indicate that 40% of the US workforce will be part of the freelance economy by 2020.

Parents and adult children need flexible, affordable care options that meet their unique situation and caregiving needs. Care.com was designed to bring together all care options. So if you’re a parent and need to work the night shift, we will have a care option for your family.

In your experience, what has been unique about headquartering and scaling a rapidly evolving business in Greater Boston? Does our region offer benefits in this respect that other locations might not? Care.com has always been proud and very fortunate to call Boston our home. This region has one of the most educated work forces in the country and provides access to talent from some of the best colleges, universities, and institutions in the world.

This is a key part of the Commonwealth’s innovation economy and entrepreneurship ecosystem with support accelerator programs ranging from on campus locations such as the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship to Mass Challenge in the Seaport to Smarter in the City in Roxbury. There’s a long list of programs ready to bring big ideas to life, investors and financial institutions able to provide capital, and a network of executives, civic leaders, non-profits, educators, and entrepreneurs ready and willing to help.

An advocate of working smart and playing hard, Boston offers access to the arts, diverse outdoor activities, and a rich history.

To date, what is the greatest professional challenge that you’ve faced? How did you overcome it? Businesses are made up of people and in entrepreneurship it’s all about the team. I have had many professional challenges during the course of my career and, by far, the greatest challenges have been related to people management and team building.

Three things that I’ve learned along the way have been consistently helpful.

1. Start the relationship out right. Ask any new team member, supervisor, colleague, or prospective hire “What are the two things I need to know about you in order to build a successful relationship and, once we have a successful relationship, what is the one thing I should never do if I don’t want to ruin the relationship?”

2. Be intense with results and chill with people. This phrase has served us all well at Care.com. If you truly want to create a culture of innovation, you have to fail early and often. This means letting people know it is okay when things don’t work out as planned; the focus is on the learning and the next iteration.

3. Value the long-term relationship. As a leader your goal is to create a company where people will want to stay and thrive. However sometimes the next best opportunity for a member of your team may be outside your company. If the move is truly great for your team member — because it moves them closer to their professional goals or is a better fit for their workstyle — as a leader you should support and encourage the transition. The world is a small place. The chances are high that you will work together again in the future.

What is the best piece of professional advice that you’ve received, and how has it impacted your career? The best piece of professional advice I received are the 3 “ups” from my friend and Care.com co-founder Zenobia Moochhala. These summarize a lot of the advice I have heard over the years.

1. Show up — It means whatever you are going to do, give it 150%. In brief, it means to always swing for the fences, not just to get on first base.

2. Speak up — Fully occupy the space where you stand and, if you have a seat at the table, actively listen and make your voice heard.

3. Shut up — An important part of being a senior leader is knowing when it is time for you to be quiet. Your role is to empower and inspire. This means creating the space for your direct reports to present ideas.

When you envision Care.com’s success one year from now, what does that look like? How might this change in the next five years? Success for Care.com has always been defined by ensuring that the service offering and tools are working for our members — both those that are seeking caregiving services and those that provide caregiving services. In both cases our members are looking for more support to balance what has been coined by many as “breadwinning and caregiving.” The cost of care is on the rise and Care.com’s 2016 Cost of Care Survey indicated that 54% of respondents are paying 10% of their household income on care-related services.

In the next year, success would be seeing more companies offering their employees care-related benefits to help offset the high cost of child care and senior care. This could be in the form of employer-sponsored paid leave, child care subsidies, or a program like Care@Work.

Success would also include more families recognizing that if you have someone working in your home providing caregiving services or home care, you are an employer. We have joined forces with Hand-in-Hand and the National Domestic Worker’s alliance to ask families to take the Fair Care Pledge. It means that the same workplace protections you would like from your corporate employer you would be willing to provide the same to your caregiver. Over 150,000 families have signed the pledge and we would love to see this number grow exponentially.

In September Care.com will be launching the Care Index in partnership with New America. It is the first index that will provide data on the child care landscape in the US, assessing for cost, quality, and availability. It is our hope that this index will elevate the national dialogue regarding caregivers in the US and promote meaningful policy changes at the Federal and State level that will benefit working families.

The care crisis is not unique to the US, it is a global challenge. Over the next five years we will continue to expand our service around the world and advocate for families and individuals seeking care and for the individuals and companies that provide caregiving services.

We’re looking forward to hearing more from you at “A Systems-Based Approach to New Products, New Services, and a New World” at HUBweek. For the individual who is interested in attending, but hasn’t yet purchased their ticket, can you provide a key topic or takeaway that they absolutely won’t want to miss? During HUBweek, we will discuss the systems-based approach to building Care.com from launch to IPO, and how we learned that a true customer-centric approach goes well beyond the tools and resources you provide as your product.

For more insights and perspective from Donna and other industry leaders, we invite you to join us at MIT’s annual Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges and The Future of Boston Tech Careers on Wednesday, 9/28 during HUBweek 2016.

The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.