Our Investment in Sawyer — Q&A with founders Marissa Evans & Stephanie Choi
We launched Notation in January and are working hard to build a strong foundation in our first year. We’ve been busy on many fronts and have partnered with ten companies. They’re all quietly hard at work and we’ll share more about each of them as they’re ready to be more public. We’re just getting started, but we believe the network we’re building —LPs, part-time partners, friends, and founders — is incredibly talented, driven, diverse, and will build the next generation of great companies in NYC.
Sawyer recently opened a public beta to Brooklyn families and has been up and running since October. The company is currently focused on classes in Brooklyn. Marissa Evans and Stephanie Choi are building an amazing team and organization and we interrupted their otherwise productive day to ask them a few questions.
What is Sawyer’s mission?
To create an easy way for parents to allow their children to explore the world around them.
What are the key moments in your life that led you to start this company now?
SC: I’m a mom to a 2-year old little girl. As we were winding down a nanny share, I was looking for more activities for her to do (she was 18 months at the time) since she was home with our nanny all day. I went online to “find the things” and found the whole experience overwhelming, there was no place to find these classes and activities, no idea what you’re getting yourself into, and they’re expensive! Around the same time, my mom was losing her battle with cancer and made me think about my own life and what I wanted from my career and future. She was a teacher and made a huge impact on my life. I want to be able to do the same for my daughter, and work on something that really mattered in my life and make a positive impact on hers. Marissa became an incredible friend to me over 2+ years working very closely together at Rent the Runway, and was so supportive to me during this time. It was on a walk during lunch that I shared this problem with her, and she said “We should do this!”
ME: I’ve been working in startups for about 7 years now and love the energy and the fast paced nature of building something new. My good friend Stephanie who was also a colleague was struggling with finding activities for her daughter to do during the day. We got to talking about the activity space in general, how inefficient it seemed, yet how special so much of what was going on there was. There’s a real discovery problem and a lack of technology, which to me meant a big opportunity.
What’s the most important thing you learned having previously founded a company? And why the hell would you want to do it again?
ME: You have to be truly in love with some part of your company. Be it the mission, the team, the product, the industry, the day to day…maybe all of it…something must reach you at your core. I personally love that we’re building a product for people to use and make their lives better. I love that our challenge reaches families and helps children learn and develop at a young age. I studied early childhood development in undergraduate and was fascinated by Head Start Programs across the country. I know that building something that helps people be active participants in their lives is going to be a powerful (and fun) journey.
What are the worst startup ideas you’ve had?
Eddie Tape: My future brother in-law and I have this idea that we want to make tape that is edible…so that when you eat the Chipotle burrito, you don’t get it all over the place. Imagine tape that looks like a Listerine strip that is flavorless….(okay, I actually think it’s a great idea).
Who is the founding team and how did you meet?
SC: Marissa and I met while working together at Rent the Runway. We got to work on pricing, revenue management, new customer growth as a team and through that work became very good friends. Marissa is one of those special personalities that thinks anything is possible and it’s the best energy to be around. I know Marissa is going to be one of those people that goes down in history for doing amazing things, so I feel incredibly lucky to be starting this with her!
ME: There are a few times in one’s career that you are in awe of a person. When I started to work with Stephanie at Rent the Runway, I realized how brilliant she was. For starters, she had the most intense and sophisticated knowledge of inventory management at the company. She was one of those people whose name always came up, even if we were in a marketing meeting, or in a engineering meeting, someone would always call for Steph and want her opinion. You didn’t want to make a decision without her weighing in. I knew she would make a great founder and partner.
How did you think about and choose your investors?
ME: We wanted to work with a team that understood what it’s like to be on the ground. I loved that Nick and Alex at Notation previously helped build betaworks and a number of the early products there. To me that symbolized they understood the early stuff… what it takes at the very beginning of starting a company…how messy and scrappy you must be.
Our business also at its core has a deep social responsibility. When we met Craig and the folks at Collaborative Fund, we felt aligned with their mission and core values, and knew they were the right long-term partners for us.
We generally look for investment partners that really love both what they’re doing and what we’re doing, and it always shows.