“You should only become an entrepreneur if you absolutely can’t help it — you’re so drawn to the mission that you just have to do it.”a chat with Elena Krasnoperova of WeParent.app
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Krasnoperova, the creator of WeParent.app — an app that helps divorced parents manage custody schedules and other logistics with their ex.
Prior to creating WeParent.app, Elena was an executive at BCG, eBay, PayPal, Zong (acquired by PayPal for $240M), and Upwork (IPO). She also founded another company in the parenting tech space, SimplyCircle. Elena holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford and is a Mom of two amazing kids. She loves travel, foreign languages, and teaching Zumba.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a busy working Mom, I felt that there were not enough tools built for me, in my role as a parent. Most apps were designed for me as a consumer or as a professional. Yet being a parent is the most important thing I do. Instead of complaining about not having good apps for parents, I decided to do something about it. So for the last 5+ years, I’ve been building software and mobile apps for parents, to help make this important and challenging job a little easier.
WeParent.app is my third app in the parenting tech space. I got the idea for it from our customers. Divorced parents kept telling me that they had a problem communicating with their ex about the kids — and the kids were getting caught in the middle. Even though I’m a married Mom myself, I have a lot of empathy for my divorced and separated friends who are doing an inherently tough job (being a parent) in extra-challenging circumstances — raising their kids with someone they don’t live with and aren’t married to. After in-depth interviews with 50+ prospective customers, and researching current solutions, I came to the conclusion that the co-parenting market was under-served and over-charged. With 50% of marriages ending in divorce and 20+ million co-parents in the US alone, there’s no shortage of people who can benefit from our solution.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
As I mentioned, WeParent.app is my third app, and I’ve been an entrepreneur for 5+ years. I gave up a well-paid job at a successful VC-funded startup to pursue my dream of making life easier for millions of parents. It’s been a continued story of Grit, many mistakes and failures, and now some early signs of Success. After 5 years as an entrepreneur, I feel that I have 2 Ph.D.s — a real one, from Stanford, and another one from the Entrepreneurial School of Hard Knocks.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My kids. The whole reason why I do what I do is that I want to be a good Mom and an inspiring role model for my kids. No matter how hard things get, that’s what keeps me going.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
It’s still early days, but it looks like the third time will be the charm. I’m putting everything I learned from my first two apps into WeParent.app — and the market is responding positively. Since launching the app on March 1, with no marketing spend whatsoever, we’ve been growing our active user base by 30%+ week-over-week. We also see strong conversion from free trial to paid subscription, which is very encouraging. And the positive feedback we’re getting from our customers tells us we’re on the right track.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wouldn’t call most of my mistakes funny. Thinking back, I’m more tempted to cry than to laugh. But I certainly learned a lot from my mistakes.
Probably the biggest mistake I made with my first company was hiring too many people too soon, before proving product-market fit. The people I brought on were fantastic, but even a great team couldn’t fix an unproven market. It ended up costing me a great deal of money and time.
With WeParent.app, we have a very small team of super-talented app developers, and I do the rest, only bringing in other experts when absolutely necessary, on a project basis. As I joke, in a small startup, the title “CEO” stands not for “Chief Executive Officer” but “Chief Everything Officer”. Only after we prove to ourselves and to the market that we truly achieved product-market fit will I bring on additional team members.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
If I had to pick one differentiator, it would be a relentless obsession with customers. It permeates everything we do, from the way we designed the app — based on 50+ in-depth interviews with prospective customers — to the way I personally respond to every customer email and every App Store review, to the way we priced our app — at literally 1/20th of the price that our competitors charge.
When we first launched our app, it was incomplete and buggy, and we knew it. But we wanted to get it into the hands of real customers, and then iterate on it. We’ve kept at it, releasing updates literally daily.
My favorite stories come from my interactions with our customers. A divorced Mom in Portland, Oregon, offered some constructive feedback on our app. After a few email exchanges, and us incorporating her feedback, she’s not only a happy customer who left us a glowing review, but she volunteered to help us with marketing and copywriting. A single Dad in Phoenix, Arizona, reported some bugs. After we promptly fixed them, he volunteered to join the team on a part-time basis, as a product manager. These are the kinds of stories that make me feel like we’re on the right track.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Being an entrepreneur is hard. Really hard. My first piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to think long and hard about whether they really, truly want to do it. They’ll have to do it for 5, 7, 10 years. If they are motivated by money or mild curiosity, it’s not going to be enough to keep them going through the long dark days before you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You should only become an entrepreneur if you absolutely can’t help it — you’re so drawn to the mission that you just have to do it.
My second piece of advice is to be inflexible on the mission, but flexible on the tactics. Yes, the startup is your baby, but you have to be prepared to hear the market tell you that your baby is ugly, and to change your approach until you figure out what the market truly wants.
That brings me to the third piece of advice. Your startup is NOT your baby. It’s not you. If you wrap your entire self-worth around the success of your startup and it fails, you feel like you failed. If you listened to the market and tried everything you possibly could, and your startup is still not working, you need to cut the cord and let it go.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
For me, it’s not a specific person, it’s a category of people — namely, authors of great books for startup founders. I’ve read quite a few over the years, and have benefited from their wisdom and experience. A recent personal favorite is “The Start-Up J-Curve” by Howard Love.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I pay it forward to other female entrepreneurs by providing mentoring and advice, and by running a Meetup group for female founders: https://www.meetup.com/Silicon-Valley-Women-Entrepreneurs-Meetup/
We meet once a month, for peer feedback and support.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You’re going to spend the next 5 years of your life (or more) building this company — possibly without pay — and it will be really hard. Are you absolutely sure you want to commit to this path?
- Stay open to market feedback. Listen to what the market is telling you about your product — and be prepared to change course, as many times as it takes.
- Choose a funding strategy for your startup that makes sense for you. Getting VC funding is only one of many possible options, and it’s not right for everyone.
- Don’t hire any (expensive) team members until you’re sure your product is working, and the market wants it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to admit failure. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of wisdom.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My LinkedIn profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elenakrasnoperova/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!