How Elyssa Katz of The Zutor Concierge tackles the extreme work life balance of being a woman in STEM during COVID-19
I have just been trying to embrace the new normal. Although I love networking and being with my friends, I am also a homebody (as is my husband), so this has taken off some of that FOMO feeling. It’s like we have permission to hang out, drink wine, play games with the kids, watch movies, and not be concerned about making plans. I have tried to meditate, but it’s not really my thing, although I read somewhere that if you lay in a quiet space and put your legs up against a wall, it’s very therapeutic. I recently tried it, and wow, whoever said it was right! I know it sounds strange, but everyone should try it!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elyssa Katz, founder and CEO of The Counselor Concierge/The Zutor™ Concierge, the matchmaking service between families and Zutors, Preschool Teachers, and Camp Counselors. Katz created the business out of her necessity to support her children and her family during the COVID pandemic. Using her experience in marketing and PR, her love of networking, and her general entrepreneurial spirit, she created a business that supports educators, families and children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I started the Counselor Concierge in May 2020 when I was at my wits end, having to keep my kids entertained at all times. I am pretty sure I had attempted every project found on the internet, and Google could no longer be of service to me! I needed a new solution for the summer. It occurred to me that with so many camps closed, there would be many young adults in need of jobs; therefore, I could hire them to bring “camp” to my kids. During my interviews for my family, I met so many amazing, fun, and energetic counselors who, unlike most parents at that time, still had the energy to create an enjoyable summer experience for kids. Word quickly got out to friends (and friends of friends) that I was doing this for my family and the requests to help other families in the same situation as mine started to come. All of a sudden, I was matchmaking families with their summer counselors, and thus, “The Counselor Concierge” was born.
Not only did I realize that I enjoyed the business, but I also knew there was a need in the market that I was filling, and I wanted to grow, which is why it was a natural move to think about how I could service families in fall 2020. Again, I used my personal life as an example, and it was a no-brainer. I needed someone educated to assist my children with distance-learning. You know those parents who said my kids did great with the transition to learning online? That was not our family. It was the opposite experience for us, and it had taken a toll on the relationship with the kids. It’s natural to have arguments with the children about homework and the “usual” stuff, but what was not natural was to be my child’s teacher and have new battles around learning. To say it was hard to be my children’s teacher would be an understatement. Teachers have a unique ability to connect with kids and help them learn; I did not. In terms of my business, I decided I would match educators with families to assist with a school in the fall. But I did not want to run the company like a typical agency. I wanted to be the anti-agency and do it the “Elyssa Katz” way, which means I most likely would be a bit untraditional in my approach. My service would be to be the matchmaker between families and Zutor™s™ and preschool teachers.
To set my service apart from other tutoring agencies, I decided to create a new term/service, which was being a Zutor™. And VIOLA! The Zutor™ Concierge was launched. What is Zutor™? It has a double meaning. The simple definition is that this is a virtual tutor; however, I knew some families would want someone in their home during the fall, so a Zutor™ can also work with your child in the home and have expertise in tutoring and online learning. They can navigate the computer for your children and help bring what is being taught online to life. A Zutor™ is a job that before COVID-19 was not needed, and now it’s one of the most popular jobs among educators. My goal and role are not just to help the family figure out what their family needs in their Zutor™, but also to listen to the educators’ needs so that when a match is made, it is a positive experience. Transitions are very hard on children, and I want to make sure that the likelihood of needing to find a new Zutor™ or preschool after school begins is minimal. By launching The Zutor™ Concierge, I have learned so much about our education system and have met so many amazing teachers and families. It’s been an eye-opening experience to say the least and I can’t wait to see how it grows.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I can’t believe that the term Zutor™ is catching on beyond my clients and friends’ inner circle. I am receiving resumes from all over the world and the person applying refers to themselves as a Zutor™. I love it!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! One of my goals is to support all families, no matter their socioeconomic status. Obviously, that is a big statement, but little by little I am working on a way to be a part of bridging the gap so that all children can get the education they deserve. I am still working out all the details of phase two of my business, but I hope to bring my services to a much larger audience in the very near future.
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 about that?
I’m grateful for my parents, especially my dad who has always been my biggest fan. I started my first business at the age of 24, and if it were not for my parent’s encouragement to try something new, I would have never realized my potential. I have a story of how I started my own business and became a publicist (with ZERO background in PR). I was 24 living in NYC, I had lost my job in fashion (which is what I thought I wanted to do) and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. My parents were visiting, and we were walking in Soho when I spotted a street artist who was incredibly talented, and I wanted to learn more. Of course, we stopped, and he started to give us the history of his life and then thought that we might be interested in another talent of his, which was creating hand-painted murals on the bottom of pools (he was Italian). I said to him “Why are you selling art on the street when you could be making so much more money with your talents?” He said to me…”I can paint, but I don’t know how to market myself.” I said, “Ok, well you should learn.” At that point, my family was going to be on their way, and the artist said, “Wait, why don’t you handle my sales and PR?” and I said, “Because I don’t do sales and I know nothing about PR.” He proceeded to ask me for my number and I was uncomfortable so I pushed my parents to move on, but my dad said to me “GIVE HIM YOUR NUMBER,” so I did. My father’s response was “This man sees something in you, and you don’t have a job, so just see what he is suggesting. Turns out, he ended up making me an amazing offer. I read a book on how to pitch, secured press for him in every luxury outlet, and made him a ton of money. From there, I realized I could do this for more people and the rest is history. My parents have always encouraged me to try out new things, which I genuinely appreciate!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Personally, the biggest challenge has been figuring out how to balance starting a company while trying to keep my kids entertained all day, every day. On the one hand, I thought this would be a great time to launch the business because I had time on my side, but it’s definitely been challenging because my kids are so dependent on me to create the daily structure and bring “the fun,” and I don’t want them to feel abandoned. I would be lying if I said that starting my company during a pandemic has been a breeze, but I am just trying to take everything day by day.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Before COVID-19, and when I was working, I did not give myself permission to take a break as much as I do now. My family always comes first, but my business and clients are very important and far on the totem pole as well, so I will continue to find a way to feel balanced during this journey.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The biggest challenge has been balancing the role of mommy, educator, wife and CEO. I start every call with “Please know my children may be showing up in our meeting but keep talking because I can multi-task.”
I have had to succumb to the idea that nothing can be perfect now, so if a child pops up on Zoom, so be it. Thankfully my husband has been home to help because I am not sure what mental and physical state I would be in if I did not have a partner to share this experience with, but it does seem like the kids come to me for everything which can be hard. Kudos to every single parent that has been doing this on their own; you deserve a medal.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I play hide and seek a lot with the kids but I usually hide in my car so it takes a while for them to find me.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I am still trying to figure this out because as soon as I think everything is under control, the pantry ends up being raided, and the TV has been playing for hours. That being said, I have made sure to create some structure to fulfill my work and family obligations. For me, the key has been getting up about 1–2 hours before everyone else. If I start the day in a quiet environment with my coffee by my side, it helps me feel as if I can conquer the world. I notice that if I oversleep, I don’t feel as in control. I also try to always do my work in a dedicated spot so that the kids know that I am off-limits (by the way, the best office has been my closet!). As school approaches, I have hired a Zutor™™ who will make sure my kids stay on task during their distance learning so that I can focus on work. My plan (although I know how that goes) is to try to complete the most essential work-related things while the kids are in “school” so that I can focus on them when their school day is complete. I will say having three kids has been a huge blessing because they can play with each other so whenever I am feeling very guilty (which is a majority of the time), I just tell myself that at least they have each other (well, until they all end up in a catfight).
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Besides wine and tequila? Honestly, I have just been trying to embrace the new normal. Although I love networking and being with my friends, I am also a homebody (as is my husband), so this has taken off some of that FOMO feeling. It’s like we have permission to hang out, drink wine, play games with the kids, watch movies, and not be concerned about making plans. I have tried to meditate, but it’s not really my thing, although I read somewhere that if you lay in a quiet space and put your legs up against a wall, it’s very therapeutic. I recently tried it, and wow, whoever said it was right! I know it sounds strange, but everyone should try it!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I have definitely gone through a range of emotions during this time. I can remember when Los Angeles started the “lock-down,” I immediately ran to the grocery store — it felt like doomsday! The beginning of the pandemic felt like we were never going to get out of this situation, but I have slowly realized that there will be an end but worrying about “when” only heightens my anxiety. What puts me at ease is to think about all the incredibly smart scientists and doctors who are developing a vaccine. I am hopeful that with the election in the very near future there will be a significant change. I have never been very good at talking politics; however, I know that many things need to change! I have to believe that now more than ever, people will come out to vote, and things will shift for good.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Just listen. Sometimes people need someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. I always say to my friends and family…even if you disagree with my feelings and think they are silly, they are still my feelings and it helps to have someone be there when I need to get things off my mind (think whatever you want while I cry, but just don’t say it out loud).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know if this is an official quote, but it’s something that gives me reassurance, “Everything Happens for A Reason.” For example, before the pandemic, I felt a bit stuck as it relates to the business. I knew I wanted to pursue a new career, but I could not figure out what I wanted to do. When the world shifted, I think something changed within me. I stopped overly stressing about my next career move and fast forward to being interviewed by one of the best online media outlets! See, everything happens for a reason!
How can our readers follow you online?