Episode 5: Yi-Hsian Godfrey
Yi-Hsian Godfrey Ditches 9 to 5 to Disrupt Home-Care Recruitment
Former American Express marketing executive Yi-Hsian Godfrey yearned to create a business that would help ease the all too common struggle with work-life balance. Godfrey co-founded Apiari — a play on the word apiary, or beehive — an AI-driven home-care “colony” that offers vetted, experienced part-time housekeeping and childcare help for parents. Godfrey and her co-founders built an online matching platform that eliminates the time and stress of interviewing countless candidates for essential part-time positions. How does she balance motherhood with the roller-coaster ride of startup life?
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Yi-Hsian Godfrey, CEO and co-founder of Apiari, a platform that helps match people with services. So think childcare, elder care, housekeeping. And it’s a one-stop shop for all your needs. Welcome.
Yi-Hsian Godfrey: Thank you very much.
Lavagnino: Where did the idea for Apiari come from?
Godfrey: Apiari was started when my co-founder, Ming, had her second child. She was actually looking for someone to help during her postpartum period for 12 hours a week and found herself spending over 20 hours trying to find this person.
And she knew that something was broken. So we looked around and found that there was really no platform that actually met part-time needs or short-term needs of a family and that offer a variety of services that we were looking for ourselves.
Lavagnino: And so that is how Apiari was born.
How Apiari Works
Lavagnino: And how does it work if one wants to find, say, maternal care, someone to watch after their kid, childcare, housekeeping. Walk me through as a customer what I would do.
Godfrey: Absolutely. So when you go into Apiari.com, you can actually get started and select the service that you’re looking for in that particular session.
So let’s say you just had a baby, and you’re desperate for a good night’s sleep.
Godfrey: You can actually book a single-night night nurse on our platform. Most night nurses today are looking for a two-week commitment. So there’s no way that you can find a single night.
All of our providers are fully vetted, as well as experienced, so we don’t take anybody that just graduated from a night-nurse school.
The Vetting Process
Lavagnino: I was going to ask you that. How rigorous is your vetting process?
Godfrey: Pretty rigorous. We actually do three rounds of interviews, and then we look for three to five professional references, as well as a full background check. So we do it by county and state for criminal, as well as sex offenders, and anyone that is working with either children or elderly must have CPR certification as well.
Lavagnino: That makes a lot of sense to make sure that, because the, I’m thinking back to when I’ve had to look for care, either for my children or for my father when he was aging, and it’s one of the most difficult choices that you have to make, and you really have to feel that you trust —
Lavagnino: — the people you let into your home.
Booking Sessions With Apiari
Godfrey: That’s right. So once you select — so once you select a service, you can then go and choose the specific date that you’re looking for. Either a single session or multiple sessions, down to the time that you’re looking for.
So if you’re just looking for someone for night nurse that’s starting at let’s say 8 p.m. for 10 hours, you choose that, and then based on your match, our matching algorithm, we surface up the right provider for you.
So let’s say you decide that you have a preemie and you need some of that preemie experience. Well, our system will actually surface up only the night nurses that have preemie experience so that you find a right fit.
So unlike other platforms, where they give you, let’s say, 100 to 200, which is what Ming had found when she was looking — 200 applications to sift through. You’re only getting one to three potential candidates for you to try, and then you can literally then just select them, review their profile. If you like them, you can book them. You can set up an interview with them if you want to interview beforehand, and then just book.
Lavagnino: I was wondering about that because there there’s a platform I’m sure you’re familiar with, Care.com, and I remember looking for someone myself, and it was that exact same experience where I went through probably the same number of applications, feeling completely overwhelmed. In Ming’s situation, she had just had a baby, and you you want it to be seamless as possible.
Godfrey: That’s right, absolutely.
How Yi-Hsian Godfrey Went From Marketing Executive to Entrepreneur
Lavagnino: And so that’s what you’re going after. So before Apiari, you were a marketing executive at American Express. Talk to me about that pivot.
Godfrey: You know, I love the marketing I was doing, but then American Express became a bank, and I realized that I was no longer a marketer, but actually in compliance all of a sudden. And that just took out every innovation and creativity out of me.
And really made me pause to think about, What am I doing with my life? You know, I wasn’t saving a life. I wasn’t making a difference. I was selling credit cards. I was trying to get people to spend more on credit cards, and to me, that just felt a little bit empty —
Godfrey: — especially when I had young children at home. And I felt like if I was to do something with my time, I want it to be worthwhile.
Lavagnino: It’s interesting that you say that. I think back to before I co-founded CentSai, I was working as an editor. And I refer to my last job as a velvet coffin because it was very comfortable, but I was completely stagnant in my growth. And it was the same thing where I had small children, and I was wondering what I was doing with my time. It sounds like you were facing the same.
Godfrey: Exactly. And for me, when Ming asked me to co-found Apiari with her, it was also the moment in time when I was really getting frustrated with what was going on in the professional landscape you can say for women, meaning that there’s so many companies that do the talk, right. “We advance women, there’s a pathway to growth, we’re looking for programs.”
But I feel like they don’t understand the biggest issue that women face is that we are still primary caregivers, and unless they give us something that helps us alleviate some of our pain points at home, there is no way women can lean back into their jobs fully, when it’s, “Hey, we have a networking event tonight.” I don’t have babysitting available on demand, right. Or, you know, we have to work late this weekend. Well, you know what, my kids have all these errands. Who’s gonna take them, you know?
Not to say that women can’t do these things, but it’s not the best use of their time. Like driving and chau— chauffeuring my kids to events, anyone can do, to be honest. It doesn’t have to be me, but I don’t have that other person in our lives to help with that.
So this is where we felt like Apiari can really step in and really make a difference to sort of women’s pathway and their careers by just offering help whenever they need it.
Offering Services to Employers
Lavagnino: It makes so much sense to me. And one of the things that I noticed is that you’re also offering for employers, so it’s not just that customers want one person, or one mom or dad can come to you, but from what I could tell, employers can also hire Apiari and, as you’re saying — you had mentioned a number of statistics on your site that I thought were really telling —employee burnout is costing companies $300 billion a year — lowered productivity costs $150 billion a year, etc. So, have you had a lot of interest from companies in embracing?
Godfrey: We’re just starting our corporate outreach, and we do have one corporate client, and that is exactly it. It’s the fact that, you know, companies starting to realize that their employees need some help from time to time, and while they can give them money, which is what they have done traditionally, to find the help, the biggest pain point is where do they go to find this help.
Lavagnino: Right. Doing it.
Godfrey: Back to Care.com. Sure, I can give you the money to pay for help, but you’re still left vetting, you know, all these providers over 20 hours. This is adding more time. All right, so what happens when people have not enough time but too many choices? They just give up.
All right, so so many parents, and it’s not just working mothers, because what happens if a working mother can’t do something? It’s pawned off to the husband.
Godfrey: Right. It’s a no-win situation. Somebody has to do it, unless you introduce a third option, which is finding someone to help you out.
Finding the Right Person
Lavagnino: And the nice thing, too, about your platform is that if you don’t gel with someone necessarily, you always have the option of finding someone new. Or conversely, if you find someone you really like, you can continue that relationship.
Godfrey: Absolutely. So that was one of the things that we found as parents ourselves was that I’ve hired so many nannies in the past, and they always tell you they can do all these things during an interview, right. But then they come to work for you, and you hire them, and you’re kind of stuck because you start to realize, what they say is their strength is really not as strong as you had hoped for, or you know your children are not connecting with them.
Godfrey: But it’s too late. So for us, you know, just booked for a session. Try them out, like, beyond the interview, have them play with your kids, have them take them to the park. See what happens. If you like them, you can mark them as a favorite. And you can go into their calendars, and literally work your life around their schedules.
Or you can actually build yourself a little team of providers that you have liked, and if one is not available, you know you like the other one just as much, and she may be a bit a little different, but you know she works just as well, and you can have a go-to person at all times whenever you need it.
Lavagnino: That is fantastic, because I’m thinking back to my experience. I was lucky enough to have someone for 12 years who was with my children, and that’s very unusual. And it was a word-of-mouth situation, and then once she left I got immersed into this whole world of trying to manage.
So what you’re saying is a very real problem, because once someone is in your home and they’re with your children, and you know it’s not working out, it is so difficult to figure out how you’re going to transition them out.
Godfrey: That’s right, and I feel like for parents we, the dread of looking for another provider —
Lavagnino: Ugh, yes.
Godfrey: — is so daunting, we just try to ignore the telling signs that we do need someone new in our lives. So, for instance, we’ve had a lot of providers that are great with younger children, but as children get older, they don’t want the grandmother type of provider. They want like, you know, someone who’s a little older, fun, and hip, and know all the common music.
And so that, our platform allows you to kind of change your providers as your life situation changes without feeling guilty that you’re letting someone go, because when you let someone go, it means that another great family will be matched to them —
Godfrey: — that fits their skill sets and strengths.
Lavagnino: How many people do you have so far that offer services?
Godfrey: So, number of providers on our platform?
Godfrey: Um, so we currently have 20, and we keep bringing them in every week. So every week we’re growing and growing. We’re servicing just in the New York area, Westchester, and Northern Jersey right now.
Founding Apiari: The Power of Female Entrepreneurs
Lavagnino: Okay, and you have your pilot business that you’re also — I’m sure learning from as well as you go. You have two other female co-founders, which is incredibly cool.
I know Ming personally, and she’s a lawyer, and I know that she’s very involved in brokering these large deals between the U.S. and China, and then your other co-founder I don’t know, but her name is Chevy.
Lavagnino: Chevi. And she I think functions as a CEO, and her background was as a physician assistant, correct?
Godfrey: So Chevi actually co-founded the business with us. She actually became an investor.
Godfrey: And early in January, she made the decision that running a startup was just labor intensive and time intensive, that she didn’t have the time commitment to work with us on.
Lavagnino: Got it.
Godfrey: So she’s still involved with the company, but we do have a third co-founder, Adam Berlinsky-Schine. He is actually our CTO. So we decided that now that we’re moving towards more of a tech platform and being able to work on better matching algorithms, eventually introducing some machine learning, as well as just better technology servicing, that we needed someone with a more technical background.
Lavagnino: I was wondering about that when I saw that you were moving more towards an AI-driven solution. Not having a technical co-founder could present challenges. So how did you find him?
Godfrey: I politely stalked him on AngelList. When we were building our MBP for tech, we were getting some good traction, and Ming and I said to ourselves, you know, this can actually work.
Like everything that we’ve been doing sort of off-platform has been able to be translated on-platform, but knowing that we need someone with a technical background to continue to build and grow on top of that.
So Adam actually was our first pick, and because he actually worked on Coffee Meets Bagel, which is a dating site, matching people, and then he went on to matching like-minded friends at Nommery, and more recently he was matching roommates at Roomie, so have built algorithm, matching algorithms, worked on tech build and platforms, so he really had a strength coming in, and we joked that this is, of course, his natural next progression, matching, you know, providers with families as his next career.
Lavagnino: So right up his alley.
Lavagnino: So I know that you’re full-time in this correct?
Godfrey: And so is Adam.
Lavagnino: And Adam is as well, and then Ming is working part-time, although probably actually working three jobs really.
Godfrey: Who works part-time these days? That’s the biggest question.
Lavagnino: Absolutely. Who — ? Or I guess my next question is, for the tech co-founder how, it’s very difficult to find a good tech co-founder. How did you incentivize him to join?
Godfrey: So we knew that, so my background as you mention was as a marketer, Ming is a lawyer, and she’s serving as our COO. Adam is full tech, and what we incentivized him with is, one, this is a huge marketplace, so whether we get one percent or 10 percent of the market, it’s going to be a huge business.
Two, we had really great traction. So he was really impressed with what we were able to build without even having a technical person on the team. And lastly, we made him a co-founder. We made him an equal co-founder coming in, because we realized that he offers a distinct skill set that neither of us can present, so we’re not overlapping in any ways. And I really wanted to give him that autonomy and authority to make tech decisions.
Lavagnino: So is it for all of you a mix of being paid and then also having equity?
Godfrey: We are all equity right now.
Handling Disagreements Between Co-Founders
Lavagnino: All equity. I’m very familiar with that situation. So having co-founders has its pros and cons, right? Because on the one hand, you’re not alone. You have people that complement you in areas where you may not have strengths.
But there are also times where you’re going to disagree. How do you handle that?
Godfrey: We actually sat down when Adam first joined us and talked about our company culture. So we actually have a sheet of paper that has our values, and one of them is ownership.
So we can discuss all we want, but ultimately someone is an owner in that respective topic and area, and if they’re executing they make that final decision, right.
And then we have an agreement where once we leave the table discussing, we then come together as a unified front in front of our investors, in front of our customers, and what we decided to take action on.
Lavagnino: Does that ever become an issue where there, I understand where there are distinct areas where people own, but then there’s obviously the overlapping areas where something might be technical but also legal. So how would you resolve that if that were to become an issue and there was disagreement?
Godfrey: So I think it really depends. We look at it from a number of viewpoints, you know. One is the customer viewpoint, so what is right by the customer. Two, we also, we’re very data heavy as a team, so we look at the data to help us drive decisions. If we can’t agree on something where the data can help us answer, we will create A/B test to formulate and figure out what is the right answer.
Lavagnino: That’s great. So you guys have been doing A/B tests. Before Adam, were you able to do this all on your own? Because you did go pretty far on your own.
Godfrey: Yeah, we did. So just from my marketing background, I was able to A/B test a little bit from just a marketing perspective, but not from a tech perspective.
Godfrey: When we tried as many off-platform techniques as possible, so change around subject lines to an email, deciding what type of content gets put in. We had a lot of inquiries from clients, and one of the things we tested early on was just whether or not we introduced pricing early and figure that, you know what, on my first interaction with you as a potential client, I’m gonna be very upfront and tell you what my pricing is. If that stops our conversation, let it stop our conversation, then. Let’s not drag it out as long as possible.
Godfrey: So it’s really getting to the efficiency, as well.
Godfrey: And then constantly asking for client feedback, too. So clients who do proceed with us and use us, gathering that data and feedback. What do they like? Did we match them well? Did we not matched them well? What went wrong? How we can improve? Why didn’t they like their provider?
One of the things that people do like about us is that they can give us feedback about a provider without having to give it directly to them.
Godfrey: And so this is a great way for us to help our providers grow in their careers.
Lavagnino: Yes, absolutely.
Godfrey: If you think about it, caregiving is actually a very lonely profession. It’s the only profession where you work for a family. They don’t want to quite tell you that there’s certain things that they don’t like, because they don’t want to get you mad and you leave, and then they have to go look for the search again, right.
But then you never have this any sort of network to think about how to improve on the job. So here comes Apiari. We can come in. We consolidate all the feedback from clients, anonymize it, and then share it back with the provider, and saying, “Hey, here are some of the things that we have heard from clients, what they loved about you, what they didn’t think was so great. Here’s what you can kind of improve upon.”
Lavagnino: That’s very useful, and that resonates with me a great deal. I remember hiring a caregiver. I had to hire a full-time caregiver at one point for my father towards the end of his life, and there were things not necessarily that bothered me, but bothered my father, and he was very old-fashioned in his belief system and had his own comforts, and so it’s also strenuous for the family to have to be kind of the go-between and try to . . . so it’s wonderful that you’re offering that service.
Godfrey: And we’ve also had the other way around, where providers would tell us they’re getting mixed communications from husband and wife.
Lavagnino: I believe that.
Godfrey: Right. So here again, we can come in, so they don’t have to have this awkward conversation, and and, you know, go back to the client and say, you know, “What would you like to do, because our providers are getting mixed messages, mixed instructions?”
Lavagnino: What is it that you would really like?
Godfrey: Maybe you want to sit down with your, with their spouse and figure out what you would like to have done.
Lavagnino: That makes sense.
Godfrey: So they could, they do appreciate having that type of resource and support.
Getting Funding for Apiari
Lavagnino: So you’ve been going since early 2017, and you’re — I thought you were bootstrapped, but then you mentioned that someone has invested.
Godfrey: We bootstrapped it in the beginning, and then as we were seeing the traction that was coming in, we actually raised the small friends and family round —
Godfrey: — to help us build our tech and MBP, and now we’re in the next phase of our fundraising.
Lavagnino: And what is that?
Godfrey: We’re looking to do another small round up to $500k, so that we’re starting on that round.
Lavagnino: Again friends and family?
Godfrey: This time probably with angel investors. So I think every step that we’re doing, we’re taking a little bit more professional investors on board.
Lavagnino: And how have you found that to date? It’s very challenging.
Godfrey: It’s been very interesting.
Godfrey: You know, so much of it, especially in the business that we’re in, one, is trying to convince people that, yes, we’re women. Yes, we’re looking at the care industry. But it is still big business.
Godfrey: So trying to convince people that it is a business at the end of the day and not a feel-good lifestyle type of company.
Two, we find that there is a lot of inherent bias in evaluating our business. So if the the investors that have been really interested in our business have gone through some kind of pain and searching for care providers.
You know, a good example is one where they had a full-time care provider, the provider fell ill, and they needed a replacement for a month, and they had a scramble to kind of pull something together. But if you haven’t gone through that journey, you don’t think it’s an issue. And a lot of male investors, I hate to say, even though they have families of their own, oftentimes they’re not the ones left with having to find care providers.
Godfrey: That they don’t understand how painful it is to go through the process every time when you need care and your old provider has left you.
Working With Biases
Lavagnino: Do you feel that you’ve had to change your messaging in order to accommodate for that inherent bias?
Godfrey: You know we’re still A/B testing that, as well. What’s great about having a diverse team is that we now have a male on our team. We have someone who’s super technical, so I think that has changed a lot of our perceptions.
It’s fascinating. When I used to go in and pitch investors on my own, I’d get a lot of tech questions. And now I bring Adam with me, and we do not get a single tech question asked. By him sitting in that room has just changed that dynamic.
Lavagnino: It validates.
Godfrey: Right. So I think there’s, you know, a lot of, you know, to continue to test, and I think because our numbers are still early and young, we’re still a young company.
Godfrey: We just need to grow our numbers. At the end of day, it’s just a numbers game for the investors, so it’s really needing to show that traction. I think the more traction we show, the less it becomes reliant on the industry or the people or the entrepreneur.
Lavagnino: That makes sense, and I completely agree with that. Looking back or to date, what lessons have you learned?
For example, when I think back to some things that I would do differently, I know that we went after too many ideas too quickly. And so we lacked a focus that we should have had from the get-go and really focused and completed one thing before doing the next thing. And so we started multiple projects at once, and that made it difficult to complete them.
And the other mistake that I think that we made was scaling up too quickly. I think you have a very small team, and there’s a lot to be said for that because it manages costs.
What are some of the mistakes that you feel, or mistakes or things that you would do differently?
Godfrey: Absolutely. I would say that, one, coming from a corporate background from, both Ming and I, we took too long to execute on a number of things, and I think we took too long because we were trying to build perfect.
Godfrey: So I would say for anybody who’s starting a business, just get started. Start somewhere. Don’t wait to launch. We were trying to collect too much secondary and primary research.
So we took six months, you know, surveying potential clients and digging into the marketplace. But I think we really needed that just for us to feel comfortable —
Godfrey:— launching. But in hindsight, it was like, you know, why not throw up a website and just launch. The best thing that Chevi ever did for us was push us to launch. She was, like, let’s go. Like, let’s not wait any longer. And, you know, had it not been for her, Ming and I probably would still be, like, tweaking the copy on our website.
Lavagnino: Right. Waiting for that.
Godfrey: Maybe finding the perfect picture.
Godfrey: So if it wasn’t for her, and I really credit her with, you know, just really pushing us out the door. And I think that’s really what was really important for us to do it.
To be honest, we spent the first I would say nine months really doing customer listening, and I think, well, a lot of times what people don’t understand is that you do you can actually listen to your customers while being live.
Lavagnino: Absolutely, that’s a great point. You can, and you can learn and tweak as you go along, and so that’s helped you. What would you say is the biggest the most surprising feedback that you got that you didn’t expect to get from a customer?
Godfrey: I think one was what I shared with you earlier, how these women are senior executives in their organization, and yet they feel like they couldn’t give feedback to their providers. So oftentimes they would come to us and say, you know, I have some feedback. I’d love if you can try to somehow share it with them. That was one.
Two, we weren’t surprised, but love always hearing how great our matches are, and that’s what we’re trying to build into the algorithm. It’s really understanding the customer needs and then match them to the right provider.
So many of our competitors I feel like treat their providers as commodities, meaning that one provider, one cleaner is just the same as another cleaner. One babysitter is just the same as another babysitter.
But we really try to make sure that we get to understand who our providers are and what their strengths are and really service them up for that particular opportunity.
Lavagnino: I sense that you really humanize the whole experience, which is wonderful.
Lavagnino: Because it’s one of the most personal and difficult decisions that anyone ever makes.
Entrepreneurship and Burnout
Lavagnino: So let’s talk a little bit about entrepreneurial burnout. I’ve certainly experienced that also because I have children.
Lavagnino: So, you know, working 15-hour days for three years now, and having my children, having some great days and great successes, having some not-so-great days, how do you manage burnout? Have you felt it?
Godfrey: I think I’ve felt burnout when I was actually in corporate, and I didn’t even know it, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges organizations face is trying to recognize employee burnout, even when the employee themselves don’t know that they’re going through it.
And it took me a couple of years of just literally resting and doing less to restore my strength to go into entrepreneurship, and I think having children actually helps with building a company, because it is like your third baby, right.
Lavagnino: Oh, absolutely.
Godfrey: And just like a baby, you know, it’s pretty heavy intensive for the first couple years, and you want to just get them on the right track where you don’t have to worry about them later on, and so my kids have been fantastic.
They recognize that this is my third baby, and I’m constantly working on building this baby. So they’ve been supportive. They’ve watched me do podcasts and presentations and root me on.
Lavagnino: How old are they?
Godfrey: My daughter is 11, and my son is 8. So at the right age, and I think it’s a great time for them to see what women can do, or Mom can do, beyond just what Mom does in a household.
Godfrey: But in terms of preventing entrepreneur burnout, I think that’s why it’s so important to have co-founders.
Godfrey: Someone that you feel I can take over driving the ship for a little bit when you just need that break. And even just to have lunch together and not talk business, and we had our first company outing last week, which —
Lavagnino: Oh, that’s cool.
Godfrey: Yeah, we all went to California last week and, you know, just, we were there for a meeting but had a lot of downtime, so was able just to make a good trip out of it and really bond as people, because whether or not we succeed or fail, it’s the people that we go on the ride with that’s so important.
Lavagnino: So true.
Godfrey: And we’re in it together, and I think that is sort of the mentality that we have.
Recovering From Burnout
Lavagnino: I read a blog that you wrote on your site, and you describe yourself as being very type A, and you alluded to the fact that you’ve achieved a lot and, you know, once you were burnt out with corporate, then I believe it was at that point that you decided to get your MBA, and then you realized that you were burnt out from that as well, and at the end of your blog you said something that really stuck with me: You can’t pour from an empty cup. How do you fill yours?
Godfrey: Through meditation, through yoga, and just spending more quality time with my kids. So I think so oftentimes we think that we’re spending time with our kids because we’re schlepping them somewhere, to and from school or to the doctor’s, that’s quality time.
I’m talking about, like, in the bed, doing nothing, but like laughing and giggling and making fun of each other. It kind of just really reminds you of sort of the bigger purpose in life.
And being able to spend time with friends and family also helps, as well. Kind of a thing, you know, they bring you back down to remembering you who you were. I feel like so much as I gotten older and so much of the work I have accomplished, that sometimes I feel like I’m a shell of my old self, there’s really nothing behind that shell.
And so when I spend time with my friends and family, it kind of reminds me of again who I was — that silly girl that I was at 15. You know, the dreams that I had when I was 5. So those were the things I think really helps refill my cup.
Lavagnino: The meditation resonates with me a lot, and it’s something that I definitely need to do more than I than I do currently. The other thing that I had done before I started CentSai was I ran the marathon.
And I’m going to turn 50 in two years, and I would like to do that again, just to prove to myself — and also for my daughters, who saw me the first time around — that age and gender really don’t mean anything. And I think it’s through example, as you’re describing, that they learn.
Godfrey: My big goal for 50 is trying to do a headstand. That’s my goal right there.
Crunching the Numbers
Lavagnino: Awesome. So tell me about Apiari’s growth.
Godfrey: So we’ve gotten a lot of traction. We were able to grow, let’s see, about 20 percent month-over-month, and we’ve had clients who have stayed with us. Our monthly client retention rate is about 90 percent, and people still come back to us after they use us. Maybe one-off for a night nurse, and then find they need something else later on.
Lavagnino: Well, I was wondering about that. What would you say is your most typical client? Is it someone who uses you as needed, or is it more likely that they’ll find a match and want to continue?
Godfrey: We actually have clients all over the spectrum. I think if I were to profile my clients, they would definitely be dual-income families.
Godfrey: Oftentimes we have clients who, with younger children, so under 5, they typically use us regularly, because they have flexible work arrangements themselves. So they need to just cover off a couple of days when they are working and they’re spending the other times with their child.
For our other older kids, they’re typically families, dual-income again, but they’re looking for after-school support.
Lavagnino: Okay. And talk to me about your pricing.
Godfrey: Our pricing currently right now is based on hourly fee. So we try to incentivize our clients by saying that it starts off at $30 an hour. And if you’re using us more than 15 hours a week, that drops down to $25. And if you’re using us more than 30 hours a week, then that drops down to $22.50.
So we try to make it rewarding for clients as they add on more services. And they can bundle services together, too. So you, and that would be included. So let’s say you do 15 hours of babysitting, and then you also need another, you know, five hours of cleaning, that will just bring you down to the $25 rate. And if you use more it brings you down to $22.50 rate, and that includes night nurse — so right there that’s 10 hours.
Lavagnino: Do you have a most popular category so far?
Godfrey: I would say that our Jill of All Trades is probably the most popular. So she’s someone that can actually do a mix of cooking, cleaning, childcare, and even elder care. So that way you have the consistency of the same provider, as well as getting a bigger breadth of services.
Female Entrepreneurs and Venture Capital
Lavagnino: So thank you for that. And sorry, I lost my train of thought. I’m thinking about being a woman and the struggles that women can have. We all know — now, this is VC — but two percent of VC money goes to women, and part of that is described as what you said, which is that, unless it’s a really big idea, quote-unquote, that a man can identify with, since 98 percent of them are — or I think it’s 70 percent of them or so — are venture capitalists, it’s really challenging for women. How have you handled that? How do you keep moving forward despite knowing those statistics?
Godfrey: Well, there are certain things I can change and certain things I can’t, right. I can’t change my ethnicity. I am Chinese-American. I cannot change my gender. And I can’t change my age.
So rather than fixated on all those things I cannot change, I look at driving my business forward. I know the key metrics that I need to show in order to capture a venture, so those are the things I’m working on.
Lavagnino: And what key metrics are those?
Godfrey: So for a marketplace business like ours, we really need to show increase usage, so traction. So we’re looking at growing both our client and our provider side in terms of the number of clients that we have and the number of providers on the site, and also just stickiness. So those are the two things that we’re focused on growing.
Lavagnino: I tell you one story, and Ming will remember this. This is how I met Ming. We’ve had a wild ride as far as fundraising. One thing that happened to us, I mean I’ve done things — we’ve pitched in the basement of Home Depot. We had one person ask us to do that.
We also had a venture capitalist give us an all-expense-paid trip to China, to Shenzhen, and we pitched there, and he seemed very excited and had his head VC guy come out that summer. And we had this meeting of all of us. It lasted four hours. They took a picture of us as we left, like all is a big group and team, and we thought, Okay, this went really well. Never heard from them again.
Godfrey: Fundraising is distracting. It is so distracting when running a business.
Godfrey’s Fundraising Advice
Lavagnino: Yes. And hard, because there’s an incredible amount of rejection, and and the other thing is, and I don’t know if you found this, but each person you speak to may have a different idea of what your business should be or areas that you might be focusing on more or less. Some of it is valuable advice. Some of it’s a distraction. Have you found that? And if so, how do you stay on course?
Godfrey: I think we try to be as scrappy as possible. So even with our small friends and family round, a lot of our investors, our potential investors, are actually amazed on how much runway we have given ourselves, even with the small raise, because you want to make sure that the investors that you bring on board are actually supporters and partners in crime and not detractors, and someone that will just, you know, cause too much noise rather than being supportive. And, you know, as hard as it is to find the right investor, it is much harder getting rid of a bad investor. So, you know, I would want to remind everyone that that is a worst — a worst-case scenario.
Lavagnino: It’s a great point. Because you’re right. There are investors who are very hands-off, and then there are those that call you every morning and want to know what’s happening today.
And also might feel that they know your business better than you do. And once they have equity in your business, you’re married in a certain way, and so it does become very challenging. And I agree with you 100 percent that one has to be very careful. Yet at the same time, businesses need to grow, and it’s such a hard balance of, what am I willing to accept as a founder in terms of venture capital and terms and what am I not?
Godfrey: And I think we’re — every time we raised money we all had to come to the table and say are we ready for the additional responsibilities as a founder that we were going to take on other people’s money.
For me, I’m very cognizant that I am a fiduciary responsible for the funds I have raised, and so it’s really to make sure: Do we have a plan in place to spend this money wisely?
Godfrey: Right. So we actually have broken down our fundraising into hundreds of thousands of dollars. If we raise $100,000, this is where we’re gonna put our money. If we raise another $100,000, this is the next thing that it’s gonna go to.
All right, being really deliberate about what we’re gonna spend the money on and what we can accomplish. And are all these things that we’re gonna spend money on going to yield us the returns that we know that these VCs are looking for? We’re not building anything frivolous. We’re not gonna build anything else that’s prettier, that doesn’t yield us any more traction. Like, those are the things that we’re very cognizant about. That said, I think meeting with as many investors has been really beneficial to us, just to kind of get a sense of how they think.
You know, one investor asked us about our True North metric, which we haven’t really thought about. So it’s just even great to have that conversation to be like, “Yes, what is that one metric, you know, that we’re looking for as we’re growing?”
So that helped us kind of cement some of our thinking and just getting more refinement, but that is really what a good investor will do, is raise some good questions —
Godfrey: — for the team to go think about, not so much drive the direction of the company.
Goals and Marketing for Apiari
Lavagnino: What is your True North metric?
Godfrey: Our True North metric is to drive 20 percent month-over-month revenue growth.
Lavagnino: And have you been able to do that?
Godfrey: We are starting that process. So we just literally started last month.
Lavagnino: That’s fantastic.
Godfrey: We actually launched our product in the middle of — I’m sorry. We launched our product in the beginning of October.
Lavagnino: Of this year ?
Godfrey: So we’ve done everything off-platform, and our on-platform just became live. Still in beta, but live as of October 8th.
Lavagnino: Exciting. I didn’t realize the timeline. So how are you marketing?
Godfrey: So right now because we don’t have a lot of funds we’re trying to explore all the free and low-cost marketing as possible. So working with associations. We’re starting to do our corporate sales, which is a little longer lead time. Anything will yield us a better result, and also just going out into Facebook and Instagram and starting our content marketing again.
Lavagnino: Are you in charge of that? I assume.
Lavagnino: Okay. Do you enjoy it?
Godfrey: I do. You know, I love listening to customers and I love getting into their heads on what really makes them motivated to do something, and we really believe Apiari is a solution to a problem that we’re all facing, so excited to kind of just offer that as an option for people.
How Female Entrepreneurs Can Help Each Other
Lavagnino: Definitely. How would you say female entrepreneurs can help each other?
Godfrey: That’s a great question. One of the things that I have started is female founders’ supper club. So we meet every third Tuesday, and we’re like stage companies with a female entrepreneur, and we get together and share stories about how fundraising has gone, if we have questions on creating trademarks, if there’s lawyers that we want to use, how we’ve been doing bookkeeping, and even down to just investors we have met, getting some inside scoop on how that conversation has gone. And I think that it’s been a really supportive network for us. Doria, I know you’re shaking your head because you’re a member of that as well.
Lavagnino: Yes. I haven’t made a meeting yet, but I will.
Godfrey: And it’s also just early. We only had one meeting.
Godfrey: And we’re finding speakers to come in, so we have accelerators who are happy to come talk to us about what an accelerator program can do for us. We have members of the female founders club who have done a lot of storytelling and help us refine our pitch.
So really looking at each other on how we can grow. And everybody brings in their own special expertise, so it’s really nice to be able to kind of just to happen to an immediate network.
Lavagnino: And so if there’s a female founder listening to this who is in New York City — because we meet in New York City — how can they find out more?
Godfrey: They’re welcome to email me directly, and I’ll add them onto the list and, like, anything, they can come and check us out. And if it’s the right group for them, we encourage them to keep coming.
Lavagnino: Right. And and they can find you on Apiari.
Godfrey: That’s right.
Dealing With Gender Inequality
Lavagnino: So, what do you think are some of the steps that we can take to help with gender parity? Because it is an issue as far as funding. I know that you’ve said that you keep your eye on the metrics, and as long as you do that, that should help you in terms of raising money for your business. But I do think there’s a an inequality, certainly statistically, in terms of how many women are involved in business in senior positions. What do you think we can do as women founders to help others?
Godfrey: I think one is really just continue to network. It’s really a network business, so getting out there. I know sometimes it’s so hard for women to say, “You know, I just finished my day job, and now I have to go out at night. I don’t know who’s gonna be watching the kids. Or I have other responsibilities. I have to grocery shop on the weekends.” Like pawn that off, go out and network is one.
Two — sorry, I just lost my train of thought here. I think two is it’s to ask. So many women don’t ask, right. We don’t ask enough, you know. We don’t have the big vision. We do have it, and I think the bigger issue that I’m hearing in the funding landscape is that investors want companies with big vision. And then women come and talk about their big vision, and then the investors are like, “No, I don’t believe in your big vision.”
Godfrey: So there’s something there that I don’t know what the answer is, but that’s what I’m trying to hear, whereas guys come in and talk about the big vision.
Lavagnino: They do.
Godfrey: And therefore they need millions of dollars, and they say, “Great, but if —”
Lavagnino: Unapologetically absolutely.
Godfrey: So, and then the other one is women are seen as a risk averse, so maybe that’s why they don’t believe our big vision because they think we’re so risk-averse.
Lavagnino: It’s interesting. I’m reflecting on my own experience with my co-founder, who is male, and when we go to networking events, I’m much more likely to not network or let people approach me, whereas he will go after anyone that he wants to talk to.
And I think that that is so important and something that I need to work on as a female founder myself, because whenever I’ve had a conversation with someone, I’ve learned something. It may not necessarily translate to something that you’re going to use the next day, but it has this effect.
Godfrey: It’s a network effect, right. So it’s, you know, that person may know someone that can be a better fit for you, but you have to at least meet that first person to meet that second person.
The Importance of Delegation
Godfrey: And then also being able to ask. I think so many — and this also comes down to I guess care and our nature — we just don’t like to let it go. You know, we like to do everything ourselves.
Lavagnino: So true.
Godfrey: Sometimes you do need to let it go. And even in your business and even in fundraising, you do need to have people come in to help you, right. And that and that ask again, “Hi. I don’t know how to fundraise. Can you help me?”
Godfrey: And we try to do everything on our own, like, no, I know how to do this. I can figure it out. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Lavagnino: Entrepreneurship for me has been incredibly humbling.
Lavagnino: To realize how much I don’t know about so many things. And at the same time having a team of people around me who are not only supportive, but have their own expertise, and I think that’s incredibly useful, as well.
Godfrey: Yeah. I always tell people, I say that entrepreneurship co-founders or even entrepreneurship CEOs, it’s one of the loneliest jobs. You know, you are trying to be seen as a leader for your startup. And you have so many people sort of dependent on you. But who do you go to when you feel like you need continuing mentoring and support? So again, having a strong network really helps in having co-founders.
Lavagnino: Absolutely. Going back to the demographics of your startup, that your providers, are they mostly female?
Godfrey: Mostly female.
Lavagnino: Okay. And is that a preference of your customers?
Godfrey: I don’t think so. I think it’s just who’s applying for jobs and who has the most experience.
Godfrey: That we’re bringing on board and that it’s based on that.
Lavagnino: So how many — I’m just curious — how many male people do you have?
Godfrey: We have none currently.
Godfrey: And we see a small fraction, I would say about one percent, applying.
Godfrey: Like some of them have cleaning experience.
Godfrey: But their cleaning experience is really with hotels. So again, working in hotels and homes are very different.
Lavagnino: Very different.
Godfrey: So we really look for people with the right experience for now.
Lavagnino: That makes sense. And it seems to be true that women are stereotypically the caregivers.
Godfrey: Yeah. So I think there is a study from Northwestern University or Northwestern Medical Center that basically found that 83 percent of care providers are women.
Lavagnino: That doesn’t surprise me. And then it also goes back to what you’re saying and the whole reason for your business, which is women are the caregivers, and they’re working, and they’re raising their children.
And so therefore, where do we go for help? And that’s why your service makes so much sense on so many levels.
Finding and Providing a Support Network
Godfrey: Yeah. We find that it’s not — sorry. We find that part-time help is the hardest type of help to find, yet it is the most prevalent type of help needed. It’s not so much if you will need the help; it’s just a matter of when, right. So I can guarantee that every one of your listeners will need some kind of care help, whether it’s for themselves, for their parents, for their kids, for their pets. They’re gonna need help.
So just start planning for it. And I think that’s where people kind of don’t think enough about the help system that they have in place. Oftentimes I hear from women, “Oh, I have my mom.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it’s just a matter of time when Mom is a person that’s gonna be needing the help, and then you’re stuck without your primary care provider, and you’re stuck with your children. So what are you gonna do then?”
Lavagnino: That is so true. That’s exactly what happened to me. My mother was in her 70s when my children were born, and she was very involved in their lives, wanted to pick them up from school, take them out. And she wasn’t their primary caregiver, but certainly was there a lot.
And I knew I could count on her when I when I needed to. And she’s now 84, and it’s really more about caring for her. And so you’re very right that things change much more quickly. And it also reminds me of the financial aspect of this, which is that listeners should think about putting away money, slowly even, for the eventual time that you’re going to either need to provide elder care, childcare.
Godfrey: It’s amazing to me how we save for homes, for education, for retirement, but yet we do not put away any money for care that we know that it’s gonna be needed down the line. And so we’re shocked when we have to pay for care, but that could have been prevented if we just had put a little bit of money aside.
So I always encourage people, “Hey, you know you’re gonna need care at some point, even if you just start saving for today.”
Godfrey: “At least you have that money when you need it.”
Caring for Workers vs. Caring for Family Members
Lavagnino: I couldn’t agree more, even if it’s put in an emergency fund. And there are so many apps that are out there that allow you to just section off a certain percentage. You almost don’t even really notice it if it’s a very small amount.
What would you say are the similarities or differences in caring for a workforce versus caring for family members?
Godfrey: I don’t think there’s much of a difference. Our workforce is just our extended families, and given how much we work these days we might as well co-habitat with our employers, right, and with our colleagues.
So I think it is a fiduciary responsibility of companies to look after their workforce just like the way we look after our families.
Lavagnino:I couldn’t agree more. And I I was blessed in that, when I was at Condé Nast, they had 20 days of emergency childcare that was included in my package. And thank goodness for that, because there would have been times that I could not have shown up for work if I hadn’t had that.
Meeting Needs for Different Kinds of Care
Godfrey: I think one of the biggest misperceptions that I have seen in the in the marketplace is that if you have children, the only type of care you need is childcare.
And so much of what we believe in is the fact that I have children, but much of my care needs come from cooking and cleaning.
Godfrey: And those are my other responsibilities as well, so — which is why we’re so excited about Apiari at work, because we offer services beyond childcare. If you need to travel for work, and you can’t be home to cook, have someone come and cook for your family or clean for your family, right. Or you might need care with your elderly parents that week.
Godfrey: Right. It’s not just child. Just because I have children does not mean that that is my only care needs that I have as a working family.
Lavagnino: It’s a great point. And I actually didn’t realize that I was thinking in that way myself, yet my life isn’t that way.
Godfrey: And what about all the single people in the workforce, right? In a company, in a corporation, so many — often they are having surgeries, you know, expected or unexpected. Some kind of illness where they can use an extra pair of hands to help them during the recovery period, whether it’s a few hours, a few days a week for a few weeks, while they recover. Doing laundry, getting errands, having some meals cooked. They don’t have any resources, and so when a company just offers childcare, there’s always a ding on anybody who has, who’s single or is married but without children.
Lavagnino: Right. That makes a lot of sense. And yes, single people will need your service just as much.
Godfrey: And again, when you have surgery, and you only need somebody for three hours for, let’s say, three days a week for the first week that you’re home, are you really going to go to Craigslist to look for someone to come into your home?
Lavagnino: I’m not.
Godfrey: Are you gonna spend 20 hours vetting someone while you’re recovering? A lot of times these are emergency, you know, procedures that are done. You don’t even have the foresight, right.
So here again is a service that everyone is vetted. It’s backed. We are actually insured, as well. We provide insurance for our services, so at least you have that peace of mind.
Lavagnino: Talk to me just a minute about that. So you’re insured, meaning that if one of your caregivers were to —
Godfrey: We have general liability insurance.
Godfrey: And we also have bonding, so in case of theft. And all of our providers have been background checked.
Godfrey: So that’s really just giving the clients an extra layer of reassurance that there is somebody behind these providers and not just a provider themselves.
Taking Advantage of Artificial Intelligence
Lavagnino: Once you scale, I would imagine that vetting all of these providers is going to be challenging. How do you envision that?
Godfrey: We’re really excited to have, but this is why Adam is on board —
Godfrey: And we’re really excited to be able to venture into machine learning and through AI.
Lavagnino: Tell me how that’s gonna be a part of everything.
Godfrey: Yeah. So on a very high level, we’re gonna be looking at — it’s really not about finding providers, but it’s really about finding the right providers, right.
So through machine learning and AI, they can start surfacing up résumés that are better quality providers than us having to sift through 150 in order to get at some of those better providers.
Looking at our top current providers, we can actually build a profile of what they have in terms of skill sets, that we can then try to through data analysis, pull out similar providers of applicants that can be surfaced up again.
Lavagnino: Are these applicants that — they’ve applied to you?
Lavagnino: So not it’s not a database on the internet of —
Godfrey: Nope. So to be a provider today, you have to come online and fill out an online application that goes into our database.
Lavagnino: Got it.
Godfrey: And through our database, we can actually start surfacing up the ones that are most qualified.
Lavagnino: I only asked that because I know, the little I know about AI, I know that it’s important to have, the more data that you have —
Godfrey: That’s right.
Lavagnino: — the more effective it is.
Godfrey: That’s right.
Lavagnino: And so I would imagine that that’s why it’s something that you’re thinking about a little bit down the line, because you have to grow to scale to be able to have it work effectively.
Godfrey: Exactly. So we’re not looking at pulling in more man hours, but using technology. And technology has advanced so far that it’s really on our side to be able to leverage, you know, a lot of machine learning from a matching perspective, but also being able to be intelligently picking things out, understanding that nursing degree has some value, whether we want to surface up to some elder care or, you know, children with some kind of medical condition, that would be helpful.
The Advantages of a Master’s Degree
Lavagnino: You also have an MBA. Has that helped you or do you wish you hadn’t gotten an MBA? Because I’ve heard both.
Godfrey: Yeah. I love my experience at Stern Business School. And it has helped me more than not in terms of building networks and in terms of time management.
I remember first year looking at the calendar and our schedule, thinking, When am I gonna have lunch and even have time to use the bathroom between classes, right. But that’s kind of the boot camp that you go through to really help you set yourself up for any type of business. And being really comfortable making decisions without the entire picture laid out in front of you.
Lavagnino: And I would imagine you also learn all of the, for lack of a better word, I don’t want to call it jargon, because that’s, it’s almost, it’s a pejorative, which I don’t intend, but I do think oftentimes founders might struggle if they don’t have the vocabulary that investors are looking for. And so I would imagine that that has been a benefit to you as well.
Godfrey: Um, not so much. You know, I find that with investors oftentimes, if you can tell a really layman’s story, it’s better off than if you know the jargons.
Godfrey: On the flip side, you can learn the jargons for entrepreneurship or building a tech company by just reading.
Godfrey: Even in my entrepreneurship class, we didn’t learn enough of the vertical integration or marketplace effect type of language that you would need to know, so the MBA doesn’t help for that.
But I think you do get a lot of good examples of different companies and how their business models work.
Godfrey: So as you’re starting your own company, you can think about, well, do you want to be a loss leader? You know, what type of, how can you monetize your business looking at various case study examples that you have seen through business school?
How Female Entrepreneurs Can Make Themselves Heard
Lavagnino: That makes sense. And I’m wondering, have you ever felt any attempt — and this is more of thinking about me, too — have you felt any attempt ever to silence you as a woman? And if so, or if not, I guess, first, have you or have you not?
Godfrey: I have not. I’m a very vocal New Yorker.
Godfrey: Um, so whether or not people try to silence me, if I feel like I have something to say, it’s always been said.
Lavagnino: Which is a great way to be. And for women who struggle with that, what would you say to them?
Godfrey: Practice makes perfect. You know, you don’t have to get your right words down, but just getting out in front and just showing your voice and being heard is very powerful, and it can start very small.
Lavagnino: Yes. That is also so true, right. It doesn’t have to be a big thing to begin —
Godfrey: That’s right.
Lavagnino: — to begin with. My last question is — and then I want listeners to know where to find out more about your platform — if you could have one hour to have a conversation with any woman, who would it be and why?
Godfrey:I’d love to meet Oprah. I’m sure everybody says that. Do all your guests say that?
Lavagnino: We’ve had a few Oprahs.
Godfrey: Because she’s just so wise. I think she’s seen so much in her time. And for me, it’s really about finding purpose and vision. And I think she’s really gotten a good pulse on that, on why are we here. Right, so forget the business aspect of things, but kind of really just bringing us back.
Lavagnino: And she also, when I think about it in the ’80s, you know, there was Phil Donahue. And then she came on the scene, and she really personalized talk shows and talked about topics that were taboo and was authentic.
She was really authentic. And I think that’s why so many people identify with Oprah.
Godfrey: And her new show, Super Soul Sunday, is the one that’s actually my favorite.
Lavagnino: I haven’t seen it yet.
Godfrey: Because it’s really about, you know, the universe and sort of reestablishing faith —
Godfrey: — in our culture, which I think has gone so awry. And so I commend her for bringing that back into the mainstream conversation and asking the big questions of, Why are we here? Right. And then for me as an entrepreneur, it kind of goes back to, Yes, what is my goal and purpose in life? Why am I here? What kind of difference can I make while I’m still here? And so for me, you know, starting and running Apiari is very missions driven. It’s really trying to change the course of what we can do to reach our full potentials.
Looking to the Future
Lavagnino: And where would you like to see Apiari two years from now — and yourself?
Godfrey: Ah, so let’s see. Two years from now, we have goals of being in multiple U.S. cities. As myself, I would love to be running a larger team and being able to let go. I think that’s gonna be my personal biggest challenge, you know, from an entrepreneur, a small team, and all three of us having to do it all to really finding the best quality talent and letting them own part of whatever their responsibilities and seeing them grow. I’d love to be seeing myself on vacation, too — in two years. That’s the other one.
Lavagnino: Vacation. I haven’t had one of those in a long time.
Godfrey: Right. What are those again?
Godfrey: A true vacation where you’re not working.
Lavagnino: Where you’re not working, no laptops. Thank you so much for being on.
Godfrey: Thank you for having me.
How to Find Yi-Hsian Godfrey
Lavagnino: And if you could let our listeners know where they can find out more about Apiari.
Godfrey: Yes, please find us online. We are at W W W . T H E A P I A R I . com [www.theapiari.com]. And if you need to remember why we’re named Apiari, we were actually discussing how this is our homage to the bee colonies. Because like our bee friends, they actually have specific workers to do specific jobs in order to keep the hive humming. And we know that what happens when the hive doesn’t hum, there’s a colony collapse. And that’s what happens to our homes when we don’t have the right support.
Lavagnino: A lot of significance. Thank you so much.
Godfrey: Thank you.
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