SheCanCode recently caught up with the two Co-Founders of Grandnanny: a new kind of childcare service that’s connecting communities across generations to make childcare more flexible, local and rewarding. Adele and Sarah share insights on their love of tech, how they become Startup Founders, how we can get more women into tech…and much more.
SO, HOW DID YOU GET INTO TECH?
Adele: In 1995 my high school in Lancaster was made one of the country’s first specialist technology colleges. When you walked into the ‘tech block’ it was like stepping into a spaceship of possibility. I loved Product Design and Technology; we built circuits that told us when plants needed water, moulded acrylic into clock faces and I made a flying pig automaton. So although I didn’t shoot out of the womb coding, I was encouraged to make things early on and that’s pretty empowering.
Sarah: I did an MA in Publishing in the late ‘90s. One of the courses we did was called Electronic Publishing and we learnt about how websites were built back when websites were new. That course lecturer referred me to a recruitment marketing business that was launching a digital agency. The business was called Screenactive and because it was new I did a bit of everything there. Our clients were companies like Accenture, ICI and Pfizer – not small businesses! Those were the wild west times in web development. So much fun.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT TECH THAT YOU LOVE?
Adele: It has the ability to help us build ‘the world as it should be,’ as Michelle Obama says. It also has the potential for the opposite. So it needs compassionate stewardship to make sure we angle it at solving social problems – that’s what led us to start Grandnanny.
Sarah: Back in the ‘90s and 00’s I loved the fact that a lot of the digital work we did for clients had never been done before. Remember rectangular CD-ROMs and Flash websites? I also worked on the first Data.gov.uk site and was involved in the first infinity scrolling website for the Queen. Now I love that technology can bring people together. Adele and I met on Ada’s List which is a forum for women in tech. Without platforms like that we would never have met.
SO WHAT LED YOU TO START UP GRANDNANNY?
Adele: Whilst working as an Advertising Strategist, I noticed that my colleagues were constantly on the hunt for reliable childcare. At the same time, I started volunteering for a charity that connects younger and older neighbours. One day, I realised that the neighbour I was visiting only ever saw me and one other person. I thought these two groups of people could really help each other out but I wouldn’t say I’d call it an ‘aha’ moment. It infuriated me that we live in such an age-segregated society and so I set off to study my MSc in Gerontology and Ageing. I learnt that women working low or no hours whilst caring for their children is a huge contributor to the gender pension gap and we all know that the gender pay gap is exacerbated by gendered childcare roles. We want to contribute to closing the gender pay and gender pension gaps by providing reliable childcare and rewarding well-paid jobs.
Sarah: My two biggest passions are growing businesses and helping those that work in them to grow. With Grandnanny I get the opportunity to do both. As a start-up the business is growing and changing every day, and because our job is to match families with childcarers we get to help those families work, and provide career opportunities for our Grandnannies.
AND WHAT WILL SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU AT GRANDNANNY?
Both: We want to see Grandnannies at every school gate across the UK, starting in London. We’re creating meaningful, local jobs for older childcarers with personal or professional experience, giving parents the long-term childcare they need and creating more empathy across age groups.
HOW DO YOU THINK WE CAN GET MORE WOMEN INTO TECH?
Sarah: I have twin six year old girls. My husband and I have both always worked in tech (he in Games and me in Digital). Our house has a lot of tech devices – we even have our own network. So my girls are very lucky but we believe it’s essential that they grow up with technology and learn how things work from an early age. They also need to be told that working in and with technology is not a gendered pursuit. It would be brilliant if all girls had access to technology from an early age and understood that they can do anything. I am a particularly strong advocate for women in leadership roles and having ownership in the businesses they work in. If all girls understood this we might start to redress the balance.
Adele: Start early. And don’t make no-code the enemy. There’s a place for both. Also, create structures and environments that women want to work in – provide flexible working, provide fair pay, provide childcare, democratise leadership training (https://stride.inc/), encourage shared parental leave. Create spaces for a diverse workforce to thrive and make race and gender equality everyone’s business; allyship is powerful. We need everyone to speak up. Make sure there are pay bands on job adverts (www.showthepay.com). Ask what the gender pay gap is in interviews. Be radical – what if men refused to take a job unless there was evidence of equal pay for equal work? They could take action by taking shared parental leave too…
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE AND MOST EXCITING SUCCESS AS A TECH STARTUP FOUNDER?
Adele: We get quite a lot of feedback which is about style rather than substance. I don’t love that as female founders we’re often critiqued on how we present ourselves rather than our business know-how. I think that’s slowly changing – people are realising we don’t need cookie-cutter entrepreneurs and that leadership can present itself in different ways but it’s been quite eye-opening. One of our proudest moments was when we got our very first Grandnanny match. The childcarer and the family were completely perfect for each other and we knew they’d work together long-term.
Sarah: The greatest challenge for me is to practice resilience daily. It’s tricky starting a business in the midst of a global pandemic. I am generally a glass half full person but certain times have been testing. In relation to that, I think a huge part of our success so far is the relationship Adele and I have been able to build (even though we haven’t seen each other in person in over 5 months). I can see us being able to come up with and launch new ideas in the future. We make a good team.
FINALLY: WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
Sarah: One of my old bosses told me I had to find a way to work with everyone, particularly in a small business. That’s stayed with me and I pride myself on being able to build good working relationships, even with people who are very different to me.
Adele: My old CEO told me that success in business comes down to three things: grit, grace, graft. In startupland you need all three at all times.