Stefanie moved to the United States from Europe ten years ago and at present is a serial entrepreneur as well as an experienced digital manager, who has worked in innovation and technology for the past 15 years. With a background in the children’s market, media, and entertainment, she ran the online video department at Sky Germany, headed the legal department at the Disney channel in Germany, and worked at Sony Music. In 2012, she co-founded New York International, a Website and technology for international entrepreneurs launching businesses in the United States. Stefanie holds a Ph.D. in law from the University of Munich and an M.B.A.
Stefanie wished to solve her own driving fatigue after moving from New York City to Connecticut. After finding herself trapped in traffic jams with her neighbors as they all drove to the same place at the same time to drop off and pick up their kids, Stefanie founded GoKid in 2015 which featured in the prestigious ‘TechStars Mobility 2016’ event.
She is an accomplished speaker at international media and innovation conferences such as SXSW, Austin, Texas; Mediewoche Berlin and Medientage Munich, Germany; K.E.Y. Platform Seoul, Korea; and TV2.0 Summit Zurich, Switzerland. She also hosted the Quantum Media Guru Breakfast series and the Media Disruptor Series at the Harvard Business Club of New York.
July 2018 – Interview performed by Viroop Narla, Automotive Business Strategy Team Leader, North America and Europe, Frost & Sullivan
1. GoKid provides schools, families, collection of children and teams hassle free, trustworthy, secure transportation solution for children. Developed and driven by the community to ensure that the trust factor runs across all the people who use this service. Is that a fair assessment would you say?
SL: Yes, that is completely right. The main point is that we are not an Uber for kids, so we do not hire drivers. The parents or caregivers initiate the rides or ride with others whom they trust to give the ride.
2. You have a very diverse background in law and media organization. What was your motivation in starting GoKid?
SL: As you said, I am a lawyer by training. I did a lot of media deals. I worked for Disney and Sony as an entertainment lawyer. I worked for Sky over in Europe, where we ran video on demand and cable channels. I then moved into technology and innovations and worked a lot with late stage startups and with large corporations who were scouting for startups. Similar to what your team does we were looking for large Fortune 500 companies here in the United States for great investment opportunities into delivery companies like the Ubers of this world.
At the same time, on a personal note, my family left New York City and moved to the suburbs. And suddenly I needed to drive my kids everywhere! So I needed to organize a carpool and it was very difficult. I kept having to message back and forth, did not know where the kids were exactly. I thought there must be a better way to do this. So I looked at several technologies and innovation, I looked into app stores, I downloaded what was there and I was not very happy with what I found so I thought someone has to fix this. After seeing a lot of startups here I was, like, maybe it is me! I jumped in and did this as an adjunct to my day job for a year and once we got into Techstars Mobility in 2016, I decided to make it my full time job. So I am now a full time CEO of the company where we raised almost $2 million in funding and we are growing with 10 people now working for us.
We also recently closed an investment from Duetsche Bahn, thereby becoming a part of its dynamic and innovative mobility and logistics ecosystem. It is still early but we have had very encouraging signs. Similar to your team focusing on new mobility, what is interesting is that our solutions work globally, so we have users from over 45 countries. They just discovered us by chance. So we see a great market opportunity. We want to make driving kids more organized and make it a safer experience.
3. I was not aware that you have spread to over 45 countries. That is amazing.
SL: Yes, actually it is a small amount but it just goes to show that this works everywhere. We get inquiries from schools everywhere from all parts of the world. So it just goes to show that in places where there are no buses or transportation opportunities, schools are looking at options and parents are desperate for safe transportation options.
4. As you mentioned, it is the same problem everywhere in the world. It is great that your solution is easily replicable in all these markets.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur in the technology industry because most of these companies are headed by men. What were your experiences penetrating the crowded technology startup space in the United States?
SL: On the one hand, it is full of challenges for every entrepreneur. It is daunting to start a new company. Knowing that when you enter a market that no one believes you can be a leader or whether people will pay for it. The advantage of being a female entrepreneur is that I knew the problems first hand. A large part of the population is struggling with this. I knew this from my parents’ group and many others. When building our products we worked mainly with the users that is, the parents and they are very picky and want to make it right. So, I think we connected more as a female entrepreneur to parents’ teams, and that is when we started talking to the investors.
Investors asked initially: “Why are you going after a niche market?” Three years later, now that the technology is working, we have over 100,000 trips on our platform, we have investors from the OEM side, a large transportation company out of Europe that just messaged. And now suddenly we have people thinking, “This could actually be a big market.”
Almost everyone is a parent and has kids so it is a huge market actually. There was a lot of focus on commuting and paid ridesharing, paid drivers and maybe there is a shift now and saying we have got a problem. We see a very different reaction two years into building our company as opposed to the initial feedback we got.
As a female entrepreneur it is certainly more difficult raising institutional money but we have done that. And the more money we raise, the better we are placed. It is a time consuming journey and female entrepreneurs probably have to have double the number of meetings to raise the same amount of money.
5. Parents have received this app quite well then. They have been able to grow with your platform and I guess word of mouth is a very important marketing tool?
SL: We got a lot of feedback on our early versions: This is what I need or I am not using it because I need this feature.
6. With regards to the fees that you charge; you have a pro-version of the same app and this is one of your models to allow people a more in-depth experience with the app, such as coordinating their journeys more easily. Do you have any other revenue model whereby you will be taking a commission for all these cost sharing trips in the app?
SL: That is an interesting question that we are debating about. Right now we have two revenue streams; one is the premium subscription model which we have just started. We are also licensing the software to schools as ‘Software as a Service’ product, whereby we are integrating with school’s database. With this, parents can see on a map who lives close-by, which kids are in the same grade. Parents can then reach out and coordinate the rides using our process technology. Over and above these two models we are also looking at other revenue opportunities, which I cannot really go into right now. We are looking into some other partnership opportunities to keep growing the business.
7. Coming back to the trust factor that is, parents who have children and you, yourself are part of this entire ecosystem. Seeing the success you have had, do you think Uber and Lyft might launch a similar service, also have parents on the same platform?
SL: We always look at what is happening in the marketplace, but I do not think this is their primary market. They have paid drivers and it is a business that runs on a cost per ride basis for individual or group travellers. We actually see them as potential partners because people with a larger group of kids want, for example, larger vehicles for 12 kids. So, there is certainly an opportunity out there to work with other mobility providers and specific services to what we are doing. We are really connecting to the parents, to the vehicles, and to other parents and, I do not think this is something I can see them moving into. In a way, ours is more complex to match groups of people together. Furthermore, we are also going after a completely different set of customers but there could a future joining of paths.
8. Finally, where do you see GoKid in the next five years? Do you think this is going to be become the default transportation option for families rather than having school buses or school runs with a huge number of kids in the vehicle?
SL: I think it is important to know that we are not competing with school buses. I think buses are a valid and very important mode of transportation. Whenever buses are filled, I think they are good not only for the environment but also for parents but the reality is that over half the schools in the United States do not have buses. This could be due to budget reasons or other things and a lot of time kids do not end up using the bus, especially because of after-school activities. So, in a way it is supplementing the system and our vision for the next five years is to be the whole mobility service for parents’ opportunity to manage all their mobility needs for their kids.
If you think of where Uber is today, from any restaurant you can have the driver deliver food using an app, rather than having someone run out and get pizza. So it is a similar system; for example, if you are invited to a birthday party by an e-vite, you should be able to see the other parents and coordinate the rides within that environment. In this ‘multi-sided’ marketplace, we work with different channel partners to get our technology out in the market and to where the parents are.
One example is the sports market in the United States with children’s team events. There is a company called TeamSnap that organizes all these afterschool activities and we have integrated with it. For example, when you set up a carpool, you are asked if you are organizing the carpool for a TeamSnap event. You can then integrate with, say, your daughter’s soccer team and see the other parents in that same event. You can then reach out to them to coordinate the carpool. All the information will then be pulled from the TeamSnap app to make the planning easier. This is one of the integration models we are going after and we looking at several other possibilities.
Eventually our vision is to make planning extremely easy so that parents do not need to think about the need to get their children to a place and schedule rides to get there.
9. So, you are providing convenient transportation and limiting the impact on the environment and also ensuring peace of mind for everybody who is part of the ecosystem.