Two Amazing Women Setting Out on Their Startup Journey

Posted on Apr 25, 2013 | 16 comments


Note: if you’re a parent please check out their website.

Kara called me on a Tuesday. She was leaving IAC to start a company.

“Tasha, clear some space on my calendar tomorrow. OK?”

“I want you in my offices tomorrow, Kara. Does that work for you?”

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 6.50.35 AMKara came. She didn’t tell me she was bringing anybody. I didn’t ask her for a deck. Or what she was working on. Or whom she was working with.

Tasha screamed. Literally.

WTF?

WTF is she going on about? Tasha! Pull it together.

It was Soleil Moon Frye. Aka Punky Brewster.

So?

I repeat. WTF? We’ve had many celebrities walk through our doors including a-list film stars. Heck, I even had Robert Downey, Jr. bang on the windows of a board meeting recently and stick his tongue out at all of us.

And Tasha never screamed before?

We’re in LA. They’re only people. It’s not much different than having Dave Morin, Dick Costolo or Sheryl Sandberg sitting next to you at lunch.

Turns out Punky was a childhood hero for Tasha. Ok. That’s cute.

They pitched on a Wednesday. I had them at my partners’ meeting the next Monday. We had them a term sheet the same week. We signed it the following week.

That happens, right?

Well, sort of. Remember, it’s about Lines, Not Dots.

I first met Kara 5 years ago. I considered her one of LA’s great talents. You can imagine the narrative … Native Angelino. Competitive sportswoman. Princeton. Stanford MBA. Ex Venture Capitalist with Battery Ventures. Leaves to work in Corp Dev at IAC. Tells me she wants to do operational stuff so she joins a small team of people running City Search. She learns how to ship product, how to deal with merchants, how to hire product managers. She had previously acquired UrbanSpoon. Now she was tasked with running it.

She was a young mom back then. 2 kids. Sheryl Sandberg leans in? Kara perfected that. Somehow she was always on a flight up to Seattle or San Francisco. Always meeting her product ship dates. Getting involved with political events and fund raisers. And still able to make it out to LA networking events. She was always able to get into the weeds on product or biz dev discussions.

She was everything I was looking for in an entrepreneur to back.

Still.

What was she doing with Soleil Moon Frye?

Didn’t I make myself clear about celebrities & startups?

Ok. ladies, show me what you got.

It was magic at first meeting for me.

Kara on one side of the table showing me market sizes, competitive dynamics, product roadmaps, pricing plans for physical products with COGS and gross margins.

Soleil on the other side getting out sticker packages. Showing me designs. Talking about how to inspire moms to get their children engaged with iPads and physical activity sets customized for their kids and based in part on their digital lives. She speaks about ethical sourcing of eco-friendly products. She’s passionate about near-shore manufacturing in places like Haiti where we can do good and do well. About the need to be careful about being the low-cost provider of physical products but risking not providing products that mom’s can feel safe using with their children.

She is a brand ambassador at Target. She runs a mom segment on the Today Show. 1.5 million Twitter followers. Nearly all probably moms. Plus me. She won me over at first meeting.

Soleil returns emails at 1.30am. She flies from LA to NY every two weeks. She helps write press releases. She debates manufacturing strategies. She talks about creative design of websites and physical products – in our case – stickers.

Turns out she’s done this startup thing before. Who knew?

Kara & Soleil are hard-working powerhouses. Great moms, both. But passionate about building businesses.

Soleil is paranoid about leaking design & product information because she’s been burned. Kara is showing me GANTT charts, wireframes, user stories and ship dates.

They are yin & yang. In the most perfect sense of the definition. And they’re both full time committed to their startup – Moonfrye. Kara as CEO. Soleil at Chief Creative Officer.

When I told them I really wanted to work with them and lead their funding round they each had their, “but can you please save some space for …” moment.

Unsurprisingly for Kara is was the VC connections. So we have the pleasure of working with Dana Settle at Greycroft, whom I have a blanket offer with that any entrepreneur that wants to create room for Dana in a deal that I’m involved with has a free pass. She’s awesome to work with. As are her partners.

And for Soleil it was her entrepreneur friends: Dan Rosensweig, Tim Ferriss, Kevin Rose, Shervin Pishevar, Randi Zuckerberg, Gina Bianchini, Erik Lammerding and Rick Marini.

At one point she actually reached into her pocket and allocated some of her personal shares in the company to be sure that the people who advised her up to this point had enough advisory stock – she felt they had contributed to her success to date. I wonder if she even ever told them. That is Soleil. And part of the secret of her success.

So, Mark, enough entrepreneur love. What the eff are they actually building?

Turns out it’s something that instantly resonated with me. They have designed a digital, mobile product that engages parents and kids. It’s something you’d imagine working best on a tablet where the parents take digital assets (think: photos & stickers) and engage with their children in story telling, arts-and-crafts, scrap-booking and the like. They are designing physical products that will be shipped to kids and become both activities to do with friends & parents as well as collectibles.

When you think about physical stickers and activity books every parent can understand. I drove 45 minutes across LA to The Grove to a specialty sticker shop when my boys were young – so obsessed with stickers were they. At every holiday: Thanksgiving, Passover, etc. my wife bought activity sets to put together little collages of turkeys and Pilgrims and talk about Thanksgiving.

And I’m a huge believer in the merging of our digital and physical lives but mostly in preserving our physical ones. I’m passionate about personalization. Kids love stories that involve people they know: Aunts, uncles, cousins. They love looking at pictures PapaKay. And Bubbie.

But mostly I’m a believer in Kara & Soleil. I’m excited to take this journey together. And watch the magic of what they produce working together.

Now ladies, get back to work. Don’t think I’m going to be Mister Nice Guy if you miss that next product release date. Grrrr.

  • http://twitter.com/LameesStylist LameesStylist

    Incredible story! Wonderful to see such
    successful women taking front stage! Super inspiring for young female entrepreneurs :) Another fantastic post Mark!

  • http://byJess.net/ Jess Bachman

    Wow, what a team. The product sounds interesting but in my experience there is always something that is lost when an experience is shared with my kids on the ipad. I have had GREAT fun with them on the xbox, on the computer, and of course the meat space…. but only GOOD fun on the ipad. I’m not sure what it is, maybe I have low expectations of apps.

  • http://twitter.com/ChAvW Chris Auer-Welsbach

    Having women on your team is an absolute MUST nowadays!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. Yes, inspirational indeed.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Hope you get a chance to play with it when we’re live.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    +100

  • Greg Mand

    As a Dad with a young daughter I look forward to checking them out when they launch. Curious about their take on what it sounds like is making screen time “real.” +1 for the Tasha shoutout. :)

  • http://www.ericgfriedman.com/ Eric Friedman

    Lines not dots – love it. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Patrick

    Very awesome and inspiring story. I have high respect for what they’re doing and I don’t doubt it will be successful! Although I think kids are being introduced to the digital world too early… I loved stickers I had them on my drawing pad as a kid, every time I got a new sticker I liked it went on the pad, and thus the pad became a reflection of what I thought was cool – tangible. If I have kids they’re playing with real stickers and photos/books.

  • merylneiman

    What about us old female entrepreneurs? It’s pretty inspiring for us as well :)

  • merylneiman

    I started an online playdate scheduling site and I’m the host of a parenting talk show. Because I’m an entrepreneur myself (if you’re looking for another mom started business to invest in, keep me in mind!), I like to help promote other female founded businesses. Once they launch, if someone from the biz would like to do an interview about the app, I would be happy to include them on an episode. I can be reached at meryl@playdateplanet.com. Stickers got me through many a plane ride when my kids were real little!

  • http://influads.com/ damiansen

    Your blog post title is a bit redundant. Amazing comes as a default characteristic when you’re talking about women and startups ;)

  • http://hirethoughts.blogspot.com/ Donna Brewington White

    I didn’t want this story to end.

    Although I guess it hasn’t.

    Good on you Mark. These must be the moments that you live for as a VC. You, them, a truly exciting combination.

    And I laughed when you referred to when your boys were young. From photos they still seem quite young. My oldest turned 18 this month. Seems like stickers were just yesterday.

    Major congratulations!

  • http://twitter.com/davidsmuts David Smuts

    Sounds like a great market, a great concept/product, a great team and a great investment!

  • Sarah Marin

    Last line is weirdly sexist.

  • http://twitter.com/juamps juan pablo bedoya

    Fantastic. Good luck Kara and Soleil.