A complex marketplace to support growth in Canada: a startup founder story

by Marina Ozhohanych

SOSsitter is one of the most complex projects among marketplaces due to complicated payment flows and user scenarios, developed by Unicsoft. SOSsitter is a Canadian service designed for the busy parents and provides a link between families looking for nannies, babysitters, senior caregivers, special needs caregivers, pet sitters and housekeepers offering their services on an occasional or regular basis. It’s a great story of a startup becoming a profitable business. 

We’ve been working together with SOSsitter for more than 4 years already and it’s time to look back and talk about the joint work, how it all started, the results of our partnership. So we asked Paulina, the founder of SOSsitter, to share her experience of being an entrepreneur and give some advice to startup founders.

Please enjoy the interview with Paulina Podgorska, the founder of SOSsitter. 

How did you find Unicsoft and why have you decided to move on with us to develop the solution?

I was looking for a strong IT partner. Not just one able to code, but capable recommending solutions and work with me to grow my business. I found Unicsoft on upwork.com – a place where you can find individual freelancers and companies. I wanted to work with an Ukrainian company as I knew the country provides high quality IT skills. A number of companies contacted me but the professionalism, curiosity about my business and your offer gave me a reason to select Unicsoft. And that was a good call. We’ve been working for 4 years now, and I’m quite happy with what we have achieved so far.
 

What were the biggest threats and challenges in developing your startup? 

 
There were so many challenges. I think the biggest one was to make sure I had the right idea for the business to take off and to grow. So what I did was to test the idea with a very primitive prototype to find out if it had traction. And it did. Once I saw it, I knew the business will work, and pushed the button for full site development.

Another challenge was to make sure I have the right staff with the right quality of skills. This one it tough as the only way you really know is with trial and error. So I had some good people and not some good people. Once I knew who the good ones were, I made sure they were happy with me, so we could stay and grow together 🙂
 

Please, tell our readers more about yourself, your past experience, how you came up with the idea of SOSsitter and how is all started? 

 
Businesses are there to respond to a need, a human need. I really needed a nanny for my son so I can return to work after maternity leave. I couldn’t find one for quite a while which was very stressful. When back at work, I quickly realized that a lot of parents were in the same shoes as I was. It was therefore an organic decision to set up a digital platform that will match child caregivers with families. That was 10 years ago. The platform quickly evolved to offer other types of caregiving like pet sitting, senior caregiving, house cleaning. It is now the leader in Easter Canada and is going strong.
 

Describe your experience during the development stage? Do you have any technical background? Was it difficult to communicate with technical team?

 
Early on I found out that as a business person communicating directly to a programmer was difficult: we didn’t speak the same language, we didn’t have the same way of thinking. I needed some sort of intermediary – a project manager. Once I had one, it made things much more efficient and quick.

Another necessity was a business analyst. During my first site development I did not go with a business analyst. It was a mistake because I had to change so many things afterwards, which has proven to be way more costly than having a business analysts in the first place. With a business analyst a lot of key questions are answered before development stars, leading to much more efficient code output and final outcome. So definitely go with the business analyst.
 

 
Another learning for me is not to over complicate your product, especially at the very beginning of a business. I am very much of the school of having a product skeleton first and then add meat to it. At the very beginning, don’t put a Ferrari out there. Just put a very basic Ford. It is important to get your development team early on behind this idea, and avoid working on the basis of exceptions.
 

How is SOSsitter doing now? We know you won the StartupCanada Social Enterprise Award in 2017. Did it help to grow?  

 
SOSsitter is going very well, it’s growing year by year and this since 2009. Of course, I was very happy to receive the Startup Canada Awards award because it was a formal recognition of my success. However, it is not thanks to this award, or any other Award I received in the past, that my business is going strong. It is through consistent work focused on users, not on awards. I find that awards are more an ego- based thing that, you know, it’s nice to have. I doesn’t add much to the bottom line. It’s just a shine. The shine doesn’t give you money. It’s hard work that does.
 

 

So what’s your benchmark for assessing a startup whether they’ll die or make an impact (it’s known that 90 % of startups fail)?  

 
For me, there are two criterias to judge if a startup will be successful or not: first, does it answer an existing need, then, how pressing this need is? Here, I am looking for a need, not a want, or a “nice to have”. The more pressing the need is (which means not having it met will equate, stress, anxiety, pressure) the more chances the startup will have to achieve traction and grow.
 

What’s the most exciting thing about starting your own company and scaling your startup? 

 
I love starting a business, creating something from scratch. You have an idea and you have this buzz to make it happen. It is a highly creative energy. It’s energy of life. I think it’s a very exciting stage of a business. Risky of course, enormously risky, but very exciting and very creative.

With scaling up it’s a different story. You are entering a very different energy, a different way of thinking. I find it’s even more riskier as there’s more at stake: you have employees, you have investors and existing clients. So it takes a different type of skills. I really think that entrepreneurs are very good at starting things, but not necessary as good at growing things. It takes different type of mind to do it very well.
 

What are you plans for the future? Do you see any technology trends or developments that will be helping the growth of your business?

 
Yes, artificial intelligence is the future. In customer service or R&D. However, I think it will never ever replace the human factor. The face to face contact and empathy is very important and will always seal the deal.
 

What message would you like to give to startups and founders? 

 
Test first. Really test first. It’s a boring process because you’re just aching to get going. But test, test, test, test. Talk to your future users. Talk to your existing users. Conduct qualitative and quantitative surveys. Cover the basics first. Make sure your idea is well understood, needed and welcomed.
 

 
Paulina, we are so grateful for sharing your experience with us and being so open. We admire your strength, willpower, and ability to manage so many projects, having a family and kids. You are truly inspiring women, leader, and an amazing person.Your interview will help and encourage so many startup founders.

Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. I hope it’s going to help some people to see it what it is for real. There is a lot of hype out there with stories of enormous riches or phenomenal growths. There is only one recipe for success: stick to the basics, build your business step by step and work hard.

We truly hope this interview and the experience of an amazing entrepreneur helps you to overcome the challenges of your startup, inspires you for the new projects, and helps you to find the piece of advice you need to develop a profitable and successful business.

Unicsoft is a team of caring and passionate technology professionals who bring startups to success. Our goal is to make your product technologically perfect to fit the market and bring business results. Since 2005 we have been the most reliable and trusted partner of SOSsitter, Intellinote, Kokoro, Soraa and other 50 startups in the US, Singapore, London, and the EU. Have a great idea? We are here to deliver a software solution. Contact us! 

*The interview was taken via the voice call, we’ve kept the original language during transcription.

 

 

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