She might only be 24-years-old, but she is more forward-thinking and action-oriented than most. Sophia Parsa is the founder of Toot, an app that connects students to tutors in their area. Users requesting tutors range from high school and college students to young professionals and parents wanting to learn how to be a tutor themselves.
When you use the app, which Parsa started at 21, participating tutors pop up, complete with a 20-second video pitch, a bio and hourly rate. Alternatively, customers can email a request for a curated list of who Toot will think is a good fit, which Parsa’s team arranges manually. According to Parsa, the app’s rate of dissatisfied clients has not even reached 1 percent of users. So just how did Parsa end up starting such a successful company at such a young age?
Start Now, But Start Wisely
Companies don’t happen overnight, but ideas do. Parsa realized that she had hit the jackpot with her idea, and that she needed to make this idea happen. But she didn’t stop everything to start Toot. In fact, she stayed at the first company she started until she was sure she could execute – something she realized when she was introduced to her equally passionate co-founder Shaq, a self-taught engineer who had just emigrated from Iran.
Know Your Strengths
Parsa knows she’s not a technical expert, but she also knows she’s a marketing whiz. “While I agree I’m not technical, I’m the customer here. I’m the student who knows what the student needs in order to be happy and feel like this is a successful product.”
Have A Long-Term Vision
Parsa knows the process to expand, at least in terms of her business: get the required capital, visit a college campus to recruit tutors and Toot ambassadors, and then create a digital campaign to spread the word. “Hopefully, in 10 years, we’ll be international," she says. "That’s the dream, right? I’d love that, no matter where you are, no matter what you want to learn, if you were in Spain and you wanted a Spanish lesson, I’d love to connect you with a local,” she says.
Surround Yourself With Good Vibes
“It’s more about the team than anything. Show that you have a great team – and if it’s just you, that you can prove that you’re the one to do this,” says Parsa.
Find A Balance Between Supply And Demand
Parsa created a waiting list for prospective tutors in order to balance the overwhelming supply of eligible tutors with the growing demand of clients.
Don’t Let Anyone Build Your Vision For You“I would never suggest that someone just starting out [with their own company or brand] should hire an agency," she says. "You really have to build your own brand – that’s the most important part. I would hate for someone to build my vision for me.”
Prove Yourself To InvestorsStart “to build as much as you can without capital – to show what you can do with practically no money,” advises Parsa. Show that “users that really love [your] product and can’t live without it.” Once you can prove that to an investor, you can get them to really believe in your idea because they believe you’re going to take it to the next level.
Set Your Company Apart From The CompetitionStanding out as a business has perhaps never been more important. “This space is really noisy – every space is getting crowded at this point," she says. "People are being more and more innovative. Every day, there’s a new entrepreneur. I think it’s really, how do you set yourself apart? What differentiates you from the rest of the crowd, and why is it going to be you to be the one that makes [your company] successful?”
No Fun? No Point
Parsa doesn’t “want to be that person who is just working around the clock and stressed out all the time," she says. "That’s not the life.”
Starting a tech company is hard work, but it is certainly not impossible. College students especially are usually overwhelmed with homework and don’t think about cultivating any ideas or visions they may have, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Parsa’s advice to everyone:
“If you have a vision… do a little bit of research, validate the idea, and start immediately.”
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.