FF 009 How To Leverage Your Connections To Grow Your Business with Sarah Schupp, Founder & CEO @ University Parent



In this episode of Founders Friday on the 20 Minutes VC podcast, host Speaker A introduces Sarah Schup, CEO and founder of University Parent, a platform dedicated to aiding parents in supporting their children through higher education. Celebrating its 10th anniversary and recognized by prestigious entities, University Parent has evolved from a print guide to a comprehensive digital resource. Schup shares her journey from a college entrepreneur to a successful businesswoman, emphasizing the importance of parental involvement, digital presence, and leveraging university networks. She reflects on lessons learned, such as setting clear expectations and separating people from problems, while maintaining a balance between optimism and realism. Schup also discusses the value of a supportive entrepreneurial community and hints at future plans for University Parent, including expanding parent resources and travel booking services. The host also highlights Hiring Screen as a tool for simplifying the hiring process for founders.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Sarah Shup and University Parent

  • Sarah Shup is the CEO and founder of University Parent, the leading site for college parents.
  • University Parent began with a single print guide and has expanded to feature over 30 colleges and universities.
  • The company distributes a weekly e-newsletter and celebrated its 10th anniversary in May 2014.
  • University Parent was named to the Mercury 100 Biz West's ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in Boulder.
  • Sarah has received numerous accolades for her entrepreneurial success.

"Sarah is the CEO and founder of University Parent, which is the number one site for college parents to find everything they need to help their children succeed."

This quote introduces Sarah Shup as the founder of a successful company aimed at assisting college parents, highlighting the company's prominence in its field.

Sarah Shup's Recognition and Achievements

  • Sarah Shup has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as a top entrepreneur under 30.
  • Business Week listed her among the top 25 entrepreneurs under 25.
  • The Gates Foundation has named her a player to watch.
  • She has been acknowledged by the White House and the United Nations as one of the country's top young entrepreneurs.

"She's also been named a player to watch by the Gates foundation and was recognized by the White House and the United nations as one of the country's top young entrepreneurs."

This quote emphasizes the broad recognition and accolades Sarah Shup has received, indicating her significant impact as a young entrepreneur.

The Challenge of Hiring for Founders

  • Hiring is a common challenge faced by founders.
  • HiringScreen.com provides a solution by allowing founders to build profiles of ideal candidates and prioritize them using an algorithm.

"The one challenge that all founders seem to face is the prospect of hiring."

This quote identifies hiring as a critical and universal issue for founders, setting the stage for the introduction of a potential solution.

Sarah Shup's Personal Background

  • Sarah lives in Boulder, Colorado, is married, and has two young children.
  • She enjoys being part of Boulder's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • Elizabeth Krause at Merger Lane introduced Sarah to the show.

"I live in Boulder, Colorado, married. I've got two little kids that are ages one and three, and just love being part of the Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem."

The quote provides personal context about Sarah Shup's life, her family, and her connection to the entrepreneurial community in Boulder.

Origin and Mission of University Parent

  • University Parent serves as a resource for parents to support their children from high school through college.
  • The company was founded to address the lack of guidance for parents in supporting their children's education.
  • The idea for University Parent came from Sarah's involvement at CU and her realization of the importance of a support system for student success.

"University parent is the place for parents to find connection, support and information."

This quote succinctly states the core mission of University Parent, emphasizing its role as a support and resource hub for parents of college students.

University Parent's Approach to Parental Guidance

  • University Parent offers content to help families navigate college life.
  • The content is developed from various perspectives, including a first-person mom view and insights from higher education administrators and faculty.

"We really do it through content. So we've developed tons and tons of content to help families navigate the college adventure."

The quote explains the method by which University Parent fulfills its mission, emphasizing the extensive and varied content it provides to assist parents.

Sarah Shup as a First-Time Entrepreneur

  • Sarah started University Parent as a summer job before her senior year of college.
  • Initially, the venture was not intended to be long-term but was a way to make money over the summer.

"Well, I actually started it so the summer before my senior year. So it's kind of like a summer job."

This quote reveals the origins of University Parent as a summer project, which later evolved into a significant enterprise.

Realizing the Opportunity with University Parent

  • Parents, colleges, and advertisers all appreciated the product offered by University Parent.
  • Sarah identified the influence parents have on student spending and the untapped opportunity to reach them.

"And parents are really the biggest influencer in student spending, and so to have access to them through something that wasn't just the school was really powerful."

The quote highlights the market insight that drove the success of University Parent, recognizing parents as key influencers in the college market.

Reflections on Starting the Business

  • Sarah would have focused on building the digital side of University Parent earlier and more intentionally.
  • The website was initially not the core of the business, which Sarah later saw as an area for improvement.

"Millions of things. I think one of the biggest things I would have done differently at the beginning was really to start building our digital side faster and also more intentionally."

This quote indicates Sarah's retrospective insights on her strategic approach, particularly the importance of prioritizing digital development from the start.

Sarah Shup's Website Development Experience

  • Sarah built the initial website for University Parent using basic HTML.
  • She utilized available tools at the time, acknowledging the increased ease of creating a decent-looking site in the present day.

"I did, yes. Well, I was using really basic HTML. I wasn't doing any kind of serious coding and just kind of pulled together different tools that were available."

The quote provides details on Sarah's hands-on involvement in the early stages of University Parent's online presence, highlighting her resourcefulness and self-reliance.## Leveraging University Experience for Business

  • Utilize the university environment to observe challenges and opportunities.
  • Focus on what excites or motivates you and seems solvable.
  • Engage in conversations with peers and professionals for idea development.
  • Universities offer a supportive environment for risk-taking and failure.
  • Starting a business in university can be ideal due to fewer personal risks.

"Yeah, I think it's really important to pay close attention, whether really you're in university or not, to the environment that you're in and the challenges and opportunities that you see around you and just think through what gets you really excited or what gets you really fired up, and that also feels fixable."

This quote emphasizes the importance of being observant and proactive in one's environment, identifying what is personally motivating and appears to be a solvable issue, which is a crucial step in entrepreneurial initiative.

Identifying and Solving Problems

  • Recognizing recurring problems can lead to business opportunities.
  • Collaboration with university administrators can be beneficial.
  • A business can be built by providing solutions to identified problems.
  • Funding a business through advertising is a viable option when budgets are tight.

"So the place where it really came from is I was talking to one of the administrators at the university, and he was expressing his frustration that parents were calling the school and asking the same questions over and over again."

The quote highlights the origin of a business idea that came from identifying a repetitive problem faced by university administrators, leading to a creative solution that formed the basis of the business.

Building an Entrepreneurial Network

  • Location can significantly impact networking opportunities.
  • Boulder's open and supportive community is conducive to entrepreneurship.
  • It is beneficial to surround oneself with inspiring and challenging peers.
  • Intentional engagement with such individuals can provide motivation and support.

"The other thing about Boulder that is really unique is that it's a really open community. Everyone's really helpful with each other, and it's one of those places that feels really small but is also a decent size."

This quote describes the unique, supportive nature of Boulder's community, which fosters a non-competitive environment where entrepreneurs feel encouraged and connected.

The Value of an Entrepreneurial Community

  • Entrepreneurial communities provide support and networking opportunities.
  • The entrepreneurial journey can be lonely and challenging.
  • In-person interactions with peers can offer significant emotional support.
  • While virtual networks are helpful, they may not fully replace the benefits of in-person meetings.

"I think in a lot of ways, being in an entrepreneurial community makes life a whole lot easier because being an entrepreneur is so hard and there's so many ups and so many downs, and it's very lonely when you're the entrepreneur because you can't share everything that's going on with your team."

This quote underscores the difficulties of entrepreneurship and the advantages of being part of an entrepreneurial community, which can provide support through the highs and lows of running a business.

Challenges of Entrepreneurship and Team Dynamics

  • Entrepreneurs often face the dilemma of what to share with their team.
  • Keeping certain struggles confidential can be a necessary part of leadership.
  • Literature such as Ben Horowitz's book offers insights into these challenges.

"It's very lonely when you're the entrepreneur because you can't share everything that's going on with your team."

The quote reflects the isolation entrepreneurs can feel when they must withhold certain challenges from their team, a reality of leadership that requires balancing transparency and discretion.## Entrepreneurial Burden Sharing

  • Entrepreneurs often face the dilemma of whether to share burdens with their team.
  • Sharing can be beneficial, but not all burdens are appropriate to share.
  • Sensitive issues or those beyond the team's control should not be shared to avoid chaos.
  • The entrepreneur's role includes bearing certain stresses to lead effectively.

"I feel like sometimes it's good to share the burden and share some of the things that are going on, but I also think, too, sometimes that's not really fair to your employees."

This quote emphasizes the balance an entrepreneur must strike between transparency and protecting the team from unnecessary stress.

Management Style Evolution

  • Sarah Shup's management style has evolved from her start-up phase to being more experienced.
  • She emphasizes the importance of setting clear expectations for her team.
  • Separating people from the problem is a key principle in her management approach.
  • Patience and support are crucial to foster a comfortable and open working environment.

"I think some of the big things that I've learned and tried to do differently, one is, I think one of my biggest problems is I don't feel like I always clearly lay out my expectations for something."

This quote reflects Sarah Shup's realization of the need for clear communication of expectations to improve team performance.

Supporting and Understanding the Team

  • Sarah Shup prefers one-on-one interactions to understand her team members' personal and professional challenges.
  • Recognizing that employees have their own paths and supporting their growth and transitions is important.
  • Building strong relationships with employees can continue even after they leave the company.

"I really try and get to know everyone as an individual. And also, I think one of the things that most of my previous employees would say is that I understand that they're here for a period of time and that they're not going to be here forever."

This quote shows Sarah Shup's commitment to individualized support and her acknowledgment of the transient nature of employment.

Fundraising Experience

  • University Parent has raised funds from angel investors but not through institutional rounds.
  • The fundraising experience was challenging, especially as a first-time entrepreneur.
  • Sarah Shup's perspective on fundraising has evolved, seeing it less as a favor and more as an investment opportunity.

"We've raised some money from three angel investors very early on in the business to really help us grow and scale, but we haven't done an institutional round."

This quote provides insight into University Parent's fundraising history and Sarah Shup's experience with early-stage investment.

Networking and Investment Outlook

  • Initially, fundraising felt like asking for a favor rather than offering an investment.
  • Over time, Sarah Shup's outlook on fundraising and her network in Boulder have developed.
  • Understanding fundraising as an opportunity for investors is key for future endeavors.

"But the thing that I've learned now, just having been in Boulder a long time and watched a lot of friends raise money, is it's not asking for a favor, it's actually giving someone an opportunity."

This quote highlights the shift in Sarah Shup's understanding of fundraising as providing investors with an opportunity rather than seeking a personal favor.## Investment Opportunities and Mindset

  • Recognizing the value in connecting people with fulfilling investment opportunities.
  • The importance of approaching investment opportunities with enthusiasm rather than obligation.
  • The positive feeling derived from matching good investors with competent entrepreneurs.

e money, is learning that everyone's always looking for great opportunities. And if you're connecting someone with an opportunity that's going to be fulfilling for them, help them increase their investment portfolio and is a good match, that feels great and on the investor side, too.

This quote emphasizes the satisfaction gained from facilitating beneficial investment matches for both the investor and the investee.

Definitely. It's so interesting when you have a happy investor or someone who's looking for the next deal, right, and they get really excited about it. And I've connected a lot of investors with entrepreneurs and especially when you know that both are good players and have the best intentions and are going to be great operators, that feels awesome.

The speaker, Sarah Shup, highlights the joy in seeing a successful connection between investors and entrepreneurs, especially when both parties are reputable and have good intentions.

Personal Favorites and Inspirations

  • Sarah Shup's favorite book is "The Alchemist" due to its themes of openness and optimism.
  • Daily business progress is measured by checking revenue through Salesforce.
  • The think with Google newsletter is favored for insights on changes in digital advertising.
  • Jason Eckenrock is mentioned as a successful founder who has impressively grown his business.

Yeah, so my favorite book is the Alchemist by Paula Coelho. And I love it because it's all about being open to the universe and being adventurous and just always believing that something great is going to transpire. And I just love the optimism of it.

Sarah Shup appreciates "The Alchemist" for its positive outlook on life and the belief in the possibility of great outcomes.

I check Salesforce relentlessly, so definitely revenue.

Revenue is the key metric used by Sarah Shup to gauge the daily progress of her business, which she monitors through Salesforce.

Right now I really like the think with Google newsletter and it's all about what's changing in digital advertising.

The think with Google newsletter is currently Sarah Shup's preferred source for staying updated on trends in digital advertising.

So one of my friends, Jason Eckenrock, comes to mind. We were in an incubator early on together and he built a business here in Boulder called Ship Compliant.

Mentioning Jason Eckenrock as an inspiring successful founder, Sarah Shup reflects on his journey from an early idea to a successful business.

Balancing Optimism and Realism as a Founder

  • The challenge of maintaining optimism while being realistic in business.
  • The speaker discusses the difficulty in balancing high aspirations with practical limitations.
  • Strategies include seeking advice from friends and self-reflection to maintain motivation and perspective.

Founder, I think the most challenging aspect is being relentlessly optimistic, but also realistic and not letting your realism ever hurt the possibilities for the business, but then also not being delusionally optimistic.

Sarah Shup identifies the difficult balance between optimism and realism as a founder, emphasizing the need to remain hopeful without being unrealistic.

Yeah, I try to. As you said, definitely the biggest challenge. And for me, I feel like the longer I've been at this, the more optimistic and more opportunities I see, and I keep seeing new things unveil themselves.

She admits to the struggle of managing optimism and realism but notes that experience has increased her optimism and ability to see new opportunities.

Then it just becomes about how do you decide which to go after next, and how do you figure out what's going to take the least amount of energy and be the most profitable quickly.

Sarah Shup talks about the decision-making process in pursuing opportunities that are most efficient and profitable.

Future Plans for University Parent

  • Aiming to grow the community of parents and introduce new advertising opportunities.
  • Recently launched a travel booking program for parents visiting campuses.
  • Plans to curate special opportunities for parents based on trusted brands and vendors.

Yeah, so sort of our next big step is really growing our community of parents and adding additional contextually related advertising and revenue opportunities.

Sarah Shup outlines the next steps for her business, which include expanding the parent community and adding more relevant advertising options.

So one thing we've rolled out recently is a program where parents can book travel for campus visits, parents weekend, going to sporting events directly through the site.

She details a new feature that allows parents to book travel for campus-related visits directly through the site, which has been performing well.

Founders Friday and Hiring Screen Promotion

  • Thanks given to Sarah Shup for participating in Founders Friday.
  • Mention of resources related to the episode available on a blog.
  • Hiring Screen is promoted as a tool for hiring A-players, with a unique graphical recruitment process and a ranking algorithm for matching candidates to preferences.

Thanks so much for having me, as.

Sarah Shup expresses gratitude for being featured on the Founders Friday show.

Always, all the incredible resources and items mentioned in today's amazing episode with Sarah can be found on the blog at www. Dot the Twentyminutevc.com.

The host points listeners to a blog where they can find resources mentioned in the episode with Sarah Shup.

We'll look no further than hiring screen, who provide a really interactive, graphical experience of the whole recruitment process, providing instant analysis of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses and then prioritizing them according to their blink algorithm which ranks them according to their match to your preferences.

Hiring Screen is endorsed as an innovative recruitment tool that offers a graphical experience and an algorithm for evaluating and ranking candidates based on the employer's preferences.

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