Sarah Schupp has only been a mother for a few years, but she’s been in the parenting business since college. While at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she founded UniversityParent. It’s a publishing and web empire that helps parents of students across the country better navigate the college landscape.
“Whenever my parents visited me at college, I noticed that they were eager to learn more about the school and the local area. But there weren’t any resources really just meant for them,” she explains. “Most of the school’s information was geared towards students.” And — as Schupp has noted to Inc. and other outlets — she didn’t feel qualified to give her own parents much advice. As a student, for example, she had never stayed in hotels and frequented cheap pizza places for dinner. Not quite the experience her parents had in mind when they visited.
That first visit from Schupp’s parents sparked the idea for UniversityParent, a guidebook to help parents navigate all the new things involved with sending a kid off to school in another city. “I decided to pursue the business full-time after our team won the school’s business plan competition; and once I had several other schools that were interested in partnering with us,” she says.
As a student, Schupp had lots of passion, but not much experience targeting the university parent demographic she was chasing. “I think the hardest part about reaching a generation that I wasn’t a part of was trying to reach them in the same way that I wanted to be reached, or the same way that I accessed information,” she says. That disconnect made it harder for Schupp to gain momentum early on. “I had to guess what the audience wanted, and it was difficult to be taken seriously by our partners — both schools and advertisers,” Schupp says.
Schupp eventually found her way, collecting entrepreneurship accolades from the White House and the United Nations as well as being named one of Inc. magazine’s “30 under 30.” Her advice for other entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs targeting customers outside their own experience? “Be honest that you’re not part of their demographic. Don’t fake your way in, but instead, explain why you care about them. Explain why you’re trying to solve the problem you’re after,” she says. “For me, I would share that while I wasn’t a parent myself. I had experienced the problem from my parent’s perspective — and as a student. I knew there was a way to make it easier for parents to access information about the school, and the local community,” she says.
Over time, Schupp grew the business into a multi-million dollar publishing and digital enterprise. She has more than a dozen employees servicing hundreds of thousands of parents from hundreds of schools across the country. In 2016, she sold the print division of her company to allow her to focus more on the digital side — and spend time with her own growing family.
Q&A with Sarah Schupp: Transitioning from founder to working mom.
The ways in which people consume information have changed since 2004. What are the biggest ways technology has impacted your business?
One of the big reasons we sold the print division of the business was so that we could focus on growing the digital assets, especially UniversityParent.com. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that when we first started, we really relied on the universities to provide access to the parent audience. But because of our website, over time, we were reaching parents all over the world, regardless of a school partnership. It is so much easier now to reach your customer directly, just by providing the information they’re searching for online.
Now that you’re a parent yourself, how has the way you think about your business changed?
The way I think about my business has changed significantly. When I found out that I was pregnant, I downloaded an app called Babycenter. The app provides weekly reminders and updates about your pregnancy, and future child. When I started using it regularly, it connected the dots for me. I figured out how we could help parents better support their son or daughter through their college experience. While everyone has somewhat of a different experience, there are common themes and stages that most will face that we can help with, just by sharing the right content at the right time.
What was the hardest part of juggling your company with raising your daughters?
While it is not necessarily “hard,” the hardest thing about parenting and working for me is just navigating the logistics. Whether it is trying to fit in everything you need to do at work, or everything you need to at home, or for yourself, there is just so much less time. If I need to travel for work, it means covering a ton of logistics. It includes who can handle school drop-off, pick-up, making lunches, getting to swim team, etc. And then still feeling guilty about what I might be missing at home, or conversely at work because I didn’t go on the trip. There is a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out), and guilt about how I’m spending my time.
Besides your two girls, what else keeps you busy these days?
I’m currently involved in a few companies, mostly focused on digital marketing. I also teach in the entrepreneurship program at my alma mater, the University of Colorado at Boulder. This semester I’m teaching the Business Plan Class to graduating seniors who are non-business majors.
What’s the number-one lesson you hope your daughters learn from watching you build a company?
I want them to believe that they can create a job, a team, a product or a company that truly leverages what they do best.