“Weekdays,” with Shauna Causey
Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert. And this is my producer Kyle. Today we sat down with Shauna Causey. She’s held multiple roles in successful technology startups. She’s currently CEO of WEEKDAYS, a company working to solve the massive childcare problem across the U.S. with an Airbnb-like platform, allowing anyone to start a daycare, preschool or afterschool program in their home. Shauna started her career at the age of 14 with the Seattle Mariners baseball team before leading teams at FOX Sports Net, Warner Brothers, Comcast, Nordstrom, Google, decide.com, E-bay, Startup Weekend, and Madrona Venture Labs. Shauna has appeared on Bloomberg, ABC, CBS, and NBC News, and was featured in both Marie Claire and GeekWire magazine for her startup work. She’s also had the opportunity to advise the White House under Obama’s leadership, and all this by the age of 44. Shauna, thank you for joining us today.
Shauna Causey: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Amanda: Well, it’s always fun to talk to you. You are always so upbeat and full of energy and listening to that introduction, I think you would just have to be. I kind of wonder if you ever sleep. But let’s start at the beginning of 14 years old. Not many résumés start at the age of 14. How did that start with the Mariners?
Shauna: Yeah, so I played four sports in high school and I was just really into athletics. And I remember my softball coach let me know that the Mariners were having tryouts for ball girls. And he thought that I should go try it. He approached me and was like, “You have a talent for this. You should go try out.” And so I got the chance to try out. I showed up, there was like 200 other girls in the Kingdome — if anybody remembers the Kingdome, and now I really am aging myself there. But, and then we just went through a practice where they hit balls at us. And for some reason they also hit pop flies at us, which we wouldn’t normally catch during a game. We’d let the players catch it, but it was a tryout. And then they ended up choosing eight out of that group. And I have no idea how I made it, but it was just a great journey that lasted seven years working for the Mariners.
“My softball coach let me know that the Mariners were having tryouts for ball girls.”
Amanda: Wow. So fun. Do you have a specific memory of meeting one of your sports hero icons?
Shauna: It is kind of interesting working there because, well, you’re a fan, they’re an icon, but when you’re there, they’re your coworker, you’re kind of walking next to them in the hallway, passing them in the hallways and still really admiring what they do, but after a while they weren’t on a pedestal the same way that they were when you’re sitting in the bleachers and that’s your only contact with them. But we had so many fun moments. I mean, Ken Griffey, Jr. would play pranks on us all the time. And he just had a really funny sense of humor and he would talk to all of, anyone, no matter what level you were in the organization, he would talk to you, which was always fun to see. So I definitely had my favorites as far as personalities and people that I knew, but it became more like coworkers. I know that sounds strange…
Amanda: No, I don’t think that sounds strange at all because rich people, talented people, famous people, they’re really just people once you meet them. But I can’t let that go. You have to tell me about a prank that Ken Griffey, Jr. played on you.
Shauna: So he didn’t play this one on me, but my favorite one that he did, he would come in and have wigs on and was just always doing something funny or different. But one time he had told somebody else who works as one of the bat boys, he had told them that he had lost the key to the batter’s box. And the warmup area, that’s technically on the field, that’s open, it’s right before you go and go up to bat. But he had phrased it as, “I lost the key to the warm-up batter’s box. And you have to find it for me, it’s really, really important.” And so this person who was my coworker was just going around, asking everybody. He was absolutely anxious and worried. And it was an urgent thing that he find this key, obviously that didn’t exist. So that was one of my favorites.
Amanda: That’s cute. Okay. Well, let’s dive into the rest of your career. Why startups and entrepreneurship? What makes that unique for you?
Shauna: I started my career working for Fortune 100 companies after the Seattle Mariners. And one of the things that I realized was when you’re in a company that big, change just takes a really long time. And so I really valued my experiences there. And I had quite a bit of experience working in different areas of business, but I was really anxious to be able to move faster and innovate and really try to think about how we can build something new that customers will use. And so I remember this one moment where we were celebrating that somebody had been at the company I was at for like 40 years. I remember it was a really fun celebration, but I remember thinking, I don’t think this is me. I think I want to go build something different. I don’t want to stay in one place for that long. But it was just kind of where it just hit me in a moment in time that there are so many things I want to do, I better go start doing those things.
“I started my career working for Fortune 100 companies after the Seattle Mariners.”
Amanda: That makes sense. I think there are those of us, even when you go out big picture to politics, but even down to the nitty gritty of how we like to live our daily lives, I think there are those of us who need a lot of things to stay the same, to feel safe and happy. And then there are those of us who need a lot of change and variety to make ourselves feel safe and happy. And I definitely gravitate to that change. So that makes sense to me. And I know there are people who they almost can’t catch their breath when they think about changing jobs and always going to someplace that’s building something new. And yet there are those who are listening to you going, “if only, that’s what I want to do.” I definitely see that difference there. So let’s go to like the college and the early years of experience. How did you prepare for that life of change and innovation?
Shauna: Well, it’s interesting because I was reflecting on us speaking today and I was thinking back to my college experience and right after college. And one of the thoughts that came to mind is I remember my first day at SPU, it was before school started and I don’t remember the name of the project, but essentially it was a service day. And I think it was a couple of weeks, a week or two before school started, before classes started and I was assigned to go work at the Salvation Army. And I ended up sifting through clothing, like sorting clothing in the back warehouse of the Salvation Army. Actually, it’s very funny. I remember I was just arriving and outside. I ended up washing some of their vehicles later and some of the Mariners players drove by and waved at me.
And they later asked, “What were you doing cleaning the truck at the Salvation Army?” Because it was right across the street from the Kingdome at the time, where the field is today. But I do remember sort of that, that idea of servant leadership and that transferred into sports for me because I played volleyball at SPU for three years. And part of that was just instilled in me the idea that if you have a spirit of servant leadership, that in helping others, you’re also learning and helping yourself. And so I just felt like that was one of the big things that I took away from my experience at SPU.
“In helping others, you’re also learning and helping yourself. And so I just felt like that was one of the big things that I took away from my experience at SPU.”
Two others come to mind. Playing college volleyball at that competitive level kind of gave me this insight into my own, the way that I wanted to live and the way that I wanted to work and how competition played into that. Because I do think there’s a healthy sense of competition. And then just being aware of where that line is and making sure that collaboration is part of that. But I really felt like I learned how to learn, how to iterate, how to have a healthy sense of competition.
Then I think the third thing that’s really helped me out is just this idea of curiosity. And one thing that’s been interesting in all my positions is I’ve always somehow asked for more responsibility because I was just curious to learn more and that’s enabled me to, in some ways, write my own job description, even when I was at the big companies, just figuring out what I wanted to do, what I was drawn to and then asking for more responsibility or more work. So those are three areas that came to mind that stem back to SPU and then my early years, right after SPU.
Amanda: Yeah. A sort of strange common thread that I hear through all that is wanting to be able to do all the jobs. When you’re on a team like volleyball, you move around even though you have your position, but you move around. And when you’re a servant leader, you know how to do a lot of the other jobs, you’re willing to wash the cars and sort the clothes, and then leading to being able to write your own job description, not being put in a box, but saying, “I like this part and this thing and this piece.” And I think as we move into this new world of technology and jobs changing so quickly, the idea that, that’s a positive, that I get to write my own position versus being worried that my job is going to change. So all that to say, I just think your outlook on life is one that you may have had it for some time, but I think a lot of us are going to need to adopt more of that outlook as we move forward.
Shauna: Yeah. That’s interesting to me — the buzzword, or the word that’s used recently, is having a growth mindset. The idea is exactly what you just described.
Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Knowing that there we’ll be moving forward, that stasis just isn’t, that’s not in our world anymore, so we have to be willing to grow and to change. So the other thing that everyone’s talking about these days is politics, which brings us to your time advising at the White House. Tell us how that came about.
Shauna: Yeah. Well, it probably makes me sound way more important than I was, but I was at Startup Weekend, which is a global organization that’s helping people learn how to start tech companies at the earlier stages. And so I was in a leadership role there and we had a partnership with the White House and part of that was just them learning from us, how does innovation work? What are the trends? What are you seeing, not only in United the States, but across the world when it comes to technology startups? And so they had this one day where they brought in some leaders from across the country, and actually it was I think three or four days, but one day where we all got a chance to sit down with Obama’s team and Michelle Obama’s team and just kind of share insights and have an open dialogue and an open discussion.
“I was able to get a bit of a glimpse on some of the types of problems they were trying to solve in the White House.”
And of course they didn’t share everything that was going on, but they did ask us a lot of questions. And I was able to get a bit of a glimpse on some of the types of problems they were trying to solve in the White House and how our angle can really help them solve that. And when I came back to Seattle, I ended up having some follow-up conversations because they really felt like there were some areas where they needed extra help. So it was an incredible opportunity. We had a chance to become an advisor to what they were working on without having too many details on the problems that they were trying to solve. But really, I think that they were curious on what can the government learn from startups and a startup mentality and innovation and technology.
I think it was around the time where they had launched the website that essentially enabled millions of Americans to get healthcare. And at first that website wasn’t working like they wanted it to work and there were a lot of problems with it. And I think a lot of it was related to how do they build technology into some of these urgent needs that the government has. And I think even, we look at recently with the vaccine rollouts and in many of those types of areas that it is different with each president, with each administration. But I really was impressed with what Obama was doing as far as just trying to learn from the community.
Amanda: Yeah. And I mean, I want to ask you that question, what can government learn from startups? Because obviously there are other models out there that are moving faster and are much more nimble than the government generally has been in the past. I remember when the first vaccines were rolling out and there was all in the news that some were going to waste and lines were really long. And I made a joke that you just need some moms in there. You need a mother of six that has two jobs because she will fix this. And I think sometimes learning from the models that other people know well is what we need, too. So what can our government learn from the startup world?
Shauna: There are a lot of things on the technical side that are interesting, but maybe the biggest that comes to mind is just this idea of a customer-centric mindset. And part of that is just because early startups or technology companies don’t have the runway or the funding to take a long time or to ignore what the customer wants. So there’s a lot of customer discovery. There are a lot of small tests and trying different things before features roll out and a lot of listening to customers. And I think there are many ways technology can help the government with whoever it is, whatever arm of government with that. And I think sometimes it’s easy to look at what we’ve done as a government and think that we have enough funding to just do what we’ve always done instead of quickly look at how we can change it to better meet the community’s needs. So to me at the top line that feels like the most important thing that we can just always keep doing better.
Amanda: Speaking of creating new things, should we talk about WEEKDAYS?
Shauna: I’d love to talk about WEEKDAYS.
Amanda: Well, let’s talk about the idea behind it and where you came up with this in the first place.
Shauna: Yeah. So I have two sons, a five-year-old who just turned five and a one-and-a-half-year-old. And when I had my son, we had just sold one of our startups that I was a leader, at a startup called decide.com. We had sold it to eBay, and I ended up having an offer to join eBay and was pregnant with my son. And after I had him, I was on seven wait lists for childcare. And I just really had a difficult time finding an open spot and then looking at, well, what else exists? Are there home-based programs I can look at? What are the options, here? And I just felt amazed at this industry and how archaic it still felt compared to other industries, and how technology can help other industries. I ended up really taking myself out of the workforce for about eight months, just for a lack of childcare options.
“I ended up really taking myself out of the workforce for about eight months, just for a lack of childcare options.”
Then we ended up finding an amazing nanny who was with my son, and fast forward to me working at Madrona Venture Labs here in Seattle on the VC side and realizing that now I’m trying to get my son into preschool and I’m again on multiple wait lists and I’m not getting him in any preschool. And he really needed socialization; he had a speech delay. And so again, I was reminded of this big problem. And so I ended up doing some volunteer preschool teaching at a preschool program that runs on the weekends, learning more about what is it like to be an educator in this space. What is the culture like? What is the pay like? What is the job? Because I really felt like I wanted to learn more about why this industry felt so broken to me and why there was a lack of options for parents.
And it is really interesting when you look at the data, there’s actually a childcare desert in the United States, which means that in many areas of the country, there are three times as many kids as there are spots available. And so many times you are looking to do this patchwork of options, whether it’s family or a nanny or a neighbor. And what we’re seeing now with the pandemic, I mean, record numbers of women are leaving the workforce because of childcare. And how can we look at reversing that because the stats really show us that 33 years of gender equality progress has been wiped out in the last year.
Shauna: And that’s going to take a while for us to really get back to even where we were before the pandemic. So anyway, all of these things led me to start looking at ideas in this space and it wasn’t a focus area for the venture firm and it wasn’t a focus area for me before having kids. But once I learned more about it, I almost felt like I had a responsibility to do what I could with my skills and what I learned in my experience and see if we could help this industry.
So after a lot of testing, we ended up rolling out a technology platform that makes it easy for educators to start their own home-based micro school. So these are programs with eight kids or less, and essentially bringing a quality bar.
“So after a lot of testing, we ended up rolling out a technology platform that makes it easy for educators to start their own home-based micro school.”
We’ve looked at automating the director role for preschool and finding ways where technology can help with that whole process. And then looking at how we can use underutilized spaces, so oftentimes those are homes to house the classroom, and right now we have some elementary programs just because the schools are closed during the pandemic. But our real focus is really early childhood education, which is kids one to six years old.
Amanda: Wow. That’s amazing. Yes. I wish I’d had more opportunities when I was at that stage of life. So with all the craziness, things are opening up now as we speak, and yet there’s still a long way to go. How do you keep WEEKDAYS growing during these crazy times?
Shauna: Our goal is really just making our culture, making our technology more useful. And what we’ve seen is that when educators find it useful, they refer it to other friends and other people, and usually educators know other educators. So we’ve had a lot of success just growing through referrals. It is an interesting question because upwards of 25% of early childhood education programs, including some childcare centers, have closed. Some of those will be permanent closures because some of them are small businesses, too. So there is a massive shift happening right now in education, in particular, early childhood education. There are a lot of educators looking for positions right now. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next year or two, but we have a wait list of quite a few educators. And right now we’re working on launching in 10 new neighborhoods across Seattle. Just yesterday, we made four offers to educators to start new micro school classrooms. So right now, we’re just trying to keep up.
Amanda: That sounds great. What if we have somebody listening right now that’s thinking, “I need to pause this and go look this up for their own family needs.” Where do they go?
Shauna: Our website is joinweekdays.com, but if anyone’s interested, I would absolutely love to talk to you and have you in touch with my team. You can even email me at Shauna S-H-A-U-N-A@joinweekdays, and we’d love to chat. I was just working with the team to add it to one of the SPU newsletters, because we are looking to hire educators around the Seattle area right now. So we’d love to talk to anyone who’s interested.
“We are looking to hire educators around the Seattle area right now. So we’d love to talk to anyone who’s interested.”
Amanda: Well, we are going to definitely follow your progress. This seems like just the thing that America needs right now. And as if your resume wasn’t full enough with everything that you’ve accomplished and what you’re trying to build now. You have the two young boys, you’re a competitive cyclist, beach volleyball player, when do you sleep? How do you manage a life with so many different boxes? I know there are a lot of us who had at least some semblance of control. And now that things have shifted, you’re trying to balance all over again. Do you have a system of balance that maybe some of us could learn from?
Shauna: Oh gosh, this question is so interesting because it’s almost like coming full circle. I remember when I was at SPU, we had a house that we lived in, we pitched to the University and it was called Women of Wisdom. And we held events where we talked about how do you balance all of it, as thinking about some of the women at SPU eventually being mothers and having a profession. And so the question really comes full circle. We had mentors come in and help us with that question, but how do I manage it?
I mean, I think before the pandemic, I was really struggling because I was in the middle of raising a funding round for WEEKDAYS. And I was traveling around the country with my mom and newborn son on flights, trying to meet with investors to essentially get money so we could keep scaling the startup that I’m working on. And it was really hard. I mean, I was feeding my son at the time. So I’m trying to find a place where I can breastfeed him in the airport, and it might be too much information, but essentially it was really, really, really hard. And I think one of the silver linings for me has been now being able to work, have a home-based office. One of my sons goes to a micro school just next door in a house. And my other son is here. We have a classroom space here in our house where my one-and-a-half-year-old is with four other of his one-and-a-half-year-old friends. And so I don’t have the commute time.
Now, I can do meetings over Zoom. For me, that’s been one of those silver linings. My family time is so much better now than it used to be because it was really, really hard to juggle it before, but I don’t have… I use some technology tools. One of them is called Notion that I just recently started using. And I have looked at how can I use, for instance, tools like Calendly, which helps. So if somebody wants to schedule a meeting with me, I don’t have to go back and forth three or four times via email, but I just look at how I can make the easy tasks automated if I can, and then how I can do a better job prioritizing, which I still haven’t completely figured out yet.
Amanda: Right. I think that’s all of us, right? We’re all trying to figure it out. We’re all trying to prioritize. But what I hear in your story is a little bit more of embracing the change, instead of saying, “Oh, things are changing. What am I going to do?” Embrace the change. Find the technology. You need to find the family time where you can. And I think we’re all in that boat right now where there’s a lot of change happening and possibly more change coming. And I think embracing it is the way to go. And, but there’s also people that have been doing that their whole lives, like you are, that we can look to for a little bit of a model there.
Shauna: I think that’s such a good point because it is this idea of, if you can, how can you try to find joy in the change and learn through the change instead of seeing it as something that’s always negative? I think that’s such a great point that you just made.
“If you can, how can you try to find joy in the change and learn through the change instead of seeing it as something that’s always negative?”
Amanda: Well, thank you. One question I wanted to be sure to ask, you had once mentioned on Twitter that in another life, you’d be a journalist. And I know that feeling. I love the interviewing. I love the research. So I want to ask you, what’s one question that you wish someone would ask you in an interview?
Shauna: Gosh, that has to be one of the best questions I’ve been asked. A few things come to mind, but one of them is, I think it’s always interesting to learn. It’s hard to ever ask this as the first question when you’re talking to somebody, but if you’re talking to somebody for a little while, I like to ask, what have you learned recently? Or what are you working on becoming better at? And because I think we should be always doing that. It’s always interesting to hear what the answers are.
Amanda: And I love learning and I have a friend too, anytime there’s a lull in a conversation, he’ll say, “Tell me something I don’t know.” And it’s so simple. And yet even I find my husband and with our kids, I now do that all the time. Because even though we’ve known each other our entire lives, you can still find something even if it’s something you heard on the radio on the way home, there’s something new that we haven’t shared with each other. So, yeah. What are you learning right now?
Shauna: One thing I’m working on is just on the parenting side. And part of this is informed by a lot of what I’ve learned through the research through WEEKDAYS, but it’s basically just this idea of seeing my children and other children too, but especially my own kids, really their own decision makers. Again, they’re only five and one and a half, but I can give you a really quick example. It was raining a few days ago and my son had just had all this energy. It was a weekend. We hadn’t gone outside yet for a walk or anything. And he’s just bouncing off the walls, like running around and when he ran by his brother, he ended up making his brother fall down. So my one-and-a-half-year-old’s crying, the other one is running back and forth. There’s a sprint happening in the house. And I think that if I’m very transparent and reflect on how I handle that type of a situation, I think in the past, it would have been easy to say, “You just knocked your brother over, go say sorry to your brother right now.”
Shauna: And kind of give him an order.
Shauna: And then he’s bouncing off the walls, so I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t pay attention to me. He’d keep running around, he’s five years old and then it would probably be, the next step would be like, “Let’s go to your room and let’s just have a little bit of quiet time. And then we can come out and say ‘sorry’ to your brother.” And so I’ve changed my approach now. And it hasn’t been easy to do as a parent, but now I’ve been really trying to put it in practice.
So that same situation happens, and I will ask my son, “What happened to Dylan? Why is he crying?” And really get my other son Connery in on the answer to the problem. “So why do you think he’s crying? What happened? Do you think it might help if you can help him get up?” Trying to help him along, either ask him open-ended questions and, or help him along in helping his brother instead of telling him what to do and then, if he’s not listening, having him go to his room. So it’s just a mindset change that I think you don’t know the research behind how kids learn or what they’re competent and what they’re able to do as a toddler. But I think really one of the great things is they’re capable of so much more than we realize. And I think it’s fun when they can surprise us.
Amanda: For sure. Even like you were saying, he was running around inside, because he’s full of energy and it’s raining to even engage the child with what could we do right now? And he may not be able to come up with a right answer or he might come up with something genius that you wouldn’t have thought of. And yeah, I find myself many times looking back at raising my own children and thinking, “boy, if I knew now what I knew then, a lot of what would change isn’t necessarily my behavior or those, but it’s me stressing about those things.”
Shauna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amanda: I remember I would feel like we were late and I would be mad because one wouldn’t get their shoes on or something along those lines when I was trying to get to the store because in my head we should probably be at the store by 9 a.m. Well, no one was waiting for us there; we were not late to the grocery store. And so yeah, I think so much of my parenting, I would just remove the stress for myself without necessarily even changing any of the behavior. But like you said, I think that’s not just parenthood, that’s your business. That’s life changes. That’s so many things that get thrown at us.
“I think educators are one of the most undervalued, underpaid workforces in our country.”
Shauna: Yeah, for sure. Yeah.
Amanda: Well, Shauna, I feel like every single time we talk, I learn something new from you and I write something on a sticky note that I’m going to put in practice. So I can’t wait to ask the final question for you that we ask all our guests. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that is going to make the world a better place, what would you have us do?
Shauna: You’re getting some really great questions in this podcast. I love it. I think the first thing that comes to mind is really placing a higher value on education and educators and paying teachers more. I think one of the things I’ve realized, especially in working in the education industry is that I think educators are one of the most undervalued, underpaid workforces in our country. And I hope that we can look at changing that and especially when it comes to early childhood education and that’s where really the pay, a lot of them don’t have benefits. And arguably these are the most important people in our lives outside of our family because they are in some ways the second family to our children. And so I think just really keeping that top of mind when issues come up, when we’re voting, when we have a chance to support our education systems from early child education, through K–12 and higher ed, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind.
Amanda: And that’s a great thing. And I think even a lot of the statistics you gave us today, I just wasn’t even thinking about how much the pandemic has changed. We see that the elementary-aged kids learning at home and all the strife that has caused, but just thinking about the ripple effects of how that’s going to affect us for years to come. So thank you very much for helping us focus on that and thanks for being with us today.
Shauna: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It was really fun to be on and I’m always following SPU and happy to be part of the community.
Amanda: Awesome. Well, let me just end with our prayer of blessing. May the Lord bless you and all you put your hand to, may the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story, may he bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Thanks Shauna.
Shauna: Thank you.