Erica Mackey is the CEO of MyVillage. Erica is a thought leader, influencer, visionary, and successful entrepreneur. Erica provides the leadership and energy that has inspired the creation of MyVillage. Erica Mackey joins other leading CEOs and Founders taking part in our Leader Roundtable Interview Series. The DotCom Magazine editorial team has recently awarded MyVillage with our Impact Company of 2019 award. We are delighted to have Erica join us for our Leader Roundtable Interview and our popular “speed round” as well.
Erica, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day for this interview about your company, leadership, and entrepreneurship.
1. What is the “elevator pitch” for MyVillage?
MyVillage is reimagining early childhood education by helping people start high-quality home-based programs where they can earn 30-50% more than the national average for childcare workers.
Founded by two working moms who directly experienced the struggle to find high quality care for our babies, MyVillage now has more than 50 educators across two states. We’re the only company with a childcare solution proven to work in Main Street America, not just on the coasts.
2. What is the key to your company’s success?
Our community. We’re a tech-enabled company, but the solution to creating high quality childcare is people-driven, so we put community front and center in all we do. We’re solving a very real problem—the nation’s childcare shortage—while helping our educators every step along the path of opening a thriving home-based childcare business. Not only is each member of our executive team a parent, but each person brings a world-class background in his or her particular area and a commitment to MyVillage’s core values. We’re the best at what we do, but who we are makes us empathetic of our customers’ experiences.
3. Many of our readers are just starting to build a company. What advice can you give entrepreneurs just starting out with a new venture?
First of all, don’t get stuck in your specific solution to your core business problem. Be open to the fact that things will inevitably change. You need to be ready to leave behind aspects of your model that you love when you are seeing signs they aren’t working. For example, MyVillage quickly abandoned an MLM-style business model because we saw right away that early childhood educators do not want to be salespeople whatsoever. Making them go out and recruit other educators to earn a percentage of other’s businesses made them feel icky and was simply the wrong tool to solve the problem— so we’ve now found a much better model to tackle it and gain the support and trust of educators.
Secondly, get to know your customer. I literally am my own customer because I am the mom of two daughters ages 3 and 1 (they attend the MyVillage program located adjacent to our Bozeman office). I didn’t realize what a struggle it would be to find childcare until I had my oldest, Izzy. I had no idea I was supposed to have gotten her on a wait list before she was even born to ensure she could receive high quality daycare. That led me to interview tons of other parents who experienced the same thing or worse (some wait lists are 24 months, so you may not even be pregnant or trying to become pregnant yet). I also began hearing from early childhood educators about how the system didn’t work for them, either. So often these educators’ talents are wasted in an industry with notoriously low pay for such an important job. I saw clearly that the system was failing for everyone, and as a parent and entrepreneur, I decided that my next company would be devoted to fixing it. Whatever the pain is that you are trying to solve, you need to eat, sleep and breathe it.
4. For other entrepreneurs seeking to build a business as successful as yours, what advice can you give them when times get a little challenging?
Hire people smarter than you are. Same goes for investors. Surrounding yourself with a great team is key to long term success, as is being really clear about your values and mission as a company. I advocate that leaders create rituals to help reinforce their company’s value system throughout the work day and year.
5. How important is the commitment to client satisfaction at MyVillage, and how do you make sure your customers will become raving fans of your company?
It’s very important. We are so proud of our 98 NPS score from parents with children in MyVillage programs. We know our initial 100 MyVillage programs will define the next 1,000, a goal we plan to hit by the end of next year. Quality is everything in the fragmented childcare market, and it’s key to delivering a real solution that can scale nationally, regardless of population size.
Quality in the childcare space is often determined by parents, who are actually pretty uninformed about what constitutes quality early childhood education, despite great
intentions. From a mission perspective, we want to create kindergarten-ready kids and are driven by measurable outcomes, but the NPS scores we get from parents help us make sure that they are delighted by all the aspects of their child’s experience too. At the same time, we’re trying to educate parents on what high-quality education actually is, and why ages 0-5 are so crucial for kids’ brain development.
6. In today’s fast changing business environment, how do you stay abreast of things?
I rely pretty heavily on daily digests like Axios, the Hustle, Pitchbook and other curated news feeds. I also make sure that during each conversation I have with our investors I save 5-10 minutes of time to ask about their perceptions on trends in business, childcare, and early education. When your company is in fundraising mode, so much time is spent giving out information, so I love having a way to create a more reciprocal relationship and learn from their expertise.
7. What is your “Why”? Why do you get up in the morning, and how do you keep yourself at peak performance to lead MyVillage?
I don’t want any other working parents to go through the guilt I felt when I couldn’t find quality care for my daughter. I was absolutely panicked, and I felt so stupid for not knowing how broken the system was. Like many moms, I blamed myself, but really, the system is failing us. That’s why I’m so driven to fix it through MyVillage.
8. Can you recommend a book that has had an influence in your career? How did it influence you?
Books like A Long Walk to Freedom and It’s Our Turn to Eat helped me understand the complexity of Africa, and the challenges, opportunities and the heart that exists on that continent. I read those in high school, long before earning an MBA, but both led me on the path to develop Off Grid Electric, the company I co-founded before MyVillage. Off Grid brought solar energy to over 1 million rural Africans and I lived in Tanzania for a decade.
9. When communicating with your staff, can you tell us the most important thing you do so that they are able to carry out the objectives that you set forth at MyVillage?
Between trying to raise money and build an incredible product, leaders of a startup face tons of distractions in your inbox every morning. My team uses a framework called Objectives and Key Results that encourages us to define stretch goals and measure progress by outcomes. We have weekly team confidence touchpoints to assess how we are progressing with our OKRs.
Because MyVillage is creating childcare businesses, we structure these around our childcare rhythm of the day with ‘drop-offs’ and ‘pick-ups’. The Monday ‘drop-off’ is where the team reports on how confident we are that we’ll achieve the key results on a scale of 1-10. This gives us visibility into our results progress and helps us stay focused on where we are encountering roadblocks and throw the entire team’s weight behind it if needed.
OKRs helped us set the goal of doubling in size every six months. Because of this framework we surpassed that goal for the last several quarters.
10. Can you explain what leadership means to you?
To me, leadership is about having a clear, inspiring vision and then figuring out how to assemble and motivate the right team to own and drive toward that vision. The best leaders empower others to own and leave their own imprint on the pathway toward a unified vision. Leaders spend time on the front end, getting the right people into the right places, and then getting out of their way as much as possible.
We would like to have some fun and do a “speed round” with you! We will ask you ten more questions that we want you to answer in just one to three words only.
Here you go!
1. In three words or less, what makes a successful CEO?
Grit and decisiveness.
2. Describe your business in one word?
3. Describe your customers in one word?
4. What one attribute do you look for when hiring an employee?
5. What is the one word you want your customers to say about your company?
6. In three words or less, describe your passion?
Fixing complex problems
7. In three words or less, describe what it takes to be successful?
Vision, tenacity, and hope
8. In three words or less, describe your first year in business at MyVillage?
9. In three words or less, describe how running a successful company has changed you?
Confidence and clarity to tackle bigger problems
10. What is the one word that you believe has the most power in the English language?
Erica Mackey, thank you so much for sitting down with us for our DotCom Magazine Leader Roundtable Interview Series. We very much appreciate the time you spent helping our readers learn more about what it takes to be a leader. We wish you, your family, and of course MyVillage, nothing but the best.