Jamee Herbert CEO BridgeCare – Hiring for ‘fit’ in Early Childcare

“Childcare is an issue that is only known by the people who are experiencing it. And it’s one of the reasons it perpetuates as a problem.”

– Jamee Herbert

On this week’s episode of the On Work and Revolution podcast, we have Jamee Herbert in the guest chair. Jamee is the CEO and founder of BridgeCare, a company dedicated to transforming the early childhood care and education landscape. In this episode, we dig deep into one of our favorite topics: hiring for mission-driven EdTech companies. Jamee generously shares the hiring and recruiting strategies she employs to build passionate, mission-driven teams committed to tackling the challenges of early childcare head-on.

The main themes that emerged in this conversation include:

  1. Challenges of the childcare industry: Jamee highlights the lack of awareness surrounding childcare issues and the resulting impact on women in the workforce.
  2. Jamee’s inspiring entrepreneurial journey: Jamee discusses her natural transition into entrepreneurship, driven by her passion for making a positive impact and her family background in business.
  3. Hiring for mission-driven companies: Jamee emphasizes the importance of finding candidates who are not only skilled but also passionate about the company’s mission, and how this alignment fosters a strong and dedicated team.
  4. The importance of fair compensation and intentionality: Jamee highlights BridgeCare’s commitment to fair compensation and long-term employee retention, recognizing that these factors are crucial for building a successful team in a demanding startup environment.

Give this conversation a listen, and don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you have any questions, comments, or feedback. 

About our guest, Jamee Herbert:

Jamee Herbert is a female founder and CEO of BridgeCare, helping parents find affordable, high-quality child care, regardless of their socioeconomic status or living arrangements. Jamee holds an MBA in Sustainable Systems from Presidio Graduate School and a Certificate in Early Childhood Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education. With a diverse background in women’s advocacy, corporate sales, and systems thinking, she saw the connection between quality child care access and its impact on women in the workplace. She founded BridgeCare to realize the vision of an early care and education system for everyone.

Helpful Links:

Follow Jamee on LinkedIn

Open for Full Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Debbie Goodman: Welcome to On Work and Revolution, where we talk about what’s shaking up in the world of work and edtech. I’m your host, Debbie Goodman. I’m CEO of Jack Hammer Global, a global group of executive search and leadership coaching companies. I’m also an advisor to venture backed edtech founders. And for those of you in edtech who are hiring, we’ve launched a fractional leaders offering. I’ll put the link in the show notes. My main mission with all of my work Is to help companies and leaders to create amazing workplaces where people and ideas flourish. So today it’s really great to have Jamee Herbert as my guest. Jamee is CEO and co founder of BridgeCare, which provides equitable, effective data and technology infrastructure for early childhood care and education, which is a bit of a mouthful. In more plain English, BridgeCare helps parents find affordable, high quality childcare regardless of their socioeconomic status or living arrangements.

We know that the childcare system in the U. S. in particular has many, many challenges and problems. Since 2016, Jamee and her BridgeCare team have served more than 50, 000 early childcare providers and 500, 000 families across the 500 counties in the US. And so it’s no surprise that they were recently named the winner of Edtech Breakthrough’s Early Childhood Education Innovation of the Year Award, another mouthful, and a couple of months ago, they raised a 10 million investment round. And today we’re going to chat to Jamee about her journey into the world of early childcare and what it takes to grow a mission driven team. Welcome, Jamee.

[00:01:53] Jamee Herbert: Thank you. Great to be here.

[00:01:56] Debbie Goodman: Okay. So, at what point in your career did you decide that solving the massive problems around early childcare and education was going to be your mission in life?

[00:02:10] Jamee Herbert: So, specifically early care and education, I came to around 2014 learning about the issue, but a little bit about my journey prior. I’ve always kind of been oriented in just really pulled toward having a better, making the world a better place through my time here. And the work that has excited me has always been work that is related to In that service of that mission. Over the years, I’ve kind of learned more and matured my understanding of how I might have that kind of impact in the world. And I ended up getting my MBA in sustainable systems and really thinking about how systems can be improved. But I also worked in advocacy for women and children in the nonprofit world prior. So always kind of had this theme right in my life. But in 2014, I was in my MBA and learned about the issues of childcare while I was planning for my own family and learned about the number of women that leave the workforce as a result of lack of access to high quality and affordable childcare and really kind of saw the writing on the wall, for myself. And the only way I can describe that I even could see that, was that I am a planner and a future thinker. I started saving for a car in 2nd grade and I just, yeah, people don’t believe that I could see that because for the most part, childcare is an issue that is only known by the people who are experiencing it.

And it’s one of the reasons it perpetuates as a problem. And so, yeah, I started BridgeCare. I learned and I’ve over the past 8 plus years have been just learning more and more about the systemic issues of childcare. And therefore, BridgeCare is a systems approach to solving the childcare crisis and childcare. We use broadly early child education birth through 5 pre-school support.

[00:04:02] Debbie Goodman: That’s a good point, you know. We plan for college, for sending our kids to college. You start literally the day they born to start contributing to some kind of fund. But that time until you have a baby, nobody’s really telling you, you better start planning for early childcare because that’s going to be your first major hurdle and disruption of your financial planning system.

Because it’s darn expensive and is going to impact every part of your life financially and other. So, yeah, that’s a really good point. We need to put as part of the financial plan, anybody’s anticipating having a family, planning for early childcare because it is quite an extraordinary cost.

[00:04:48] Jamee Herbert: Or, having more public support for making childcare more affordable and accessible for families. So both of those things can be worked on simultaneously.

[00:04:59] Debbie Goodman: Yeah, and I guess that’s the point, really with BridgeCare founded in 2016. How did you make the transition from being an employee, because you’d previously worked at ADP as a Senior Judice District Manager, you’ve had other sort of jobs as an employee the transition to becoming a founder, entrepreneur, what was that like for you?

[00:05:21] Jamee Herbert: For me, it was a very natural transition because my mom owns a business and has my whole life. She started her business, her retail clothing store, before I was born with her best friend from high school and college, and they went on to start a business together. I grew up in that business doing inventory and, you know, still help manage their website. So entrepreneurship is in my blood. It’s in my DNA. It’s what I grew up in. And I actually didn’t even quite appreciate that my mom had many female friend entrepreneurs as well that I grew up around and just the exposure to that. So really for me, it was not intuitive or comfortable to be an employee.

[00:06:01] Debbie Goodman: Aha. Okay.

[00:06:02] Jamee Herbert: I generally struggled with that role particularly young and impatient and excited about what could be done. So yeah, it was a very natural transition for me to becoming an entrepreneur. I’m also very like self-motivated, driven. You know, driven to prove people wrong. So the idea of kind of trying to or to prove my point, whatever it is but kind of create something out of nothing and make the world believe in it just as kind of natural to me.

[00:06:30] Debbie Goodman: Natural to you. Well, it’s similar to my story. I’ve been an employee for some total of two years of my life and realized that I was just not cut out for that at all. And I was a terrible employee. Actually, it was only natural for me to head out on my own and do my own thing. So now eight or so years later. You are a thought leader in early childcare and education, and you’ve just raised a pretty substantial round of investment. What are the newer challenges that you’re experiencing now as a, I’m not going to give you the label tenured entrepreneur yet. Maybe you need to cross over the 10-year mark for that, but you’re an experienced entrepreneur. You’ve been running a business for eight years. So what are the challenges you’re grappling with now?

[00:07:19] Jamee Herbert: So growing the team primarily with this funding, it’s to grow the team and grow our capacity and expand the product. And for a majority of the time, as a company, we had no team, myself and my co founder, or a very small team and you know, being fully remote. We work together so closely, we’re in constant communication. So things like culture just kind of naturally occur in that really small environment. I mean, certainly we can be intentional, but I did hear from someone at one time that culture in a company under 25 people is really just the founders. And I think that kind of does ring true for my experience. And as we have grown beyond that point you do see a need for more intentional building, team building, communication channels. Also, you start hiring people who are less like next level founder roles and more like looking for a job and stability and, you know, onboarding and training and things that are expected of employees that very early on you don’t have. And so, you know, the maturing of the company, I think is where my focus is in terms of our internal processes. We were very product focussed early on, and now we’re company building, team building focus as well as, of course, product still and just generally every stage asks different things of me. As a leader and as a founder which I love I think that’s another indicator that you’re built to be a founder because it keeps it interesting.

I mean, one of the reasons I actually was excited to take on the funding we did, was we had been bootstrapped and you know, profitable before taking on that funding. But I thought, you know, I’ve kind of got this part down now. This will be a new stretch and a new challenge in that part of what drives me in addition to our mission. So ever changing role.

[00:09:17] Debbie Goodman: I mean, that is so great to be able to go through those different phases in a relatively rapid you know, it’s eight years may feel long, but it’s actually really quick to get from bootstrapped to co-founders. Then a small team, then beyond the 25, then investment capital. That is a really rapid trajectory and is going to, it always does call on you as the, the leader to transition.

And whereas you may think that it is just natural and organic to make those changes, I’ve seen so many founders not being able to make those step changes. They still trying to lead or manage or control. In the same way as they did at the very beginning and that’s you know, so just a reflection that it’s not necessarily an easy thing to, to do.

 When we dig into the hiring and people strategy, which is a topic I love a company like BridgeCare, which has its mission sort of baked in, right? I mean, it’s a mission driven company. How important is it to you that the people that you hire, and you kind of alluded to this a little bit earlier, but that the people you have on board, that they need to be equally or truly mission aligned.

[00:10:34] Jamee Herbert: Yeah, it’s interesting because before we started hiring, I thought it would be really important to me that they could really speak to why, you know, ECE is so important to them and what personal experience they have that relates to it or professional experience they have that relates to it. And our first hire beyond our kind of like, you know, branching out to people, we didn’t know basically hires. That was a big part of the evaluation criteria for me. It was also a client facing role. So, depending on the role, it varies a little bit, but what I’ve come to learn and what now our process is more is actually I have seen people who had no exposure to ECE, which is actually the vast majority of our team (ECE, early childhood education) really learn it and come to find a lot of passion behind their work. And everyone on our team cares deeply about what we do. That is a unifying trait of our team. And it is a natural kind of binder for the team to be aligned when things get hard or when there are disagreements around execution, you know, strategies or what have you.

When you’re anchored in well, what’s best for the family or the child or the provider and what furthers the ecosystem, it’s not always like perfectly clear even then, but it is at least a discussion around that, not just who’s right or wrong. So it’s incredibly valuable in general, I think for a company to be anchored in a mission particularly how we hire for this now is I’m really just looking for, can they speak authentically to why they’re excited about BridgeCare specifically? And what about their life journey, whether it’s professional, personal, or whatever is anchored in that authentic interest in the role?

[00:12:26] Debbie Goodman: Right. I completely agree with the fact that somebody who is, who displays passion and commitment and drive towards pretty much anything is probably going to be able to use that trait and those capacities, because it’s not really a skill. It’s just a capability and and knowing how to activate that type of energy, they’re probably going to be able to transition it from one environment to the next. In my early days of hiring for Jack Hammer, that was the thing that I always looked for. I looked for somebody who had had a talent that they, or a passion for anything really. Could be oboe playing, it could be stamp collecting. And had activated a level of discipline towards that hobby or passion. And whether or not they achieve greatness or not, I just wanted to see that they knew how to do that in their bones. And for the most part it worked out All right. Nevertheless, there are people who are quite smart in their interviewing skills. How do you distinguish candidates who’d be a right fit for BridgeCare. They’re likely to say the right things.

I mean, anybody who’s even listening to this podcast and you go, oh yeah, when I interview next for BridgeCare, this is what Jamee likes. I’m going to, I’m going to trot out my little song and dance. How do you, what is your distinguishing factor when you’re interviewing?

[00:13:46] Jamee Herbert: Well, I think first of all, most of the time I’m last in the interview process because we hire for skill, right. As well as depending on the

[00:13:54] Debbie Goodman: Oh, that too.

[00:13:56] Jamee Herbert: minor detail. But yeah, for example a good portion of our team is engineers. So hiring for their experience in engineering and we have a rigorous process that goes on before I enter. I am looking more for culture fit. There’s also a lovely filtering that occurs by being a female CEO and there have been candidates that maybe weren’t as we call it respectful, or there was just a kind of, you could see a demeanour shift in the way that they interview with maybe a male versus female in our process. And, you know, that filters, but also they’re probably going to be less interested in us as a company in general. And I think in the inverse of that, and maybe even more so we attract A talent that is really excited about having female leadership in a company. And that is something we hear a lot and also partly why I am participating in all interview process to give the chance for candidates to ask their questions of me. And I think. Actually, most of my time spent interviewing because I, because it is more of the last fit and it is about culture is really more actually me responding to their questions and even what questions they have and what their interests are, is very telling about who they are and what their priorities are.

[00:15:17] Debbie Goodman: 100%. The questions people ask us often reveals their priorities and what’s most important. I mean, I do think that most candidates, they will have sort of like a question in their back pocket to ask that they hope will be well received, but I have seen some really dumb questions come at the very end and I’m going, really? You could have done better than that.

[00:15:39] Jamee Herbert: It’s another thing, which is just like, does it feel like a list of questions that came from a website or is genuine interest, right? You know, like, that’s what I mean by authentic too is, are we basically having a dialogue because you’re so engaged and interested. You know, I’ll give some plugs because I love cheat sheet. Like do some homework before an interview, follow up after those. I came from sales, so following up after an interview is my number one, particularly if it’s an external facing role, it’s basically, you don’t, you do not proceed if you don’t, because it’s the minimum standard as far as I’m concerned, particularly an external facing role. So there are some things like that as well.

[00:16:19] Debbie Goodman: Okay. So you’ve got your minimum standards checklist of the do not pass, begin, do not collect 200 if they don’t comply with that, nevertheless, a couple of years ago, we were in a hiring frenzy in the U S in the tech markets in particular. But actually all over, it was really hard to find talent. It was hard to get people to come to an interview or a second or a third. I mean, God forbid you actually wanted to do some rigorous interviewing. The candidates were gone in like a heartbeat. And so how did that go for you? And you mentioned in an earlier call that there were some lessons that you learned during that hiring frenzy phase of making less than prudent hiring decisions.

[00:16:59] Jamee Herbert: Yeah, we were in the unfortunate position for a little while there where that was really where we were starting to grow and doing our first hiring. So not only was it hard to recruit and the talent pool was, you know, in high demand and small, but also we were very amateur to hiring and feeling that pressure. I do think we didn’t trust our at that point was instincts, right? Of like, what should we be looking for? Because it was so new. We were kind of going off of mostly instinct and instinct has materialized into kind of criteria. Now things like the follow up, like, you know, if you’re in an external facing role, and you don’t follow up after an interview, it does indicate seriousness. It does indicate follow through capabilities. Habits, what have you, right? But it is, it is a strong indicator. And when I thought, well, this person’s really great. Maybe just, you know, they just didn’t follow up.

[00:17:57] Debbie Goodman: When you start making excuses.

[00:17:59] Jamee Herbert: Yeah, you start making excuses, right? Want to see the good in people and you want to give them credit. Oh, they were late for this. I mean, of course people can be late. Things can happen. But when they don’t give much of a reason or, you know, these are the kinds of things that we now just kind of don’t make allowances for, unless of course there’s a reason for it. But we did then, and I do, and mine are small, but we learned those lessons. And now one of the biggest things we do in our recruiting is actually just be very honest and clear and upfront about what this company and role is and what it isn’t. And almost try to deter someone from it because an early-stage startup is not the right fit for everyone. It’s not the right fit for most people. And we don’t have time for turnover and we don’t want to do that to someone’s personal life either. So we really are looking for the right fit. And so again, natural filtering, because we paint the clearest picture of what it’s going to be and for the right people, it attracts them. Like that’s exciting. You know, we’re looking for self-starters. We’re looking for people who are comfortable living in ambiguity, but can kind of create a role for themselves and a space for themselves. And depending now we have more mature roles but some are still first time hires in a role. That’s less defined. It’s just going to be right. And so we, depending on the role now, we’re really having that filter on. Are you going to be comfortable without very clear metrics for success, handholding, training. It’s just not a massive company that has huge departments devoted to supporting people in that way. And for some people that is very anxiety producing, very uncomfortable and going to impact their quality of life and for other people, it’s going to, they’re going to thrive, and so that’s what we’re looking for.

[00:20:00] Debbie Goodman: So let’s just continue on this vein of startup life and the fact that for some it’s going to cause a lot of anxiety, it’s just going to be unhealthy for them and for others, they’re going to just like absolutely love it. But there are a lot of people who think they’re going to love it but have not previously experienced it. It sounds somehow interesting, more exciting, less corporate y more flexible, like you know, it’ll have a bit of a pizzazz and glamour attached to the idea of being scrappy and startupy. And nevertheless, if somebody has not worked in a startup before, would you actually consider them for for a role in your company?

[00:20:36] Jamee Herbert: I would say, you never say never on, except email replies. No, just kidding. But never say never. Because they’re different roles, different times, particularly in our company’s life too, or we need things and that evolves. So I’m speaking kind of point in time right now, but how we have thought about hiring historically is that I think a lot of companies, especially early on, maybe at every level, look at people who have big company experience with kind of like rose coloured glasses and think, oh, wow, they, they were the CMO of whatever large company. And so they must be brilliant when it comes to marketing and they’re going to transform everything at our, you know, small company. And if we could get them, that’d be amazing. And then I have seen the story over and over again, where that’s very challenging. That person is very good when they have a lot of supports around them. Maybe they weren’t even that good actually, but let’s just say they were. They had a lot of supports around them and it may be totally different industry that doesn’t translate creating a strategy from the ground up as opposed to kind of iterating on one that’s been given to them. Just very different needs. And so typically, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for more of someone who has bigger than where we are experience. But not so big that we can’t trust that they will know what they’re getting themselves into. Ideally, they’ve even kind of started somewhere near and grown beyond. So they’ve actually had the experience of, you know, from where we are to where we’re trying to go, but sometimes that’s hard to find. So, yeah, we lean more toward like close enough that they know what they’re actually getting themselves into.

[00:22:16] Debbie Goodman: Yeah, I mean, when I interview candidates, I hear stories of either people who’ve been in a startup for a while, and then they’re asking to get the hell out of that because they’re just exhausted and they just can’t take it any longer. So they’ll say things like, could we get into like some company that’s kind of series B and C or beyond? And basically they’re just asking for a little bit less of the, the startup grind. Alternatively, I’ll hear people saying, yeah, you know, I’d consider a startup if … with a bunch of things, that conditional requirements. I know that both of those are unlikely to be a good fit. And I think the challenge for hiring for startup right for startups right now is that you’ve got the combination of the, you know, pretty hard work life balance, let’s like not mince words about that.

It’s challenging. Necessarily for many people, the lure of that big equity payout check or the big upside that attracted a lot of people into startup world a few years ago things, valuations have plateaued. And so the allure of the big cash is not there. I think for a company like yours, that’s where mission becomes so important because people need to be motivated towards the work based on, you know, because of different reasons altogether, and that’s where you do have the advantage as well as the filter.

[00:23:39] Jamee Herbert: And coming from the nonprofit world for a brief period of time before I transitioned to the business world, I saw the kind of almost exploitation of mission driven young people and paying them very, very low wages for it. And so I do think there’s a very fine line in mission driven companies and you can see this in some places and not others, right? Where leadership whether because they have to or because they just do, take advantage of that mission and drive and as a result overwork and underpay people because they can. And so I do bring that lens to the way we have built BridgeCare, the way we think about compensation and equity is another way to do that. The hope of something someday that never materializes and underpaying in the meantime. So the approach that BridgeCare has taken and who we are trying to attract talent wise, because also we have a complex product that really, we’re looking for people who want to be with us for a, for a while and not hop from place to place and gather shares.

So, our strategy has been to pay well, not under pay, not pay people the lowest they can pay people well, and so that they aren’t thinking about, you know, am I stupid for staying here? Should I be looking for the next place. That they can be fully present in their role, fully devoted to the work that we do and really feel like it can be a place where they can be for a long time and grow with us.

[00:25:13] Debbie Goodman: Well, that is just a really great leadership strategy and employee retention plan of all. Because I hear on the candidate side, they’ve always got their ear open for the next big thing. If they feel like they’re not being valued and they’re not being well compensated. And to find an organization that is putting that as a priority and going, we value you and we want to compensate you accordingly is unfortunately a little more rare than you would imagine. I see it all over the market where employees in general, the ones that get to me, feel that that is not being recognized and therefore they’ve got one foot in the current door and one toe kind of slightly outside the door just to see what might be better out there. If you can create a place where people want to stay because of the mission, because of the culture, because of the, because they’re well compensated and valued, that is gold, Jamee. That real gold.

[00:26:16] Jamee Herbert: Yeah, I will say it’s not to say we don’t work really hard too, right. And the mission part, like you were saying, does drive us and all of those things are true, but yeah, I’ve seen not a lot from my personal experience since I don’t have a lot as an employee, but a little bit from my personal experience, but more from the experience of loved ones that I have seen get passed over for promotions and not get raises and seeing people come in after them that get paid more. Something that is different about BridgeCare I think, and I hope we keep with as we grow, is a lot of intentionality behind the way we build our team, the way we value our team. Sometimes when you grow fast and things move fast, it is hard to be as intentional as you want to be. I think sometimes just what you’re talking about happens at other companies by accident because they lose, they take their eye off the ball of that and sometimes it’s more intentional than that. But it is something that as a leader of this company that we are growing and I think I hear from my team, it’s subtle, but it’s important is just the intentionality we bring to all of that.

[00:27:23] Debbie Goodman: Well, Jamee. We are unfortunately out of time. So we’re going to have to end on that note of confidence around your team and your leadership strategy. For anybody who has been listening to this and considering interviewing with BridgeCare at any point in the future, just please remember to send a follow up email to say thank you for the interview. Otherwise you’re not progressing to the next stage. Jamee, this has been wonderful. All the best for a wonderful rest of the year and lots of success to you and your team.

[00:27:57] Jamee Herbert: Thank you so much.

[00:27:58] Debbie Goodman: Bye now.

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