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Episode 170: A Relaunched Entrepreneur Successfully Expands and Sells Her Company, with Rochelle Nemrow

Rochelle Nemrow headshot

Episode Description

Rochelle Nemrow sold her company Family ID to Arbitersports in February 2020, 10 years after founding it. Family ID is an online program registration and marketing platform. As Founder and CEO, Rochelle was responsible for the strategic direction and growth for Family ID, which serves families and the educational, recreation, sports and other programs in which they participate. Not only is Rochelle a relauncher herself, having taken a seven year career break earlier in her career, but part of her business model relied on hiring relaunchers as Family ID was growing. We talk with Rochelle about her entrepreneurial journey and get a firsthand perspective on the full arc of relaunching as an entrepreneur.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today we welcome Rochelle Nemrow, who earlier in 2020 sold her company, Family ID to Arbitersports 10 years after founding i. Family ID is an online program registration platform. As founder and CEO, Rochelle was responsible for the strategic direction and growth for Family ID, which serves families and the educational, recreation, sports and other programs in which they participate.

Not only is Rochelle a relauncher herself, having taken a seven year career break earlier in her career, but part of her business model relied on hiring relaunchers as Family ID was growing. I just met Rochelle when she was a guest on a recent entrepreneur panel, organized by Bobbie Carlton who runs the Innovation Women Online Speakers Bureau among many other ventures, so shout out to Bobbie! Here's what one colleague said about Rochelle, "Rochelle is the best. I have worked with her many times and can't think of enough superlatives to describe the quality of her work and her special value as colleague and friend." And I just loved reading that and I'm so excited to be speaking with Rochelle.

Rochelle, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Rochelle Nemrow: Hi, Carol. Thank you so much for having me and thank you to whomever wrote that about me as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, really wonderful, a wonderful commentary. Rochelle, can you take us back to earlier in your life and talk to us about your career path and then what led to your career break and then your ultimate relaunch?

Rochelle Nemrow: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's always fun to look back because you start to recognize patterns and things about yourself and your career that you don't see while you're going through it. I have always been in startups and since my very first job out of college, when I worked at a magazine called High Technology Business, and I also realized I've actually never had a job that existed before, except for a short period of time.

So I've always had a brand new job with a new title that didn't exist, or worked for a company that didn't exist before. So that's just an interesting pattern that I've seen as I look back. One of the things I just want to say is I love solving problems in new ways, and I particularly love solving problems that affect me.

So it's very easy for me to get excited about something that hasn't been done before because that's what I'm really attracted to.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So you had this history of working for companies that didn't exist before and in doing jobs that didn't exist before. So there was always this entrepreneurial element and was there an event which defined the moment where you decided to take a career break and also determined how long that break was?

Rochelle Nemrow: Oh yeah, there was. I always worked, it was actually a joke with my kids where I'd say to them, if they didn't get their homework done or I got a bad report I'd say, "If you want, I can quit my job and spend more time focused on your lives," and they'd say, "No! We'll be good! We'll be good!"

But for me I had a company that I sold back in 2000, and worked for the company that acquired us for about a year and a half or so. And after that point, my kids were at a stage where, really it was a good time for me to actually focus on that, much to their dismay. And so I took a break at that time and did a lot of volunteering, worked on the PTO, worked in local government, drove my kids crazy. So I spent a lot, I spent about half a dozen years focused on my family.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then, what was the moment that led to starting Family ID? Did you wake up in the middle of the night? Was it something that was gradually becoming apparent to you and then how did it morph into the successful company that ultimately became?

Rochelle Nemrow: Well. I didn't go from not working at all to starting Family ID. I actually did marketing consulting for a few years for a lot of reasons, including the fact that I found myself spending a lot of time returning bags to Target.

And, I don't have a ton of hobbies, work is my hobby. So I really needed to get myself back involved mentally. I was probably working about half time for a while. And during that time, my kids were right at the age where they were just involved in a ton of activities. And as I've said, multiple times, if you have two kids who are all who are doing 10 things, why does it feel like you have 20 kids? Every time you sign them up for something you're filling out the same hundred questions again and again and it was ridiculous. So I just looked at that problem and thought, I think that I would rather start a company than fill out another form.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great.

Rochelle Nemrow: That was really what drove me to it, that and I do my best thinking in the shower. And so I wasted a ton of water coming up with that idea, but it was a lot of long showers.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. I love that. So you get this idea, you're solving a problem. And what happened? Where did you start?

Rochelle Nemrow: It was interesting. As I said, I've been in startups for a long time and I've been in technology for a long time. I was lucky enough to be in a position where I had people that I could go to, who could help advise me. So, a long time colleague, friend, advisor named Peter Carlson, who I actually started working with at my previous company launching a new website, I always remember how long I've worked with him because we started working together when I was on maternity leave with my daughter. So I can actually just look at her age and know the length of our friendship.

Anyway, I brought the idea to him and said, "Hey, what do you think of this? Is this a crazy idea? Does this make sense?" So first I had a network of people that I could talk to and see what they thought, then started just testing the idea with people who are in a situation where they would use it. And what was really interesting about this is that this was the first time that I was putting an idea out there that people related to so emotionally that they would run after me on the soccer field when I was there watching my kids game and say, "Please do this." And I thought, if there is such an emotional connection to this, then it's really something that I need to continue to pursue. So it happened over time. And, what's interesting is, I don't actually know what the date is. You might say I started it. Everything was, "Let me just take the next step. Let me take the next step. Let me take the next step." And before I knew it, those steps actually led me somewhere.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. It's so funny when you talk about people running after you on the soccer field and saying, "Please do this."I was home for 11 years with my kids and involved in all sorts of activities and saw parents all the time. And I remember one of the other moms that I was talking to saying, "All I do is fill out forms and move things and people from one place to another."

Rochelle Nemrow: I'm telling you, and I'm terrible at it. I always like to say I'm the lowest common denominator. So if it works for me, I'm the one that if I can't figure out what you're saying in the subject of your email, the odds are, I haven't read the email, I forget the appointment, I don't get the paperwork in. The funniest was when my high school athletic department was using Family ID, and at that time we didn't have the ability to upload a copy of the annual physical, and I had to leave, it was the middle of signing up for school sports, which was an incredibly busy time for us and early in the company when I was on the phone all the time, and I had to leave my office to run to the field, to deliver the health form.

And the athletic director was laughing because this is exactly why I started Family ID because of people like me.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's great. Clearly you were meeting a need and it was so emotional with people because it's their time and their productivity and that is impacted by the problem that your company was solving.

All right. So the idea is catching on, the company, are you out there marketing it now and getting a bunch of people and sports teams and other people to sign up? And how was that happening? And were you hiring people along the way at this point?

Rochelle Nemrow: Yeah. When we first started Family ID we were really looking at this for things that weren't school related, the business model took a share of the revenue from the program, so if you were doing a camp or doing a ceramics course or something like that. And we learned really quickly and Decordevo was one of our very first customers, a synagogue in Concord was one of our very first customers. And that was terrific, but, I recognized pretty quickly that even though it was a very scalable revenue stream, it was really tough to have predictable working capital.



In time my kids were doing a lot more at school, they were getting a little bit older and doing school sports. And the athletic department at my school let me know that this is something that would be incredibly helpful. And so Mike McGrath, the athletic director at Western High School said, "Hey, have you thought about this for school? So Mike, shout out to you if you're listening to this. And that was when we did a little bit of a pivot to start recognizing that schools really had to be part of this equation and move to a subscription model. And that's how we started to actually build the company with a more predictable subscription revenue model.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So wait, were parents paying the subscription or were the institutions that were requiring the forms paying the subscription?

Rochelle Nemrow: The institution, so it always came from the institution. It either came, the organizations had an opportunity to charge their participants, their families, their parents back to make up some of that cost, but payment always came from the institutions.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. Okay. So what was your hiring strategy during this time? Who did you hire and how did you hire people?

Rochelle Nemrow: It was a really interesting choice to jump back in. As I mentioned, I had exited another startup and this ain't easy. This isn't something you should do lightly. I always like to say, "Startups ain't for sissies." And, I swore I was never going to do it again, which is why you should never say that. And so when I decided that I was going to embark on this again, I sat back and thought about what was really important to me. What were my personal priorities and a lot of that had to do with what kind of organization I wanted this to be.

It wasn't just about what problem I wanted to solve, but it was, “What's my vision for the organization and how it exists in the world and how it exists in my life.” And I feel really strongly that there should, there's no such thing as this concept of work life balance, those aren't separate things, work is part of your life.

And so part of what I wanted to do with Family ID was not only help solve a problem that was really fundamental to the lives of parents who were signing their kids up for these activities and had this responsibility to make this work for their kids and took a lot of time from them. But I also really wanted to fulfill my idea of, how did I want to spend my life? If I was going to be working for six, eight, 10, 12, 14 hours a day, what should that look like? And what should it feel like? And how do I engage other people who are in a similar situation? And this is serving families?

So how do I make this something that's serving families in all ways, not just in terms of what my product does, but in terms of what my company does? So that was always a part of the vision.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So Rochelle, when we had spoken earlier, you had told me that hiring relaunchers was part of your talent acquisition strategy. And I want to know if you can talk to us more about that, and also maybe tell us about some of the relaunchers who were on your leadership team.

Rochelle Nemrow: Yes. I knew from the beginning that this was going to be a good strategy for the company. So first of all, I couldn't necessarily immediately make a commitment to full-time employee positions for people. I needed a way to phase in workers in a way that worked with what the company could afford to do, and that meant hiring people part-time, hiring people as contractors. So, finding a pool of people who may be interested in doing something that they could grow with as the company grew was important, that was one consideration.

Another consideration was I wanted people that understood the problem. And the people that understood the problem were often people who were in a situation that was very similar to mine. They were raising children, they were, I like to say, the “COO of their family" and taking care of a lot of things.

And those people typically were moms often moms in a situation where they were looking to get back into the workforce. But they understood these problems, they either had dealt with them or they were in the process of dealing with them.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And can you give us some examples of some of the relaunchers who ended up in your organization?

Rochelle Nemrow: Yeah I've had many over time. And when I started out early on my dear friend Deb Vote, and so a shout out to Deb, was one of the very first people that joined me at Family ID. She was actually somebody who I met in my new mom's group when I had my daughter.

So she was there for a couple of starts for me. And again, in a similar situation to me where she was looking for something that was interesting but something that fit into her life. Ultimately over time, we hired a number of people who were relaunching, mostly moms. And some worked and some didn't work. You know, the most notable things, and what I will say is the benefit of when it works on so many levels that it's almost magical.

And my executive team, by the time we sold Family ID, was comprised of: Allison Nathan headed up business development, and she'd worked for me at a previous company. She took time off to raise her kids. We reconnected at a bar outside of a Willie Nelson concert. She let me know that she wanted to get back into it, but it wasn't ready yet. So we were primed to work together. And that phased in, she started out working 10 to 15 hours a week before she ultimately became one of the key members of my executive team. It was also just so lucky to work with a woman named Jen Yagnesack, who became my head of sales, who also took time off to be home with her family, came back in, in a sales position where I offered a lot of flexibility. And I had a sales manager that wasn't working out and she rose to the challenge there because she was already part of the company.

And she had an opportunity to move her way in as well so that she could see, "Yes, this is a fit. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can put in the time." And then, quickly she was actually overqualified for the job she was in so she was a great fit for that job when it became available.

So she became a really critical member of the team. Amy Kelly, who is my VP of marketing, wasn't a relauncher, but probably ended up, would have relaunched if she could, who had always worked in companies where again, it was about work was one thing and life was another thing. And that's an awfully tough way to spend your days, particularly as a single working mom. And so she wasn't a relauncher, but she very much fit the profile of somebody that wanted to work at a company where they understood the role that life plays and work plays in life.

And then finally my chief technology officer, a guy named Doug Clawson who had taken time off to move with his wife for a master's program that she was working in, so he moved to Cincinnati and he was starting to look for something new jumping back in and it was again, a perfect fit for him also, because we were looking for, we weren't in a situation, this is before it was quite as popular to have people working all over the place.

But, part of hiring relaunchers was hiring people who appreciated flexibility and with whom we could be flexible. And so that was something that really worked for him as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And this just underscores for our relaunching audience, we talk about all the different ways that people can relaunch. And one of the really interesting opportunities where you can do interesting, substantive, energizing work flexibly, or in a situation, maybe you work up from, as Rochelle is saying, 10 to 15 hours a week and then more as a company is growing, is in a startup or a small company situation.

It's a very good option for relaunchers to keep their eye open for the right match, not to be the entrepreneur yourself, but to work on an entrepreneurial team that someone else is leading. Rochelle, can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of Family ID? Was there a moment where all of a sudden it's, “Wow, we're going to get really big here?” How did you finance it? What were some of the elements there?

Rochelle Nemrow: It's interesting. And I want to equate this back to relaunchers as well. I actually never questioned whether it was going to be successful. When you're an entrepreneur, you always know that you're a breath away from extinction as well as a breath away from success, 10 years working to become an overnight success. But I always believed it and I really never questioned it. And so you often can only see the progress when you look backwards, there were certainly milestones about it. But one of the things that I think really worked, and I owe a lot of this to relaunchers, into building a company that wove the way we looked at our team and our employees as people the same way we looked at our customers, and that our customers loved us because we treated everybody that way.

The culture of the company and the vision of the company wasn't something that we painted on top of the organization. It was part of the fabric of who we were and everybody felt it all the time. It was really critical. And I will say that there were certainly milestones. The milestones are times when you look back and notice that you've made progress as opposed to really marking the progress itself, I think. So, I think that actually, having the first employee is a milestone, when our first customers renewed because for me, buying something, having somebody buy the product shows that they're interested in seeing what it can do, having somebody buy again shows that we've delivered.

So that was huge. I think at the point where we worked at my house for a long time, we had desks in the living room, and the dining room was the conference table and recess outside, and we used to have to encourage people to put in the extra hours. I would feed people if they were there by the time I was going to cook dinner. So my poor kids, I cooked dinner later and later every night.

Moving from that now really, great to look back on environment to a more professional office space was a big milestone for us, raising money and getting interest from institutional investors was a milestone, not because that is in and of itself success, which I actually found frustrating that everybody congratulated you as though your company was successful because you got an investment, but it is an indication of other people on the outside saying, "Yeah, we see the traction here, we believe in it as well."

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. Then you had an acquisition and as you're saying, it only takes 10 years to become an overnight success. You were toiling away for a really long time and growing this company, really believing in it.

And then you got acquired. Can you talk to us a little bit about how, like maybe take us through, how did that happen?

Rochelle Nemrow: I think that acquisitions happen when in some ways you least want them to, when you are so happy. I say this all the time, Carol, I'm the luckiest person in the world. I loved working.I loved the people I work with, I love what I did so much that on Sunday nights, instead of like thinking, "Oh, tomorrow's Monday," I'd say, "Yay! Tomorrow's Monday!" I couldn't wait to get back to it. You might say that sounds like a crazy time to sell your business when you know, you're firing on all cylinders and you're profitable and you're growing and your customers love you and you love the people you've worked with, like why in the world would you sell it?

Which was the question I do ask myself sometimes. But when you love it the most is when it really is great and people are attracted to it. So we went through multiple times, we had offers to acquire the company multiple times in the business. And I think a big reason for that was we really focused on making it a great business.

We weren't focused on an acquisition. We're focused on having a great business that we wanted to be at, and that's the kind of business that somebody else wants also. So it got to a point where we hit a critical mass. We got to a stage where the offers were a lot more attractive. We had a company that saw a similar vision where we really saw that this acquisition was a path toward growth.

That we could do things together that we couldn't do on our own. And so the choice for us was, take on a lot more investment, continue to grow with the pace we were at, which was limited by the capital that we had or, join, become part of another organization and see the vision sort of that way.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's interesting cause I'm reflecting here on all of our podcast guests and we have interviewed relaunched entrepreneurs at different points, but I think that this is the first time that I am speaking to a relaunched entrepreneur who is in the post-exit euphoria of the successful sale of the company, as opposed to in the middle of operating the company.

And I wanted to know, what you think about this? Do you actively, when you sold the company did you go to sleep for three days to make up for the perpetual exhaustion? Or did you think, "Wow, this is so exciting. Now I get to do X, Y, and Z that I wanted to spend time on for a long time," or, how did you think about your time?

Rochelle Nemrow: So I think it's interesting that you use post-exit euphoria as a word. I don't know if euphoria is the word for it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: How would you describe it?

Rochelle Nemrow: It's a real period of self-reflection. And I, what I would say is, anytime you make a change and you're no longer doing something that you love, you can help but feel a little bit of loss.

And I think that there's a time of reflection. I worked for Arbitersports for a number of months before I left them to take this forward without me. And there's definitely a lot of reflection here. I like to talk about this as being on a learning tour right now and being able to have the time to look at what else is happening, have my head up, be open to new things.

It's exciting, choices are hard. And for relaunchers, one of the things I'll say, I think perhaps some of the hardest, I view myself in a relaunch phase right now, I'm coming off of something and I'm taking some time and there's going to be another chapter because, like I said, I don't have a lot of hobbies, and I'm never going to be a professional tennis player despite my dreams. So I'm in that reflective stage right now. And I think sometimes what's most daunting about it are the choices. There's a saying that I've always loved, which is, “startups don't die of starvation, they die of indigestion”, and I feel that way about relaunching. There's so many things, which one, how do I even start to make the choice about where to focus my efforts and how do I know that's the right place to go? So I'm in that path right now, but I'm enjoying it. I'm mentoring, I'm advising both on a volunteer basis on a professional basis, and I'm just talking to people and learning about what they're doing and accepting that I don't actually need to have a clear idea right nownthat I can explore and I can let some things happen organically. And so that's what I'm doing and I'm getting to do really fun things like this podcast.

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's so interesting that you talk about this process similar to a relaunching process because it is. When people are returning to work after a career break, we say the career break can be a gift because it's an opportunity to step back and reflect on whether you were on the right career path to begin with, and whether you want to return to exactly what you left or a permutation of it, or maybe relaunch in an entirely new direction. If you find that what I was doing before was not even the right thing. I fell into it and I didn't even know myself at the time. So this idea of being on a learning tour, I really love that concept.

And I'm hoping for our relaunching audience who is in the early stage of what we call “assessing your career options”, that you approach it this way and be very open to lots of different possibilities. Because, just tying this back, Rochelle, to the relauncher advice we give people is, ultimately they have to decide because whatever that decision is, is going to drive the rest of their relaunch and ultimately where they get hired and all the circumstances of what they do for work. That's a great framework. Thank you.

Rochelle Nemrow: Absolutely.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So we're rounding out to the end of our conversation here, and I want to know, I want to ask you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is the best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today.

Rochelle Nemrow: The best piece, that's, “What's your favorite meal?” I probably have, I don't have a favorite. I will say a couple of things I actually think are really important. Yeah, I have to remember this, don't apologize for the choices that you've made. You're a better person. You're a more rounded person. You have more experiences today than you did yesterday. And even if you've been out of the formal workforce for a number of years, you haven't been in a bubble without experiences, you've been doing things. And those things can be incredibly valuable.

In fact, for the people that understand that sometimes having, bringing different experiences into a position can be even more valuable than somebody who's just done the same job before. They're the people that are gonna really appreciate you.

And you need to understand that, I've always loved to hire people who have waited tables. I have never owned a restaurant. So why do I value that? Because the skills that they bring when they're able to keep people happy in that kind of environment and when they have so little control over so much of what happens. If you can do that, there are a lot of things that you can apply those skills to.

So having confidence in the things that you've learned while you were taking a break from a formal career and understanding how that can fit and how that can help you be a great employee or a great entrepreneur or whatever you choose, I think is really critical and recognizing that you're not so much selling yourself, as you're trying to understand what the needs are of the job that you're pursuing and how your special skills and accomplishments and talents really solve that for the company.

And then you don't have to worry so much about what your resume looks like because you're showing somebody that you understand how you can bring value in your own special, unique way. And then you're not stacking up lines on a resume against lines on a resume and resumes are important. People look at them and you've gotta be able to do that.

But at the end of the day, you're bringing something special to somebody. And if you go in with the confidence in yourself and the understanding that your experiences matter, then you know, you're going to be able to really show the value that you bring.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That is great advice, and it really underscores one of the parts of the whole concept about relaunchers that we talk to employers about, that the life experience of the relauncher is part of what they bring to the table.

So thank you for that. So Rochelle, this has been a delightful conversation. Thank you so much for joining me.

Rochelle Nemrow: It's been a pleasure and go relaunchers! Everybody should have multiple chapters in their life and if your chapters are varied, then you're super lucky and I just wish everyone the best of luck.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, that's great. Thank you.

And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events, to sign up for our job board, and access our return to work tools and resources, go to iRelaunch.com.

And if you liked this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Thanks for joining us.


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