The F Word with Josh Juarez, Josh’s Sno Shack

Nothing says summer in Tulsa like Josh’s Sno Shack. The wildly popular snow cone stands have multiplied over the years, and the brand is one Tulsans of all ages take pride in. But unbeknownst to many, the company wasn’t built buy an eager entrepreneur. It was built by a lovestruck teenager. Listen as founder Josh Juarez talks about opening his first shack, maintaining top-notch service, and handling unexpected growth.


Josh Juarez: Long story short, it could have been really, really, really bad for us.

Lauren: This week on the F Word ...

Josh Juarez: I mean you shouldn't be getting at things that you don't know as well just because you've had some success in some other areas.

Lauren: Josh Juarez, the founder of Josh's Sno Shack.

Josh Juarez: Do what you know and do it better than everyone else.

Lauren: Summer is quickly approaching and therefore I cannot think of a better person to wrap up the first season of The F Word podcast than today's guest, Josh Juarez. He's the founder of Josh's Sno Shack, which of course is a summer staples for almost all Tulsan's. Under Josh's leadership, the company has grown in nine locations in Tulsa and one in Stillwater. He's created a fantastic company culture that attracts really the best people. Of course, like any entrepreneur, he's face some hard times like being super tight on cash and trying out new ventures that crashed and burned. Josh, thanks for being here to talk about all that.

Josh Juarez: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Lauren: You started Josh's back in May 2005 when you were only a freshman in college.

Josh Juarez: Correct, I had just finished my freshmen year and I had worked for someone before that and I kind of learned and knew how to do everything and I thought, "I can do this." After my freshman year, I decided, okay I'm gonna go for it. That's how it all started.

Lauren:  Talk about how it grew over time.

Josh Juarez: Yeah, so that was 2005. We had one location and it was just kind of me in the shack all day every day. That first year, I read a lot and I learned how to play the guitar in that little 10 by 7 box and enjoyed meeting a lot of really great people and enjoyed the business element of things. I went back to school and started my sophomore year after summer was over and continued to do Josh's one more year. The third year, we had so many people saying, "Hey you need to have one over by our house." We opened another location and that was the second location and I kind of worked all day every day between the two of them and stared to hire people. Then it just began to evolve and grow and I enjoyed the process of that. We kept having people say, "you need to open on by our house." We just would kind of follow the crowd that would ask for it. We opened one after another, after another.

Lauren: That's amazing.

Josh Juarez: Yeah.

Lauren: The start of Josh's is actually kind of a love story, right? You did it for other motivations than just starting a business.

Josh Juarez: Correct. It's kind of two fold because I was in college and I had grown up in Tulsa and my parents actually moved to Houston my freshmen year of college. It was kind of like they left me for college. I was here and I had been dating, who's now my wife, I've been dating ... Angie is her name and we've been dating for four years and I knew that, or at least I thought I knew, this is the woman that I want to marry. I remember telling my dad and he was like, "You got to figure out a way to make money because you can't afford to just get married and be in college." That kind of spurred and motivated me to start it because I thought, "Well this could be great." We started it and began to make a little bit of money and I thought, "Man, if we live like poor college students together, maybe that will work and we'll get married, it'll be perfect." We kind of did that, we got married and it was our sophomore year that we got married and it worked out really, really great. I don't think I would have started Josh's had it not been for the motivation of marrying Angie. Now we've married for 11 years.

Lauren: I love that. That's so great. I think a big question a lot of people have, at least I know when I'm talking to people, Josh's is only open about seven months out of the year. How did you build a company selling ... they're not expensive snow cones, how do you have a company that sustains your family that's only open seven months out of the year?

Josh Juarez: Right so that's not how it was at the beginning. The first probably four years probably, I would wait tables in the winter and go to college as well. We lived fairly modestly those college years and so we took advantage of a lot of the things that most college students do. You eat ramen, you live ... but you do it with the person that you love. We lived very modestly those first few years and as we begin to grow the business, that's kind of where we saw, "Okay look, maybe if we add more locations, we could sustain our life," and things like that. My wife was a nurse as well. For the first couple years, as soon as she graduated, she was a nurse and that helped out a lot. Then as we began to continue to grow, grow the company, that became an opportunity where it was like, "Okay, this is what I can do permanently and if we're really smart about it, then we can operate for seven months." We kind of have a month and a half, two months of prep. Then, we kind of have a month of decompressing, of getting everything kind of completed. Then, we started doing more events. So, we do a lot of events during the winter as well. So, all that to say, it's seven months of being open but nine and a half months, ten months, of going. So, I like to compare it to a teacher. You know, like they get their summers off. I just have an opposite season of a teacher. So, I think we were very ... We try to be very wise with what we do have. It's worked out really well for us.

Lauren: That's great. Talk a little bit about, you have a side venture, Speak Easy Snow. I think a lot of listeners would love to hear about that. Talk about that.

Josh Juarez: Yeah, so this was ... We started doing events a few years ago at a really high capacity level in terms of three, four events a day during the summer, 100 events a month. It just kept growing. Well, we kept doing events and people would be like, "Do you guys put alcohol in these?" And, when I started Josh's, my core kind of value was we wanted to create a great summer experience for people and when I was 19, it was what a lot of high school/college students do is, on the weekends people go out and get crazy. It just wasn't part of my lifestyle. So, I wanted to create an alternative, a place that college students, high school students, could go and enjoy a summer thing that they would look back and say, "Those were great memories" that weren't overshadowed by just over consumption. So, that was kind of our initial start. So, getting into the Speak Easy Snow thing was very kind of like, "not sure if we want to do this or not" because it kind of ...

Lauren: It went against what your core values were.

Josh Juarez: Exactly, it went against kind of our core belief. So, with that, we decided if we're going to do something let's do it very high class, very gourmet and kind of like, you don't go to Valkyrie and say, "Let's just get hammered." You go because you want to get a great cocktail. It's one of the best, for me at least. So, that was our goal, to kind of get in that same vein and create a really great beverage/dessert at parties and one that was unique. So, as we began to get into this, that was the goal. So, we have a manager that works for us, and we were like, "Let's not keep under Josh's umbrella. Let's create a separate company." That way we stay true to our model and what we really believe is important but, then we also create another company that is an opportunity for people to enjoy something specific, gourmet, really cool, in a non crazy way, at least from our perspective. So, we created this brand, Speak Easy Snow, and we just do events. We show up and you guys ... They provide the actual alcohol. Then, we mix it for them into our drinks so that you get this great snow cone cocktail, is what we call it. So, you ... It's really neat for people. They've really enjoyed it. We've done a lot of weddings, events, things that people are just trying to have new twist on something very, very old. So, that's kind of the reason we started it. We've really enjoyed doing it, and that's kind of it. Yeah, so if you go to you can book us. Our events manager will take care of you there.

Lauren: Awesome. So, talking about Josh's again, you're obviously not the only place in town to get a snow cone, but yet, people will camp out in order to be there opening day, have the first Josh's every year. How do you build that height? How do you stay competitive?

Josh Juarez: So, we have two things. One, our core is not to make the best snow cone in the whole world. Our core and what we're about is about creating a great summer memory. You see that all over with the way we interact with people, with the way we brand. Everything kind of speaks of that. So, when you ask people, "Do you want to have a good snow cone?" They're going to say yes. But, I was like, "Do you want to have a great summer experience?" They're going to say, "Why would I not?" So, we try to kind of do it the way the fair is. You go to the fair because it's only here for a short period. So, when we are talking about Josh's, we're talking about everything that surrounds summer. Who doesn't love summer? Our goal is to create kind of summer in a cup. So, when you offer that to people, they're like, "Yeah, I'm excited for summer." When we say we're opening, we really want to be part of that thought process of, "Okay, summer is about to start." Even though it's April and summer is still a bit away, it starts to put people in that excitement, anticipation mode. So, when we open, it's like, "No, this is when summer memories really start." So, because of one, we've got great people that make this whole thing possible. We've got incredible people. Two, we really try to frame it as 'this is summer starting'. And three, I do believe we offer the best product. We're very, very purposeful about training people to create a really, really great product. So, when you cup all those things together, you have people who work with you, and they're excited, they're happy. They're the best people, I think, on the plant. So, who doesn't want to visit those people and get a delicious treat at the same time? That's why I think there's so much anticipation and that's what I think gives us the edge because, when we started it, it was kind of a response because you can go to other places all over, really the world. We have people that are like, "Oh, I went to a place in Connecticut, or the summer, or wherever, and the people are just rude. They're just mean. They don't seem to care." That's actually very common, at least in my experience, of visiting other snow cone stands. So, we try to be completely counter that. I think people have responded well to it. So, because of that, I think people are like, "Let's camp out because summer is starting." Not so much Josh's is opening, but it kind of goes together. So, then we give away free T-shirts and, lots of free cool stuff, opening day so that helps.

Lauren: Swag always helps.

Josh Juarez: Exactly, it does.

Lauren: So, do you ever worry about the competition?

Josh Juarez: You know, I don't and, I think it might be ... Maybe I used to. I remember when we only had one or two locations and someone would open up. There's nothing you can really do about it. It's just you keep trying to offer the best you can offer and, be creative with that process. I think you'll be okay. We have tried to respond to other offerings. So, we want to create products for people even if ... Let's say you don't want a sugary snow cone. Then, this year we really started push a couple natural options at our Jenks location because we have the ability to do that. So, it's fresh juice, it's pure ingredients and the sweetener is honey. So, it's about half as sweet as a snow cone but you're getting all pure stuff. All stuff that you can find in nature. So, because of that I think that's helped a lot. So, when people get done working out they're like, "You know, I still want a snow cone but, I don't want as many calories. I don't want as much sugar. So, maybe let's just get a fruit option." So, creating that, people have really responded well to it. We're glad that we can offer that. So, changing up, being creative always helps. But, I really don't. I don't sit there and say, "Oh no. Another place opened." Because we've been doing this for, I think, 13 summers now. People have come and they've gone and, we're just trying to stay true to our why. I think that helps us kind of saying, "You know, we're not too worried about it."

Lauren: You were talking a second ago about your people, and how you think they're the greatest. I agree. I've never met a Josh's employee that I didn't love. You employ about 60 people and I read somewhere that you only accept about 10% to 15% of applicants. So, that means there's a ton of young people who want to work for you. Why? How have you created this company culture that's so magnetic?

Josh Juarez: Yeah, we had, I think, 220 initial applications this last year. I think we hired 15 people. So, it was one of those things where you can weed out half of them because their availability. Maybe their availability is not good or, I don't want to work, or they might be too young. So, you weed out a decent amount just based on the normal things that would weed out any other business if you're applying for. Then, you kind of go into the questions that we think are important. So, it's just things like culture fit. I feel like every great business is built around people who can grasp hold of the why and the reason for being in that company. So, you find people by asking unique questions that kind of think the way you think. We don't want every person to be identical. We want to have a wide range of people. We have kids ... Some of the questions are like, "Who are your three favorite bands?" So, we have people who like Taylor Swift all the way to John Moreland. So, it's like you have people all, all over the spectrum who like different types of music. But with that being said, it gives us an idea of the type of person they might be. We want to know who their heroes are, the people they really like. So, I think we offer ... We ask some unique questions, which every company I think should do. You shouldn't just have a basic, here's an application, you're hired, you're not hired. I think you should try to get to know who that person is, and what they believe, and what they think. So, because we've done that, I think that's helped us attract people who are like minded. Then, when we interview ... I mean, we'll do two or three face to face interviews before we'll hire someone. Then, once we hire them, they'll be a two week try out process. So, we don't even hire people until they've tried out for two weeks. I think that gives us the opportunity of saying, "This is ... You don't want to work for us if you're not naturally going to smile." That's just not going to be a good fit. You're going to be driving yourself crazy every day with a fake smile. So, I think we really go above and beyond of trying to find people who are like minded, who can get on board with what we're about. I think when you do that, that helps find people who are the right fit for your company.

Lauren: And how do you keep these teenagers motivated? You said they have to know the why but, what else do you do to show them you care, to keep them energized, because it's a long summer. It's hot. You have cranky people that you're dealing with. How do you do that?

Josh Juarez: We want to create a place that people want to work. Obviously by the applications, people want to work here. But then, when you do get into the middle of summer, and you start to get burned out, and you're in the middle. You're working in the same little box every day. We try to do a few things. One, we do these things called family nights, which are basically, we close at 10:30. So, at 11:15 we'll go see a movie premiere. Or, at midnight we'll go see a movie premiere or, we'll go play dodge ball. Or, we'll go play kickball or, play ultimate Frisbee. Those are the nights that you can ... We do dress up contest and, it's just fun. So, we try to do at least one a month, two is ideal. So, every couple weeks we're doing something fun. But, it kind of reaffirms everything. These kids are working together. They're getting to know each other, and then you get to just go out and have fun. Once again, that goes back to like, we want to create a great summer experience for Tulsa, is kind of our goal. So, we have to take that to our people as well. So that when they look back at their summers, they're like, "Those were the best summers of my life, and yeah I worked 25, 30, 40 hours a week but, I had so much fun." So, we have these great people who are naturally kind of similar in a lot of ways. Maybe some that aren't so similar but, then they get to know each other, they have a lot of fun, and what's really cool is we have had marriages come out of our shack.

Lauren: No way.

Josh Juarez: Yeah. We've had best men in weddings. You know, great friendships come out of these shacks. When you work with someone in a small space, you've got to kind of force yourself to get to know them. When you get to know someone, it's like, "Oh, you're cool. I like you." So, we've had some really, really great relationships that have come out of it. So, I think by offering a lot of fun experiences throughout the summer. We try to offer a lot of things that your average summer job doesn't offer you. You go work for a bull, they're not going to offer these things. You go work for any other restaurant, they're not going to do these things. So, I just like to have fun personally. I just try to carry that over to the rest of the people. It seems to work. So, we have a lot of fun.

Lauren: So fun. I want to work for Josh's now.

Josh Juarez: Right? Come on board.

Lauren: So, in the process of building a great company, every entrepreneur makes mistakes. This podcast is The F Word. We talk about failure a lot. So, whether that's spending money on the wrong things, or not handling conflict well, is there a moment from building Josh's that you were like, "Oh crap. How am I going to come back from that?" Or, "Man, that was a really bad mistake." Anything that you can think of that really stands out?

Josh Juarez: Yeah. So, we've been blessed enough on the Josh's side that usually most of the things we've tried to do, they've been ... we've failed quickly and cheaply. So, there hasn't, on the Josh's side, there hasn't been that huge, "Oh my gosh. Oops." But, what you asked what do I do during the winter. So, I've got a few other small businesses that I'm trying to grow. One of those things, I tried to get into a little bit of real estate. Actually, this is more of a personal entrepreneurship thing. But, I tried to get into a house, a flip. I was kind of the investor side a little bit, and was kind of involved but not super. Long story short, it could have been really, really, really bad for us. Basically what had happened is, I got into a field that I wasn't super familiar with, and that I shouldn't have been getting into. But, because I had had some success in some other business, Josh's, I'm like, "Eh, I can do this. I know how to do this." And, we got into it, and it was supposed to be short term and it grew into long term. I'm sitting there like, "Holy crap. I could potentially lose a lot of money here." Thank God. We got out of it but, there were points in it where I had conversations with the guy I was working with and it was like, he was kind of boarder line saying things like, "I mean, I'd technically have to pay you back." It was just all these things. I'm like, "Wait, I thought we were partners in this thing." So, it got really weird. Fortunately, it closed. We got out of it. I didn't lose any money. I made a little bit of money. Then, a couple months later, I get a call and it's basically from the buyer. They're like, "Hey, we want to go to mediation. These things that you said were done weren't done." I had no clue about these things. So, I'm sitting there going oh my gosh. So, I have to go to this mediation. It's on the day of my daughter's birthday. It's starting to ... I'm in this conversation with the buyer, who I really never had a relationship with. They're saying all these problems are coming up. Then, I'm like, oh man, and I'm missing part of my daughter's birthday now. I remember talking to the mediator and they're like, "They've come back with this. They want you to pay for this." I basically said, "Look, I'm missing my daughter's birthday. I will settle whatever they want. Just I want to be done with this. I don't want to ever be in this ... talk to them again, talk to their realtor again." So, I ended up kind of settling out, and still didn't lose that much. I lost a little bit of money but, it wasn't as big as some of my other friends who are entrepreneurs have done similar things. They're like, oops. You know? So, we were fortunate enough to not have one that killed us but, it was the same story that I've heard like 100 times from other friends. It's kind of like getting into a field that you shouldn't be getting into, or you're not super familiar with. Investing because you think you're a great entrepreneur, which maybe you are in the small field that you're in, but maybe you should do these other things. So, I got ... It's just classic story that you've heard 100 times. I'm very, very thankful that it didn't blow up to be worse than it could have been. I look back and I'm like, "I learned a huge lesson from it", which is maybe you shouldn't be getting into things that you don't know as well just because you've had some success in some other areas. So, that was kind of the big oops, and as an entrepreneur, that's kind of the one for me that I'm like, "That could have been really, really bad." I'm thanking God that it wasn't.

Lauren: So, you're done with real estate?

Josh Juarez: Yeah, so I have learned from it and have segwayed into other areas of real estate that I am familiar with. That more like just long term rentals and things like that, which I've been doing. That, I know. So, yes, that period of trying to invest into flips and all that stuff is far from me and I will stay away from it.

Lauren: Okay, good to know.

Josh Juarez: Yeah.

Lauren: So, let's talk about the future of Josh's for second. Tell us what's your big vision? What's your long term vision? Do you want to keep growing so you have shacks all over the state or, are you happy staying in Tulsa? What's your long term goal?

Josh Juarez: So, if you asked me this question five years ago, I would have been like, "I just want to stay in Tulsa." This is ... if you would have asked me 10 years ago, or 11, or 12, I would have said, "We just need two locations." I think you grow as a person, and you grow as an entrepreneur and you start to see things differently. I think you have to be open to that. So, as we've grown, the big thing for me, the realization that's come is like, I would love to help develop other entrepreneurs in whatever area they're really interested in. Our growth outside of Tulsa has been limited to the people that I would want to grow with. Stillwater came because an OSU student, who had worked for me for a couple years, was like, "Josh, I want to do this. I could do this in Stillwater." He was just gung ho about it. So, we worked together and he kind of just launched Stillwater. He's done great with it. He's really, really ... I'm really proud of him, and I feel like he's grown from it. I've grown from it. We've learned a lot. So, through that process of this happening last year, I've realized that there's a lot of opportunities outside of Tulsa that, if we have the right people who want to do it, it could be great for them and it could be great for Josh's. For Josh's, it's great because our name gets out there. But, for them, it's great because they get the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, which you see in all the studies and all the research, this is what people age 18 to 30 want to do. They want to be entrepreneurs. They want to do their own thing. So, I think it's a really great launching pad for them, if they want to do that. So, what we're doing right now is kind of trying to create a model and a structure that says, "Look, you come on. You work for us for a year. If you really like, you work for us another maybe year or two, so you're three years in. Then, after that, you can launch you're own thing. We'll help you do it. You want to do it in Nebraska. You want to do it in Oklahoma. It doesn't really matter as long as it's not in the Tulsa market, we'll try to help you in whatever capacity that you need us." Because the truth is, if I had someone who was like, "I want to open one in another state" and maybe there's no Josh's there. They told me, "I want to call it Billy's Sno Shack, but I want it to be like Josh's." Honestly, if they've been with me for a couple years, I would love to help them do that because for me, I get more value out of seeing an entrepreneur created than my name being in every place in the world. So, that's where I'm at right now. Maybe if you ask me in two years it might be different. But, we would love to continue to grow outside of Tulsa through the people that have been with us, and continue this work, I guess, this organic kind of 'this is who we are as a company, and let's just see what happens'.

Lauren: Anything new or exciting coming up this summer with Josh's? Anything people can look forward to?

Josh Juarez: We're still a ways a way so, we're in a lot of planning mode. This is kind of the time when we do all that. So, the winter is more planning. We're trying to solidify old contracts that we've had and explore new ones with new places. So, that's kind of what we're in right now, and all through January, and all through December and February. We will try to get all those things hammered down so that we can open in April.

Lauren: Where are you going?

Josh Juarez: That is to be determined, and I don't want to jump the gun. So, you'll have to go to our website and check it out. Follow us on social and all those, as they kind of transpire will be on those platforms.

Lauren: Last question that we always end with, what advice would you give an entrepreneur who's just starting out? Maybe bootstrapping it like you, and your wife, were. What would you tell them to encourage them as they're building their businesses?

Josh Juarez: It might be cliché but, for me, it's just been what's worked. That's a hard question to answer because every entrepreneur has a different story. Sometimes, the advice might be contradictory but for me, and what's worked for us, has been to do what you know. Do what you're somewhat familiar with in a field that you might be familiar with. Do it better than everyone else. I feel like that's how Josh's started. It was something that I was familiar with and I swore that it would be the best we could possibly make it, and we still kind of carry that through now. So, for someone who is starting out, it's like maybe you're familiar with something, do it, and do it really, really well. Then, also, a lot of people that I meet, they're like, "I want to start this thing. I want to do this thing. I might do ..." It's like, "Man, you got to just go for it. You got to start." I think every ... I think the advice in Silicon Valley is fail fast and fail cheap. I feel like I agree with that. Even not in a tech company, even in any company. If you're going to fail, fail quickly so you have to go for it and see what works. Hopefully, you don't fail with a lot of investment. You fail cheaply as well because those failures can sometimes be the start of something new. So, yeah, my advice is do something that you're somewhat familiar with, and then, swear to do it better than everybody else. I think that's a good starting place.

Lauren: Okay. Thanks so much for coming in today Josh. It was really fun chatting with you, and we're excited for April. Get those snow cones open again.

Josh Juarez: Thank you so much for having me and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone when we open.

Lauren: Well friends, that wraps up season one of The F Word podcast. We have so enjoyed sharing the story of Tulsa's entrepreneurs, who've been there, done that, and overcome some big failures on their way to building great companies. Thank you so much to those of you who have tuned in and sent us encouraging emails, and Facebook messages throughout the season. Many of you have also asked about a season two. I'm excited to announce that season two is in fact going to happen. We don't have a timeline on that yet, but it's in the works and hopefully will come sooner rather than later. Lastly, I want to thank my incredible producer, Julie Combs. This project was an idea that the 36 Degrees North staff had been talking about for a long time. Julie came in as an intern and, really took a ton of initiative. She's the one who got the ball rolling and made it happen. We really couldn't have done it without her. So, thanks Julie. I'm excited to see what the future holds. Til then, swing by and see us at 36 Degrees North in the Tulsa Arts District. We'd love to get you plugged in to our community. Take care.



36°N Resource Manager Joins Workforce Tulsa Board

By: Ashley Riggs, 36°N Intern

For Jessica Brent, entrepreneurship is like a second language. She’s the co-owner of Homma Camp Co. and works to serve other entrepreneurs as the Resources Manager for 36 Degrees North. She immerses herself in Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem daily, so joining the Workforce Tulsa board seemed like a natural next step.

“The Workforce Tulsa board is not a working board. It’s a ‘bring your brain’ board,” Jessica explains. With her experience, she says, “It seemed like I would be a good fit!”

Workforce Tulsa aims to connect businesses and local talent to further economic development in Tulsa.


“We ensure that, as our startups expand, there will be skilled labor available for those positions and that Tulsa’s talent pool aligns with the current job market,” Brent says.

Brent will serve on the Oversight Committee, which is responsible for the business of federal grant reporting and policy making. As a whole, the board is responsible for serving as a sounding board and providing guidance for the program.

“Board members are important advocates for Workforce Tulsa and are called upon to amplify the voice of the program,” Brent says. “I find the political and bureaucratic nature of workforce development exciting in a totally nerdy way!”

 Jessica Brent, 36°N Resource Manager

Jessica Brent, 36°N Resource Manager

Workforce Tulsa is bridging the gap between the people of Tulsa and the city’s growing companies- like the ones at 36 Degrees North. “Human Resources are among the most valuable resource to a growing company, and [our] programs ensure that the talent pool is there when entrepreneurs are ready to hire.”

The F Word with Adrienne Kallweit, SeekingSitters

A Tulsa mother looking for childcare finds out that her child’s preschool teacher has a shady past. The discovery sparks a realization: despite routine background checks, parents don’t really know who they’re entrusting their children to. Today that mother, Adrienne Kallweit, now leads the national franchise SeekingSitters, a service dedicated to connecting parents with safe, fully-vetted caretakers. Listen as Adrienne discusses establishing her company- without any startup capital- and learning how to stand out in a sea of competitors.


Adrienne:    Competition drives us.

Lauren:    This week on the F word.

Adrienne:    I think some people kind of get scared away by these 100 pound, 1,000 pound gorillas that, "how can I even start this business when there's already this huge competitor?"

Lauren:    Adrienne Kallweit, the founder of Seeking Sitters.

Adrienne:    It was definitely really hard to get funding to grow at the pace that we wanted to grow.

Lauren:    Welcome back to the F word. Every parent wants to know their kids are safe when they're not with them. Our guest today makes that possible. Adrienne Kallweit is the founder of Seeking Sitters. It's a service the runs extensive background checks on baby sitters, house and pet sitters. Seeking Sitters is now a national franchise with over 100 locations across the US. It's been featured on CNN, CBS, Entrepreneur Magazine and many more. But Adrienne and her family have gone through a lot of life to get to this point. Adrienne, thanks for coming in to share your story.

Adrienne:    Hey Lauren. Thanks so much.

Lauren:    A common theme we hear from entrepreneurs is, "Do what you know". And that's true for you. This concept of deep background checks, investigation, kind of is in your blood, right?

Adrienne:    Absolutely. My mom started a company called Hide and Seek in 1978. It was kind of the family business. And I never got involved in it when we were growing up. But after I graduated from college, I was looking for a more flexible opportunity and starting a family, working with the family business seemed like the right way. And I asked my mom, "Hey. Would you be interested in training me on "Momma's secret sauce" on investigations." She started investigating back in 1978, way before ... I mean, basically, you had-

Lauren:    When you couldn't google someone.

Adrienne:    Yellow pages. Yeah. No way. And we've gone through everything. We've gone through the birth of the internet, finding things online. To the flip side of it, there's so much information out there now, that it's almost too much. And it's hard to decipher what is true and what is not. So our services in investigations have become a necessity again, as it was back in the 80s. Finding people and in-depth investigations and in-depth background screenings. So that's really our background. I was operating my family's investigation business, starting a family and really saw that there was a need in the child care realm of safe, reliable baby sitters.

Lauren:    And you were a mom at the time when you started, right. 2004?

Adrienne:    2004. I had two little ones and one on the way. And I was looking for my own care for my own family. And did a screening on my son's preschool teacher. I know that the Oklahoma basic screenings don't dig deep enough. And so I wanted to go a little bit deeper, make sure she was safe for our home. She was a teacher in a local school. I thought it would be not that big of a deal, but I was shocked at what I had found. There were protective orders, things that weighed against her character. I would not let her in my home. And it's surprising. Even fast forward to this day, 2017, our service has grown to a national franchise. We're still screening the same way. And there's still those same scenarios, where sitters will apply and assume that we're not going to check it out. And we do. And so it does make a difference. We have had zero safety incidents since 2004.

Lauren:    Zero. Wow.

Adrienne:    Over a million baby sitting jobs. So it does make a difference. It is, like you said, part of our blood and our family investigations.

Lauren:    So, you find this out about your children's preschool teacher. And you think, okay. I can make a business out of this? How did it get from that-

Adrienne:    Not quite that fast. Right. Not quite that fast. We started screening our own sitters. Just so I could do my investigation business. And I had on-demand sitters. My friends got word of it. They wanted to borrow my sitters. And we got really used to that flexibility, of having our own care whenever we wanted it. And safe care. We were kind of doing our own little Seeking Sitters on our own. And we traveled to see family over a six month period to big towns like Austin, Texas. A family member in Denver, Colorado. Ran into the same trouble. And they didn't have any solutions there. There were no online referral services that you knew you could trust. And so, really my husband and I, we just said, "Let's do this." We've been doing it in Tulsa. Let's take it and make a business out of it. We had no idea ... Seeking Sitters really has a life of it's own. It really ... we have been in business long enough that, kind of at that 10, 12 year mark, we look back and say, "Seeking Sitters was meant to be. These families deserve this safe child care. And we're here just making it continue in that successful motion."

Lauren:    So you start in 2004. And in just two years, which is really quick, you decided to franchise. Why?

Adrienne:    Growth path for us. We didn't seek investment funding. We didn't have a whole bunch of money in our back pocket. And so that was the route that was the easiest way to go nationwide. And that was the goal from day one. The business plan was to be a nationwide service. So we could travel and use the service in Austin, Texas, in Denver, Colorado, which we now can. And so, that was the goal... how do we get there nationwide. That has been our stumbling block, as far as how we've gotten there. And we're always learning. We're growing and even re-inventing ourselves to this day. But yes, it definitely, the goal was to be nationwide.

Lauren:    I think a lot of entrepreneurs wonder, "Should I franchise? Should I not? What's that look like?" Can you speak any to that? Are you glad that you followed that path?

Adrienne:    It absolutely was a great way to grow our business. But I love servicing people and I love helping our clients. I love running a Seeking Sitters location. When you get into franchising, you step away from all of that. You become a franchise, or which is already a business in itself, that already exists. And it operates the same way. You're servicing a different client. You're running a franchise system. And that was absolutely the struggle for me. I know you had on Shannon Wilburn, who is a franchisor for Just Between Friends franchise. She and I actually went around the US on a speaking tour. And we were kind of the Yin and Yang of franchising. She absolutely was born and bred to be a franchisor. Loves every bit of it. And I kind of gave the flip side of it. As you know, really evaluate your business and make sure that that is the right path for you. I absolutely do not say that we shouldn't have. That is not what at all what I look at. There is ... we have some of the most amazing franchises, franchisees in our system. But I definitely wish I would have taken a more non-conventional approach to it. Instead of having been so cookie cutter, like every other franchise, I wish we would have done a little bit more hybrid model, because we are a tech company. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, we are a tech company. We're not brick and mortar. We absolutely operate online as an on-demand referral service. And franchising does slow that down. Because your first priority in franchising is tending to your franchisees. And so I think maybe a hybrid approach for us would have been nicer, which is kind of what we're growing into now. We have some amazing franchisees still. And we run the majority, over 80 corporate locations out of the Tulsa area.

Lauren:    Business is obviously messy. On this podcast, we love talking about when we've screwed up or when things get really hard. Can you think of a particular instance that stuck with you, that you're like, "Man. I cannot believe we got through that."?

Adrienne:    Well, as probably a lot of your other guests that you've had on this say, "Every trial just teaches you". I absolutely believe that. Nothing is by mistake. Everything that we've learned has led us to the next step. So, I don't see failure at all. Somebody else might see failure ... even somebody that comes in as a franchisee and they don't possibly succeed or they decide to move along and do something else. They might be hanging their head low. But I look at it completely different. You crossed the threshold. There are a lot of people that didn't even cross the threshold. And look at all that you've learned. And look at the skills you're going to take to your next venture. That's something I wish more people really took pride in. That they have learned so much. That entrepreneurship, it's like the next step of schooling. If you will learn, maybe I'm not cut out to be an entrepreneur. I want to be an awesome employee and be a major driver in a big business. So one thing I do see that I think a lot of business owners fall into the trap, is making all arrows point back to them. That they are the only one that, if you, if that little center person changes, everything kind of falls apart. And it's hard to get back on track. We just recently purchased back one of our franchised locations. And we just stepped in. And I went through this personally several, several years ago. But I was reminded of it again with their location, because all of their clients and all of this sphere around that franchise owner, they're kind of lost without that owner. And it is ... the business is absolutely struggling because of that. That does not mean that we won't grow and change that. Or we are there and doing all the things that we need to turn that around. But business owners need to be very careful about that. Because if you take yourself out of the equation, is your business still going to be strong? Be okay with everybody else getting the credit, so that you're not trapped by not being able to step away. How can you do that if you're the only face there. 

Lauren:    Help me understand. Your business is mainly data driven. It's this huge database of all these sitters and their background and everything like that. What role do your franchisees play? Why do you need them?

Adrienne:    That is a fantastic question. It is. You know, I was actually thinking about that today. They play a very crucial role. And going back to what I said in the beginning, in the way that we're growing now, in more of this hybrid way of ownership. They play such a crucial role in being on that local level and having additional, really powerful minds working together. So it isn't just myself, my husband and our corporate team trying to figure it out. We have these other brilliant minds that can really drive the whole picture to success. So when we look at our franchisees like part of the team, rather than just a franchisee, what are their profits, what are their numbers, how we drive them to success? That's how we're going to really explode in this next phase of Seeking Sitters.

Lauren:    So, shifting topics. Seeking Sitters has a fair amount of competition. There's and Sitter City and a bunch of others. Tell me not only how you're better, but more so, how you communicate that you're better? I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, that's a big battle of getting people to really hear and believe that.

Adrienne:    Well, as an entrepreneur and anytime in talking to somebody else that might be struggling with competition, that is the worst way to look at. Welcome your competition. There's enough room for everybody. But as you mentioned those two competitors, specifically and Sitter City, those aren't A to A competitors. We actually seek sitters on those sites and filter through those sites and bring the cream of the crop to Seeking Sitters.

Lauren:    Really? That's cool.

Adrienne:    And then we do all the work for our families. So we're very different than what they do. We advertise on, just right next to Craig's list. So we basically are filtering through all of these venues to find the cream of the crop sitters for our select baby sitting team.

Lauren:    So you're actually sourcing other places to build your-

Adrienne:    Absolutely. And we keep actively working baby sitters. A lot of the repositories online, it is kind of a DIY, find your own sitter. And it's a style of a parent. Parents want to have their hands on everything that's absolutely a great avenue for them. They learn to trust our service. So we filter through ... and it goes back to when I started Seeking Sitters, when David and I started Seeking Sitters together. We were both working parents. And we didn't have the time to filter through. And so we needed that help. We needed to have this repository of safe sitters that we could reach out to on demand. Our families request hours before an event a lot of times. About 40% of our work each week comes in last minute. And so our families come to understand that and learn how our service works and that we do have safe, on demand sitters on call. So that helps a lot. Competition drives us. We're in a reinvention phase right now with Seeking Sitters. And we're absolutely looking at the competition of what technology is driving. What are our consumers used to. Competition sometimes is simply meeting the consumers needs, what they're used to and providing a better customer service experience. And we have a foundation that will always be here. Seeking Sitters safety and customer service. That customer service is where we thrive.

Lauren:    The core of who you are.

Adrienne:    Absolutely. The safety and customer service. And I also, I think it's important, when you're looking at competition to know your market. We don't service everyone. I don't need to service a huge market to be profitable. I don't. And so, I think some people get scared away by these 100 pound, 1,000 pound gorillas that, how can I even start this business, when there's already this huge competitor. Well, find your niche. And service your customer. You don't need a huge customer base to be profitable. If you're trying to tackle every single consumer, every single client, you're not going to really meet where your niche market is.

Lauren:    You said you're in a phase of reinvention right now. Talk more about that. What are the specifics of that?

Adrienne:    We absolutely, like you said, competition is driving it. Technology is driving it. Just what we have learned and being in business long enough is driving it. But it is time to really like I said in the beginning, take all that we've learned and make more of a hybrid in franchising and corporate growth and put a huge emphasis on technology. And that's really where we're shifting. We came into a market that didn't exist in 2004. And we were way pre-uber of the on-demand world. I always equate it to going to get insurance for the first time and they were like, "Who are you? I'm not going to insure this on-demand, I don't even know what that is, on-demand on a computer." And fast forward now, I'm literally this month, I've got three different insurance carriers fighting over our business now. So we've seen all of that birth. I remember asking our credit card processing company if they could help us invent some kind of way that our sitters could swipe a card at the baby sitting job. Well, here we are. We have all of that now. We've grown through all of that. And so, now that that technology is there at our fingertips, we are wrapping our service around it.

Lauren:    Do you think that's an area you're weak in right now and that's why you're working on it?

Adrienne:    I don't think we're ... well, yeah. I absolutely think we're weak in the fact that we need an upgrade in our technology. Absolutely. 

Lauren:    How'd you realize that?

Adrienne:    Because our web site looks like crud. We need an upgrade. I mainly think because you look at all the other technology that you can utilize and pull in and tie into what our service is, there's just so much out there now. There's just, it's just such a better place. And I think it really puts everybody on a more even playing ground too. Where there's a lot of technology, you can just tap into to utilize. And we get back to your service. Focusing on your service. It's not about who has the best widget right now. We all can get the best widget now. Who has the best service? And at the end of the day, that's who the consumer ... who did they connect with? Who do they have a connection with? I've learned a lot more about patience too. Because I would love to be launched, our new website is still under construction. We're working on it every day. I would love to have been launched about two months ago. So yes, we're getting some new things out there.

Lauren:    That's exciting. Have you every had really horrible feedback about one of your sitters? And if so, how do you handle a negative feedback?

Adrienne:    Well, we screen our sitters so much, that the really horrible is not happening. There not, we're not getting feedback, "They didn't know how to take care of a child." And "They left with their boyfriend in the middle of the job.". That does not happen. Because we're making sure that we get in the cream of the crop. But what I do love is when we have kind of a transition phase of our families. We'll have a member ... and this still happens to this day across the nation. This is just parents. Your new baby. You don't want to leave them with just anyone. So they call and they ask a question. They call the next day and they ask a question. And they might call a week later. And then they might decide to sign up a week later. And then they might try us out in about a month. And then finally once their foot is in the door, I mean, the table shifts. They know what to expect from us. They love the sitters. And then they will give us feedback. If there's a sitter that didn't meet our exact baby sitting style, then we will hear about it. And I love that shift, from this mom who barely could sign up to now she's telling us what she wants and how to do what, how to bring the best sitter to her. I love that. That's what we're there for. We are there to service our families. That's why we're in business. And so, we listen to our families. And if we are getting back feedback from a family, we won't refer that sitter out. We live in a age of technology and on your phone and these 18, 20, 24 year olds just constantly looking, not of our sitters. They're amazing. They come in. Ready to have fun. It is their job, but they love being with kids. And that's what we look for. So it's really the recipients of all of this are those kids, having so much fun with the sitters.

Lauren:    I'd love to talk for a bit about the fact that you started an are still running your business with your husband. What's that like?

Adrienne:    I love working with my husband. And we are kind of a weird, wacky couple that we get along better when we work together than when we don't. 

Lauren:    That's so unique.

Adrienne:    Yes. It is. We have a good balance. We've just always respected each other's skills. We learned that really early on that ... and I've tried to convey that to our franchisees, because a lot of them are husband and wife teams as well, that it's very unrealistic for David to expect me to react like he does or me to expect that he reacts like I do. Or even operates in business the same way we do. We both have skills and we both move at different paces. And we both have different assets and different weaknesses. And we have to respect that of each other. We've always done that. And we also have really leaned on each other for all steps. If we make a big decision, we don't do it without either totally on board or compromise.

Lauren:    How do you shut off the work side, come home at night and just be each other's spouses? Say, "Okay. We're going to put this aside. Just going to love each other. Love our family well, without talking business.".

Adrienne:    Well, we do that easily, because we have seven children. So there's no business talk at night.

Lauren:    No time.

Adrienne:    We definitely do take time to be alone and be away from work. We've worked together so long that it's just part of our thread. It's just part of our discussion, the conversational weave from our work days to our kids to how about Christmas presents? Are we done wrapping? It just, everything all over. We have a really good communication. And definitely there's been times in our life that communication is not great. And that's when things get hard. So we absolutely recheck and make sure that we communicate. And that's not any fluffy answer. It's for real. Communication is really has a lot to do with it.

Lauren:    So how are you intentional about that? How do you catch yourself before you get too deep down this hole of, we're not connected? We're not functioning well together.

Adrienne:    Yeah, either really take time to have a recheck. Or get to the core of what is really the issue. Sometimes that happens if something bad happened in the office and David or myself or one of us is stressed. That's really the core issue. But then it comes out in other things. And so we try to dial back and realize, what happened during the day. What happened? And because we do work together, that does make it nice. I understand if he went through something. And I understand what that scenario was. That is a nice thing of being able to work together. When you don't work together, you don't understand your spouse's work environment quite as much. And you don't know when those underlying things, what the root is. It really has nothing to do with the fact that the dishes are out. It really has to do with this massive thing that happened at the office. When you work together, you can break that down. It was kind of funny, about four years ago, we realized we were being poor about putting a regular babysitting night out. And we, three weeks ago, oh my gosh, we haven't even spent one night together. So we, as we tell our families to do, go put a regular baby sitting event on the calendar. And it makes you go out. And we started doing that. And it is invaluable. It is absolutely invaluable. If you're trying to cut something out of the budget, do not cut out the time with your spouse.

Lauren:    So Seeking Sitters isn't your only business venture. You recently started the same concept with contractors and freelancers, making sure other people coming into your home are safe to be around. How's that going?

Adrienne:    Gig BigWig is doing great. So we have started many offshoot businesses from the growth of Seeking Sitters. And through those offshoot businesses, they grew into a business of its own. And I think about a year and a half ago, we started Gig BigWig, which is not, it's not a referral service. It's to help verify contractors in all of the contract world. And also bring the contractor space together. One thing that's hard in the Gig industry is these Gig workers are having trouble pooling all their resources together, applying for loans, getting insurance, having their finances in one place. Because they work for multiple different companies. And so that's really what Gig BigWig does. Is pull it all together. Provides them that verification card that they have been screened. They are who they say they are. And that they can have this one place to manage all of their work. 
    It was an amazing experience to go through the start-up of this new development of the tech company. It was in the forge for about three or four month, something like that. And then at 36 degrees, all the connections there, it just grew my awareness of where Seeking Sitters needed to go, which you said some of the people you've interviewed have not been members of 36, but huge plug. You should be, even if you're a seasoned business owner.

Lauren:    Thank you. Thank you.

Adrienne:    Yes. You should absolutely keep your mind growing. And it did. It really ... you asked earlier about what has helped drive that. And some of the things I've learned through the start-up of Gig Bigwig has absolutely helped what Seeking Sitters needs to do and how it needs to grow. And I can tell, enough people needed the service that it wasn't an option to just say, "Let's put that in the desk drawer." You can, you have that feeling, once you've had enough successful runs, you can see when it's time to call it quits. I think it's a great question. And don't be afraid to put that one in the drawer. If that one's not working out, because that just showed you how you're going to get to the next one. But it was definitely really hard to get funding to grow at the pace we wanted to grow. And about six months in or just going, doing this pitches and funding pitches and traveling all over, I said enough. I've got to get to work. And so we just stopped all of that. And we just started ... I had grown a business from the ground up before. And so that's what we're doing. And so we just started from square one. And we already have some technology in place to do all the screenings. And that just launched.

Lauren:    Congratulations.

Adrienne:    Yeah. And so it's moving along just fine. And we have our first new franchise system to sign up, in addition to Seeking Sitters, of course. And so, it's moving along just fine. But yeah, it have absolutely helped, spurned new ideas for Seeking Sitters.

Lauren:    It had to be disappointing to do all that travel and try to get funders and just not see it pan out.

Adrienne:    Well, I just ... I don't know. For me, I know how to grow a business from the ground up. So that is in my wheel house. Going and doing these song and dance shows to explain my business and try to raise capital, that is not in my wheel house. And so I shifted back to what I know. 

Lauren:    It's healthy to see when you're like, "Okay. This is just not happening. And, back to the drawing board."

Adrienne:    You're exactly right Lauren. When I was in the forge at 36 degrees, I saw that there were many times entrepreneurs would just kept dragging their feet, waiting for somebody to hand them a check. And I saw a lot of times, where I'm like, "Just move. You've got a great idea, just do it. You don't need money. I don't know why you even need money to do this. You're already moving." So, sometimes just, you don't need to just keep doing, you need to just move on with your business.

Lauren:    I think that leads really well into our last question that we ask every guest who comes in. It's what advice or encouragement would you give another entrepreneur who's pushing through a tough season right now.
Adrienne:    I would stop for a minute and look back at the successes that you've had. I see my kids a lot sometimes, they, "I'm always messing up with this, or I'm always getting in trouble." And my first thing is to sit down and say, "Hey. How does this look, versus a month ago? Or how does this look versus a year ago? You've grown so much." And so, I think entrepreneurs need to do that more often. We want to move so fast. Entrepreneur mindset is not patient. We want to move so fast. And so if you take a moment, write down what you've accomplished, look back at where you've grown. That is the best place to see yourself. And that will help you move forward.

Lauren:    Thanks so much for coming. We loved having you.
Adrienne:    Alright. Any time. Thanks for letting me come on.

Lauren:    Next week on the F word.

Josh:    I kind of was at this turning point, where it's like, do I keep doing this, or do I go get a real job?

Lauren:    Josh Juarez, the founder of Josh's Snow Shack, talks about the unexpected success of his first snow cone stand and why he took the risk to stick with the idea and make it grow.

Dustin:    The F word is brought to you by 36 degrees north. Tulsa's base camp for entrepreneurs. To learn more about our workspace, community and resources, visit The F word, season one is recorded at KOSU studio, hosted by Lauren King and produced by Julie Combs.


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