This week Series W spoke to the founders of Binti, a for-profit tech company making adoptions easier and more affordable for adoptive parents.
Tell us about Binti.
Binti is a for-profit mission driven tech company with the mission of helping more children join loving families by making adoptions easier and more affordable for adoptive parents. 90% of adoptive parents drop out in the process even though there are millions of children waiting to be adopted because adoption is currently extremely expensive and difficult ($30-50K, 1-3 years, 200+ documents).
How did you develop the idea for Binti?
My sister adopted years ago, and I went through the process with her. It was extremely difficult, expensive, and stressful. Then at the end of her adoption, she went to the orphanage to pick up her children. There were 300 children in the orphanage, and she asked, “Do most of these children get adopted?” They replied, “you are the only parents to visit in 3 years so no.” I was shocked. Why was it so difficult to adopt if there are so many children in need? I started researching adoption and found out that my sister’s experience was representative of a broader problem. Years later, I was working in tech and realized that software had a huge opportunity to help improve adoptions, making them easier, more affordable, and more transparent.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own organization?
I’ve wanted to start a company for a long time. I previously was first employee at FundersClub. I learned so much from that experience and the FundersClub founders. While there, I realized software could help adoption, an area I’d been passionate about for a long time and knew it was time to make the plunge.
How did you fund the business? What do you spend most of your funds on? Knowing what you know now about how to raise and spend funds, what would you have done differently?
We raised a small angel round of a few hundred thousand dollars right when we started, pre-launch. This money helped my co-founder and I get an initial product off the ground and some early traction. Our first product we launched helps adoptive parents complete the first step in an adoption, an adoption home study, which is basically getting approved to adopt. We help adoptive parents complete all the home study paperwork online and match them with one of our social worker partners, saving them time and hassle.
Then we raised a larger multi-million dollar venture round this year, which included First Round Capital, Lowercase, Mitch Kapor, Ashton Kutcher, Ariel Poler and others. We used this money to scale the initial team and launch into services to help adoptive parents connect with the child their are going to adopt. We are starting with domestic adoption, where the adoptive parents connect with a pregnant woman looking to place her child for adoption. We are aiming to make this process easier and more affordable for adoptive parents, while also making it safer and more transparent for expectant women placing their child.
If you are going to start fundraising, get advice from other founders who have raised recently on the fundraising process, your pitch, when is a good time to raise, your valuation, etc. Ask for introductions to investors from the founders they invested in, those are the best introductions.
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
Early on when we were pitching home study partners to partner with us, it took talking to ~50 agencies before one said yes. We didn’t really understand our value proposition initially, so we were pitching the wrong offering. That was pretty rough to get turned down so many times. That’s when it’s important to have a supportive co-founder. I was doing the pitching and Julia, my co-founder was working on other things. I’d talk to her at the end of the day and tell her a bunch more people said no, and she’d say “that’s OK, you’ll get it tomorrow!” It’s amazingly helpful that we both cheer each other up at different times.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
The first time one of our adoptive parents sent us a photo of her with her adopted chid.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
– Working as first employee of FundersClub was an amazing chance to learn about starting a company. If someone is thinking about starting something and feels they have a lot to learn, working as an early employee at a startup with great founders is a great way to learn.
– My friends who are founders that are able to give my co-founder and I great advice and emotional support.
– First Round Capital, who is our lead investor has been an amazing resource. A number of other investors have been helpful as well.
– Books about founders and startups – a few good ones are Founders At Work, The Lean Startup, the Everything Store, Paypal Wars, Elon Musk biography, The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
– Startup blogs and newsletters – I’d recommend Paul Graham’s essays and Mattermark.
Tell us about how you’ve learned about your customer base?
We talk to our customers all the time; we have talked to over 1,000 adoptive parents and birth parents at this point. We ask them what their problems are, what their feedback on our product is, what we can be doing better. I recently went to an adoption retreat for 3 days where I slept in a cabin with 40 women, all adoptive mothers and birth mothers. The retreat had sessions where they talked about their adoption process, what their fears were going into adoption and more. I learn so much by getting to deeply know adoptive parents and birth parents.
What is your favorite Binti story so far?
We came up with the name Binti because it means daughter in Swahili and Arabic. Binti is also the name of a famous gorilla from a zoo who saved a small child who fell into her enclosure. For the first several months working on Binti, the gorilla outranked our company for the word Binti. We now outrank her, but we decided to buy a stuffed animal of a gorilla in her honor, which we keep at our office 🙂
If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Think about the problems you care most about and come up with ideas for solving them. Working on something you are passionate about is incredible.
Get mentors who are other founders you can ask advice from. So many things are transferable across companies, if you learn from other people’s mistakes and successes, you don’t have to learn everything the hard way.
Challenge yourself to think of the most simple version of what you want to build and launch it as quickly as possible. Test with customers and iterate. It will take you several times to get it right, so the faster you can launch, test and iterate, the higher the chance you have to find something that works.