SaaS Founder Interview with Sehreen Noor Ali, Co-Founder of Sleuth
Tony Zayas 0:06
Hey everybody, welcome to the SaaS Founder Show. It’s Tony Zayas here back for another episode where we talk to SaaS founders who just really get a chance to share their journey and kind of what that looks like. As a founder. It’s always interesting talking to different people. Today we’re talking to Sehreen Noor Ali. She’s the co founder of Sleuth, and Sleuth is a VC back startup and recommendation platform for children’s help their exchanges, data insights and directions between parents of children with similar symptoms. So really cool stuff, Sehreen. Thank you so much for joining us. How are you doing today?
Sehreen Noor Ali 0:48
I’m doing well. Thank you for having me. I am back in an office space, which is like a main goal.
Tony Zayas 0:53
Why did you go back?
Sehreen Noor Ali 0:55
I actually went back early on back in January. So there’s a co working space. And as a mom, also, I had to get out of the house to get saved to me.
Tony Zayas 1:06
I understand that. Well, very cool. So we usually like to kick off the show, learning a little bit about the origin stories, I gave the short description of Sleuth, but we’d love to hear where did the idea of the business come from? And how did it all come from?
Sehreen Noor Ali 1:26
Yeah, it’s a great question. So it came from personal experience. So I have two, I have two kids, seven and four. And my younger one, when she was very little, started exhibiting some symptoms that my doctor just kept telling me to wait and see about. And finally, I pushed, I pushed for more answers. And it ended up being something that was actually fairly serious, and so serious and not easy. It wasn’t like a clear-cut diagnosis, it wasn’t something that’s like, Okay, well, here’s a path of treatment. And this is what you do it and it ended up being that my case. And her case was similar to a lot of other parents’ cases, you kind of think, Oh, you’re going to get a diagnosis, and then everything just kind of, you just check the boxes, it’s not true at all. I ended up leaving my job at Kaplan to figure out her care. So it actually required me to leave my salary job and work full time on her health. And when I was ready to go back to the workforce, I felt really strongly that there was a market that I was not the only parent who was dealing with this. You know, I would stay up until 3 am on different Facebook groups related to symptoms and conditions and New York City-based ones and literally like piece together information just like a sleuth, right and say, Okay, well, this, let me go pursue this clue what would that look like? And so I ended up joining a startup generator program at a new lab, which is in Brooklyn, and I met this amazing co-founder, Alex leads, and he’s a data scientist. And he was about to become a dad. And he had actually been really looking for something in the space of children’s health. He had looked at edtech for a while. And then when I presented this problem, he jumped in, and we started talking to dozens of parents. And it just became clear that there’s a lot of people like me.
Tony Zayas 3:17
Super interesting. I know kind of that path, a little bit of being a parent. And getting you know that diagnosis, that’s not clear cut, like you said, super challenging. Yeah, can be super frightening, obviously frustrating. All that. So as you you know, went through that you were using kind of the Facebook groups and the different places and like you said, so the name sleuth come from kind of your approach, initially and a service.
Sehreen Noor Ali 3:49
It’s kind of actually took a long time like we were first called visible health, which is always a placeholder. And we learned that sleaze also means a family of bears. And it really attached itself to this idea of a mama bear and a Papa Bear. Because all the parents we talked to talked about that moment where they realized that they were the advocates for their child. And like, that’s where they came in a roaring or, you know, whatever growling ever bears do. And that spoke so much to me also. And it just went so well together.
Tony Zayas 4:22
Yeah. Wow. That’s, that’s cool. So um, projects. This is a project and a business that comes from a place I’m assuming of passion for you, just due to that origin. So that’s pretty fascinating. Well, let me ask you. So Alex, you said he was the data scientists that you connected with? Is he on the team?
Sehreen Noor Ali 4:47
Yeah, yeah. So we’re co founders. And he ran several teams, data science teams, at Squarespace. And I think what I have always appreciated about our partnership IP is how complementary our skill set is, and how overlapping our values are. And that has really helped us go forward.
Tony Zayas 5:10
Yeah, and I want to come back to talk about that. Because a lot of times we talk to co founders, and really find that interesting, all almost all of the time, when there’s a lot of successes when there’s that harmony, because there’s the skill sets that are complementary. So I do want to come back to that. But before we do that, I would just like to hear going back a little bit to the origin story. At what point did you know that this was something not just of interest to you, and trying to figure out, you know, learn about, you know, learn from others inside groups, but he met Alex, when did you guys decide that we have something here? We’re gonna turn this into a business?
Sehreen Noor Ali 5:55
So good question. I mean, frankly, I have a lot of imposter syndrome when I was doing this. So it wasn’t until I met Alex, that I started to think really big. I went into the generator program, knowing there was a market, but not really permitting myself to think about what the biggest thing could be that we did. And so when we start talking to dozens of parents, that’s what when I saw Alex light up, that’s when I got excited, because I was like, Okay, it’s not just me. After all, I had taken such a hit and confidence because I had to leave my job. And I live in New York, and our identities anywhere. And I feel like especially me in New York was tied to our job. So I went from like, being an ed-tech, executive to being a stay-at-home mom. And unfortunately, that term has never been given the respect that it deserves. And so I that was me re-entering the workforce when I went to the generator program. So I kind of felt like, is it just me? Am I like an anomaly, I was one of the very few parents in the generator program. And so it’s almost like, I’ve relied on his reactions to tell me if I was losing my mind, or if I was on to something.
Tony Zayas 7:00
That’s, that is interesting. Tell me more about that imposter syndrome. You know, we’ve heard from other founders touching on this, but you know, part of this really is for other founders who might be at a stage, you know, prior to where you’re at, might be going through similar things, right. And so, when you say imposter syndrome, what do you mean by that? What are you feeling? And? And did you when did you get past that hurdle?
Sehreen Noor Ali 7:28
That’s interesting. My, my journey has one of like, a lot of people just like fighting, you know, you know, just like fighting for your resilience, I had lost my dad. The same year that my daughter got diagnosed, and it was just tiring the workplace was tiring, I was tired, I was grieving. And then I found out my daughter had this situation. And so in some ways, my imposter syndrome was coupled with not giving. And I just didn’t give an F, like I was going to go to the startup generator program, they were going to either take me or not take me they were going to accept that I was going to leave at five o’clock not stay for drinks until nine o’clock. And they accepted me as I am when I had the interview process with them. I said, Listen, I’m a mom. And I’m like, even if I wasn’t like I’m leaving at five like, this is just not happening. And they and they took that. So like, I was very confident about what my needs were. But the imposter syndrome came from. I am a mom and a caretaker. And those are the most important things in my life. And can I build a business, and I didn’t see a lot of moms like me build a business, I saw a lot of moms, but I didn’t see a lot of moms have children that have who are vocal about their children’s needs. And it turns out that like, by the way, all kids have needs like they’re human. But I have now actually met people who are who have children who have needs that are, you know, very, like, extensive needs. And I connect with them the most it’s not, it’s not about being a female founder, some bit being South Asian, it’s not about being Muslim. It’s about being like a mom of a child that has needs. And those are the that’s most important things to me. And so seeing people in that space, who just have caretaking needs that look like mine has helped kind of stem that imposter syndrome.
Tony Zayas 9:16
That’s interesting. Your background is pretty interesting. from a professional standpoint. I would love to just if you could tell us a little bit about you know, work with the State Department. And then your experience and educational today’s take us through that a little bit. I just like to hear and then I would like to hear how how those kind of different mixture of things that you’ve done. How did that parlay into Sleuth?
Sehreen Noor Ali 9:46
Yeah. you know, I grew up in a family that just had a very international orientation. My dad worked in international development, and we lived just outside DC so my life was all about like me to people in his world that came from everywhere, and I loved it. And so it was like no question in my mind that I was gonna do international work after I graduated from Brown. And so that’s what I did actually moved abroad for a couple of years. And then I came back and Wreckfest State Department, I think the one thing I learned at the State Department is I, I need smaller organizations, I loved what I did, you know, I worked with the White House on a lot of different initiatives. I met President Obama, I worked on digital diplomacy tools, which was very new at the time, and it was exciting. But I now can see looking back that I need a lot more room to flex my own creative muscles. And so when I moved to New York, 10 years ago, I knew I wanted for profit. I wanted a model where you could do social impact but make money. And so I was very targeted towards ed-tech. And so I worked hard to get into that sphere. And then I stayed there. And so that those years in ed-tech, have really informed what I do now, in part because it was, you know, sales BD, but it was also selling to parents.
Tony Zayas 11:11
That’s great. Going back now to talk about or not bit, but moving up to where you, you were participated, and you said a startup generator generator, I would love to hear about that experience. What was that? Like? How did you find them? And
Sehreen Noor Ali 11:27
Tony Zayas 11:28
What are some of the connections and people that you’ve met along the way?
Sehreen Noor Ali 11:34
It was a good experience. I mean, it was, I can say that also, because I met Alex there, right. So off the bat, it was a good experience. And then we got investment from new love and antler. And we were the only team to have a unanimous vote for them to invest in us. So that was, it was really great. As someone who brought this idea of children’s health being underserved and having it validated by people that were mostly not parents, that was really important. As a boost. The program itself, I think, is a model that itself has adapted. I think generator programs are probably harder than accelerator programs. And I think, you know, the, it’s a harder business model. I think, though, for the people that participate, it almost ends up being like a good way to experiment with whether or not you have a business idea that you want to take off. I did not get to participate in social activities. But you know, like, I’d been living in New York long enough, I just kind of felt like I can do what I can do, and I can’t do what I can’t do. So in that sense, it was positive.
Tony Zayas 12:38
Would you mind describing just the difference between the generator program accelerator program, I’m certainly more familiar. Yeah, accelerator site. But I would like to hear a little bit about the generator.
Sehreen Noor Ali 12:48
The generator program was like, you don’t have an idea yet. You know, you go you meet together. And the premise of this particular one was to find a co-founder. So it was a lot of speed networking, and like, founder dating, which is as awkward as it sounds. And it was really like can’t who can you work with. And so they would do all these, like mock tests or, you know, things that you could do together and see if there’s compatibility. Luckily, Alex and I were the first teams to meet and stick together. So that works out very well, for me who this idea of like, like, I’d come out of a year of basically not socializing with colleagues because I was running to the doctor into the hospital all the time. And then like go into, it’s almost like what everyone’s going through. Now with COVID. I went through it once already. And I was like, there are so many people, I don’t want to like, talk to so many people. This is awkward. So I lucked out. But basically, you don’t have you work on an idea together and incubate that idea. And then the investment that you get would really be based on the strength of you and your founder. And the idea you have. So of course, you have nothing to fall back on, because you haven’t built that idea yet. So it’s really idea zero or ground zero.
Tony Zayas 14:03
Wow. That’s pretty cool. So before we talk about that dynamic between you and Alex, I would like to hear so the startup generator actually offered that ability to raise funds. Yeah. So like, what did that look like? Like? Do they grant enough? Were you able were able to do with you know?
Sehreen Noor Ali 14:26
Yeah. So what we did was, after you paired up with the founder, you worked on your idea, and then you pitch to the committee, and it was a pretty big committee, and then that committee decided if you’ve got the investment, it was a pretty modest investment, but we’ve made it go far. And so our product right now is built off of that investment. And you know, I think Alex and I have the benefit of having worked on SAS products before so we can kind of shortcut the inefficiencies that we had seen Previously, so we made it go pretty far.
Tony Zayas 15:02
That’s great. If you guys have any plans to do any further fundraising.
Sehreen Noor Ali 15:07
Yeah, we’re raising our pre seed right now, actually.
Tony Zayas 15:11
Great. What does that process like for you? As a founder? You know, we’ve heard from so many that that’s almost like a full time job in and of itself. How how’s it been for you?
Sehreen Noor Ali 15:23
It has been a marathon. I know, everyone says that. I find myself a little frustrated with myself, to be honest, because I’m like, oh, I went in with all these assumptions a year ago. And I revise those assumptions. I think that there is a playbook to fundraise. And I think one of those rules is you have to dedicate a lot of time, it really is someone’s full-time job. And I think I have, you know, we are so focused on our product and user acquisition that sometimes we probably don’t put the attention on fundraising that it needs.
Tony Zayas 16:04
What have you learned through the process, you can maybe share with, you know, some of our viewers, as far as the process of fundraising, and I would say even pitching as well, is a one tip or suggestion that you would pass along to someone that yeah, is in those shoes.
Sehreen Noor Ali 16:21
This might be specific to a certain type of business. But we have this really great advisor, who felt comfortable telling us and I’m so grateful, we talked to him, like four or five times, that basically, we have to watch out that people don’t look at us as bleeding hearts. And that we need to pair our passion for the solution with the signals that we actually do know how to make money, which is kind of funny, because like, I ran revenue for a few startups, and like, we know what we’re doing. But I think that was such a key moment for me because I could speak passionately about this all day. But of course, like, you need to speak just as passionate about the business model, which I do too. And I think the thing is, I was telling a friend in the space, she runs a nonprofit focused on autism. I was telling her yesterday about how our fundraising is going. And you know, I said I was like one of the things I’ve always wanted to prove we live in a capitalist society, I want to prove that the people that think people, people will pay, people will pay for a solution that helps their child. And someone once asked me condescendingly why we didn’t make sleuth, a nonprofit. And I laid into that person. And I said, we live in a capitalist society, I want you to know that the people who are being underserved will pay for being better served. And I feel very strongly about that. And you can charge an amount that will make us a very profitable business.
Tony Zayas 17:54
Yeah, I tend to agree with that. But that is that is a great piece of advice. I think sometimes people get caught up in a business, if it is something they’re passionate about. And they have to realize the perspective that they’re being looked at by the potential investors and really speak to their motivations. And you know, how they’re going to make decisions. So that’s, that’s really great. I would love to hear more about you know, as you mentioned, you know, you’re not the technical founder. That’s where Alex comes in. I would love to hear I mean, it’s great that that generator paired you guys up. And it sounds like you have strong chemistry out of the gate. I would love to hear how your skill sets work together. Yeah. As work together and how you how the dynamic has changed and evolved over time.
Sehreen Noor Ali 18:45
Yeah. It’s funny because Alex is somebody like he’s like, I guess I’m the Technical co-founder, you know, in like that paradigm itself is kind of interesting. And that narrative is interesting. But he looked at, I brought to him this idea of this market. And when we started talking to parents, what we saw was that they weren’t getting good information. And as a data scientist, he was like, this is solvable. Like, this is solvable. Parents are already sharing information. If you take the information that they’re sharing, ask it in a way that you get data that’s, you know, structured, you can actually do something easily with those stories, to get insights and data out of it. So that was something that he brought that I hadn’t ever considered, even though I had actually worked on a search engine in education, and that first part of my entire career. And so, he has the vision and knows how to build it with our engineers. I know how to get that out to parents and talk to them about it and garner the trust, right and so those Like we work in parallel on both of those things like I’m constantly talking to parents, I constantly talk about my story. I’m constantly building trust, I talked to nonprofits, to talk to foundations, you know, a lot of those skill sets of diplomacy that I had from my time at the State Department, and really building trust when you have zero money because that’s what the government is you have to build trust when you have zero money is exactly this is a situation I’m in now. And he’s building the product, in part based on the feedback that we’re getting. So we have this great feedback loop. We also know in fundraising, that some people like the other person more, it’s just like, we can almost predict who’s going to resonate with me versus who’s gonna resonate with him. And so that’s been a huge advantage to I think our relationship hasn’t changed that much, honestly. I mean, it’s pretty much the same as it was at the beginning, which is we’re both fairly seasoned, we’re both pretty sure. Like, there’s nothing, you know, we can talk about and disagree about things without it becoming emotional. It’s like, it’s not a big deal. There hasn’t been a time that was like, Oh, that’s a really big deal. You know,
Tony Zayas 21:05
That’s great. I’m gonna close a window I have here because there’s some construction or something going on.
Okay, so hopefully, that’s a little bit better. Yeah, no, that that’s very interesting. To go back to that point of, you know, you said, talking to the parents, that, and I know, I like how you said, you felt a sense of like early validation, when Alex lit up when you share, you know, yeah, the idea. So how did you go about getting those early users getting that feedback? What did that look like? How did that you know, process go for you guys.
Sehreen Noor Ali 21:53
We will the very first customer development was done on real people replying to a Facebook post, that I had shared very early, and then friends told friends, so we got a great segment, like just to interview. And then we send out a survey to 1000 parents, which validated two of our insights, one that parents would willingly share with other parents, and to the data that they have, is valuable and shows critical outcome data that nobody else has been using at scale, right. So you think about the fact that it’s like, we talked about navigational information, like I, I’ve been trained in some, like, social justice principles, and one of the things I learned was this idea of navigational capital, some people with privilege have it, and some people don’t. So when you think about college and getting into a good college, people who know how to get into a good college are navigating a fairly opaque system. So they have navigational capital, how do you transfer that knowledge? I think about it similarly with the medical system, right? So people who have a child who has been through it have this information that is immensely valuable to another family who hasn’t navigated yet and is new to the diagnosis. Right. So that’s one type of information that you can extract and share back. But interestingly, the other type of information that you get and can share back is outcomes data. So a lot of children get therapies, speech therapy, occupational therapy, all sorts of therapies, that information about the number of therapies, and what is doing to the child is not something your doctors have, your physicians don’t have it, they rely on parent observation to know how much is going on. So we think about the parent as a hub of health information. It’s pretty extraordinary because they can say and see that my kid has five speech therapies a week, and this is where they are now. So it’s like these different types of data. That’s, that’s really critical. And so in terms of acquiring so we prove that out with our pilot, we interviewed 1000 parents, we prove with 79% accuracy that you can actually diagnose based on parent stories, we don’t diagnose but you could. And then now I go, and I create relationships with a lot of people on Instagram because parents are sharing on Instagram and Facebook. And so, you know, you start it’s a lot about the signals of trust the fact that I am somewhat open about my story, you know, about my daughter. I think people understand that like I’m in this because I live in it.
Tony Zayas 24:33
Yeah. And I’m sure that make that allows people to be more willing to open up and share more with you so that yeah, that’s, um, I wanted to get a sense of, you know, as we talk about you and Alex as the co founders. What is some? Well, before we do that, I would let I guess where we’re at. I would love to
Sehreen Noor Ali 24:59
Sorry. You got cut out?
Tony Zayas 25:01
What did the what did the MVP look like? But because it looked it sounds like you know, you were you were kind of working this out you probably didn’t have anything sophisticated early on is most do. Yeah. What are the initial products entail?
Sehreen Noor Ali 25:18
So our initial product is a way for parents to share their stories. So they go on sleuth, and they say share my child’s story. Rem is like, our product now looks very close to what our MVP did. I mean, we’re, we’re still preceding, right? So we’re like better than MVP, which is kind of funny because people do look at our product and think we’re a little bit our product is more mature than our stage. And that’s all really Alex and his ability to communicate well as a data scientist with our engineers and project that. So it’s very, it’s totally functional right now. Like we just launched developmental assessments, which are tools for parents to see how their children are doing in a couple of different areas. And, yeah, I mean, that’s, it’s pretty good if I might say so myself.
Tony Zayas 26:13
And like you said, for people to assume that the product is more mature than it really is. That’s mean, that’s a sign that you guys are doing something right, I would say, very cool. Tell me more about the team. You know, what is the who are the people in the roles? And what is the team look like right now?
Sehreen Noor Ali 26:32
Yeah, so me and Alex, and our engineers. And what I love about our engineers is that they had a personal motivation for building this. And they understand it empathetically about why this tool would be needed, and have been huge thought partners in the way that we’ve executed. And so our raise is to then hire a couple of engineers and bring them in-house.
Tony Zayas 27:01
Very cool. So given those comments that these are people that really, you know, get buy into the mission of what you guys are trying to do. How, how did you and Alex articulate that vision? Out? To find people like that? And how do you continue to do that we talk with a lot of founders of, you know, the idea of founders have a vision, a lot of times that just exists only starting out in their head. And so to get that, not out just to the marketplace, but first of all, to your internal team. Yeah, it’s important that everyone can understand and really buy in and make everything. So how did? How did you and Alex go about that? How, you know, what has been your process for vetting people and bringing them on? Because it sounds like there needs to be a strong cultural fit. Yeah. Or at least that’s, you know, where you’re at now, which is great.
Sehreen Noor Ali 28:00
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a bunch of different things, I think, one, we got some early press. So we were able to write out what we wanted to do in text. And I think people really resonate with that. And I think children’s health is like a lot of other topics, where it’s like, if you get it, you really get it. And it’s lonely when you get it. So when you see someone else understand it, there’s that gravitational pull. So that has been extraordinary for us. And that’s how the engineers really started to, they really wanted to work with us. And that meant a lot that they understood, they lived it themselves. In terms of that constant echoing of mission and what we’re trying to achieve, it comes out from a lot of written documents. And we have a lot of Google documents about like, this is what the product needs to do. This is the functionality. This is why. And we are always in discussion about the parent, we’re very user-centered at all points of it. And so like, that’s a lot of where my role is, right? Because I’m constantly talking to the parents, I see their stories sometimes share with them how stories can be written. And so I keep taking it back. So there’s never a moment where we’re disconnected from our user. And also, you know, products are hard to build you, you know, and I’ve, I’ve been in situations where, you know, a leader will get really mad at the product team or like the engineering team, and it just escalates. But I think the thing that our team has is, like, it’s just normal, like you just talk about it, right? There’s like a lot of appreciation that’s shared. There’s a lot of understanding that mistakes are made or things won’t come on time, but like how do we stay on schedule? And so there’s a culture of like, yeah, we’re doing this together, things happen, and we’re gonna keep moving and we appreciate everyone’s contributions, especially during the pandemic. And that’s critical.
Tony Zayas 30:06
How, how are you guys impacted by the pandemic?
Sehreen Noor Ali 30:12
You know, I think for me, it was just hard to work. Well, so having kids at home, and also as a parent and being in children’s health, I worry about children right now. Like I worry about my kids mental health. And that does play on my mind, which is like, do my kids have what they need to get through this? And I think I’m always two steps ahead. But I do think about things like what happens when kids go back to school in the fall and the separation anxiety that entail so that has been the hardest? For me? Like, how do I make sure I’m the mom, that’s two steps ahead. But also being the co founder. That’s two steps ahead. Luckily, there’s overlap. So that’s great. Yeah, but it’s tough.
Tony Zayas 31:03
That’s a lot, taking on a lot, a lot of responsibility by asking yourself those, you know, questions, which I totally get. That brings me to we typically ask this later on towards the end of this discussion, but just given that you brought it up, how do you we don’t even really talk work life balance as much on this show? Because as a, as a founder, you know, it could be so all conferencing, we like to say more work life harmony? How do you, you know, how do you fit that in? You know, being a mother running a business? How do you, you know, what are the things that you do for yourself to keep yourself sane and take care of yourself, but at the same time, stay, you know, focused and committed to the business?
Sehreen Noor Ali 31:53
I don’t think I am a workaholic. Which is probably not. I’m okay with it. Honestly, like, I really like working. I really like what I do. And as long as like the three members of my family feel supported by me, that’s all I really care about. And I’m pretty good about setting boundaries, too. It’s not like, you know, every time my kids need me, I’m like their beck and call like I do think that it’s important as parents to know, your boundaries and to help in my case, like, it’s important that my kids also have foster Celsa a sense of independence. And so it’s like, like constant negotiation. It’s like, my daughter was like, Oh, do you have to go in today? And I was like, Yeah, I have to go. Like, but I’ll stay home for another extra 20 minutes because we had something to do. And so I think it’s knowing that it’s not about the amount of time often it’s about, are you with that person focused for that time? Because kids know, like, if we’re on our phone like I get told off as I should.
Tony Zayas 32:59
Right? So being present there that time that you do spend? Yeah. Yeah, I would agree with that. Sarah, and I would love to hear a bit about just your experience as a founder. From the female perspective, you know, we we have had quite a few female founders on and, you know, both face the reality of it, it’s a different experience for men versus women diving in and different ways. How has it been for you? What have been some of the challenges or hurdles you’ve gotten passed?
Sehreen Noor Ali 33:38
So good question. I think I think mostly it comes from the realities of being a mom, but I feel actually fairly supported in New York City. You know, I have, I have friends that are female founders that have different experiences than I do. But I’m a part of a lot of different supportive networks, where it’s the norm to be a female founder. I get more on the race stuff than I do on the female stuff. The female, I think, to be blunt, the fact that like, Alex is a white guy probably buffers a lot of the bias I would get. Yeah. But I have been in some situations where people like, say somewhat they think is funny race stuff, which is just silly. Yeah.
Tony Zayas 34:32
Yeah. So So you’ve you would say that’s been a bigger, you know, issue to deal with and, you know, being a female?
Sehreen Noor Ali 34:41
Yeah, I think so. And I think it’s, it’s not because I don’t think it’s harder to be a female founder. I truly think it’s because my partner is a guy. Sure. Right. And so that’s obvious to anyone right when I talk or like when they see our deck, so I don’t stand alone in that identity because I’m paired with it. And then people look at us as like, oh, they’re, you know, they look at even though Alex is a parent, they look at me as an as a parent who’s living the situation. And they look at Alex as the person who understands the data science of it. And so I mean, I think that’s also a lesson, right? Like people, you are judged as a pair, oftentimes, and I think people will try to take that into account. If I was building this with another female, I think my experience would be very, very different, right? Because then you’re over overweight on that identity. And I think there would, I would be penalized for it. But because we’re also, you know, our user base is moms, that works. And I do think that thing that has hurt me most as a female founder is the fact that I’m so passionate about the inequities in children’s health, and people do look at me as a bleeding heart. I think that is the number one thing that is hurt me, right. So like, if I were a male, with a bleeding heart with that, I don’t think I would and kept like, we’ve had VCs say to us, I love what you’re building. It’s just so nice to talk to people who are like trying to make an impact in the world, too. And I got off those calls being like, I’m not here to make you feel better, that you talk to someone that cares. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, that’s the kind of stuff that I think is implicit bias. That is because I’m a female.
Tony Zayas 36:33
Sounds somewhat condescending in that context, right? No, that’s, that’s fascinating. Do you have any suggestions for someone who’s feeling the challenges of being, you know, a woman, a minority, whatever it might be? They have this vision, they have this? You know, idea? What do you say to them? How do you confront this and deal with the real? I mean, it’s, it’s a reality, right? Like, there’s gonna be these prejudices that, you know, surface. Hopefully, over time, we see less and less of that. But the fact is, is this is what we’re dealing with. Any any suggestions for, you know, people out there that are going through something like that?
Sehreen Noor Ali 37:18
Yeah, I have two suggestions, one, find your people, and they’re probably in some of these networks. It’s not a network that is going to be the solution. It’s going to be the two or three people there who really understand what you’re doing. And I think, being able to say like, Hey, this happened, was that normal? And they’re like, No, that just sucks. It’s just biased in the system. Like I hear you. Right? So it’s like those two or three people are sounding boards. And I think the second would be, make sure you’re spending a lot of time with people who are not founders, like the other people in your life that love you that like are supportive of you that you’re, you know, creating the startup but knew you before you did it, right? Because that’s a huge reality check. Like I have a good support base of people who just really believe in me, but probably know nothing about technology.
Tony Zayas 38:07
I’m trying to recall what exactly you said towards the beginning of this conversation goes something along the lines of like, knowing the game that you’re playing, and being okay, like, playing that game. Does that come into play at all? Because to me, that’s what I hear. It’s like, there are like you said, you have that person that you’re close with that you can connect and share things with that you found through that network. And they could say, No, that’s not normal. It just sucks. Right? Some of the facts sometimes is, is you’re gonna deal with things that are kind of bullshit, right?
Sehreen Noor Ali 38:42
Tony Zayas 38:43
You’re gonna have to realize that’s part of the game. Yeah, I have to figure out a way to get past it. Yeah. dwell on it and feel, you know, there’s all this injustice and
Sehreen Noor Ali 38:55
Yeah. Like, I am a person who has a very strong sense of self, like, I am the same person I was 10 years ago than I am now. Like, my best friend will tell you, you didn’t change when you got married. You didn’t change when you got kids as I’ve I know who I am. Yeah. And what makes it hard is that I don’t like playing games. And what makes it even harder is that I realize I have to adapt. Right. So while I know who I am, and I know I would, you know, I kind of feel like metaphorically, I am on a stake saying, listen, here’s a market and you can make a lot of money, right? The fact that I’ve been working on this, not taking a salary, you know, it’s a sacrifice to start a startup. But also, there are just ways that this game is played. And I have to adapt. And I’ll give you an example. I say this to a lot of my advisors. I’m not I’m not popular like I’m not cool. I’m not that like the cool female founder, whatever. It’s like it’s just not me. I just don’t care. Do you know? And that is going to hurt me unless I adapt. And, you know, I am so committed to this business that I will adapt to a certain extent. And I really, I’m like, actually totally fine with it now.
Tony Zayas 40:18
You think your attitude, your attitude along the lines of not caring all that much about perception perhaps? Do you think that’s also an asset to you? Because one thing is that you not only just have a strong, strong sense of self, but that’s probably the foundation for a lot of confidence. And yeah, it is a superpower of yours. Just that’s what I’m reading from. Just yeah, talking with you this hour.
Sehreen Noor Ali 40:51
It is a superpower. And I will say something a little controversial. People don’t like confident women, not everybody likes a confident woman. And that sucks. Right? And it’s almost like, You got to find the people who think your confidence is an asset, because not everyone is gonna think your confidence in asset is an asset. And I tell him, you know, it hurts, it really does hurt when people try to put you down because you’re confident. But then when you think about it, it’s a great self selecting mechanism. Right? It’s like, I am coachable. I’m 100%, coachable, and I’m confident, and like, there’s just a lot of nuance about creating a business. And I’ve found that the people who have started their own businesses before they’ve been down this road, they get that. I think that people who are newer to this and are trying to play a certain like startup VC playbook are a little bit more threatened by that.
Tony Zayas 41:58
Yeah, and I, I think that’s fantastic. Just that you have that sense of confidence, I do believe it’s a superpower. And I completely agree with your controversial statement. True. I’m a girl dad, I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I have a wife who is very confident to the point that we won’t have we always joke about this. We once had a carpet installer come in years ago. And just they’re exchanging stories. And we both used to live in Southern California and kind of stuck up found out that he used to be a professional bowler. And my wife jumps in and says, I’m a really good bowler and afternoon, like, Do you realize that this is a guy? You know, I don’t know how much of a bowler you are. I’m not much of one. But your professional ball you like good? Like, yeah, yeah, we joke because that’s how she brings that to kind of everything she does. And that’s something that I love that my daughter gets to see. And I truly believe that that is one of the most important things. And as a parent, my job is to have a kid who, beyond anything else believes in themselves. And that is one of the biggest problems. In particular for women. That’s just the way I see it. And I do agree with your statement. And again, I have seen that you know, playout and talking to my wife just saying, you know, there are people that you’re that are just not going to like how strong how confident you are. And that’s to your point, self-selecting you find your people. And I think it works out for the bus, in my opinion, even though it might be difficult in those moments where you’re trying to win somebody over that is a little bit threatened by you, and you don’t understand that. Fascinating stuff. I would love to hear you mentioned a little bit about kind of the network. And just like support resources, I would love to hear about mentors, you have had a very successful career prior philosophy of this business. I would love to hear from some of those people that you know, you lean on. And you look to because we found that, you know, mentors are a really important part of growing a successful business.
Sehreen Noor Ali 44:14
Yeah, I think most of my mentors are informal, like their former colleagues that I worked with, at mostly my technology jobs, my ed-tech jobs. There’s one startup I was at, and I’ve kept up with a lot of the people. And I started a network called ed-tech women. And that has been a great resource of mentorship for me, because what I am it’s not active now, unfortunately. But when I was building it, the thing that I loved the most was how intergenerational it was in terms of where people were in their careers, so I got to benefit from women who are entrepreneurs and seniors in their field. Just give me a bunch of life advice anything from like how do you raise children in New York City? To? How do you deal with, I don’t know, any kind of business thing. But you know, they are people that I’ve gone to and said, Hey, listen, I’m starting this new thing. Can you connect me with your network? So the relationships that I built early on in my technology career have really come back to me manyfold. And that’s been critical. Like, you know, there are several founders from Ed Tech women who are like, you know, just send me your deck, I’ll send it to VCs. Or like, Can I send this to a friend, you know, or I know a school that could use this. And so it’s really primarily from the social capital that I built when I first moved to New York 10 years ago.
Tony Zayas 45:44
That’s cool. So has a lesson been that you know, maintaining those relationships. And it’s not only important, but it’s paid off for you,
Sehreen Noor Ali 45:54
Especially as a convener. I think that’s the critical point. You know, if you are the convener, bringing people together, that comes that comes to you. And that really comes from my parents, like, I swear to God, we had dinner parties every week, like I remember telling my mom’s like, if we just charged everyone, five bucks would be like a million. It was tiring at the time. But my parents really understood the power of relationships fundamental. And I learned that from my families, like the power of relationships, the power of sitting down with someone having a conversation, and really getting to know them. And so, and I love people, like I like, the through line of my life is relationships. It’s not technology, you know, it’s not it’s relationships. And so I just genuinely enjoy building it and getting to know what people are like, I’m the only person I think, who loves wedding speeches, every time we go to a wedding. Like I really love wedding speeches. And so I think that relationship building is just fun, and it has come back to me in a really nice way.
Tony Zayas 46:58
That’s pretty awesome. Do you see that as something that, as you said, you have this intergenerational network? Do you see that focus on relationships? And the way people have relationships with others? Do you see that changing or different between generations? Only because the way we communicate is so different now. So the younger generation are more quick and instantaneous, whereas you have parents who are bringing people together, and spending what it sounds like quality time, you know, really getting to know one another? Just curious, as you say that that’s yeah, wondering,
Sehreen Noor Ali 47:37
I do think there is a difference. I mean, you know, luckily, I think early childhood education is getting stronger. And I think that is all about relationships. It’s about your caregiver, and your friends and your playgroups. I do think that we have losing it, I find it harder now. To bring certain people together, I’d like my expectations around just relationship building, not even friendship is this like, I’m committed, if I say I’m going to do something, I’m gonna do it. And I think sometimes that isn’t always what happens. And I think that it can be very transactional. I am hopeful that COVID will help change that I do think people are more vulnerable now, and more willing to show up as themselves. And I think that’ll help a lot.
Tony Zayas 48:29
I would say that one of the Silver Linings at least, you know, that I found that my family found in go with dealing with the whole COVID pandemic was that again to another theme we had on earlier, but that idea of presence, like he has a family connected more often. It was there was less going on. Right. So there was more time to spend together connected focus in the moment. And I think in our society that was almost kind of a needed Well, for a lot of people, because I think there is something to be said for that, you know, total multitasking and micro communications and yeah, so pretty interesting stuff
Sehreen Noor Ali 49:14
And to know yourself. Like I spoke to a bunch of high schoolers last week just trying to understand what their COVID impact of COVID was. And I was shocked that the rising juniors that I talked to, were actually grateful. And one of the things they said was that they got to know themselves better. I was like, floored.
Tony Zayas 49:34
It’s amazing. Yeah. Wow. Um, I would love to hear a little bit about what your role looks like. Today as co founder and Sleuth, it sounds like you got, you know, when you describe the team, it’s you, Alex. And then you have a team that sounds like it’s on the technical side. You said your technical founder. So my assumption is that leaves a lot of stuff up to you. So what does that look like?
Sehreen Noor Ali 50:04
Yep. It’s trying to source and close distribution partnerships collaborations with nonprofits, social service organizations and saying, Hey, listen, you’re already helping serve families. And Sleuth can help you understand more what’s happening in children’s health within your constituency. It’s on the user acquisition side, literally doing a bunch of unscalable. Like outreach, we had a we had a, an unsolicited video testimonial the other day, and you think about that as like an outcome that takes a lot of trust work, right to go out and cultivate it’s like all about relationship cultivation, and, and relationship cultivation takes a lot of time. And mostly on the marketing front, to do a lot of stuff on marketing.
Tony Zayas 50:56
What are some of the things on the marketing side that’s giving you guys the most traction to this point?
Sehreen Noor Ali 51:03
So Google Ads has been great, we have an amazing our CPC is $1, a buck 90, it does confirm something that we’ve always known, which is that children’s health is a great whitespace. The other bang for our buck is amplifying stories during a month of awareness, and reaching out to organizations that are trying to build that awareness. Like we have the technology to help. And so we pair very well with an organization that’s already connecting families, we come in with a thoughtful technology without competing with a community building. So we don’t connect parents to each other right now we’re really focused on the information part. And so that gives you gives us a like a
Tony Zayas 51:50
Comment that you made just a moment ago was you you’re focused on non scalable activities? I certainly get that. But can you explain to other founders who are thinking but I want to grow this business? Yeah, do it? Why not? Why spend so last time on that scalable activities.
Sehreen Noor Ali 52:09
I’m spending time on non scale activities. Because of the trust, I really believe that we are successful when people trust us. And so that comes from building trust almost one by one. The other reason I do non scalable activities is to find out where our fishing hole will be. Right. So like, if I find small fishing holes on the same platform, then that informs how I create a scalable strategy. And so that that will come also parents talk to each other, the viral coefficient of parents is huge. So I have to start talking one by one in order for it to spread.
Tony Zayas 52:47
Yeah, I know, it makes a lot of sense. But I think that’s something that successful founders almost always share, you got to really get into the weeds and really know the inner workings, the nitty gritty before, to understand how to properly scale it, you have to understand really what’s going on. To do that is to dive in there and really be on the, on the ground, and talking to people and understanding and all that. So now that that’s fantastic. We have a few minutes left, I just have a couple of questions left for you. First of all, I would love to hear you know what is next. For Sleuth? What is the next 12 months look like? What’s the vision for the next three to five years?
Sehreen Noor Ali 53:32
Yeah, so the next 12 months is continuing to collect parents stories, and creating the deep analysis of those stories that lets parents know what to do next, almost like a personalized map. And that is part of our monetization strategy. So our first stage was proving that we could get a product that can drive traffic and parent contributions. And we accomplish that the next stage is building out the product that we’re going to monetize. You know, in three to five years, we all we want to be at the point where people come to us and know us for all children’s health, right? It’s like, you know, we’ll start chipping away at different categories. But we really are just a broad children’s health platform. And I want an expect that instead of people going to Google that come to sleuth first when they’re searching for symptoms.
Tony Zayas 54:23
It’s very cool. I love that as a aspiration. It’s fantastic. In before last, so my last question I have for the day. Tell our our viewers where they can learn more about sleuth and maybe connect with you as well.
Sehreen Noor Ali 54:41
Yeah, sure. Our website is hellosleuth.com. Hello Sleuth is also our Instagram, which I manage so you can connect with me there or you can connect with me at Sehreen Noor Ali on Instagram too. So I manage both accounts. I would love to hear from folks.
Tony Zayas 54:58
Awesome. That’s very cool. So Sehreen and this has been fantastic. I just want to wrap up with the last question we typically ask on this show. It’s, you know, if you were to go back a few years prior to, you know, meeting Alex prior to making the decision to launch this business, you were to have a cup of coffee with your former self. What piece of advice would you give?
Sehreen Noor Ali 55:29
As they don’t waste your time, feeling like you can’t do it. Just a waste of time. And play the game. Like if you’re law it because I know what my long game is just play the short game to get there.
Tony Zayas 55:44
I love it. I love how concisely you stated those, like with conviction. That’s fantastic. That is awesome. Well, sorry, this has been again, this has been a fantastic conversation. I really appreciate your time. And I’m sure our viewers have really enjoyed this.
Sehreen Noor Ali 56:03
Thank you for having me. This is super fun!
Tony Zayas 56:05
For sure and continue to you know, keep doing great and important work. We certainly wish you the best. Thank you for viewers. We will be back again next week, same time. But thank you everyone for joining here and watching today’s show. Thanks a lot again Sehreen and take care of you too.