After facing the major setback every startup founder dreads, ParentTV chief Sam Jockel has risen from the ashes, securing a lucrative partnership and $500,000 in additional funding — but those dollars came with a condition attached.
Founded in 2017, ParentTV is a digital content platform offering parents tools, resources and content created by wellbeing and education experts.
But, where the startup has found its sweet spot is not delivering resources directly to parents, but by onboarding corporates, HR teams, schools and other institutions, and giving them the tools to support parents.
“We support people who support parents,” Jockel tells SmartCompany.
Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many parents have juggled working from home with childcare and homeschooling, their employers are looking for ways to help them out.
“As organisations, you can’t just bury your head in the sand,” Jockel adds.
Just over a year ago, Jockel experienced what she called “the worst-case scenario” for any startup founder, when her $1.2 million funding round fell through just a week or two before closing.
“My mentor and lead investor had had some personal circumstances unfold, which meant he had to withdraw from all investments,” Jockel wrote at the time.
“I was assured it was not personal or about the business on any level, and he wished me well. And that was that.”
Jockel had shared the news of the original funding with her team and her networks, so the collapse of the deal was very public.
However, 12 months later, Jockel and ParentTV are firmly back on their feet, having secured a batch of fresh funding, and landed a “quite substantial” three-year deal with early childhood education provider G8.
This latest funding comes from the startup’s founding investor Graeme Wise — the entrepreneur responsible for bringing The Body Shop to Australia — who offered up $500,000 in additional convertible note funding.
But, it came with conditions. Wise insisted that the founder stop focusing her energy on trying to secure investors, and start trying to build revenue for the business.
He asked her to “stop trying to get money and start trying to make money”, she recalls.
In the startup ecosystem, we tend to celebrate big funding rounds, she adds. It’s what people get excited about and it becomes “the story that you’re told you need to do as a founder”, she adds.
Actually, a heart-to-heart with Wise made her realise it wasn’t the be-all and end-all.
“Do you know what the trophy is? It’s building a business that supports itself. Why aren’t we focused on doing that?”
And, lo and behold, having spent just half of that funding, Jockel’s redirected efforts paid off. She’s signed the dotted line on a three-year deal with G8, and ParentTV is seeing an annual recurring revenue of about $600,000.
“I think we’ve done pretty well,” she says.
‘I gained an army’
Partly, that success comes from being open, honest and frank about the ups and downs of startup life, Jockel says.
When her funding fell through last year, the only reason the investor disclosed publicly was ‘personal reasons’.
“It just looks really bad,” Jockel says.
“Everyone loses confidence.”
That was partly why she wrote the blog post, which was later published on SmartCompany, she explains. It allowed her to take back control of the narrative.
“That stopped people focusing on what went wrong. I gave them a story.”
That story was about loss and about grief, she says.
“Everybody knows what it feels like when you lose something, so then people just had compassion and empathy, instead of questions.”
Suddenly, people were reaching out with condolences, and asking how they could help.
“On that day, I lost one person, but I gained a whole army.”
Her openness also served to bring the ParentTV team together, she adds. These are people as passionate about the mission as Jockel is herself.
“That all pulls people into wanting to support and work at places and with people who are prepared to just be honest.”
Despite everything, Jockel is still planning on raising a Series A round at some point.
She sees opportunity in the US market, where customers are already signing up to ParentTV without anyone being on the ground, and with no marketing strategy in place.
She would also like to offer resources in more languages, she says.
“We do have some big plans, and we know where we’re going with all of that.”
But, it’s taken three years to get this far and for the business to truly find its product-market fit and get started. Now, she’s impatient to pick up speed.
“We’re still at the bottom of the mountain,” she says.
“I only just feel like I’m getting started. There’s this weird frustration … we know what we didn’t know now.”
If she had her time again, there are things the founder would have done differently, money she would have spent differently. But, these are the mistakes you have to make.
“There is a joy. We survived that, and now we’re actually somewhat getting on solid ground,” she says.
“But at the same time, I just want to be there yesterday.”
Practising what you preach
Before getting into business, Jockel studied social work and counselling. That focus on emotional intelligence is something she’s carried with her throughout her entrepreneurship journey, she says. And it’s something she feels is important for all founders to embrace.
“Some of the hardest things to navigate for me haven’t actually been business,” she explains.
“It’s being the person I need to be to be able to do the business.”
Even when things are going well, “there is just so much personally that becomes required of you”.
She likens getting a deal across the line to running a marathon. When it’s done, you fall over the finish line, and it takes a while to recover before you can truly celebrate.
Running a business takes a personal and emotional toll, she stresses.
“But people don’t talk about it, because it’s uncomfortable.”
Part of the reason ParentTV exists is to help parents talk to their children about their feelings and emotions, especially when it’s difficult, Jockel explains. So she has to run the business with her heart on her sleeve, too.
“I’m on brand,” she says.
“If we’re saying to parents, at a time when mental health issues are at an all-time high … that we know the key is being vulnerable and honest and letting ourselves and our kids feel the feelings, then we have to do that when we’re leading,” she explains.
“We have to show people what that looks like, so they get the experience of that. It’s through experience that you understand.”