"Ok, But How" with Founder Mary Kay Ziniewicz of Bus Stop Mamas
Mary Kay Ziniewicz shares how she created a way to introduce employers to parents looking for flexible work that fits their busy schedules.
Elyse: What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Mary Kay: The earliest memory I have of “what I wanted to be” was wanting to be a waitress. My family rarely went out to eat at a restaurant. When we did, it was usually Perkins for the .99 breakfast before church. The Perkins waitress seemed like the most amazing job to me – they got to talk and laugh with people and bring them food, and everyone was happy. I liked the uniforms, too :) Sadly, I didn’t have much of a waitress career.
That said, throughout my life, I was always seeking ways to do things differently. I always bucked the lemonade stand idea. Instead, I made grape juice from grapes in our (city) backyard. I also attempted sewing little pouches. Neither of these ideas produced much success.
In my professional career, I continued to buck the system. I worked with law firms and created marketing, branding and business development programs that gained international acclaim for disrupting legal marketing. The programs I designed branded firm’s internal cultures, extended firm brands outside to new and existing business, formed strategic partnerships and got people talking about the firm a lot. I worked with law firms around the country and I loved it.
Elyse: How did you get the idea for Bus Stop Mamas?
Mary Kay: The idea of Bus Stop Mamas came to me while standing at the bus stop with a bunch of moms and kids. Many of the moms at the bus stop left promising careers to care for their children. I knew that these mamas had the time and the desire to work–as we all waved bye to our kids in the morning and then greeted them when they came home.
Moms love being home with their kids. They also crave more. I felt their sadness. I saw their value. I knew employers needed them. I knew I had to fix what is broken for moms and business.
Elyse: How did you get such a firm understanding of what both parents and employers were looking for in today’s job market?
Mary Kay: In my professional life, I worked with lawyers. I watched the female lawyers who had children work super efficiently to get their billable time recorded so that they could get to their kids. I also worked with a lot of different businesses throughout my career, and noticed that finding dedicated talent is always hard, no matter the economic conditions. Offering part time and flexible schedules for moms is the pathway to equity. Employers that create a motherhood career pathway will win. We call it, Sustainable Hiring Practices.
Elyse: How did you start building Bus Stop Mamas? What pieces of the business did you build first? How did you fund those first phases?
Mary Kay: First, I asked friends in my network who own businesses if they needed help and then I asked friends if they knew moms with certain skill sets. I made introductions. And kept making them. It was that simple.
Then, I built the Bus Stop Mamas website. Actually, my daughter built the Bus Stop Mamas website when she was 12.
Kids are very smart and very eager to help us–when they're twelve. If your kid(s) is older, it is likely too late :) If your kid(s) is younger, make a list and mark your calendar! You’ve got one solid year of child labor. I’m kidding. Mostly.
With regard to funding, I was introduced to an investor through a lawyer friend. The investor and my friend had a lunch meeting, and the first thing that the investor said to my friend when he sat down was, ”Moms make the best employees.” She said, "You need to meet my friend, Mary Kay." We met. He invested in Bus Stop Mamas and he also asked a buddy to support us too. That’s all we’ve needed so far.
Elyse: What has been your biggest success with Bus Stop Mamas to date?
Mary Kay: Biggest success…working with Boston Scientific and Caribou Coffee. But, the best feeling in the world is hearing…”You’re Bus Stop Mamas? I love Bus Stop Mamas." I’m floored when I hear those words. When I learn that people know about Bus Stop Mamas, that is success.
Elyse: What are some of the challenges you’ve noticed with building a two-sided marketplace that relies on both employers posting jobs and professional moms looking to find flexible work options?
Mary Kay: Our biggest challenge is getting a variety of jobs posted. We have moms with PhD’s and GED’s and everything in between looking for flexible work.
Elyse: Entrepreneurship can be incredibly isolating. How can founders build a network to help support them on some of the more challenging days or moments in the journey?
Mary Kay: My advice is to get out and show up. There are a lot of awesome people who want to cheer you on–but if they don’t know you, they can’t cheer for you. Getting involved in the startup community through LaunchMN and Beta.MN were game changers for me. When I show up to events or go to my work space at Fueled Collective, I am filled up. I love my founder friends and community.
Elyse: What advice do you have for first-time founders? What do you wish you could tell younger you?
Mary Kay: My advice to first-time founders is just do it. Do it! You can do it. What I wish I could tell my younger self: You know a lot more than you think you do.
If you liked this article, join our newsletter for more founder resources every month.
Elyse Ash is a marketer, creative, writer, speaker, founder and loud laugher. In her free time she enjoys playing with her kiddos, going to new restaurants, reading and pretending she’s into yoga.