Rachel Carrell is CEO of award-winning childcare solution Koru Kids.
Rachel was working as the CEO of the world’s largest online doctor service when she had her first baby and experienced first-hand how difficult it was to arrange childcare (thus inspiring Koru Kids). Before that job, Rachel spent six years at McKinsey, and did a stint in the NHS.
She has a DPhil in Development from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and was elected a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2014. Rachel lives in North London with her husband and toddler, and can be found in Highgate Wood almost every weekend. Rachel recently won the ‘Best Business Woman in Technology’ award at the Best Business Women awards for her work setting up Koru Kids.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m the founder and CEO of Koru Kids, a fast-growing tech company dedicated to building the world’s best childcare service. I’m from New Zealand and came over here for graduate study, then worked at McKinsey and in the NHS before founding Koru Kids. I’m also the mother of two young kids. I was running a healthcare company when I had my first baby, experienced first-hand how difficult and expensive it was to arrange childcare, and decided to try to solve these problems.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Absolutely not! I did whatever seemed interesting at the time. I’m a massive generalist so at university I studied law, religion, politics, linguistics then did a multi-disciplinary masters, then at McKinsey worked in all sorts of different industries and geographies. I’ve never tried to become expert at any one thing, I get vaguely competent and then move onto the next. Turned out the broad background I have is really great for being CEO – so I don’t regret it.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The hardest thing for me is combining with work with having kids. My husband also has a big job and travels a lot, so juggling work and making sure I’m the best mum I can possibly be is a massive challenge. The only way I’ve managed to cope with it at all is by ruthlessly prioritising. So shopping, seeing friends, exercising, reading books, all these things I used to love — are all by the wayside for now.
The biggest challenge we face right now is finding incredible product people and engineers to help build our service. We have really high standards for our team and culture and we take the time to get things right, which can be tough when we also want to move so fast. But it’s the right thing to do.
Building a ‘full stack’ business like Koru Kids (meaning we do lots of different things for our parents) is hard as you have to build many different businesses at once. We recruit, train, match, and manage nannies – that’s four very different activities. We need to be excellent at managing complex operations, people, and technology.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Just getting this thing off the ground at all! I’m so proud of what we’ve done so far, even though we are just scratching the surface. We’re building a complex and difficult service in a neglected, unsexy and underfunded market – but one which has profound societal benefit for a huge number of people.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Any success I have is only because I try so many things so many times. I am really influenced by a famous Michael Jordan quote: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I just love this quote, and I try to live it.
I learn pretty much everything from other people. I try to learn from everyone — my peers, my team, everyone I meet. I never want to make an avoidable mistake, one someone else has already made. So I ask hundreds of questions, read tons of books and blogs, and even sometimes contact the authors directly to ask more questions. (The trick there is to reach out in a really specific way with a really great question which shows you’ve put the work beforehand!)
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
My main issue with mentoring is that I think it works best if it’s a natural relationship and a really strong connection. Sometimes people try to create a mentoring relationship with someone they don’t know where there’s no rapport, and it feels a bit forced. I find that people you’ve worked with in previous roles can make great natural mentors/mentees.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I’d create the world’s best childcare service. Luckily that’s already what I am doing.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Find a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, an undergraduate at Harvard, and work for free for his startup in exchange for a tiny bit of equity.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I’m so excited to build the childcare infrastructure I can see in my mind. We are insanely ambitious. We’re building a whole new childcare system. We’re hiring lots of product and tech people at the moment and I am also just so excited and inspired by the amazing team we are putting together. The next few years are going to be magic.