Thanks for joining me here.
Read some thoughts on issues affecting daily life and life around our world. Read and join in the conversation. What moves you? How do you respond to the issues we face today?

Startup Day 536

It's that time of year when my back and/or shoulder acts up, when it's hard to sleep, when multiple to-do lists (professional, personal, kids' schools, family gatherings) run on repeat through my mind. A fellow Founder and Mom remarked that she's the one responsible for creating the magic of year-end in her household, all the while building her startup. I can relate.

In response, I'm trying out an intentional respite idea here. How can I close "the office" during the last week of the year? What do I need to put into place to support stepping away for a week? This was so much easier when I worked for someone else and merely had to find coverage and fill folks in on what to do in my absence.

There are a couple reasons it's hard for me to step away:

1. I like my work. It gives me purpose and immediate feedback in ways that being present in other areas of my life doesn't. Don't get me wrong -- there's immense purpose in other areas of my life such as with my family. But the feedback simply isn't as immediate or obvious to me there as it is in building a startup. Maybe if I had a different skill-set or psychological make-up feedback would feel just as tangible in those other areas.

2. There's always more to do in a startup. The work's never done so it's hard to quiet my heart and engage in non-work activities while what I've left undone runs through my mind.

In short, work serves as an escape and motivator. There are a few practices I might employ over the coming week to prepare to unplug. I might physically write down what needs doing then toss the list to symbolically clear it from my mind. I may set non-work intentions for the day and seek out where I can join God in His plans for the day. I'm also going to set aside some quiet time each day to ground me during the less-quiet-times of the day (I've got a 6yo and 9yo, folks).

Thanks for reading and may your year-end be peaceful and reflective, too.

Startup Day 479

Empowered Together's enterprise pilot is entering its final stages and here's what we've learned:

  • About 20% of my individual touch points have resulted in meeting user's needs
  • engagement of users asynchronously and with me is high
  • engagement of users synchronously and with each other is low
So what? Needs directly related to their children brings parents to the table. Community with peers could be a future benefit but it's not what's driving user behavior.

For the next month, I'm engaging in customer discovery conversations to better define the problem. I'm endeavoring to answer this question: "What is the job a parent hires Empowered Together to do?"

The answer to that question will drive persona creation, then testing the stickiness of the solution with a broader audience, and another pilot.

Over the past month, I've wrestled with this process because it feels like returning to square one. The difference, though, is that I'm equipped with a year of learnings and users AND participating in Visible Hands' Visionaries Accelerator

(Oh, did I fail to mention that? Yeah, exciting news -- I'm a Visionary! 😁)

This means I'm surrounded by expertise and resources to hit the ground running. I quell the voice that says I'm not making enough progress fast enough by reminding myself of these facts. Keeping in mind the big picture of making this world a better place for people affected by disability helps, too!

Startup Day 399: Enterprise Pilot Launch

It's finally here -- the day that Empowered Together launches its first enterprise pilot with LOGAN

By the stats, it's been:

  • 399 days since I started a pilot with individual parents,
  • 195 days since I was introduced to LOGAN, and 
  • 25 days since LOGAN and Empowered Together formally agreed upon pilot terms.
I'm grateful to have an initial roadmap for enterprise partnerships. Now I have some learnings under my belt about the process, especially regarding timelines, key stakeholders, and roll-out procedures. Reach out if you're curious to learn more.
The other element I try to capture herein is the personal and emotional impact of startups on founders. This morning, my daughter gave me a high-five and said, "good job, Mom," when I reminded her today is Launch Day. She gave me a magenta Mardi Gras-like necklace for the day that I'm wearing. A colleague from my Veterans in Residence program messaged me encouragement as did a lifelong friend whom I've consulted on program design. It reminds me of the impact of small gestures at key moments. I endeavor to be THAT kind of person who knows launches are really big days in the lives of founders. 
My family toasted the pilot's success last night. Church friends have checked in throughout the last year. My husband steadfastly cares for our kids while I grind away. Another friend reminds me of the importance of being faithful to my calling of beginning Empowered Together (versus striving for some self-defined "success"). God regularly reminds me by these interactions that He has a purpose in the work placed before me. Founders need community like this. I didn't have it in my first startup and I'm seeing the difference. There's less of a focus on me being successful. There's more of a balance of including my family on the journey. I'm more vulnerable and honest about my struggles. I receive more support from advisors whom I feel comfortable sharing with and receiving feedback from. I wish I had all this 15 years ago and I'm immensely grateful for it today.

Startup Day 366

It has been a year and a day since Empowered Together's pilot launched. On the actual one-year anniversary, I was too tapped out to reflect in a meaningful way. I pulled together a meager post in the evening and called it a day. 

How come? Well, I was tired from the day's strategy offsite, reflecting on what's working, what's not, and where we're headed. I also got a couple pieces of disappointing news: I didn't get into an accelerator I was hoping for and a prospective pilot partner declined our proposal. 

My life involves a lot of holding things in tension -- family and work, disability discrimination and hope for a better future, knowing where Empowered Together is headed and thwarted on the way there. This all aligns perfectly with the ultimate tension of the "already but not yet" nature of God's kingdom. Things on this earth are complicated and imperfect. I catch glimmers of God at work, of His love piercing the darkness, of Jesus' compassion showing up in the way a mom cares for her child. The kingdom of God is already at hand but not yet fulfilled.

This helps me make sense of the minor frustrations I encounter on my founder's journey. Disappointments are bound to come this side of glory. I wonder about my disappointments, though, and see another fascinating tension emerge -- making my plans and pursuing God's will. Thwarting of my plans may actually be in favor of God's will

Startup Day 332

A couple days ago, parents across the US felt the gut punch of another school shooting. It reminded me of December 14, 2013 when I was pregnant with my eldest child and stood watching the news. I thought, "I don't want to bring a child into this world." My now 8 year old asked if the teachers in Uvalde had the student do their lockdown routine. This is the world I've brought two children into -- elementary students practice lockdown drills, sometimes those safeguards aren't enough, parents fear for their kids' safety at school, parents struggle to communicate this travesty to their kids.

And just how does this affect my startup? Well, my productivity this week has tanked as my heart has been ripped asunder. We're encouraged to bring our whole selves to work. That's especially important to me as an entrepreneur working with families. That makes weeks like these all the more painful. As people cry out about rights and protections, I want to curl up into a ball and cry, just cry. Like any other professional, the pain in this world affects me, too. Sometimes that means I slow down and that's OK.

Startup Day 325

Today I'm writing to remind myself of what female founders are capable of. I'm writing something I can revisit in moments of doubt and imposter's syndrome. Near the end of this day, I lamented the overdue social media post, the pending follow-ups to prospects, the presentation for a startup accelerator that won't write itself. 

But then I paused that voice in my head. Yesterday, an advisor described the vision in my head of supporting ALL parents and primary caregivers of children with disabilities, especially those most marginalized. She wants to help me create that system change. Today, I had two amazing conversations -- one person wanting to introduce me to a major company to pitch a pilot of Empowered Together with its employees and one agency wanting me to present to its partner orgs about ableism and intersectionality. 

Those are big wins right now. They also come against a backdrop of juggling five medical appointments across two days. As a female founder, I "got to" participate in two breast imaging appointments today, something my male counterparts don't have to worry about. As a mom, I "got to" take my two kids to three different appointments. I'm grateful that I have the capabilities to manage all that. And taking stock of the good that came amidst juggling life's necessities reminds me that we female founders should never be underestimated because we get *&^% done!

Startup Day 304

When I was in college, I applied for a scholarship and my faculty interviewer said, "this is a really competitive process. If you don't get the scholarship, be upset for a nanosecond and then refocus yourself and move on." For anyone who's known me since childhood, it'll come as no surprise that I wasn't accustomed to failure. In my mind, that scholarship was already mine. Turns out I needed the professor's advice. I didn't get the scholarship and I was upset yet there were more important things for me to focus on.

Fast forward to last night. I got my first opportunity to pitch Empowered Together to an audience. Despite a strong presentation, I/Empowered Together didn't win the pitch competition. I allowed myself a nanosecond of disappointment and then got back in the game. There was still a whole evening of networking ahead of me. Honestly, I walked away with things that are even more invaluable as I build the business: contacts and offers of warm introductions. Plus Empowered Together topped the audience's poll of Importance of the Problem (yes, I agree!) and got the highest marks for how clearly the problem was described.

I also received helpful feedback on why I didn't win the competition. That helps me build a more convincing pitch and focuses my attention on strengthening Empowered Together's overall business plan. As some friends of mine say, "feedback is a gift," and failure can be the strongest mechanism for gathering feedback.

Note: I use the term "failure" throughout this post. That term doesn't have the same pejorative connotation for me that it used to. Normalizing the value of failure is something my Dad tried to do for me growing up and I'm grateful, decades later, that I finally "get it." Thanks, Dad.

Startup Day 295

I'm part of a founders' community on Slack with an emotional-support channel. That's the place where we entrepreneurs post our struggles and receive love from peers who understand. One day, I get accepted into a program with pro bono legal support and I'm flying high. The next, I learn that a similar startup is making strides and I doubt my ability to execute.

Given that I experienced the same roller coaster with my first startup, I'd say this journey is common to most founders. My first experience helps me approach things with a little more wisdom this time. Here are a few things I keep in mind:

1. I keep my eyes on my vision of a world where all families of kids with special needs are supported, heard, and included.

2. I remember that my primary identity is God's daughter and not founder.

3. I incorporate practices outside work that are life-giving.

Of course there are days when I falter on one or all of those, but keeping them in focus over time helps me stay the course.

really, "friend"?

In my last post, I talked about the crazies who were friending me on facebook. I started accepting requests from people whose profiles didn't contain vulgarity or illegal substances, just to see what might happen. This DM from one of those "friends" was too good not to share. I won't share the person's identity but they fit roundly within one of the two personas I described in my last post. I emboldened my favorite claim of the DM.

"Hi, let me send you a quick message to explain why I reached out. Right now I’m doing Breakthrough Sessions (at zero cost) that take you through a powerful, step-by-step process, proven to unlock your most extraordinary life.

As humans, we naturally reject the unfamiliar and easily get trapped in our comfort zones, which unintentionally robs the “unlocked” mind of the success and joy you see others creating so effortlessly. But you know what? It’s entirely possible to rewire your brain!

Whether you’re a professional or business owner, this session will give you the practical tools to elevate your personal growth, as we together shatter every limitation that has ever dared hold you back! My goal is to help 50 women access the same life-changing tools I’ve discovered over the last 11 years, and help them increase anything from fulfillment, confidence and self-love! There are no strings attached BTW, I’d just like to have a conversation to help you out.
So if you’re interested just let me know 🙂"

Startup Day 255

I'm employing the scientific method in building my business. I just recorded a podcast where I talked about applying this method to any business issue. I start by developing a hypothesis. Then I create an experiment to test that hypothesis. At the end of the experiment, I evaluate the results and determine whether the experiment proved or disproved the hypothesis. If the former, wonderful! If the latter, I create a new experiment to test the hypothesis.

Right now at Empowered Together, I'm applying the scientific method to acquiring users. My hypothesis last month was that I could attract parents of children with special needs on social media because that's where they tend to look for solutions for their children. My experiment was to share Empowered Together primarily in facebook groups and measure how many requests to join came from those posts.

Now, I've got to back up to three years ago when I decided to eschew facebook because I recognized some negative patterns developing in my usage. When I attempted to reactivate my account, I couldn't recall the password and got locked out. I created a new account from which to manage Empowered Together's facebook page and share the link in groups. I deliberately made my personal profile public so anyone would have access to posts related to my special needs journey as a parent.

In terms of the results, I received only one request to join Empowered Together via a facebook group. What astounded me, however, are the hundreds of friend requests to my new facebook profile. I've observed two predominant categories:

1. Men from other countries

2. American women with home-based businesses

Quite honestly, neither of those categories are my primary targets right now. Sure, there may be crossover between those profiles and whom I'm trying to reach but, if their direct messages that ensue soon after I accept their requests are any indication, they're not on facebook looking for parenting solutions. In category 1, they're looking to hook up. In category 2, they're looking to sell.

I suppose humanity's "complicated" relationship with social media is why I mostly tuned it out three years ago. The good(?) news is that I was able to activate my old account so I can shut down this new one with all the "friends" looking to get a piece of me.

Startup Day 232

I wrote an email to my mailing list today and talked about a shift in focus to reach parents directly on social media. Because my updates are kept short (3 updates, 3 asks), I didn't delve into the "why" behind the shift. We like to celebrate the resounding successes rather than dwell on things that didn't work so well. The point of this blog series, however, is to delve into what works and what doesn't. 

Asking school clinicians and therapists to share Empowered Together with their families didn't work in the sense that it didn't result in requests to join Empowered Together.* Maybe those channels can be effective down the line but I couldn't crack the code to it right now. Where I was seeing requests to join was from a few facebook posts I made. Now that has me exploring the channel of social media and it makes sense when I think back to early customer discovery conversations. When I asked parents where they went to find support and answer kid-related questions, facebook was most commonly cited. None of the parents actually like facebook; it's impersonal and attracts gripers and "performative parents" who like to see their advice in print. But all the same, there's more than a critical mass of folks ready to offer their opinions so it does serve a useful purpose for parents. My idea is to go to where the parents are already going, parents who are willing to engage online and conversant with technology platforms, and offer a solution that might better meet their needs. It's a tricky approach because I respect facebook groups' rules and won't post self-promotion where it's not allowed. But it does pose an interesting angle on going direct-to-consumer.

Maybe next time I send an update, I'll blog about the "why" and share that, too, in case folks are interested in the longer story.

*I add this note to dispel any myth regarding conflict of interest. As background, this post originally appeared on 2/15/22. Fast forward to 12/7/22 and I (Sarah Spear) was appointed to my local Board of Education in order to play an active civic role in childhood education, an area of personal passion. During the intervening 10 months, Empowered Together focused on establishing enterprise partnerships with large, private institutions serving individuals with disabilities. Neither Empowered Together nor I are seeking school-based partnerships. Hopefully this makes clear that I serve on the Board of Education as a citizen who cares about our local school district and without any professional interest. For the latest on Empowered Together's services and model, please visit the website. (2/2/23)

Startup Day 204: #MyOwnTrail


One of the cool parts to this startup journey is connecting with other entrepreneurs. This time around, I'm grateful to know many more female entrepreneurs than the last time I co-founded a startup. Also, the folks I'm meeting are incredibly generous. For example, I connected with AuthenTech, a movement of startups creating value-driven technology, and one of their members, OwnTrail, enables people to chart out their journeys and ask one another for help. Here's a picture of my trail and you can find the interactive version here. I posted a Help Beacon to my trail, asking members to share my startup, and a total stranger shared it with her contacts! Perhaps I've grown forgetful but I just don't recall this kind of open-heartedness when I last started a company. 

Startup Day 199

A flurry of requests to join Empowered Together came through recently. Reading through parents' answers to a few simple questions humbles me. Parents pour out some of the hardest things going on in their lives. To be entrusted with those cares reminds me this work is important. Parents are looking to grow and become the best parents they can be, navigating often difficult challenges on their journeys. The privilege of being a part of their story fills me with gratitude.

Startup Day 189


This morning, before my daughter was sent home from school and my husband took a COVID test, in that quiet interlude I reflected on the last six months at Empowered Together, listing what's working, what's not, questions I have, and ideas. That simple exercise helped me recognize some gaps and identify ways to address them (e.g., following up with prospects). There was plenty on the "what's not working list" but more than I anticipated on the "what's working list." The reflection reminded me of the joy I have on this vocational journey. It sure beats where I was a year ago in terms of sustainability and mental wellbeing. It's clear that God guided me in this direction and equipped me with skills I'd need while also surrounding me with people who have skills I lack.

Entering a new year, I'm grateful for this startup and all the people who've been part of its birth.