Sheila Lirio Marcelo of Care.com: Family Crisis Leads to Online Empire

Sheila Lirio Marcelo needed on-demand care for an ailing father and infant son. When she couldn't find any, the idea for her business was born.
July 02, 2013

In 2001, at what should have been one of the happiest moments of her life, Sheila Lirio Marcelo's world suddenly seemed to be falling apart. The mother of a 7-year-old had recently given birth to her second son and had her parents over from the Philippines to help with babysitting duties, when her father experienced a heart attack. 

Panic set in. Both Lirio Marcelo and her husband, Ron, worked full time. Now, not only did their sons need child care but her father also required around-the-clock medical attention. She scoured the Yellow Pages and enlisted the help of cousins, aunts and friends. Armed with Harvard MBA and JD degrees, Lirio Marcelo was a twenty-something marketing VP at an Internet company, and it dawned on her that there was an opportunity to fill the need for on-demand care.

She mentally hatched the idea that would one day become Care.com, a resource portal where users can find everything from babysitters and senior caregivers to tutors and dog sitters. But instead of quitting her job to launch right away, Lirio Marcelo waited five years, working at another tech company and a venture capital firm before finally bringing her idea to market in 2006.

“I got pregnant in college; I couldn’t be an entrepreneur right away,” explains Lirio Marcelo, now 42 years old. “I had baseline things I needed to provide for, so I leveraged my goal and continued to learn by working at entrepreneurial companies until I was ready.”

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While she doesn’t like to dissuade entrepreneurs from going after their dreams quickly, she emphasizes the importance of making sure “to weigh your desires with the multiple stakeholders in your life.”

Lirio Marcelo’s wait has paid off. Today, Care.com is quickly becoming the world leader in connecting care providers with those in need. Based in Waltham, Massachusetts, the 210-employee company has offices in Berlin and Austin, recently acquired a few companies in the same space and landed its fifth round of VC financing (to the tune of $50 million) in August 2012.

Was it a difficult decision to wait five years to start your company?

Not at all. There were a few things at play. First, I felt that I needed to gain more experience before running a company. From 2001 to 2006, I immersed myself in learning as much as I could about every aspect of a business—what people did in different jobs, how to scale a business, etc. That knowledge has helped me be an empathetic and driven leader.

And second, I wanted to make sure my family was ready for me to start a business. We had many conversations about it to make sure everyone was on the same page before I dove in.

What challenges did you face when launching Care.com? Was financing a challenge?

Financing was not a problem because the VC firm I was working for invested right away and we went national within a few months. Our early challenges revolved around executing the business efficiently. We had a huge road map and we had to work very quickly to launch. It was a lot of work and pretty exhausting.

How have you been able to manage the exhaustion personally?

Well, it hasn’t really gone away. People say that I live my life in a racecar. I haven’t really slept very much in a while [laughing], but that just comes with the territory. These days, I take walks. I do breathing exercises. I exercise. I think it is important for a leader to have think time.

What is it like to work at Care.com?

We have a demanding, fast-paced culture. Everything is done directly and quickly. Employees have a lot of leeway to make decisions—so much that it sometimes disarms them. A staff member will come up to the leadership team with a question and likely get the answer, “It is your call.” To that, the employee often looks at us and says, “Really?”

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Our offices are open. Right now, I’m sitting in an office entirely encased in glass. Everyone can see what I’m doing. We have a policy of switching seats every April. It's a mandatory process and we assign seats. Employees don’t sit with their own teams. Instead, they get mixed with other people and learn about different functions, how different people work. We find that it helps strengthen our company culture.

Do you personally use Care.com?

Oh, definitely. We hired a nanny named Natalie through the site. I think we used her in a radio or TV ad. She was awesome and worked with us for a couple years. Now we use a tutor through Care.com.

What advice can you offer female entrepreneurs on handling work and family?

Try—and I know this can be hard at times [laughs]—to appreciate how your spouse or partner gets things done. Being a mom, I’ve gone through periods of guilt and periods of wishing my husband would do things my way. I recommend trying to let go. Have ongoing conversations with your significant other and get very specific around dividing and conquering of responsibilities.

It is so easy to be narcissistic as an entrepreneur. You have to remind yourself to say thank you at home on a regular basis and not have stringent expectations.

What does the future hold for Care.com?

We are looking to figure out the right path for the company to be the global destination for care and are pursuing different options. There might be another financing event down the road, but I can’t talk about that quite yet.

Meet more inspiring entrepreneurs in our Building an Empire series.

Photos from top: Courtesy Care.com, Thinkstock