Sheila Marcelo, Founder & CEO,, on Raising $111m

The NextWomen Social Entrepreneurship Theme

Shelia Marcelo is the Founder and CEO of, the largest online care destination in the world which allows families to connect with millions of caregivers to manage the lifecycle of care challenges families face. recently acquired Parents in a Pinch, a back-up child and adult care company co-founded by another female social entrepreneur, Barbara Siegel.

Sheila’s introduction to technology started when she was a management consultant at Monitor Company and a teaching fellow at Harvard Business School. Her growing appreciation for the power of technology led her to positions at Internet companies, including VP, Product Management and Marketing at, and VP and General Manager of

Sheila has been honoured with numerous media accolades, including one of the “10 Most Powerful Women in Boston Tech” by The Boston Globe’s Innovation Economy (2012) and one of the “Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit” (2009). 

We spoke to Sheila about her impressive $111m fundraising record; the kind of technology she loves; and the most useful lesson she learned during her Harvard MBA.

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

SM: Our goal is to be the Amazon of care both in the breadth and scope of the services we offer.  From a geographical standpoint, we’re already the largest online care destination in the world with 7 million members spanning more than 15 countries and we have more expansion planned in the coming months.  And we’re adding and testing new services to address the growing number of care challenges families face.  To be of true value and service to our customers, we have to stay ahead of trends in the care industry and make certain that we offer solutions that meet each family’s unique needs.

TNW: is the largest online care destination in the world. How did you grow your online presence so successfully?

SM: Care is a global issue so we knew from day one that the demand for solutions was there and we would scale our business around the world.  The key for us – and I believe the key for all companies when scaling – is testing and iterating.  We test our hypotheses and collect real-world data which insures that we always stay consumer-focused.  Based on the data we collect, we adjust our approach and test again.  Everything we learn along the way helps us evolve and helps us stay tuned into the needs of families around the world.

TNW: With an impressive track record in technology, why did you choose to apply your expertise to the field of care?

SM: The idea for really came from both my combined personal and professional experiences.  I became a mother while in college and, as an immigrant, had no family nearby and no care support system.  I needed to find quality affordable childcare so my husband and I could finish school.  I relied on word of mouth and the telephone book.  I got lucky but it was hard…harder than it should have been.  Then, a few years later when we had our second child, my parents were there to help but my father had a heart attack.  I needed care for him, help for my mother, care for my children….

I thought there has to be an easier way and I knew we weren’t the only family struggling with these issues.

Because of my background in and passion for technology, I knew that I wanted to build a technology company with a social mission.  At Upromise our mission had been to use the Internet to help families save for college; at we helped people find jobs.  So, drawing from my own experience with care, it was a natural step to found a technology company devoted to helping families around the world find the care they need for their loved ones.

TNW: What kind of technology are you most enthusiastic about and why?

SM: I love new bio readers like Nike Fuel.  They increase self-awareness and encourage behavioural change.  Being open to learning and evolving is so important and too often overlooked.  I can’t wait for these new technologies to track not only physiology but also behaviour.  For example, I’d like to track which events make my heart rate or moods change.  I believe those will be important tools for leaders.

TNW: You are one of the few female entrepreneurs to raise over $35m in VC funding. What are your tips for entrepreneurs looking to raise VC funding for their business?

SM: Actually, as of this summer and our latest financing round of $50 million, we’ve now raised a total of $111 million since 2006. 

I think the key to getting funded is making certain that your investor audience can relate to the mindset of the user, which helps them fully appreciate your business and its potential. 

That was especially important for me in selling the story because women make the majority of the caregiving decisions for their families but most VC rooms are overwhelmingly male.  Before any presentation I’d ask how many of them were responsible for hiring a nanny or senior caregiver.  None of them raised their hands so I’d follow up by suggesting they ask their wives how hard it is.  They would…and then they got it.

TNW: What was the most useful lesson you learned during your Harvard MBA and how have you applied it to founding and running

SM: Harvard Business School was an international classroom with incredible diverse leaders from all industries, governments, NGOs, etc.  It taught me the importance of diversity and leadership in building successful companies.  The class that has been the most useful to me was called LEAD.  We thought of it as the “softer” side of the curriculum but it was actually all the challenging things when you’re working.  Helping people grow, while also trying to become a better person, manager and leader is not easy but I would say it’s definitely the fun part of life.  Again, it’s about learning, evolving and growing.

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor?

SM: Believe in people.  When I was consulting, I focused solely on ideas.  That’s what I was paid for and I thought that’s what mattered.  So when I moved to my first Internet job, that was how I managed.  It made me a tough person to work with and for.  My boss helped me see that everything wasn’t so black or white...ideas will only get you so far without good people who produce results.  It changed my view, my style of management and my style of leadership.

TNW: What is one lesson you would like to pass on to other women leaders?

SM: Pay it forward.  None of us got where we are alone.  We’ve all had great support systems of family, friends, colleagues, mentors, advisors.  It’s our turn – our responsibility – to provide that same counsel and sponsorship to the next generation of women. 

It’s something I’m passionate about.  I find it inspiring and exciting to see what these women are doing and want to do.  And I’m honoured to help them in any way I can.

TNW: Do you think that attitudes towards female entrepreneurs are changing?

SM: Yes and no.  We’re seeing more and more successful female entrepreneurs who are building great businesses and delivering strong results...a positive sign.  That said, the VC world is still largely male dominated and that directly impacts funding for female entrepreneurs.  Only 11% of investing partners at VCs are women...a critical statistic when you realize that firms with at least one female partner are 70% more likely to invest in a female-led company.  We have to change that.

TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a career?

SM: Let go of all the “perception” baggage and by that I mean all the illusions of what it looks like to be a perfect mom or a perfect boss.  It’s never perfect and striving for that just sets you up for failure.  It’s the same with the concept of work/life balance. 

Balance implies 50-50 and that’s just unrealistic.  For me, it’s about work/life integration...I know that some days work will be the focus and others my personal life will be. 

I set goals that work for me, my family and my company.  When you let go of those perceptions – that dead weight – you can soar.

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