Entrepreneur talks on success without sacrifice

Entrepreneur talks on success without sacrifice

Brittney Wong / dailynorthwestern.com
Issue date: 11/6/07


Genevieve Thiers, Music ’04, brings a whole new meaning to the term multitasking.

The
aria-singing CEO simultaneously runs two companies, performs in
professional operas, acts as the child care expert on NBC’s "The Today
Show," and still managed to find the time to give advice to aspiring
entrepreneurs on campus Monday night.

Thiers spoke to about 35
hopeful business-launchers at the Donald P. Jacobs Center after being
invited by InNUvation, NU’s entrepreneurship- and innovation-focused
student group.

"You can become an entrepreneur in an instant," Thiers said.

For Thiers, that instant came while she was getting her undergraduate degree at Boston College

She
saw a pregnant woman struggling to walk up a hill outside her dorm room
window, so she hurried outside to see if she could help. It turned out
that the soon-to-be mother was putting up flyers to find a baby-sitter.
Thiers sent the woman home and posted the flyers herself. It was then
when she was hit with a "eureka moment," which birthed her first
company, Sittercity.com.

Sittercity.com is an award-winning site
that matches parents and pet owners with qualified sitters in their
area. Prospective sitters post profiles that can include everything
from contact information to videos to a background check. Parents in
need of someone to care for their kids or pets can search for sitters
based on several characteristics, such as non-smokers or Portuguese
speakers.

This enterprise is not Thiers’ first brush with child care. She has six siblings, so she grew up baby-sitting.

"My
twin sister and I were pressed into slave labor very early," Thiers
said. "You can’t start a company unless you have intimate experience in
the world that your company is in."

Within three weeks of
starting the site, 600 sitters had created accounts. Soon, users
started signing up from Boston to New York to Cleveland, and the
company eventually went national.

"You would see it hit an area and it was like dropping water on a map," Thiers said.

Sittercity has grossed more than $1 million, and is expected to pass
the $3 million mark within the year. It now boasts 150,000 sitters, a
half-million parents and the title of one of the "50 Coolest Websites"
of 2004, according to Time magazine.

Despite the success of Sittercity, Thiers said she still misses her first love: opera singing.

"While it was really starting to take off, I still didn’t want to let go of music," Thiers said.

Thiers
started trying out for parts, but said she soon found out that running
a business and flying all over the country to audition was too much to
handle. So instead of going to an opera company, she decided to create
one herself.

Along with a few friends, Thiers founded
OperaModa.com, a company that focuses on American operas and hiring
young, emerging professionals who haven’t had a major role. Thiers
produced and starred in their first show while continuing to manage
Sittercity.

Thiers’ combination of skills appealed to students in the audience with similar passions.

"I’m
interested in how she’s balanced a career in the arts and in business
because that reflects something I’m really interested in my own life,
too," said Rachel Waxman, a Weinberg and Music freshman.

Kellogg student Kimberly Whinna said she enjoyed Thiers’ message that one can create something from nothing.

"The
most powerful thing that I got out of the talk was the fact that you
can start a company, just bootstrap it," Whinna said. "You don’t need
the investors, you can start it on your own. It’s going to be a lot of
work, but you can run your company and you can keep your passions, too."

Reach Brittney Wong at b-wong@northwestern.edu.

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