Arezou Zarafshan, the founder of Call Emmy, emigrated to America from Iran as a teenager to attend college. She barely spoke English but was confident that hard work would be her ticket to success. She aced her university coursework, received an advanced degree, and climbed the corporate ladder in product development and marketing.
But sometimes living by the book cannot prevent layoffs and rejection. Arezou did everything right – top grades, hard work, and listening to constructive criticism. She continued to work when she became a mother and refused to let her parenting duties get in the way of her professional obligations. And yet, she was not immune to corporate restructuring. When Arezou lost her job, her identity as a working mother shattered. What now?
Arezou focused on the positive, which she admits was far from easy. She networked, applied for jobs, and reevaluated all of the systems that helped her family run so smoothly when she worked full-time. Top of mind was Emmy, her nanny/personal assistant/house manager extraordinaire. Working families need an Emmy-equivalent to help them run their households and manage their charges. But Emmy is just one person, and employing a full-time caregiver is cost-prohibitive and unrealistic for many.
That’s when Arezou decided to help families like hers find their Emmys, leading to a new chapter of her life and phase two of her career: entrepreneurship.
An Employee So Magical You Name Your Business After Her
Could Arezou replicate Emmy’s skills for a broader audience? No, this doesn’t involve robots or intricate AI, although maybe that will happen further down the line. Emmy did the job of several people, so the challenge was offering multiple services while reducing the overall cost.
Arezou’s answer was to give parents the power to source help only when required. As a result, Call Emmy is a mixture of Task Rabbit, Care.com, Instacart, and more. It takes an army of apps for working parents to get it all done, and Call Emmy streamlines the process with the added security of background checks (since we’re talking about our most prized possessions, our kids).
“When I lost my job, I wanted to keep Emmy employed, but it wasn’t feasible,” Arezou says. “ I tried to do everything solo. I kept networking, attending professional development courses, and applying for jobs. But I was torn because I never felt 100 percent present for my son, and my professional life felt equally stagnant. Society pigeonholes and marginalizes mothers. We are the default parent. Even after a full day of work, the brunt of the household chores, the second shift, falls on moms.
“I tried to go back into the workforce. I had to replace my income and I did everything possible to make that happen. I was getting interviews and being told that an offer would follow next week. You will not believe how many times I heard that. Next week never came. I have a big belief in the messages that the universe gives you. Even though I come from a science background, I even have my Master’s in science, but signs from the universe are a close number two.”
Arezou is used to studying graphs and charts to derive logical conclusions. And yet, she understood that there was something at play that she couldn’t rationalize. She admits: “There was a reason I kept getting rejected. It was a sign.”
Arezou decided to dive deeper into the systems at play before her layoff. The discontent she experienced started when she became a mother. Parenthood changed how fellow employees looked at Arezou. She reflected on how her career shifted when she became a parent.
“As soon as I became a mother, I became marginalized. I started getting fewer and fewer assignments and was invited to fewer meetings and executive retreats. Although I still had the salary and it wasn’t affecting my income, this rejection affected my ability to work and also, of course, it affected my overall demeanor. I love being a mother and I love being an ambitious businesswoman. I believe that these two sides should be able to coexist in harmony.”
Arezou quickly realized that the issue she wanted to resolve was too large for one person to manage. “I can’t do anything about societal pressure towards mothers – that would take decades, if not centuries.” Instead, Arezou thought, “What can I do right now?” It was at that moment that Call Emmy was born. If Arezou could make one mother’s work-life balance easier, she would fulfill her purpose and answer that sign from the universe.
The marketplace offered scant solutions. Although you could outsource household tasks like cleaning, for example, none of the available services addressed the varied demands on a parent. Could Arezou consolidate these tasks into a single app? She outsourced a developer to bring her idea to fruition. Arezou describes the first iteration as “very rudimentary.” She was eager to get the app on the marketplace, but this decision would have consequences later.
Arezou remembers an early meeting with a potential investor who misunderstood the ethos of the venture. Arezou explains, “He told me, ‘But that’s Yelp.’ I asked him if he had children. He didn’t. I asked him to imagine hiring an unvetted person off of the internet to watch their baby. He said that would be ridiculous. I said, ‘exactly.’”
Help Me Get My Feet Back On the Ground…
Arezou struggled to get Call Emmy off the ground. It’s the old parenting adage, it takes a village, and there was only so much village to go around. The app was buggy and laggy. Customers struggled to book times, and contractors didn’t always receive notifications. Arezou spent a lot of time on the phone playing catch-up. It wasn’t sustainable.
Arezou remembered a friend, Liz Polizzi, who built an on-demand babysitting app called Nano. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Arezou thought of another solution for Call Emmy’s technological deficits. What would it look like if Call Emmy merged with Nano? Arezou had been admiring Liz from afar, but she had no idea if Liz would be interested in a collaboration.
Arezou and Liz talked about joining forces and finally settled on Arezou buying Nano outright in exchange for stock in Call Emmy. This allowed Call Emmy to merge the two technologies. Arezou explains: “Our services offer an alternative to weekends of laundry, household chores, and home organization so that families can enjoy more time together or even have some me-time. Working with Liz and the Nano team to integrate their technology and childcare platform has been a great experience. Not many people have as much knowledge and experience in the family tech industry as Liz does.”
But what does this integration look like in real-time? “Let’s say you need a babysitter in your home. You put in your address and all of your information. You have three dogs and two parrots. Your youngest has an allergy. Your oldest loves jumping up and down. You can put down everything you choose in this giant database of fairies (Call Emmy contractors are called fairies).”
All Call Emmy’s clients receive a shortlist to choose from which gives clients more ownership of the process. Clients ultimately have the final decision, which is especially important because these contractors will be working alongside Call Emmy’s clients, not Arezou.
For Arezou, safety was paramount. All of Call Emmy’s service providers complete full background checks, behavior screenings, and skill verification tests. A human then approves them before onboarding. Arezou doesn’t take her responsibilities lightly.
Call Emmy functions like a marketplace. Arezou takes a percentage of each match, and employees are independent contractors free to make their own hours. Price points vary depending on the scope of the job, and categories continue to grow with client demand. Pet care and laundry services are some of the newest categories, for example.
Each category has the equivalent of buyers and sellers: those offering jobs, and those who want to do the work. How does Arezou fill both niches? She has found that different advertising strategies work best depending on the vertical. Word-of-mouth works best for childcare while SEO, Google ads, Facebook, and networking work best for errands and other services. When people hear about Call Emmy, they generally want to learn more.
Never Losing Sight of the Mission
Arezou always reminded herself that Call Emmy’s overarching goal was women helping women. “I see the challenges as a woman in corporate America and the odds are stacked against us. Not only that, but women don’t always support one another because there are so few of us at the higher levels and we are all competing for that seat. I want women to raise one another. I want to make life easier not just for myself, but for all moms.”
Arezou has big plans for Call Emmy. “There will be a time where Call Emmy will be a household name like Uber or Instacart.” She admits that, as a female founder, the journey has been far from easy. “Founders, but especially female founders, look for external validation. I did it too. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think I’m smart? It’s a lonely journey especially if you’re looking for someone to point you in the right direction. Look for the answers within. Do you as a founder believe in your idea?
“Idea is roughly ten percent of the game and execution is the remaining 90 percent. If you believe in your idea and you believe that you’re going to make it work, everything will take care of itself. Have faith. It’s right there.”
Arezou built Call Emmy once she was able to trust her intuition. And what has become of the real Emmy behind the name? She’s still working, although not for Arezou, the two remain friends to this day. Emmy left such an impact on Arezou, that choosing to honor her with the business name is a daily reminder of one person’s magic and impact on a family.
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