Sharon Pope_Quotable Magazine

Interviews, Quotable Magazine

Sharon Pope Just Wants to be Shelpful

Sharon Pope is the co-founder and CEO of shelpful, an instant accountability service that pairs you with a real-human buddy to help you build good habits (they nudge you and hold you to big habits like getting exercise, or small tasks like taking out the trash on time). And yes, it really is as helpful as it sounds. We sat down with Sharon to learn more about the app, how she has grown the company into what it is today, and why we all need a little extra help right now.

Can you give us a quick overview of Shelpful and describe what makes it unique?

Said simply, Shelpful provides accountability buddies and accountability groups. (We feel like the word “Accountability” doesn’t quite do it justice though!) Members sign up, and we pair them with a real-human buddy to help them stick to habits, goals and daily tasks. The buddies are called “Shelpers” and they are some of the most wonderful people. They truly care about helping you feel more supported and helping you get things done. And they are all about you. You don’t need to ask about their days, they are just asking about yours.

Members get help with a wide-range of things– whatever they feel is slipping in their life. For instance, drinking more water, tackling key work tasks, doing things they’ve been procrastinating, tidying, organizing, getting exercise, meditating, journaling, or getting fresh air.

Shelpers support their members throughout the day, nudging when they should do a thing, cheering for the smallest wins, and strategizing backup plans when life gets in the way of their best plans. Not only does this help provide structure in their day, they have a real person who is waiting around for their answer and following up to make sure they did it!

What motivated you to go through with such a business venture?

Shelpful is the service I desperately needed, so I created it. I felt defeated and ashamed of myself, which was a familiar feeling for me. I was mean-mugging myself in the mirror, having worked from my home office for 12 hours that day, having taken care of my preschooler and my 3-month old and all their needs. And once again, I stood there having done nothing for myself. I was still wearing the workout clothes I had put on the morning before, was interrupted by my baby, and then a work email. I had spent the day in my home office, barely having a sip of water, and certainly hadn’t exercised, stretched or even stepped outside for some fresh air.

I knew what I needed. I needed someone else to give a crap if I took a sip of water or stepped outside my front door that day. I wanted more support. I had known that I needed this for years and had always been in search of this, but I had finally hit my breaking point. I needed this, and if nobody else was going to build it; I’d do it myself.

I had worked as a startup executive for most of my 15+ year career. I had always reported to the CEO or founder of the company as I ran marketing or product efforts. I loved working at startups, but I never imagined starting my own. But something had sparked in me.

I knew in my soul that this needed to exist, so I made a prototype of the product overnight and shared it with one of my best friends, Lydia. She instantly got it, and pushed me to implement it. We like to say that she pushed me off the cliff, and I pulled her with me. Lydia became my co-founder and we launched Shelpful later that week.

What obstacles did you face personally and professionally while launching Shelpful?

Imposter syndrome big time. I had been a Chief Marketing Officer for a long time, but CEO? Me? That was hard to wrap my head around. I had helped launch literally hundreds of products, but putting something that was purely all-mine out there was electrifying. This was a good thing, but it also had me walking around with a pit in my stomach, and flinching everytime I posted in a Facebook Group about my product.

Also, I was pulling in a good salary in my career as a CMO, and starting Shelpful brought my income to $0 overnight. I was lucky that my husband 1000% supported this, without blinking. He was confident we could make it work.

Why do you think a platform like Shelpful is necessary in today’s world?

Oh let me count the ways. Especially coming out of the pandemic– we were all just OVERWHELMED. There are too many things to do, and too many apps that are supposed to fix things. I think we are all craving more real-human contact and help in simply crossing things off our list.

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Also, the amount of mental load and executive function that’s required to just live on this earth is massive. Adulting is a great term for this, but that doesn’t even cover it when you add in pets and kids and COVID.

Having another brain to share the mental load, to remind you to prioritize your self-care, is massively helpful. As humans, we tend to prioritize things that impact other people, but skip the stuff that’s just for us. Your Shelper can help remind you that if you fill YOUR cup, you’ll actually have more to pour out for others. Plus, you’ll find yourself excited to tell your Shelper that you did even a super small thing! “I did my 10 minute workout!” “I made a delicious lunch!” “I did my gratitude journal!” And they really care, and will really celebrate with you.

We have a free 3-day trial period, and you can see the “ah ha” moment for people as they realize this is the support they’ve been needing. We see up to 89% of people sign up after their trial.

Do you conduct some sort of a background check for those involved?

Members don’t need to share really any personal information with their Shelpers to get help on daily tasks and habits. The messaging platform we use has HIPAA-level security (even though we aren’t a medical provider), and Shelpers sign an NDA.

What major steps did you take to figure out the logistics of this venture?

I knew the building blocks from my work at startups, and I’ve always been scrappy and liked to build things in low-code and no-code ways. So I started with software that would allow us to communicate effectively with members, and added from there. I was able to pull together the backend very quickly. When you think about it, our technology needs are very similar to the needs of a company that wants to have great customer service communication. We are just flipping the equation, that you actually WANT to be in touch very regularly with your Shelper (whereas, you wouldn’t love to be in touch with customer service all the time). But the same communication concepts are at play.

What was the hardest part of starting the company?

When I look back at the early days, the harder parts came easier and the easier parts were harder. This is likely true for a lot of founders with ADHD like me.

The things that are technically hard, like getting a minimally viable product built and out there, sharing the product and getting people to try it- these things were definitely hard on paper, but they were so thrilling that they just flowed out of me.

The things that are “easy,” like doing all the administrative setup that goes with creating a company, are hard for me. They are necessary, of course, and I did it and still do it! But it’s all the stuff that takes time away from figuring out your product and service.

What promotional steps did you take to build Shelpful’s presence? What worked and what didn’t?

At first, I just jumped into Facebook Groups I was a part of and posted about Shelpful and asked people to try it out and give feedback. We did a free 3-day trial from the beginning, and still do. My co-founder spent some time posting in subreddits too. We were pleasantly surprised and were a bit shocked that we immediately had WAY too many signups and had to flip to a waitlist. At the end of the free trial, people started paying!

Word of mouth has always been key for us. I also have been able to be a guest on a few podcasts and we more recently started running Google ads for people searching for “accountability buddies.” These have worked pretty well because that’s the current state of things. People feel the need for support and take to Facebook Groups or internet search bars with open ended questions about how to get it!

How did you implement Shelpful’s initiatives into your own life while launching this business?
In the very beginning, I was a Shelper. It’s pretty amazing how when you are helping people show up for themselves, you can’t help but take a bit better care of yourself too. I think that’s why Shelpers love this job so much.

Now, I am no longer a Shelper, but I HAVE a Shelper. I gotta tell you. It’s as life changing as I thought it would be when I came up with the idea in the first place. I’m the founder, and also, a passionate member. I’m one of those people!

What does your current team look like? How have you navigated expanding over time?

My co-founder, Lydia, and I are workhorses and do most of the operational functions of the business. Our main team growth has been Shelpers to help serve our members, but we also added a third co-founder. Our Chief Technology Officer, Chris, joined us last fall and has been a vital team member. His first day felt like the beginning of a new chapter.

Do you hope to expand Shelpful? If so, how?

Definitely — our hope is for people to add Shelpful onto anything they are hoping to put a focus on. Whether it’s a course or training, a new habit or routine, or a health service (physical therapy, yoga practice, etc.). Also, right now, we’re only in the US and we would love to support anyone in the world!

Is Shelpful an inspiration to you today?

Oh my goodness, yes. I truly hope we can bring this to so many people, and that would be true success. But hearing the comments from our members about what an impact their Shelper has had on their life is everything to me. I’m inspired every day by our members and their growth and vulnerability as they accept help and support.

How do you balance work and life as a female founder? Any life hacks you swear by?

Being a founder is hard and can feel isolating. I knew that from my work with startups, so I feel like the smartest thing I have done up to this point is to ask one of my best friends, Lydia, to do this with me. And I’m grateful everyday that she was crazy enough to say yes. We are both moms of two boys and our business and personal lives are very intertwined. Our 3rd co-founder, Chris is our CTO and is also a parent and such a smart guy who cares so much about the bigger context both in our own lives and our customers. This level of partnership is rare, and I don’t think I could do this as well if I didn’t have partners that not only understand what I’m going through, but are in the race with me.

I’m also very lucky to have a great partner in my husband, and I’m endlessly grateful for reliable childcare and family members who back us up when we need it.

What advice would you give to other aspiring female entrepreneurs?

Just start. Do something — launch some small version of your product! There are a million reasons not to, but if you just put something out there, then you can quickly understand if it’s worth pursuing. I built a prototype in a week and was able to feel the pull from potential customers who wanted this right away. That allowed me to justify every crazy move after that.

Connect with Sharon & Shelpful

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