April 21, 2020

Devie: Building a Social Enterprise with a Liquid Workforce

Founder Puja Balachander of Devie shares how she built a social enterprise with a liquid workforce.

Liquid Founder Stories: Puja Balachander, Devie Founder recommends using a liquid workforce

Spotlights Founder Stories

In 2019, Founder Puja Balachander created Devie, a “digital coach who supports every parent to help their child grow, one tiny conversation at a time.” Devie is a social enterprise with the mission to support every parent to help their child grow, and in the process to close the primary school readiness gap. The company’s vision is that every child starts school and life with an equal chance for success and that every parent feels confident and satisfied in their ability to provide their child with this start.

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Becoming the Cheerleader for Every Parent

While working at the US Department of Health and Human Services, Balachander focused on policy, products, and services that would improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children and families. Balachander explains, “What frustrated me was that the services I was trying to improve were by nature punitive, disempowering, and only available to families in crisis. This made vulnerable families wary of accessing services at all, and as a result, the cycle of vulnerability continued, with their children starting school and life at a disadvantage.” She saw the need for an accessible service that supported families on their terms.

Liquid Founder Stories: Puja Balachander, Devie Founder

From Idea to Startup

The early years of parenting are challenging for every parent. Balachander says, “Parents feel isolated, overwhelmed by information, and judged by peers and providers. Yet, disadvantaged parents often face these challenges without the social and financial capital to access the limited support resources available. This is where Devie comes in.”

Devie is a personal parenting coach who supports every parent to help their child grow. She does this through daily 2-5 minute AI-powered chats with parents. These chats use behavioral insights to nudge parents towards integrating simple research-based activities that support their children’s development, into their daily parenting. 

Devie launched as an alpha product on Facebook Messenger followed recently by a native app on Android and iOS. The app is currently available for beta testers (parents with children under 5). 

Balachander says that one thing she wished she had known before starting Devie is the importance of thinking through the worst-case scenario. “Not formalizing the course of action if there were issues caused huge distractions for a while.”

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Developing with a Liquid Workforce

Balachander has relied on the liquid workforce to develop Devie, using a contract development firm to build the software and interns to help with market research, social media, and visual design. Her initial concerns around relying on the liquid workforce were about commitment, “since freelancers don’t have much skin the game, especially as an early startup.” Additionally, Balachander felt that she needed a “thought partner” versus someone that needed precise answers before starting work.

Based on her experience, Balachander has several tips for other startups to use the liquid workforce successfully:

  • Work through referrals
  • Break larger projects into deliverables that are useful on their own, even if the liquid worker leaves before the project wraps up
  • Document extensively so that you don’t lose any knowledge when the liquid worker leaves
  • Test a freelancer for a shorter amount of time and a mini-deliverable before you commit to a longer engagement
  • Do some legacy planning and write it into the contract that the freelancer will help onboard their successor
“Test a freelancer for a shorter amount of time and a mini-deliverable before you commit to a longer engagement.”
Puja Balachander, Founder of Devie

Balancing Business and Yoga

For Balachander, a perfect day starts with yoga in the morning – she notes that she would want the toast at her 80th birthday party to be “I’ve never seen anyone so determined, in a calm and peaceful way!” Her typical work day starts meditation before an early morning call with developers, followed by yoga, reading Femstreet’s newsletter for business advice, and then a very busy day of work. 

Liquid Founder Stories: Puja Balachander, Devie Founder recommends using freelancers

Ensuring Devie’s core values are instilled in everything her company does is essential to Balachander. Everything that Devie does and offers must reflect empathy, equity, evidence and ethics. 

  • Empathy: We firmly believe that every parent is doing their best. We approach every conversation with this understanding and never judge.
  • Equity: Any support we provide needs to be accessible to every parent, no matter their income level, language, technological literacy, etc. We’ll go the extra mile to ensure that Devie is available, accessible, and useful to every parent that needs it.
  • Evidence: Anything parents see and interact with on Devie is based on the Early Years Foundation Stage and verified early childhood development research. Making research comprehensible and actionable to parents is one of our reasons for being.
  • Ethics: We are transparent and clear with users about who sees Devie data and how it’s used. We take the safeguarding of parents and children seriously.

You can follow Devie’s journey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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Category: Spotlights Founder Stories

Updated: January 3, 2021

Quick note: This is not to be taken as tax advice or legal advice. Since tax rules and laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a CPA / tax advisor and/or attorney for specific guidance.

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