’s Sheila Marcelo on Building a Successful Consumer Website

Monday Jul 30, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz

Boston isn’t known for its consumer-facing websites. However, Waltham-based offers a notable exception. Founded by a team of Upromise executives in 2006 led by CEO Sheila Marcelo, the site has recently expanded internationally, connecting users with caregivers for children, seniors, pets, and the home. also acquired Berlin-based Besser Betreut, making it the largest online care destination in the world.

Marcelo doesn’t agree with the perceived lack of consumer-facing websites in the area, though. “The ones that scale are the ones that people pay attention to,” she says. “We grew very rapidly because it was such an easy need to articulate, and we did a great job in letting people know about it in the Boston area because we were so focused on creating a nationwide service right away.” The site is monetized through subscription and referral fees.

In addition to serving as VP, Product Management & Marketing at Upromise, Marcelo earned an MBA and JD from Harvard and spent six months as entrepreneur in residence at the Waltham-based venture capital firm Matrix Partners.

To date, has $61 million in funding, including funds from Matrix and Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.

Marcelo says her experience at Matrix Partners helped her “understand the venture capital mindset, what they’re looking for to scale,” but is quick to point out that not companies are candidates for VC funding. “The difficulty is developing a business plan that can really scale,” she explains. “Really ground your presentation in logic and data. Be very comfortable speaking in those terms, whether it’s market size, gross, developing a solid marketing plan.”

In addition to running one of the few high-profile consumer websites in the area, Marcelo also stands out as a female CEO. While she agrees with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous statement in The Atlantic that “women still can’t have it all,” Marcelo insists that balancing professional and personal lives is challenging for both genders.

“We all go through our issues of guilt but so do men,” she says. “Women are so vocal and are so able to talk able it. Men probably aren’t as vocal about it because there are society pressures on them. I think there are pressures on both sides and my view on it is there is no perfection, there is no balance, and that’s OK.”

Connecting and mentoring other women is a passion for Marcelo, so she also launched WomenUp, an organization aimed at empowering female leaders and increasing VC funding to female-run companies. “How do we get earlier in the pipeline to help teenage girls think about entrepreneurship?” she wonders. “Why not seed it earlier?”

Going forward, Marcelo says she’s not in a rush for an IPO or exit. “Any startup takes time to build,” she says, “so I’m committed to a minimum of ten years but it could be longer. The management team and cofounders are pretty passionate about building something that’s global. Helping the company grow globally is our focus right now.”

Susan Johnston is a journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Susan on Twitter (@UrbanMuseWriter) by clicking here.

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