Without a trace of jet lag from a flight that had just taken her from Israel through Toronto to Boston, Sharon Kan, CEO and co-founder of Pepperlane, speaks with us about her passion for moms who are out of the traditional workforce.
“I want to tell every single mother out there that she is brilliant, she can make money on her own terms, and Pepperlane can make it very possible for her to do that.”
Since its Lexington, Massachusetts, launch in 2016, Pepperlane has attracted more than 3,000 members. Most are stay-at-home moms, across 500 zip codes — from new moms to empty nesters to grandmothers.
Kan plans to take the start-up that offers moms an online business-creation platform, into several new states this year, and nationwide in 2020.
“I want to reach the 40 million women currently not in the traditional workforce to show them how Pepperlane can help them monetize skills they already have,” she says. “Let’s say a mom starts with four hours a week and charges $30 an hour, we are looking at about $260 billion in new GDP. It’s another way to build the economy, the mom economy.”
According to a Gallup poll, a majority of women with children — unsatisfied with sub-par family leave and work-flexibility policies, the high cost of quality day care, and gender wage-gap inequities — would prefer to stay home to care for their kids. But, that doesn’t mean their desire or need for meaningful work and income has lessened. Many are finding ways to achieve both via the gig economy. Pepperlane is tapping into that trend, offering moms-at-home a new way to launch and run their own businesses, as well as a new model for employing a big sector of the U.S. workforce.
Thinking big is nothing new to Kan. She has a track record of succeeding big, and is no stranger to leaning in as a C-suite executive and serial entrepreneur. Following undergrad study at The College of Management, Israel, and Sorbonne University, Paris, she earned an Executive MBA from the University of Bradford, U.K. She spent 20 years leading companies from inception to acquisition: Tikatok (sold to Barnes & Noble), Zoomix (acquired by Microsoft), C-Ark (acquired by SSA Global, now Infor), and Demantra (acquired by Oracle). Kan was also Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Accomplice VC, Chairwoman of Luminoso Technologies, and is co-founder of the WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab at Babson College.
When we ask her what piece of her business background has most influenced Pepperlane she says, “I was that good girl who played by the rules, competing with the boys. Then I became a mother, and gravity shifted, and I realized those rules are not written for mothers. When I started my career, there were only two options: Either work from 9 to 5 and Lean In or stay home. But, when I started interviewing mothers, I heard how they wanted to work but there were all these insecurities — that they were too old or had been out of the workforce too long, or didn’t know what they had to offer as a business. I wanted to tell every mother, ‘No, it’s not too late: Pepperlane can help you pursue your passion.’”
As mother to two teenage daughters, Kan says that, at first, her own daughters didn’t quite understand her passion for Pepperlane. “They thought I should launch another new tech device,” she says, laughing. “But, when you invent any new model there’s an education process. I decided to go after a big problem: another way to build the economy. Pepperlane is our opportunity to build the mom economy, for mothers by mothers.”
Pepperlane charges members a $249 annual fee to launch and grow a micro-business, via three main components: