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Coping & Communication: Nicole Lipkin’s Groundbreaking Work to Help Parents Teach Kids the Skills They Need

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.


Nicole Lipkin, founder and CEO of HeyKiddo, is on a mission to make it easier for parents to talk to their kids.

After Dr. Nicole Lipkin and her team of psychologists and child experts spent years researching coping skills, they found that parents didn’t know how to help their kids develop the social, emotional, and leadership skills they needed. HeyKiddo™, a revolutionary subscription program, provides a quick, easy to implement solution that fits seamlessly into the everyday lives of parents. Through a text sent straight to a parent’s phone, simple conversation starters and activities are provided to help children build the foundation for a bright future.

We asked Nicole about her transition from organizational psychologist to startup founder, the challenges she faced, and the advice she has for others on their way to making the world a better and healthier place.

 

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start this business?

A: My parents were school teachers in the South Bronx. They were the types of teachers who went the extra mile by doing things like going into school early to eat breakfast with the children so they weren’t alone and had someone to talk to. As parents, they would listen to my brother and I and support us but would never step in to solve our problems or save us from our mistakes or failures. They helped us forge our own path (and in fact helped us start our own business when I was 5 and my brother was 11) but we always knew they were standing behind us, supporting us. My dad died when I was 12 and my mom died when I was 19. 

My life could have gone down a different road after their deaths, but it didn’t because they helped me build a foundation of resilience, grit, perseverance, and empathy—social and emotional coping skills that have been at the root of who I am today. 

As a clinical and organizational psychologist who specializes in leadership development and the development of social and emotional skills across all ages, I know that we are experiencing a crisis in coping skills as evidenced by a significant rise in mental health issues and social-emotional challenges. We need to start young, like my parents did for me and all of those students they helped throughout the years. I believe this should be an opportunity that every single child has and that’s why I founded HeyKiddo—tools that help develop leadership, social and emotional coping skills in kiddos (and their caretakers).

 

Q: What problem does your company solve? What are some of the most meaningful impacts your company has had to date? 

A: What if we knew a risk factor for personal and professional success and there was a way to intervene, lessening the blow? From multiple decades of research, we know that poor coping early-on leads to poor coping later-on, professionally and personally. There is striking societal and epidemiological evidence showing unprecedented rates of poor coping skills and mental health concerns among youth. With suicide being the third leading cause of death in children, I’m determined to help families navigate complicated social and emotional challenges. 

Parents lack a playbook of how to talk with their children about social and emotional experiences and development, often outsourcing this to the overtaxed school systems. 

Even before the pandemic, children were struggling like never before. COVID-19 has created new complications in the emotional and social development of children. Now our families and teachers are taking on more with less resources—we sought to change the patterns and outcomes.

HeyKiddo™ and HeyKiddo™ Huddle bring this home and give parents and other caretakers the playbook they need to help their kiddos. We have heard from parents and caretakers that not only have their kiddos benefited from using our tools, but they too have learned how to integrate and model behaviors that have changed the way they themselves interact.

 

Q: At what point in your business did you decide to fundraise? Why was this the right time and right approach for your company? 

A: We are just getting started. I decided to go the grant route early on and we won a Phase I SBIR National Science Foundation Grant. This grant was incredibly helpful to give us the space and time to do R&D on our product. Now that we have a clear understanding of consumer and market needs and the power of our product, we are ready to partner with the right investors to help us bring HeyKiddo™ to the next level. Additionally, this will help us create a dashboard of tools that can help children not only develop vital skills but also give caregivers insight into any emotional challenges that may be arising so that early intervention can occur. We have a strong, smart, and self-aware team and because of that, we acknowledge that there are things a partner can bring to the table to help us get to the next level. We’re in this to help change the course of the social and emotional wellness of the next generation and that’s a big mission. 

 

Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do?

A: We believe social-emotional development can be tackled in any setting and when it’s accessible, outcomes are better for all. Kids learn from watching their grownups, and if grownups don’t model positive social-emotional coping skills, it’s very difficult to build. Therefore, in everything we do, we create opportunities for grown-ups to learn while their kiddos are learning so they can deepen their own skill set and thus model and shape those around them. Utilizing machine learning, we are embarking on creating a fully customized social-emotional journey that adjusts to a child’s unique needs while also raising a red flag if issues arise along the way that may require more in-depth intervention. 

 

Q: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting your company? 

A: I’m someone who has owned and operated two successful service businesses. One is a large psychology practice and the other is a leadership development firm. I wish I knew how different it was to start, operate, and grow a startup as opposed to a service-based model. The hustle, the pace, the willingness to pivot and adapt to keep going is different from what I had experienced in my service businesses. What a crazy, different ride this has been! It has been a humbling experience that has required a significant level of agility, flexibility and focus and has required me to push myself in ways that I didn’t think I could.

 

Q: What was one unexpected hurdle or challenge you faced when getting started?

A: COVID-19! Our planned launch for our original product, HeyKiddo™, was scheduled right as COVID started escalating and so many families were in need. I made a very difficult decision not to charge for our HeyKiddo™ text-based subscription. At the same time, I felt very strongly about keeping the team together and felt a personal responsibility to make sure people were still employed. So I have been continuing to bootstrap, which has not been easy but I have reframed it as an opportunity to find out about our users and do a deep dive into their needs to prepare for HeyKiddo™ 2.0. HeyKiddo™ 2.0 will be smart technology fueled by AI that adapts to a child’s unique social-emotional learning needs and helps identify any concerning social-emotional deficits that could be linked to mental health issues.  

Since then, we have launched HeyKiddo™ Huddle, a social emotional learning curriculum for grades 2-6 designed by psychologists and educators. Huddle gives parents and educators everything they need to help kiddos build resilience and coping skills in less than 15 minutes a day. It’s a complete social emotional learning curriculum for online or in-person classrooms or pods. We are so excited to help educators and parents ensure that their kiddos are developing strong social, emotional, and coping skills. 

 

Q: What are the three most important things you look for when bringing on a new hire?

A: To me, the most important qualities are mental agility, initiative, and someone who has the ability to speak up and communicate their thoughts, needs, and issues. 

 

Q: What do you find most challenging about hiring? 

A: I think I have a good knack for putting teams and people together. Being a psychologist and someone who specializes in team and leadership development helps. But, the hardest part, by far, of hiring is firing. Although it comes with the job, I don’t think this is something I ever want to be good at—I always want to be able to feel the pain of it because if I don’t, well, that just means it’s time to step down. Firing people should never be easy.

 

Q: How have you grown as a leader since starting your company?

A: I have grown in so many ways and in the words of Kenny Rogers, the area in which I have had to grow and have grown the most is learning when to fold ’em and when to hold ’em and when to walk away and of course…when to run. That applies to ideas and people and that’s hard when you get attached and it’s human nature to get attached to both. 

 

Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?  

A: I believe it’s three main things: 

First, I think the most important part of being an entrepreneur and founder is the ability to pivot. You need to be able to let go of things you may love and believe in, which is so hard but also necessary to make your vision a reality. 

Second, building a strong team is crucial, and collaboratively creating psychological safety so everyone has a voice. People should feel comfortable speaking up and challenging the status-quo. 

Third, just like no one talks about certain parts of childbirth and child rearing, no one really talks about the launch let down. Sometimes, there is such a crazy physical, emotional, and hormonal (adrenaline) build up leading toward launch that it can almost feel like a bit of a downer once it happens. It’s normal and it’s okay and you need to let it in and then let it out to regain that energy and drive to get the word out to the world. Enjoy the ride because it’s an awesome one!


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