In an era when privacy issues have risen to the forefront of consumer consciousness, when companies like Facebook are getting reamed for sharing our personal, private data without our knowledge or consent, Tinybeans seems ahead of its time. Founded in 2012, Tinybeans is an app that provides a safe space for parents to document their children’s lives through photo sharing, journaling, milestone tracking, and photo album printing – all within the confines of a closed social network. It has since exploded to over three million users worldwide, with 2500 people joining daily, and has raised $2 million in venture capital funding.
Sarah-Jane (S.J.) Kurtini cofounded Tinybeans after years of working in social media strategy and marketing. As a native Brit and new mom living in Australia at the time, she was looking for ways to keep her family overseas updated on her children’s milestones. She quickly realized that other parents would find value in having one go-to place to easily store their memories while sharing them with a private network of loved ones in a trusted space. Her intention was to give parents an alternative to “over-sharenting” by publishing photos of their little ones all over social networks like Facebook and Instagram . Initially, the founders bootstrapped Tinybeans, but they have since sought out VC money. They also have moved the company and their families from Sydney to New York City.
When Kurtini was a new mother living in Australia, she had taken time off from work. A friend introduced her to Stephen O’Young, who took less than an hour to convince Kurtini to join him and Eddie Geller in cofounding Tinybeans since she was looking for exactly this sort of private sharing platform in her own life. “My dad and sister feel they know my kids so much better because of Tinybeans. Being able to give that gift to other families is truly meaningful to me,” says Kurtini.
While she admits that running a business can be extremely challenging, Kurtini says that knowing you are doing something to spread happiness in the world makes it a whole lot easier. “We’ve been called ‘the happiest space on the internet’ and we’ll often get emails from families saying that Tinybeans is the highlight of their day. On days when the negativity in the world can feel overwhelming, knowing that we offer a safe haven makes me feel very proud,” she explains.
In the beginning, the founders had to work hard to bootstrap their growing startup, as Tinybeans wasn’t generating revenue. “I’ve always been a saver, so we were able to scrape by and we were lucky to be living in Australia where the best things really are free, but it was still tough,” Kurtini says. Now, the biggest challenges they face are balancing the projects that keep them in business with the long-term vision for growing the company. “It can be tempting to move onto the next new shiny thing, but at the same time we need to pay the bills to be able to achieve that vision.”
Being a working mother also comes with its challenges. Kurtini says, “I struggle with being asked frequently who is picking my kids up after school. I don’t think anyone has ever asked my male co-founders the same question!” Fortunately, she and her husband are able to share parenting responsibilities. On a broader scale, running a company whose leadership is 2/3 female, Kurtini wants to shift the cultural conversation from what mothers need to what parents need. How can we create more flexible working arrangements for parents? How can parents juggle family and work?
Kurtini offers this advice to people who want to tap into their life purpose at work. “Remember that you don’t have to have it all figured out. A career is a journey and if you trust your instincts, have patience and keep your mind open, the right opportunity will often present itself.” Since starting her career, Kurtini points out, she has taken a year off to work at a beachside café, stayed at home with her kids for four years, and is now working full-time for her own technology business. “None of those things were part of a grand plan and nothing ne to be forever,” she emphasizes.
In addition, Kurtini recommends saving money from the moment you start to work. “My dad told me you should always have a fund that enables you to walk away from bad situations and create new ones. I started saving little bits from the moment I started working and it has given me so much freedom.”