Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Michelle Ross, COO of COSMO Technologies Inc., located in Denver, CO, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
COSMO Technologies is a family technology company. We build tech products that connect kids to their families in thoughtful, age-appropriate ways. We launched our first product - a 4G kids smartwatch - in 2020. Today, we’re building a first-of-its-kind operating system that can support a whole list of family technology devices. We have two customers - kids and their parents. Kids get to use our watches, and parents download our app to both set up and then access all of the features for their child’s device. We sell our products to families who want to be connected to each other but don’t want the distractions and complications that arise with a connected device that might be designed for older kids or even adults (like a smartphone!).
We know this is a product that families need. We’ve interviewed hundreds of families, built a community of parents and young kids, and networked with leaders in the digital wellness arena - including therapists, psychologists, public health experts, technologists, and more. The issue of kids and digital exposure is a national and global epidemic that requires fundamentally novel technology solutions.
Tell us about yourself
I’ve always been passionate about helping kids and families learn and thrive. After college, I joined Teach for America as a 7th-grade math teacher in Nashville, TN, as part of the 2011 corps. At the time, educational technology in classrooms was pretty new, and teachers were just starting to experiment with ways to use technology as a tool to accelerate and personalize students’ learning. I loved the idea of that, and I started using iPads to help students learn in the classroom. At the same time, I was watching my 7th graders get on Instagram and Facebook for the first time and saw that having a largely negative impact on their social/emotional development. I began to realize that technology could be an amazing tool — but products made for adults weren’t quite right for kids.
My time in the classroom led me to Apple and then to a large-scale education project in India and Kenya with McKinsey.org, where I got to help scale tech-based learning programs to help people get better jobs. This combination of experiences gave me the learning foundation and passion for building COSMO. Now, I get to make technology that improves kids’ lives. It’s the best job that I could have.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
At COSMO, we believe that every family, every parent, and every kid should be able to be safely connected in an age-appropriate way. We’ve worked hard to build a product with features that emphasize connection, safety, and affordability for every family. One example of this is how we built a parent-controlled 911 calling feature into our JrTrack kids smartwatch to give parents the opportunity to train their kids for emergencies and give them access to critical help in a crisis. We prioritized this feature in the wake of the utterly tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, last spring. I remember one parent, in particular, telling us that her child was able to use our smartwatch to call 911 after her grandmother had a medical emergency — ensuring that she received critical care just in time. Stories like that make me feel really proud about what we’re building. At our best, I hope that COSMO can be the company that reimagines a new world of tech that helps kids stay kids — while being able to access a connection that makes everyone safer.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
In the early days, any startup faces the existential threat of just getting off the ground. And in that season, you’re really doing all you can to breathe life into your little company — which will mean working long hours and often being available to fix problems in the evenings or on the weekends. But as a company begins to exit the worst of the “existential crisis” days, I think that it’s really important to begin protecting both yourself and your team from the constant drain. It’s important to take the weekends off and encourage everyone to take vacation days. This is a long-haul journey. And a founder needs to maintain enough of their identity outside of the company that the wins don’t get to your head — and the losses don’t feel fatal. Plan a vacation! Take a weekend to go camping! Go out to dinner and silence your phone. The world outside of the company is a beautiful place.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- “This too shall pass” — both the good and the bad days. As a young founder, it’s really easy to get swept into the rollercoaster of the high highs and low lows. At COSMO, we always joke that our team morale is highest on days where we sell really well. But we’re a seasonal business, and good sales days come in waves. Over the years, I’ve learned that a well-rounded founder learns to ride the emotional middle. Celebrate the good days! But celebrate them because you know that hard moments are still to come. And when the hard days roll around, don’t despair — better days are coming behind those too.
- The founder journey will not make sense to most people — find a crew that “gets it.” Before becoming a founder, I was always surrounded by co-workers and even friends who understood my job. When I became a founder, I tried to explain the joys and challenges of my new path. But I quickly realized that this particular adventure is really hard to understand unless you’ve lived some part of it yourself. I connected with a fellow female founder in my city of Denver, and she graciously welcomed me into a Female Founder Girls’ Club. This group has been such a special place of understanding and support. I never have to say much for one of the women in the group to immediately affirm my experience — and I always leave our time so encouraged.
- Your career will take on the steepest learning curve yet — hold on for the ride. The evolution of a “day in the life” of a founder is such a comedic journey. In the early days, founders will find themselves doing anything – packing boxes, answering customer service calls, meeting with investors, setting up bank accounts, and manually sorting through low-quality data….all in the same few hours. Any founder has to understand that there isn’t a task that’s too low. At the outset, you will be the only one available to do the work. But as the team grows, so will a founder’s responsibilities. And an agile founder has to quickly hire replacements to take on the day-to-day work so that she can focus on vision, strategy, and true leadership. And the versatility of that range of skills only comes in time. I was recently conducting interviews for an operations role on the team. I drafted a case study to help facilitate the interview process. While writing, I had the reflection that if the tables were turned, I probably wouldn’t hire myself for this more junior strategy role — and it was funny to think about the seat that I actually do hold. I’m still here, just holding on for the ride!
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.