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Startup Fast-Track: From Start to Showcase in 10 Months

Talk about moving quickly. Founder Mary Kay Ziniewicz only launched her business Bus Stop Mamas in January — but, crazy as it sounds, by October she was basking in the glow of being named the winner of the Beta Showcase during Twin Cities Startup Week. At that event, Ziniewicz was up against some pretty amazing competition — more than 20 startups from throughout the state. 

Bus Stop Mamas is a matching service that connects mothers (and fathers) with flexible work opportunities. On her startup journey this year, Ziniewicz has shown how far grit, determination, passion, and confidence can take one — without money. That’s right — Mary Kay bootstrapped it. I couldn’t wait to ask her how she was able to do it. 

How did you bootstrap early on?

When I first had the idea of Bus Stop Mamas, I thought I needed money to get started. Turns out I didn’t. I thought I needed to pay someone to build a website, instead, my 12-year-old daughter offered to build it for me. She did. It took her about an hour. 

Did partnering come to mind?

I thought I needed to hitch Bus Stop Mamas to a big business to move the idea forward. In my prior career, I always had a budget supplied by the business I worked for, so I thought I needed to approach Bus Stop Mamas in the same way. I met with Sean Higgins (CEO/founder of BetterYou), and he said start matching moms with jobs. So I did. It doesn’t cost money to do that, just belief and time.

Tell us about your early scaling.

I thought I was going to crash and burn in April because I was up all night responding to emails and thought there is no way I can do this. Then Jodi (first mom in the network) called me and asked if she could help. Jodi is my right-hand mama! She’s been helping us keep up with operations.

How did the local startup community play a role?

Jodi allowed me to have time for startup outreach. So I applied for the Fueled Collective Diverse Founders Fellowship, and I got into the program! No money came to me for this fellowship, but I did get free office space and excellent guidance from Don Ball and Kyle Coolbroth (co-founders of Fueled Collective), and also from my cohort in the program. They give me much needed mental support. 

How were you able to handle things personally during this time?

My mom passed away on July 11, very unexpected. My cohort held me through the initial shock. I thought I’d crash for sure. I left town for eight days and spent time with my family. During that time, Bus Stop Mamas had a big event, and I didn’t think the event could be pulled off without me. Guess what? The mamas came to my rescue! They took care of everything without me. 

What did you learn from that experience?

The model proved to work without me around. Miracle from my mama! Bottom line, we love our moms. Motherhood is not the end of a career anymore. We need moms.

Upon my return, I applied for the Beta Showcase and got accepted into the program. Then, in the conclusion of that wonderful evening of October 14th at TCF Bank Stadium, we were announced as the showcase winner! No money comes with it, of course, but really great exposure. And I met awesome people.

Where are you now with the business?

At 10 months in, we’re already exceeding our year-one projections and have received attention that will help us make important connections. I know I need money to expand fast. The great news is that we do now have interested investors. Our blood, sweat, and real tears is starting to pay off!

Your advice to others who are about to launch, or thinking of launching, a startup?

Hang in there — believe! If you’ve got an idea, start moving it forward. You probably don’t need money to do so. At least not right away. 

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