Reem Yared, Help Around Town, Woman Entrepreneur
I have said this before, I do read every email and do answer everyone. There are always circumstances like spam but I do respond. Reem Yared sent me an email about her business, Help Around Town. We went back and forth a few times on email until we scheduled a call. I really like what Reem has built. It is local but could be used in other locations and she is providing the community with helping hands. She has essentially created a digital job board geared towards teens. Niche but smart. The Internet has given us the ability to do that and it is very good for the community.
Reem was born in Lebanon and then preceded to move everywhere. During the war in Lebanon when things got bad, her family would move them to somewhere safe. Her father and his brother had a large company in Lebanon. They went to London in 76 and then Lebanon in 77 and then Switzerland in 78 and then Paris in 79 and so forth. They would go back to Lebanon whenever it was safe. This movement enabled her to recognize the dynamics of classrooms. It was a matter of figuring out who was in what role the second she got there. There were characters types that she relied on to fit in. Quite interesting.
Reem came from a family of two boys and boy girls. When she was in a boarding/finishing type school in Switzerland she had words of advice for her Mom. She told her if you want me to become as silly as all the girls there than just keep me in Switzerland. Her Mom moved the family literally 2 months later to Paris after that conversation where Reem continued her schooling until she finished high school.
Reem came to the US after getting into Harvard for college. She was going to stay in Beirut and be an engineering student because girls were not supposed to be engineering students. She loved math and she was a rebel. She had it all planned that she was going to go to the American University in Beirut to be a political science major but things were not great in Beirut. Instead she went to Harvard and ended up taking classes that were not quantifiable such as social studies and became enamored with something quite different. Life decisions create different out comes.
It was not easy finding a job graduating with a degree in sociology. Ream thought, should she have stuck with engineering? She loved Harvard but graduating was like getting kicked out of the womb a second time. It was 1988. Reem says that the worse six months of her life was trying to find a job after graduation. Her family thought everyone would want to hire her but she found out that she had zero experience except a killer education. She actually got down to interviewing for a job selling insurance. The interviewee asked her if she really wanted the job and she thought about it and said no. Then Reem wrote to every publishing company because she loved books. She wrote to a guy with a French name and thought he’d appreciate her French education but he happened to be the head of the modern language department. He ended up hiring her. Thanks to her language she was hired as an editorial assistant. Believe it or not she ended up managing a film crew for a month because they were launching a new program in discovering French. That program is still used in middle schools today. She stayed for 3 years because those 3 years was all about the start-up of the business. After that is became totally boring as the department became top heavy and all she got were updates about the products. She thought about getting a law degree but did not know any happy lawyers so she went to Wharton to get her MBA.
Reem spent two years in Philly and her summer in NYC. She had a friend who worked at Dow Jones that helped her land a job there. She had made a deal with her husband who she had met the first week in Cambridge and was also from Lebanon that if he would look in NYC then she would look in Boston. She loved being in NYC working for Dow Jones. She ended up getting an offer from Arthur D Little in Boston and she said yes. Then he got an offer from Booze Allen in NYC but she had already accepted so they decided Boston was where they would put down their roots.
Reem was pregnant when she started her managing consulting job. To make matters worse she had fallen down the stairs and broken her wrist and jaw at 3 months pregnant. It was brutal. Yet she stayed for two years. After taking off three months for her second maternity leave the first day she got back they sent her to Detroit. She had a woman managing her too who did not have kids. That woman actually told her that you had your 3 months vacation and now you get back to work. Sadly she said, I’m out of there. Emphasis on sadly.
Reem stayed home for a while but really wanted to work on interactive content because that is something she understood from working in publishing. At Wharton she saw how different interactive content could be on the web as she had taken a lot of courses on information strategy, new product development etc. She began to consult to many of the Internet companies in Boston. She had two kids and did not want to commit to a full time job. She ended up connecting with her old boss at Dow Jones and started to work with them on Internet Strategy. Aquent was the company. That was when everybody was joining the Internet bandwagon. They built skill.com for freelancers. It was so innovative at the time. They let Reem be totally flexible. She helped them write a business plan, help generate revenue, how to hire managers, etc. It was 1998/99. Everyone knew they had to be in the Internet game but not sure what it meant.
Next she worked for an online marketplace writing java. Sun Microsystems loved this company. People would post questions and then others would answer them. There would be a price associated with answering it. Many of the questions were around biz plans, user interface etc. It was called Hotdispatch.
Then she consulted for a company that had an email-recruiting tool. You would post an email and then post a financial reward if someone helps you hire that particular person. Reem was hired to research how to do that with non-profit organizations. It is still used today.
A friend from Wharton got her involved with Vista Ventures. They had a contract with the department of energy providing commercial companies to take patent applications to market. They were hired for the commercialization strategy to work with the founders and marketing group. They had patents but they did not understand how to bring that patent to the market. She worked seven start-ups around the country to help them grow a business around patents and then unfortunately Bush pulled the plug on the program.
Reem was then hired at Chief Biz Officer for Waltham Technologies. She worked in an area that provided technology for wastewater treatments with bacteria. At this point she as on thin ice because she could not challenge the scientist because she had to take everything at face value. She thought this it no the way to build a company. I need a career and I need to go back to the Internet and start something that is mine. She had kept an entire folder of ideas since the 90’s but none of them spoke to her. One day she overheard people talking about how their kids could not find summer jobs. These were wealthy people in Lexington, MA. She started to look into the data and thought how do I create work for these kids? Experience, as she knew, was the key to the next step. The job that college kids are now taking the high school kids used to take and then people with experience are taking college kids job. Getting a job was more difficult particularly for high school students who were the low man on the chain. Everyone has this to-do list that nobody gets to and she thought what if we can take that to-do list from local business and monetize it locally perhaps that could be an interesting business. She then built Help Around Town.
Reem understood that it had to be safe. Being safe allowed them to keep it suburban and local among communities and neighbors. She started to build a site for just that. You could get kid characters across and check them as a person from the community. She needed to figure out how to connect the services with back round checks.
Reem launched in 2011 incorporated it with a Massachusetts challenge. She entered the Mass challenge thinking this was a nebulous idea and that pushed her to incorporate. She made it to the semi-finals. It was just a concept but that challenge forced her to hone her business. That summer is when she started coming up with the minors, parental role, and lawyers who understood labor and the Internet.
To date (this was this past summer) she has had over 400 job
posted. Other communities around Boston
have reached out to her because they want a Help Around Town for their neighborhood too. They are making a little bit out of money
around advertising. Reem has built a marketplace for recruiting
teens to work in profit and non-profit businesses in specific communities. She has created a business model that could
not exist without the Internet. Where
this goes will be interesting but I personally think she is on to
something. Something niche but something
very important to the communities that use this product.
There are so many businesses that have been built on the Internet and without that technology they could not survive. Help Around Town is a perfect example of a business that is able to exist, scale and create a difference because the reach of global communications even in your own backyard.