Aiding the growth of children

Sehreen Noor Ali is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sleuth, a search engine for parents to help with their children’s health and development. Sleuth originally began as a solution for her own family’s needs, and Sehreen quickly realized it would help more than her own family. After meeting her co-founder Alex in an incubator, they got to work building Sleuth into what it is today.

"You just have to keep going. It’s perseverance. It sounds so trite but it really is a marathon, and sometimes you’re winning just by staying in the game.”

Sehreen Noor AliCo-Founder & CEO of Sleuth

Transcription

Katie Hankinson (00:00):

Welcome to building while flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies.

Maribel Lara (00:13):

Welcome to building wealth flying my guest today is serene. No Ali, uh, co-founder and CEO of Sleuth, a search engine for parents that helps you find clues for your child’s health and development. Sehreen was also an attendee of our most recent four DS in New York city in may. And I’m so upset that I missed you at that, and really happy that I get to have this conversation with you today. Like, so thank you so much for accepting our invitation. Let’s start with you telling our audience about yourself and the journey that led you to Sleuth.

Sehreen Noor Ali (00:44):

Sure. Um, so I moved to New York 11 years ago and I initially had a career as a public servant in a diplomat. So if you told me 12 years later, I’d be sitting here in this office as an entrepreneur for a children’s health company. I would’ve been like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. <laugh> um, so the Genesis of Sleuth really does come from a personal pain point. My, I have two daughters, eight and five, and I have many identities as parents do, but the most important is that I’m a mom. Okay. Um, I have two girls and my younger one started missing some of her developmental milestones and a very, very, very long story short. I realized that there are so many parents out there that don’t have answers to their questions about what’s happening to their kids. Right. And so they turn to each other. Um, and so that’s what inspired us. And I think the other thing that, uh, I feel kind of like people talk about like portfolio careers, Uhhuh <affirmative> I feel that way too. I didn’t set out to do half the things that I’ve ended up doing. And so I realize it’s more of a mindset. Like I, I’m very curious. And the theme throughout my life is I get really irritated by inefficiencies and inequality. And so like if I had to write my career, that’s what it would, that would be the three line

Maribel Lara (02:08):

I think you and I could be friends

Sehreen Noor Ali (02:10):

<laugh> that would be wonderful.

Maribel Lara (02:12):

Except I probably don’t have the follow through to like, do something about this <laugh> and you’ve done something about a really massive, uh, pain point. So, um, let’s talk about where you are in terms of the development of Sleuth now. Yeah. So how does sleuth work and, and where are you today?

Sehreen Noor Ali (02:27):

So Sleuth is a search engine powered by the expertise of parents. And what we do is we collect a parent’s expertise by basically giving them a survey, right? So they answer questions about their child’s symptoms, the specialists they saw, if that specialist helped them, um, what resources helped them and really take that individual journey and add it to a pool of information from other parents and then using machine learning, we are actually extracting insights across multiple stories. And one of the cool things about that approach is that you don’t need that many stories across kind of a symptom area or a diagnosis area to have really high accuracy, interesting and fidelity. Um, and that’s really great. And then you kind of think about it, like, let’s say you were like talking to your friends and like a hundred people recommended the restaurant that’s more than enough.

Sehreen Noor Ali (03:20):

Yes, definitely. Right. And so that logic also applies to how do you help people find the right people, specialist, resources, etcetera. Um, right now we have our, um, our beta is up right now. Okay. And so while the beta is up, but we’re actually doing the background is collecting tons of information. So right now we have 10,000 parent contributions and that’s just accelerating week by week. And in a couple months in the fall, we’re gonna have a new re redesigned website so that when parents come and actually have a search for a symptom, they’ll find a bunch of stories. Gotcha.

Maribel Lara (03:52):

So right now, if people are going to the side, they are signing up and they’re getting a survey to complete an adding to yeah.

Sehreen Noor Ali (03:59):

The wealth of information. Yeah. They can. So if they join in right now, they would contribute their information and their expertise. Um, but right, when you come to landing page, what you actually can do is just search for symptoms and you’ll see other parent stories and that database will keep growing.

Maribel Lara (04:12):

I love it. Um, you know, I think anybody who’s been a caregiver, anyone who’s had a loved one go through any kind of, you know, medical journey would understand how beneficial it is to just save time by knowing what questions to ask.

Sehreen Noor Ali (04:30):

It’s so true. It’s, it’s the caregiver, you know, um, there’s like a dignity aspect to this that I am very attached to, which is when you’re a caregiver, you’re kind of, you get bumped and bruised at every turn in corner, right? Like you can’t get answers. Sometimes you can’t get appointments. There are long queues to get services and resources, and you’re just sitting there and you’re like, this is just so hard. Right? What, and sometimes you take it personally and you’re like, what am I doing wrong? And you don’t have the space and thought to say, actually the systems are not geared to actually provide services efficiently. And so I left my job in 2017. Um, and that was really hard. Like I had an identity as an executive in ed tech. I had started a community called ed tech women. Like I had a personal brand in my space and then to go from that to no professional identity. Right. Really hurt me. And then in that moment, you’re like, but I’m picking my daughter.

Maribel Lara (05:28):

Right,

Sehreen Noor Ali (05:29):

Right. Like I will pick her across the board all the time, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Right. And what I hope we can prove. And I don’t know to who I just wanna prove it is that caregivers’s experience is valuable. It’s valuable for the peop the person that they are giving care to and it’s valuable to other people. And so it’s a sense of like, yes, you spent all this time caring for someone else. And even though the market might not value it, and you’re not getting paid, you are a valuable person who did this really noble thing for someone else. And like, it will help other people.

Maribel Lara (06:04):

Amazing. And you have not only been the caregiver, but you’ve also created a resource for other caregivers. Yeah. Parents specifically. Yeah. Um, so let’s talk about the most important lessons that you’ve learned through this process. And I’m sure there are more yeah. That you will encounter, but what have been the most poignant ones today?

Sehreen Noor Ali (06:26):

Um, I think one of the biggest ones is you just, you gotta keep going. It it’s like the perseverance. It really, it sounds so trite, but it really is a marathon. Um, and sometimes you’re just winning by staying in the game. Mm. I love that. I think is a big one. Um, I think another one that has really crystallized for me, like, you know, my daughter was hospitalized is past last summer and it wasn’t expected despite the fact that there was stuff going on, there was no way. I knew that she would end up having such a severe situation and, you know, you let go, I had to let go. Like I had no control, no idea this was happening. And when I think about how that applies to business, it’s kind of like, you show up, you seize the opportunity you show up and then you let go of expectation. Hmm. And that has worked for me actually. It’s like, if the opportunity comes, I will take it. I will do my best. And I’ll just, that’s my stake in the ground. Like I’m not gonna go criticize myself because you know, that outcome that I hoped to happen would happen. And there’s like a serendipity in that. And that’s kind of become one of my new rules of life,

Maribel Lara (07:31):

Taking all the energy and putting it into the things you can impact.

Sehreen Noor Ali (07:34):

Right. Yeah. And then letting go

Maribel Lara (07:36):

Of the things you can,

Sehreen Noor Ali (07:37):

The, they can’t, and it’s like, good things come. Like if you show up good things come,

Maribel Lara (07:41):

I love that. Um, serious positivity coming our way. <laugh> so you have a co-founder yeah. In Sleuth. Tell us about finding your co-founder and, and what that working relationship is like.

Sehreen Noor Ali (07:54):

It was totally, um, serendipitous. It was like, you know, almost like people say cosmic, but Alex Le and I met at a, um, startup incubator here in New York city, uh, that was hosted by new lab. And the premise of the program that we were in was to find a co-founder. Okay. And so there was, we each had to introduce ourselves. So there was like 105 people and they didn’t give us a list of what order people were going in. So I ended up being at the bottom. So I was like 103. And like every day I was like, it’s so nice to hear other people. And I was like, but you’re also nervous cuz you’re presenting yourself. Yes. And it was very clear that I was one of the only parents in the room. Interesting. And right before I got up, um, there was another woman who I got to know and she was a mom and she purposely didn’t tell people she was a mom. And I was purposely going in telling people I was a mom because I was like, I gotta leave at five. O’clock like, I gotta go to my kids. I gotta do things. And I was like, is it self-selecting process? If you, I couldn’t work with someone for whom me being a mom was a problem. Right. Some might as well just come out and say it, love it. So I gave my story and um, Alex came up to me afterwards and he’s like, I wanna work with you. And everyone wanted to work with Alex cuz

Sehreen Noor Ali (09:04):

Alex was this like

Sehreen Noor Ali (09:05):

Wonderful human genius, data scientist, all these things. And, and so like we were the first set of founders to work together and people would try to poach him all the time. It was so weird.

Maribel Lara (09:19):

Wait, so what was your story? Because I know what your story is today, but now you’re already working with Alex, right? SL is already in beta. What was your story that day?

Sehreen Noor Ali (09:29):

My story that day was kind of twofold. The first, like I remember telling a story about my daughter who I, I, when she was really little, I told her to tell people that her name was El Chapo. <laugh> like a joke <laugh>. And I think that what I was trying to do in that moment is like, you know, you might think of moms a certain way, but like I’m a lot more dynamic than the stereotype of the mom. Right. And so I wanted people to see that you could be in technology and a technologist and be someone who’s really committed to caregiving because you have a sense of humor and levity and all that. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so like I talked about that and I talked about how I can’t be outworked, right? Like I’m a special needs mom. Um, I’m in this and like, I am a good co-founder because I will literally work forever, which is, you know, kind of a part of hustle, culture problem, but that’s a separate story. Um, and one, the other thing I said was like, listen, there’s a market here. Like I’ve been in this market. I sold to parents in my previous career. I sold digital products. And now as a mom, I had to take time off and I know there’s a nascent market here. Okay. And like, if you, if anyone is interested in discovering what we can do for this market, it would be kind of fun. And he was

Maribel Lara (10:37):

Amazing. And now how did those two things come together?

Sehreen Noor Ali (10:41):

You mean meeting him and then launching slaves? Yes. He actually was about to become a dad. And so he had been looking for something where he could put his interest in children and his talents at play. And what, what I really love about our story is like, while I came up and I knew that there was a market potential, he came up with a product vision. Okay. And so we spoke to a bunch of different parents. I put something on Facebook and we talked to dozens of parents. And after every single story was like, I couldn’t find information. I asked my friend, I couldn’t find information. I, and like all those moments that helped their child came from advice that they just happened to get from another parent. And so he’s like, this is an information problem.

Maribel Lara (11:20):

Yes.

Sehreen Noor Ali (11:21):

He’s like, this can be solved. And what I appreciate about having him as a co-founder is that he made me more ambitious when I said there’s a market here. I wanna do something. Like my vision was like an e-commerce store. Okay. And his vision was like a search engine <laugh> right. So he brought me up to that potential, which I frankly didn’t have the vision or self-esteem for

Maribel Lara (11:47):

Interesting. Well, it’s also, it was his background. Right. He was thinking more broadly about technology because it’s yeah. What he brought to the table. I think you’ve touched on the advantage of even bringing people into your idea and talking it out and getting inspiration from other folks in this case. It was a co-founder. Yeah. But it could very well be just folks who work in different industries in your sector. Right. Totally. But like sort of stepping out of what your experience is, because you may find the, that the idea could be bigger if you, if you bring other folks

Sehreen Noor Ali (12:19):

Exactly what it

Maribel Lara (12:20):

Was. Um, I also love the utilization of Facebook for gathering market data. Yeah. Right. Like I was, um, we know we, well, we have a connection to luminary. We haven’t met through luminary, but we both have a connection to luminary. And we’ve been, um, hosting several folks from luminary on building while flying. So by this point, I think our listeners are used to hearing the word luminary, but I was speaking at a luminary event last week in DC. And we were talking about ways to use social, but also ways that everything you do in marketing should build back to your business plan and how that market research is incredibly important. And people, you know, re like the, the ability to gather market research today compared to 15 years ago, right. Facebook groups,

Sehreen Noor Ali (13:09):

So much more

Maribel Lara (13:10):

Efficient Facebook messages. So, so much more efficient. Yeah. Not just Facebook, like any social network out there. So, um, I love hearing those tidbits about like, Hey, we just reached out to people in the ways that we knew we could reach out to people to gather data.

Sehreen Noor Ali (13:22):

Totally.

Maribel Lara (13:24):

Um, let’s talk about the logo cuz I love the logo.

Sehreen Noor Ali (13:27):

Oh thank you.

Maribel Lara (13:27):

When folks go to this site, they will be welcomed by this like wonderful bear logo. Yeah. A bear hugging. Another bear is what it looks like to me. Yeah. Uh, tell us how that logo connect connects to the name sleuth. Yeah. And where it came from.

Sehreen Noor Ali (13:42):

So sleuth also means a family of bears. So it really was a Testament to people searching for information. And it also means a family of bears. And so it was perfect because we were looking for a name. Um, and I was in a group and people were like, it’s like the mama bear thing, the mama bear thing. And it sat with me because it’s all, it’s really important that we are for all parents. Right. Not just for moms mm-hmm <affirmative> but also for dads and other caregivers. And so I didn’t want it to make it too gendered. And so when it was like a family of bears, it was perfect. You know, like Alex is a dad, I’m a mom. It kind of speaks to us as like a unit and a team. Um, and you know, some people love it and some people don’t, you know, like I’ve gotten feedback,

Maribel Lara (14:27):

I’ve been offended for

Sehreen Noor Ali (14:28):

You. Some people are just like, it doesn’t make sense. Like why would you do that? And it’s, what’s interesting is I find that the people who might say like you should have something a little bit more Dar direct, maybe have a different experience of caregiving.

Maribel Lara (14:42):

Yes. Yeah. No, it connected with me as a caregiver. So I’d been a caregiver for parents in the past. Right. But this gathering of information, like just wanting to understand, think through again, what questions to ask. Exactly. And it, for me, the family of bears connects because sometimes it’s an auntie, right? Yeah. Like looking for information exactly. To add to it. It’s whoever has time. Right. Whoever can commit some effort exactly. To try and

Sehreen Noor Ali (15:09):

You need everyone on absolutely need everyone’s help.

Maribel Lara (15:12):

It’s it’s it’s the, those situations where the community coming together. Yeah. Whether they be biological family right. Or chosen family totally makes a world of a difference. Yeah. So it connects with me. I think that over time folks will have experiences that will have it make more sense for them. Right, right. Um, so how do we, um, how do we talk about sleuth? Like if we’re, if we’re trying to give your elevator pitch as we meet more people, what’s the simplest way for us to share

Sehreen Noor Ali (15:41):

That? I think the simplest way is to say it’s a search engine for children’s health built by caregivers.

Maribel Lara (15:46):

Okay.

Sehreen Noor Ali (15:47):

Love it. Super simple.

Maribel Lara (15:48):

We’ve got a tagline

Sehreen Noor Ali (15:50):

<laugh>

Maribel Lara (15:51):

Um, our podcast is called building while flying. We’ve mentioned that a few times now tell us in what ways you feel established, even though you’re still building. Right. Um, and in what ways you feel like you’re still figuring it out?

Sehreen Noor Ali (16:04):

I think from a personal point of view, feeling established comes from the confidence I have in the role of my family. You know, like we are a really tight unit, you know, between my girls and my husband. And that gives me a place to come home to because it’s hard being an entrepreneur. You take a lot of hits. Um, and so at the end of the day, no matter what, I will always be mom, I will always be mama. I will always be a wife. Right. My or, and a friend to my husband. And I’ll also be a friend to my friends. And so my non entrepreneurship relationships keep me grounded when everything else is crazy. And so the part that I feel less established in is you’re always hustling. You know, like there is a credibility building component to being an entrepreneur in a world where, um, personal brand means a lot. And so while I have personal brand at some level, from my education technology days, I’ve I moved to parent tech and caregiving tech and I have to reestablish myself there. And so that’s a constant, like where do you go? Where do you spend your time? That’s not with your family. That’s not working and just doing that. Right.

Maribel Lara (17:17):

So let’s end with some tips that you might be able, able to give our listeners. So I’m honing in on this piece that you mentioned about maintaining those relationships yeah. That you sort of brought into being an entrepreneur, being a co-founder. What advice do you have for our listeners on how to maintain those relationships? When clearly there are so many calls for your time.

Sehreen Noor Ali (17:39):

I think it requires a carve out in your schedule, like, you know, friend time, every like week and a half at a restaurant. I, I think that if you don’t do that, you slip away. Okay. You know, from that. Yeah.

Maribel Lara (17:51):

Yeah. I, I give all the credit in the world for being able to maintain those relationships because I can’t use building an entrepreneurial project as an excuse. Right. And so I, I, I appreciate that whole talk wholeheartedly.

Sehreen Noor Ali (18:06):

Yeah. And it normalizes, I mean, now you can talk about mental health. Like, you know, we have a meeting with one of our stakeholders and, and we’re writing notes about it. And on the bottom he put, we should talk about mental health. It’s really important that this is a topic that we feel comfortable, you know, discussing. Yeah. Because as an entrepreneur, this is like always top of mind. And I appreciate all the people that have come out, like the founder of Bon BOS wrote a book about his mental health while being an entrepreneur. I’m like, that is, um, when you think about 10 years ago, that’s amazing. It is amazing. Right. And now we can actually say, no, I’m doing this for my mental health. And I would, my tip would be just embrace it,

Maribel Lara (18:38):

You know? Right. It makes us better. It gives you the fuel. You need to keep going. Yeah,

Sehreen Noor Ali (18:43):

Totally.

Maribel Lara (18:43):

Right. Which brings us back full circle. Yes. <laugh> Sehreen. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure having this conversation with

Sehreen Noor Ali (18:49):

You. Thank you for having me.

Katie Hankinson (18:59):

Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here. Next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

What Sleuth means to Sehreen

Sehreen Noor Ali is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sleuth, a search engine for parents to help with their children’s health and development. Sleuth originally began as a solution for her own family’s needs, and Sehreen quickly realized it would help more than her own family. After meeting her co-founder Alex in an incubator, they got to work building Sleuth into what it is today.

In this episode of the Building While Flying podcast, Sehreen joins Maribel Lara to share more about Sleuth and her experiences as an entrepreneur, mother, and caretaker. Sehreen gives some insight into how she came up with the name and what it means to her, and talks about meeting her now co-founder and how they best work together.

In-flight topics:

  • What inspired Sleuth and how it works
  • Finding her co-founder
  • Lessons learned in entrepreneurship
  • The story behind Sleuth’s name and logo
  • Advice for maintaining relationships as an entrepreneur
  • …and more!

Links | Connect with Sehreen:

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA