From serving the eyes to serving SaaS. CaaSocio Co-Founder Sarah Cairo, a licensed optometrist, shares her introduction to SaaS and her ultimate plans for CaaSocio growth. She was born in Quezon Province, started business in Boracay, and now lives in Estonia, Europe.
A self-confessed hustler, Sarah used to run 2 small businesses with her mom— an optical clinic during the day and a bar starting sundown. According to Sarah, she was once the receptionist, the salesperson, the cashier, the bookkeeper, the bartender, the optometrist, and even the janitor.
“As a solo entrepreneur, it was quite hard. In the second year, I had to give up the bar because I couldn’t run it properly anymore. My health has been affected already and I couldn’t really function well if I have a lack of sleep.”
Today she took time to answer some exclusive questions we should know about how an optometrist turned to a SaaS co-founder.
Can you please introduce the ‘average-day’ Sarah?
I’m a mother of two– a five-year-old and a two & half year old. I’m a licensed optometrist but I haven’t really been practicing since we moved here to Estonia. I used to work in several eye centers in the Philippines. I also worked for 4 years in Singapore until I decided to move to Boracay and open my own optical clinic with my mom, a retired optometrist.
I then met my husband on that island while he was traveling. Since our eldest is growing and I was pregnant with my second child we need to be financially wise. It was around 2018 when Boracay was temporarily closed for renovation. We decided to give up the optical clinic and move. The education in Estonia is almost free versus costly education in the Philippines.
You are an optometrist, how did you get involved with SaaS?
Actually, my husband is a software developer. When we were living in Boracay, he saw that I’m still using paper records – cleaning files of my clinic. He said that I can instead use software that can help me manage the clinic better. Honestly, I thought that its something that I couldn’t afford as a small optical clinic owner.
That was when Mobcly, an optical clinic management software. was born. In collaboration with my husband, we started developing a software product for my optical clinic. In the first two years, it was only the two of us building the product. But it became challenging especially trying to do things beyond our expertise.
Please describe the reasons behind your career moves.
After giving birth to our second baby, I started thinking about how I can make myself quite useful here in Estonia. The internet here is fairly strong so I feel that I need to put it to good use.
We decided to rebuild the software that was put on hold. We had no time for Mobcly since we move here and we’re quite overwhelmed with the big move. Side story, I even suffered from depression for about six months. I think it’s part of all the big moves and the reality that all of a sudden I have nothing to do. The first time that I don’t have business around, not employed. Add to that my difficult pregnancy.
So around 2019 when I started to feel better (after giving birth), I looked for women empowerment coaching. That’s where I met my CaaSocio founder, Aiza, and the rest was history.
Tell us about CaaSocio. What inspired you to build it?
Initially, my goal is just to find someone who can help me rebuild our software. Aiza is like the SaaS go-to person inside the freelancing community I’m in. I was asking her about a lot of things when I realized why not leverage my location. Estonia is a strong SaaS community where growing SaaS companies started. Why not create a company that will help more Filipino freelancers get direct clients here in Estonia?
Enter CaaSocio! CaaSocio came from the name Cas – copywriting as service (which was coined by Aiza) and then we added ‘socio’ to make the play word from the word ‘kasosyo’ in Filipino which means business partners.
So what inspired me to build it? It’s actually the people around the tribe(freelancing community) that’s truly inspiring. I feel like I don’t have many excuses on why would I not build it when I have so much opportunity here.
During the time we were rebuilding Mobcly, I feel that I will really learn more if I just dive into it and learn with experts. So that’s why I decided to partner with Aiza since I know that my core strength is really not on the fulfillment side but on finding talents and building a team that would really make a bigger impact.
“It is better to build it this time with team members rather than doing it alone. I tried to divide myself thinly before —and that was a mistake when I tried to own everything and manage everything. You will just not grow if you keep trying like that.”
But marketing agencies face fierce competition, what makes CaaSocio stand out?
We started as a small boutique agency but the plan is not really to stop at an agency model. We wanted to grow it into more of an authority or marketplace for Filipino freelancers serving software companies. We like to promote exemplary Filipino freelancers under our brand.
Do you think being in Estonia helps your team?
It helps that we are closer to our European clients. Estonia is part of the European Union so it’s part of the leverage that I’m trying to bring to the table. Clients trust us more since our company is based in Europe, they can be confident that we will deliver what we promised as a service.
Can you discuss how you overcame the obstacles you faced? How did you achieve where you are now?
I would say my main obstacle was the depression I experienced. But I leaned on the fact that I’m a mother. I cannot (and shouldn’t) really hustle the way I used to. Before I demanded excellence from people and I expected people to learn fast. Over time I learned that you cannot expect everything from the same people so you have to find different people with different core strengths. Then bring them together.
I think that’s the secret of building CaaSocio on how we were able to attract great talents joining us. CaaSocio is not just me or Aiza, we envision it to be like a go-to brand of Filipino freelancers serving software companies. We know it will take time. For now, we focus on helping SaaS founders connect with exemplary SaaS service providers.
What is one thing you wish you knew before getting into SaaS? Is there anything that you think would be helpful to have?
To be honest I don’t really know much about SaaS because I came from an optometry background. I just wish I knew all the terms then. Glad I started Caasocio where I began to learn all the things that are going on in the go-to-market, pricing, strategy, and all.
For those who are starting, I really wish I joined a coaching program early on. There’s a lot of SaaS coaches now for non-technical founders like me. I feel like if only I tried earlier then I would have known how to sell more of the value before or the benefit rather than features.
Talk to me about CaaSocio in the next years. Are there any specific goals you hope to achieve?
We envision CaaSocio to grow slowly (and steadily) but with great partners. Currently, we have several external partners in preparation for the marketplace we are aiming for later on. We have pre-vetted partners that we can really vouch for and it’s an added income stream for CaaSocio.
And I think the founder’s story should be not just about me but our [Aiza and I] story. I feel that CaaSocio will not be here if Aiza didn’t say yes to the vision that I shared. That is leverage my location here in Estonia and create a copywriting agency.
For me, I just really want to grow CaaSocio. I don’t mind if it grows beyond me and Aiza that it grows into a brand of its own. The goal is just to really create more impact for Filipino freelancers and to uplift the quality of payouts that Filipinos are getting in freelancing
Give one word to describe yourself.
LONEWOLF. Yes, I’m like a lone wolf who can work alone. But! I realized over time that even the wolves perform better as a pack. I’d rather work with a team of people than try to do everything myself.
If not for animal words I’d say I am still evolving, a work in progress. I really can’t describe myself in one word :) Lonewolf is the closest I can associate with myself. I’m not here to eat people [hahaha] but to encourage the other lone wolves to come together and create a pack of wolves that can really give more impact
“I am Sarah Michelle Cairo, co-founder of CaaSocio. I started my journey as an optometrist at a small company and worked my way to SaaS. I had dreams bigger than what was possible for me so decided it was time for me to start something bigger than me: CaaSocio.”