Amy Husted and Audrey Wallace are the co-founders of the childcare app Komae, pronounced co-may. I loved chatting with these two, not only because these are two truly brilliant business moms, but also because I can't wait to get my own network of friends on board with their product! You’ll absolutely love hearing from them.
Let’s get started.
On the Podcast
1:03 – Creating A Babysitting App
3:29 – How Komae Works
5:16 – Behind the Name
6:15 – Earning Babysitting Points
10:53 – Developing an App
12:55 – Finding an App Developer
14:45 – Funding with Pitch Competitions and Kickstarter
17:12 – Moms Spending 5 Weeks in Manhattan!?
18:23 – App Development Difficulties
19:38 – Marketing an App
22:49 – Using a Launch Party Model
23:47 – Solving Your Own Problem
28:04 – Beth Anne’s Mom Confession
29:12 – For the Mom who isn’t a Super-Fan of Babysitting Other People’s Kids
30:20 – Amy’s Adorable Mom Moment
Creating A Babysitting App
Audrey remembers the specific moment she realized she needed creative childcare solutions. She was talking with her soon-to-be partner Amy in their church lobby, lamenting their childcare problems: the expense of a babysitter, the struggle of finding a good babysitter, the guilt of asking family for favors again… you get the idea. Thinking outside the box, they “decided to change (their) own destiny and formed a local babysitting co-op.”
After lots of quick wins and great successes, these ladies realized they had stumbled upon a parenting hack that could help lots of families. They eventually changed their mission from serving their local group of about 16 moms to helping moms across the country.
On a personal note, my mother was part of a babysitting co-op when I was little. She always talked about how amazing it was and how lucky they were. When Chris and I lived in South Carolina, I nearly got a co-op together — but I found the logistics difficult and it never got off the ground. I absolutely love the idea of having an app do all of the work of a co-op for me. The app deals with the administrative headaches and even the potential social awkwardness of ‘who’s in and who’s out’ of my co-op.
How Komae Works
Each individual parent gets to decide who to trust as babysitters among their friends, and those friends get to decide, etc. A request for a “sit” will only be seen by hand-selected, pre-approved people.
Using the App
It's a straightforward process:
-Download the app in iTunes or Android Store.
-Create a profile, and tell Komae about you and your family. Do your kids have allergies? When is nap time? Are they bottle fed? Do they still wear diapers?
-Once you’re set up, just post a request including the date and time you need a babysitter.
-Your friends will see, “Audrey has a need from 8 to 9 on Wednesday, are you available?” And a friend can say if they’re available or not.
-Connect with friends in your village by either searching a name or email if they’re already a Komae user or link to your Facebook account and invite friends from there.
Behind the Name
Komae means village in Greek. When naming their app, Audrey and Amy borrowed from the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And like a village, this app functions around reciprocity; you give to and receive from those around you.
They were so excited when, as the app gained popularity, users requested the ability to post when they were available to give care, not just when they needed a sitter. Isn’t that great!?
Earning Babysitting Points
Komae has a babysitting point system where 1 hour of babysitting equates to 1 point. When users put in the details of their sit, Komae calculates how much the sit is worth. In this way, the app removes that social friction of figuring out which kids require more effort, and how many points to assign per sit.
Earning and using credits is a simple banking system: You earn points by watching your friends' kids, and you spend points when your friends watch your kids. The app makes it fair for everyone, and it's so much easier than having those awkward conversations.
(And I have to say at this point, I was SO excited to get started with Komae – I couldn’t wait until we were done interviewing to download the app!)
Developing an App
The thought of actually developing an app sounds insanely difficult and stressful! I absolutely needed to hear from Amy and Audrey about what their process was to get this app up and running.
When they launched the Komae mobile friendly web app in May of 2016, they had already been helping moms with the babysitting struggle for 2 years. Of course, the pair didn’t start working 40 hours a week until closer to launch time. In fact, they used their babysitting co-op to gain a couple of afternoons a week to work, plus they worked after bedtime. As of this air date, the My Komae app is available in iTunes and Google Play Store. It's not a quick process, though it's definitely worthwhile.
Tip: “You don't need to be at your end goal in 1 month, 2 months, 12 months. It might take a couple years…Just focus on the next dot.”
Finding an App Developer
How do you know if your developer will be the right fit or that they have the right skills? Both Amy and Audrey had husbands that worked in tech, and while they weren’t developers, they had the network and knowledge to find the right people.
They used Upwork to find freelance developers. (With Upwork, you post a specific job and different people apply, then you get to choose the freelancers you want.)
Alternatively, there are app development agencies. This option is very expensive but very effective.
To raise funds to make this all happen, 6 months into their development process, the Komae team ran a Kickstarter and used that money to begin developing their Minimum Viable Product. (Minimum viable product means the simplest, slimmest version of your idea. The purpose is to gauge interest and success.)
They did fully fund their Kickstarter – and also pursued a unique funding option I had never heard of, which I had to ask about!
Funding with Pitch Competitions and Kickstarter
At first, the pair set out to fund this project via Kickstarter. Their goal was $20,000. The Kickstarter was a bit of a nail-biter, as they fully funded (just over $20K) on Day 34 of a 35-day campaign!
2 days after their Kickstarter ended, they went to a pitch competition. A pitch competition is basically like Shark Tank in real life; it’s an opportunity to share your idea and be considered for financing. In fact, Amy and Audrey said they binge-watched Shark Tank episodes to prepare for their pitches! In just 2 minutes they pitched their Komae app and earned $10,000 more dollars (on top of their Kickstarter funds) to pursue development.
Over the past 2 years, they’ve won 7 competitions that resulted in grants or investments for Komae. And with such a fabulous first success with pitch competitions, it’s easy to see why they kept going back for more! Pitch competitions are a savvy way to fund a project that needs a higher investment, or that you don’t have the skills to develop.
If you want to find a local pitch competition, just Google search ‘pitch competition [your city name]’.
One of the best pitch competitions they entered was from Jen and Jenny of the company Rent the Runway, whose foundation is called Project Entrepreneur. It’s an intensive weekend with training from other female business founders. 800 people started the application process, and only 12 were picked to pitch on stage. Not only were Amy and Audrey chosen to pitch, they were chosen as one of the 3 winners! They earned another $10,000 for their business, as well as 5 weeks of working in the Rent the Runway Manhattan office.
It was an incredible experience, to say the least! They were able to network and learn from other companies. Even if a pitch competition doesn’t end in financing, it might have come with a consultation or networking opportunity that makes a big difference for a new business.
Moms Spending 5 Weeks In Manhattan!?
Of course, the Komae ladies were so excited to have won this mega prize, but then the reality set in: “Oh my gosh, what are we going to tell our husbands!?”
Their husbands stepped up to the challenge. These sweet hubbies hunkered down and took care of the kids, while Amy and Audrey drove to and from New York every weekend (an 8-hour drive) to see their families. It was a big sacrifice for big gains.
High five, husbands, for handling the kids for 5 weeks!
I would have had no idea that all these resources were available for start-up business owners. But actually there’s a big focus on female entrepreneurs, and “it’s a sexy time to be a female entrepreneur, especially in the Midwest.” The girls have really enjoyed the community of support they’ve gained from their pitch competitions.
App Development Difficulties
Komae’s “biggest hurdle by far was having a vision of a deadline, and then the reality of when things came to fruition.” (And I can totally relate! Our podcast break was way longer than I expected.) Komae’s 4-week timeline turned into 20 weeks, especially with the glitches technology can often experience. But the best thing an entrepreneur can do is to learn that “it’s okay to take longer than planned, and to roll with the punches.”
Marketing An App
Within a week of becoming available in the iTunes store in fall of 2016, Komae already had 1,000 users. I had to know how they spread the word and marketed their product!
At first, Komae was a mobile friendly web app, which was their minimum viable product. Komae spread organically at first through word of mouth, with moms inviting their mom friends using the irresistible hook of free babysitting.
Plus, they were interviewed on the local news and were featured in a few articles that have also been a bit of a PR boost.
But what they’re super excited about is putting marketing dollars behind their initiatives. Komae is focusing on creating social media campaigns, primarily, since moms hang out on social media. It’s the perfect place to market an app aimed at moms.
Using a Launch Party Model
They’ll do traditional marketing, but they know word of mouth won’t go away because, in order to benefit, moms need their friends to sign up too! Since moms add their friends to the app, the viral spread won’t go away. It’s like built-in marketing for the app; each new user potentially brings in five or ten more.
They’ve got a great idea of moms throwing launch parties within their own local communities of moms. The Komae team knows they could spend time and money getting one person on board at a time, or they can spend money on something like the launch party model to get 20 new users at once.
And the launch party model doesn’t estrange those who may not want to share babysitting with everyone at the party. Because of the way the app works, each user gets to choose who is in their village, their group of babysitters. The purpose of the launch party is simply to get everyone to download the app and get excited. Then they can connect with the people they are comfortable with at the party, but even more, they'll go home and invite other friends.
Solving Your Own Problem
Not only were Audrey and Amy solving the problem other moms had, they were trying to solve their own problem of needing childcare to run their side businesses.
Audrey remembers that she hated spending money on a sitter for a business meeting that she wasn’t sure would end up making her money. It felt silly to spend that cash she wouldn’t necessarily get back!
And then sometimes she would get a spur of the moment business meeting request, but had to scramble like a crazy woman behind the scenes to line up childcare for the meeting, before she could even give an answer. Once she had the babysitting co-op, she could immediately say, “Yes! I can meet you tomorrow at 2,” and find childcare through the co-op.
Amy’s side business was a boutique bakery. Can’t you just imagine the kids trying to lick the icing off the spoon while Amy filled orders? It’s healthy for mom to have that time to work — and for kids to have time to play with their friends — and then be fully engaged with the kids when they are all home.
And, it’s really helpful for someone who is the “sometimes working mom,” or the mom with unpredictable babysitting needs. And with Komae, your kids basically get an automatic playdate, rather than a babysitter coming to your house to entertain your children. The kids are truly getting active, social playtime, having a blast with friends. They don't even know they're being babysat–you're dropping them off to play! Komae is a great solution all around.
When it comes to the actual sitters, because you hand-select your village, you’re choosing the role models for your kids. You’re building a trusted network of mentors for your children to look up to.
Social media usually brings people further apart, but with Komae it brings people together. Now when you stop at your friend's house, they know what you're doing and they care about your life, and they’ve built a bond with your children.
Beth Anne’s Mom Confession
I spill a hilarious Mom confession in this episode. You’ll have to listen to catch it! But let’s just say it has to do with babysitters and a secret we’ve been keeping from Holden!
For the Mom who isn’t a Super-Fan of Babysitting Other People’s Kids
One objection Komae gets a lot is, “I don’t have time to watch other people's kids!” or even, “I don’t WANT to watch other people’s kids!” And really, if that's you, you are not alone! Komae sits are not like babysitting, though. It’s more like you’re making your home a fun and safe place for your children’s friends to play. You can even get laundry and dishes done while the kiddos enjoy the playdate, plus earn points to get free time later!
Amy’s Adorable Mom Moment
Amy lives in Ohio and in the middle of winter they can get days and days and days of snow. Once dHer son was desperate to play outside, but because of all the snow days, she was behind on her work and said no. Let’s just say it was a day when Amy wasn’t getting along with her toddler! Her little guy got so frustrated that he was insisting on going outside while standing in the foyer naked, in only his snowboots! Amy posted a request on Komae, and soon was able to take her son to a friend’s house. Turns out, the friend was already planning to play in the snow! Amy got her work done, and when she reunited with her son everyone was much happier and had a great afternoon together.
I absolutely loved learning from these two ladies. Their story is totally inspiring for any business mom. I think this product is an absolute must for all busy moms! And from their story, you should be encouraged to go out and take action on the brilliant business idea that you have.
Stay In Touch With Amy and Audrey