UrbanSitter: An Uber Convenient Babysitters’ Club

CEO Lynn Perkins took UrbanSitter, a service that connects parents and babysitters, from concept to company in about three weeks.

Three and a half years ago, she was taking time off from her previous job working for Joie de Vivre Hospitality—essentially buying hotels—and the mother of twins found herself constantly introducing friends to care providers. “They would always take recommendations from someone they knew,” she says.

At the time, a lot of businesses were leveraging the Facebook Connect platform to create their own apps using the social network’s data. Parents had always found sitters through other moms and dads they trusted, or through sitters they’d used in the past; Perkins thought Connect might make it easy to take that analog process online and make it as painless as possible. “I wanted to take these groups that already built trust and put them on the platform,” she says.

She started talking to all the sitters and nannies she knew, and thinking back to her own experiences as a babysitter in college; after moving to a new part of the state to attend Stanford University, it had taken her a couple of years to find families to babysit for. She started talking about the idea with a friend’s husband, an engineer who created websites for fledgling companies, and he offered to help. “It took six months from ‘let’s do this’ to we’re up and running in SF,” she says.

The hard part? “Convincing people it’s not crazy to find your babysitter on the Internet,” she says. People find strangers online to do things for them all the time. Uber users regularly get in strangers’ cars. TaskRabbit users let random people into their homes and offices for odd projects. Online daters have drinks with people they have no other connection with. But the idea of leaving kids with someone found on the Internet was a harder sell.

At San Francisco-based Urban Sitter, part of the solution was leveraging groups parents already trust. Parents are in all kinds of groups—for their neighborhoods, their kids schools’, swim teams, and the like, and they’re often willing to take advice from people in them—sometimes even strangers. When Perkins showed potential users that they could see which sitters those parents were using—alongside starred ratings—it made the concept less foreign. “In LA, you might see that you and a particular sitter both know parents from Club MomMe, AYSO, and Books and Cookies,” she says. “This often helps a parent feel comfortable in hiring a babysitter for the first time.”

Profiles also show how often a babysitter has had repeat customers, a better metric, Perkins says, than starred ratings. People have a tendency to either give one star or five; knowing how many times a given family has used a sitter is a better indicator of how happy they were with the experience. The sitters also post short videos of themselves to give parents a sense of who they are.

Using the app is easy. Parents can simply select the date and time they need their sitter, hit a button, and UrbanSitter’s algorithms pull up a list of people who have already indicated that they’re available that night. The app presents them in order of best match, starting with sitters parents have used before, then sitters their Facebook friends have used, then friends of sitters they have used, then sitters with a very good track record. “It’s kind of how it happens offline,” Perkins says. “You get a USF babysitter who is busy, and she’ll say, ‘Oh, my friend can do it.’”

Alternatively, parents can also post a job and see who responds. If they were going to a baseball game, for example, and it didn’t matter which night they went, they could see which nights their kids’ favorite sitter was free and book accordingly.

Perkins says the average response time nationally is … Next Page »

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