School is almost out. Do you know what your kids will be doing this summer?
If you haven’t already locked in a place at Camp Longhorn or Camp Waldemar, and are at loose ends where to send the kiddoes, Houston entrepreneur Emmie Chang says she has a solution: Camperoo, her startup that offers one-stop shopping for parents to browse among the dozens of summer camps, music lessons, and sports clinics.
“There are a lot of listings services and directories but not a marketplace,” Chang says. Camperoo aims to be an online portal where parents can research, enroll and pay for classes in one place.
She’s not the only entrepreneur who’s homed in on kids as a lucrative entrepreneurial space. What was once informal intelligence passed among neighborhood mothers, leads on children’s activities has quietly grown up into an industry worth tens of billions of dollars. “What it means for kids to do things out of school has changed,” says Katie Thompson, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Sigby, which also offers an online source for kids’ activities. “My mom used to say, ‘Go outside.’ That doesn’t happen anymore.”
And with educators and parents now focused on “discovery-based learning,” along with the reduction of extracurricular programs by schools, what was once referred to as day care now involves a much richer fabric of things that kids can do, she added.
The idea behind Camperoo and Sigby is familiar to us already. The websites work in the same way as those to find accommodation for our own travels—Airbnb, for example—and where to put Fido while we are away, like DogVacay. A potential customer plugs in geographical coordinates, a zip code or city, and a list of children’s camps, available couches, or doggie homestays pops up.
You then choose which activities you are interested in and sign up and pay the fees directly on the website. Sigby doesn’t prompt you to create an account until the final checkout. Less convenient to me is Camperoo’s requirement of setting up an account before you can look at prices.
I contacted Camperoo about this via the site’s live chat and, to their credit, they responded promptly, but say there is no way around the registration requirement. The representative says they offer a $25 credit once a potential customer does so. It’s always nice to get a discount but the requirement is as if Macy’s required you to create an account before you could browse through the racks of clothing.
That hiccup aside, both sites do bring together disparate listings onto one site. Sigby focuses on the Seattle area while Camperoo has listings in Austin, Dallas, and Houston in Texas, as well as Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Thompson started Sigby last November after becoming frustrated with trying to find activities for her own children. “I had personal pain in the space,” she says.
She figured she couldn’t be the only parent looking for a better way and, so, she turned to what she knew: technology. Thompson previously worked as a venture capitalist for Trilogy Equity Partners in Seattle where she focused on early-stage companies.
In January, Sigby closed on $1.2 million in seed money, including funds from her old firm. Thompson says they offer 5,500 activities on the site and have “thousands of parents signed up” largely through word-of-mouth.
The pain motivating Chang was not at home—she’s newly married and doesn’t have children (yet, she says)—but in her business. A decade ago, she founded Wonder-Space Technology Camp and as it expanded to eight locations nationwide, she found herself paying for a lot of expensive Google ad alerts. “I was spending a lot of time doing marketing and so I came up with Camperoo,” she says.
She still owns the tech camps but has ceded day-to-day controls to a colleague as she gets Camperoo on its feet. Camperoo offers about 1,500 activities for 250 providers currently.
So far, Chang raised $300,000 from personal funds and is currently raising $1 million through friends, families and angels. Last week, the company won third place and crowd favorite at Austin TechCrunch and is now headed to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco where Chang hopes to make a pitch.
“We got a bunch of leads to investors as well as a lot of customer validation,” Chang says.
The business model for both sites is similar. Camperoo lists the activities for free but takes a 12.25 percent cut of the registration fee when a parent enrolls their child in a particular class. Thompson at Sigby declined to detail what portion they receive from their activity providers.
Both women say that activity providers are eager to sign on. “Unlike a lot of places where you create a persistent relationship with your customer base, these customers are constantly matriculating out,” Thompson says. “There’s a constant need to reach new people.”
So, marketplaces like Sigby and Camperoo help with those marketing and sales functions. “We bring them new customers,” Chang says.
The Web has been part of our daily lives for more than a decade now. So, why hasn’t this been done before? Thompson says that’s partly because it’s only recently that the smallest of entrepreneurs—like those offering sports camps or music lessons—have become comfortable with running their businesses online.
Also, she added: “It’s a blind spot in the male-centric world of software and engineers.”
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