By Julie Washington The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Audrey Wallace and Amy Husted got the idea for their babysitting app "Komae" after belonging to a traditional babysitting co-op with 10 other friends. The group saved thousands of dollars in babysitting fees, and other parents wanted to join. With that concept in mind they simply added a little technology to the mix.
It's expensive and time-consuming to find a babysitter for date night. So mom-entrepreneurs Audrey Wallace and Amy Husted created a business to fix that.
Their website and free app, Komae, manages a babysitting co-op among friends. Moms earn points when they watch other people's kids, then use those points to get babysitting for date nights or other appointments. No money ever changes hands.
Since launching in 2016, Akron-based Komae has signed up nearly 9,000 participants, attracted $600,000 in funding, and won several pitch competitions. The startup also attracted $100,000 in angel investments from a local group of women investors.
In January, the startup debuted a new app design with additional features and an updated look.
Parents use Komae to get kid-free time for shopping, taking a yoga class, attending a wedding or simply taking a nap. The free app is most popular among families with pre-school kids, said Wallace, 35, of Akron.
"It's OK to rely on your friends to get a break," Wallace said.
She and Husted, 33, got the idea for Komae after belonging to a traditional babysitting co-op with 10 other friends. The group saved thousands of dollars in babysitting fees, and other parents wanted to join.
But the co-op's dependence on tokens, a spreadsheet and Facebook to keep track of babysitting swaps was clunky and complicated. "We had to create a better way for people to swap sit with friends," said Husted.
The app works on both Apple and Android , and can be downloaded from Google Play or iTunes. You can also find it at www.mykomae.com/download .
Komae, which means "village" in Greek, creates a sharing economy for child care that can be expanded to include numerous families. The app makes scheduling easy, and it automatically calculates, banks and transfers "Komae points" between families. No need for tokens or spreadsheets.
Komae members, called "villagers," invite their trusted friends to join their "village" in the Komae app, Husted explained.
A mom who needs a babysitter enters the date, time and number of kids into the app. The app calculates how many Komae points the session is worth. The longer the session and the more kids involved, the more points the session is worth, Husted said. The requester "pays" with Komae points she has banked by watching other villagers' kids.
Later, the app displays a list of sitters who volunteered to fulfill the request. The requesting mom decides whether she wants to drop off her kids or have the sitter come to her house.
Komae encourages families to meet each other before scheduling a babysitting session. The company does not run background checks on its participants or check home environments, Husted said.
While most of Komae's villagers are in Northeast Ohio, the app is popular in San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh and other cities around the country, Husted said.
Wallace and Husted were stay-at-home moms when they got the idea to start Komae; each had two kids, all under age 5. After working on some projects together, they realized that Husted's Type A, tech-focused personality meshed well with Wallace's strengths in networking and fundraising.
At first, the women worked on their startup by sharing a nanny one day a week, and used Komae to book babysitters for other workday meetings. "We used Komae to build Komae," Wallace said.
Eventually, the partners had to make the difficult decision to stop being full-time moms and work on developing Komae. Wallace and her husband Gary Wallace are parents to 6-year-old Rowan and 4-year-old Abram. Husted's family includes husband Andrew Husted, 7-year-old Nathan and 5-year-old Noah.
A crucial part of any startup is the search for funding. Wallace and Husted found that some local investors are reluctant to invest in Komae until it generates revenue, but the women want to wait to attract more users before they sell advertising on the app.
The startup did attract funding from an informal group of women investors organized by Lynn-Ann Gries of Shaker Heights, independent consultant for venture capital and co-founder of JumpStart. Gries invites entrepreneurs to pitch to her angel investment group, in order to support local female-headed startups.
"Women have historically been left out of venture funding streams," Gries said. "I got tired of it. I wanted to put the two groups together."
The angel investors were impressed by the unique idea behind Komae and the passion of its co-founders. Early-stage entrepreneurs need to have passion and flexibility, Gries said. "These two have those qualities in spades," she said.
As their company matures, Wallace and Husted envision Komae's village expanding around the world, and including other co-op friendly services such as pet sitting and carpools. And they want the business to become a household name, as in "Let's Komae the kids and go out on a date."
"New moms won't know life without it," Husted said.