By Jim Mackinnon Akron Beacon Journal
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When word spread that female-led "Komae," a babysitting app was shutting down, entrepreneur Erin Beck, a creator of a similar app in California entered the picture and proposed an acquisition. Now all of the women will work together on growing the concept that has the potential to reach millions.
Akron Beacon Journal
Some four years ago, friends Amy Husted and Audrey Wallace set out to create a mobile app to build a connected community of parents in need of baby-sitting help.
They successfully raised $600,000 for the app, named Komae for the Greek word for village, kome. It helped parents to connect and swap free child care with friends and eventually expanded into pet-sitting services with the potential to reach millions of people.
But while Komae proved popular and had 19,000 accounts, the business wasn't working out the way the two women needed it to. So Husted and Wallace, both of whom live in the Akron area, said this spring they were shutting it down.
Word spread quickly. And then everything changed.
Komae found new California-based ownership. And Husted and Wallace will continue to have roles in the renewed venture.
"We got the product out there," Husted recalled. "And then we didn't have the traction we needed to get the investment we needed. ... So we decided that it was time to sunset the app and to shut it down."
They announced in mid-April that the app would shut down on May 30.
It wasn't an easy decision, Wallace said.
"This was our baby that we grew, nurtured and cared a lot about. We had wanted to keep raising money. We had wanted to keep growing customers and gave it all we got," Wallace said. "It came to the point where the runway was ending. So we had to make a smart decision for our investors."
Enter Southern California entrepreneur Erin Beck, head of Wana Family Network and creator of a similar baby-sitting app.
"Erin, who was a competitor of ours from LA, contacted us and said, 'Hey, what if we build this thing together?' And proposed an acquisition," Husted said.
The result: Komae remains alive to expand in a market of 35 million U.S. families with children under age 18 who need baby sitters -- and to explore other online co-op communities as well.
Beck, who was in Akron last week meeting with Husted, Wallace and others, said the newly rejuvenated business will have two headquarters, one in California and one in Akron. Technology and executive functions will be on the West Coast while marketing and operations will be out of Komae's offices in the Bounce Innovation Hub off South Main Street.
Komae eventually will be rebranded as Wana. And investors in Komae, most of whom are in Ohio, will become shareholders in Wana, Beck said.
"Komae did something very special. They pioneered the idea of taking a traditional baby-sitting co-op and turning it into a modern piece of technology for our modern, on-the-go, socially connected lifestyle," Beck said.
Wallace said they had been in contact with other companies interested in buying Komae.
But she and Husted said they quickly clicked with Beck, who had contacted them within just a couple of days of the April announcement, and liked her proposal.
Beck said she was on vacation with her family at the time and asked her parents for help and to look after her toddler while she worked on her Komae proposal. She said she wanted to show Wallace and Husted she would be a good steward of what they had created.
"I said, 'Hey parents, something really important is happening. I really need your support. I'm going to go lock myself in a room overnight and I'm going to propose my heart out,'" Beck said. "What do you offer to the people who have blazed the trail? To the people who are the market leaders, and not by a small margin, who were out ahead of all of the rest of us?"
Beck's pitch worked. And in six weeks, Beck, Wallace and Husted had worked out a sale. Husted will stay on with the company in Akron, while Wallace will have an advisory role; her full-time job is senior director of marketing and communications for the Greater Akron Chamber.
The three unveiled their deal at a "kid friendly, family forward" June 20 reveal party -- a play on a baby gender reveal party -- at Bounce that was broadcast live on Facebook. That was also the date that Wana formally took over Komae.
The idea is to have the best of both the Komae and Wana networks, Husted said. People are sticking with Komae through the transition, they said.
They chose Bounce for the party because Komae has had seventh-floor offices there for almost three years and it's where they made connections that greatly helped them, Husted said.
"We wanted professional space to meet with business connections," Husted said. "It's been an unbelievable resource for us. And the mentorship and the relationships we built here have been wonderful as well. That's where we'll continue to have space for our Northeast Ohio headquarters."
___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.