UrbanSitter is leveraging social media to solve an age-old problem for parents: finding a good babysitter

By Editor November 2, 2012

A Q&A with UrbanSitter co-founder and CEO Lynn Perkins. The San Francisco–based company was founded in 2010 and raised $6 million in Series A funding in mid-October. Investors include Canaan Partners, First Round Capital, Menlo Ventures and Rustic Canyon Partners.

SUB: Please describe UrbanSitter and your value proposition.

Perkins: UrbanSitter leverages Facebook Connect to improve the way parents and sitters find each other. By replicating the off-line experience of gathering sitter recommendations from friends and fellow parents, we have created an easier, faster, more personal way to book trusted childcare.

The majority of parents turn to friends, family and other like-minded people to uncover and hire a qualified babysitter, however this process is limited, time consuming and often unsuccessful. As busy parents ourselves, we saw first-hand that finding a trusted sitter that was actually available when we needed the help was just too difficult. We created UrbanSitter to simplify and personalize the process.

UrbanSitter is solving a problem for both parents and sitters who had previously depended on antiquated ways of finding each other. It enables parents to leverage their own networks to quickly and easily find sitters they can feel good about hiring. For sitters, it gives them a place to find jobs, market themselves, and control their schedules and rates. Sitters can also see who parents are connected to, which fosters trust and familiarity, and helps them decide which jobs to accept. Positive reviews posted to the site help sitters gain more work.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Perkins: UrbanSitter serves two distinct markets: parents and babysitters. Here’s how it works:

Parents sign up at UrbanSitter.com or via the UrbanSitter iOS app and can view sitters known through friends or affiliations—including schools, sports teams and parents groups—and can view each sitter’s profile and availability in order to select a sitter for a specific date and time, similar to OpenTable, or plan an outing when they know their favorite sitter is available. Jobs or interviews can be booked in minutes and parents can pay sitters via an online payment feature. They can also contribute written reviews, ratings and Facebook ‘Likes’ to sitter profiles.

UrbanSitter babysitters post their credentials, as well as availability, hourly rates and location preferences. The ability to see who parents are connected to fosters trust and familiarity and helps sitters decide which jobs to accept. To protect privacy, contact information is exchanged only after the booking is confirmed. Unlike other childcare agencies, which require a percentage of wages, sitters keep all the money they earn. Most importantly, positive reviews from parents and job referrals from friends on the site, help sitters get more jobs from parents they trust.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Perkins: UrbanSitter competes with existing players in the childcare market—i.e. SitterCity, Care.com and nanny agencies—and its key differentiation is the ability to connect parents and sitters via friends and affiliations.

SUB: What differentiates UrbanSitter from the competition?

Perkins: First off, unlike other childcare sites, UrbanSitter harnesses the power of social recommendations in a space where a friend’s recommendation is critical. UrbanSitter leverages Facebook Connect, so parents can view sitters that their friends already know, trust and recommend.

Second, UrbanSitter saves parents time. Similar to how people use OpenTable for dinner reservations, parents can search for sitter availability by date and time and then book jobs or interviews real-time. What’s more, after the job is completed, parents can pay online and add reviews, ratings and Facebook ‘Likes’ to sitter profiles. Also, UrbanSitter is now also available as a mobile app, which enables parents and sitters to connect and book jobs anywhere, anytime via their iOS devices.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Perkins: The company was founded in December 2010. We spent the first couple of months interviewing many sitters and parents so we could better understand the pain points within their babysitting booking processes. We used the time to design the initial site layout based on the feedback we were receiving from parents and sitters.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for UrbanSitter? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Perkins: We founded UrbanSitter as a small group of parents, accustomed to collaborating and networking with friends and colleagues and connecting each other with our resources and findings. When children entered our lives, it was a natural move to share and connect families with sitters—one of the most prized finds a parent can make.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Perkins: We saw the greatest need for an easier sitter booking process in urban areas. Packed with potentially qualified sitters who didn’t grow up there, ‘urban sitters’ rarely have the word-of-mouth referral systems that their counterparts in smaller communities have. What’s more, families who live in or around metropolitan areas often have a particularly tough time finding sitters—i.e. many are ‘transplants’ and do not have family in the area. UrbanSitter encompasses this demographic and our desire to make finding a sitter in large markets much easier.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Perkins: I think we’ve faced the usual small company obstacles such as trying to accomplish as much as possible with limited resources. Specifically, working with limited resources to expand into multiple markets was one of our initial concerns. We addressed this problem by implementing a local marketing manager program that allows us to efficiently launch in new markets, leveraging home office materials and best practices with local market expertise.

SUB: You recently raised $6 million in Series A funding. What are your plans for the funds?

Perkins: This round brings our total raised to $7.75 million to date. This additional funding will be used to accelerate product development, advance the company’s mobile efforts and further expansion into new markets.

SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise more outside funding?

Perkins: The timing was right for us to raise outside funding for a few key reasons. We have generated significant traction with our initial product and marketing efforts. It was clear to us that additional funding would enable us to expand our site and mobile products in the direction we would like to take them. On the marketing front, we understand what has worked for us so far and have a plan in place to expand our marketing efforts. The funding will contribute to our marketing push. Most importantly, we found the right investment partners, new and existing, who are excited about growing UrbanSitter and see this as a good time to expand the business.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Perkins: The company plans to generate revenue from subscription and transaction fees.

SUB: What are your goals for UrbanSitter over the next year or so?

Perkins: Over the next year we plan to expand our product offerings, including our mobile features. We will also be expanding into new metropolitan markets.

UrbanSitter – www.urbansitter.com