With years of work experience under their belts, Priya Amin and Jessica Strong were on a mission to make it easier for the modern working parent to attend events, especially evening ones, while knowing their children were in safe hands. That’s why they teamed up to form Flexable– an on site childcare provider for a wide range of events. This month, we interviewed Strong about her entrepreneurial journey with Flexable, LLC.
Where did your inspiration come from?
So the idea for Flexable came about two, two and a half years ago. I was running a co-working space that had on site child care to build more flexibility into my schedule because at the time I had two young kids. I met Priya Amin and we just kind of bonded over that and we began to brainstorm. We began to wonder “Why isn’t anyone doing anything to address all these other places that need childcare?” And so the idea for Flexable began. We envisioned Flexable fixing a common problem– what if there was a way to get a last-minute babysitter just for a specific time when all your other childcare isn’t available? Ilana Diamond, Managing Director at Alphalab, proposed that we apply for support from Alphalab. At first I was hesitant, assuming that Alphalab was only for technology-oriented people. But Ilana assured me that Alphalab impacts so many parents. She finally convinced us, and we thought,
what the heck– let’s apply! We went through AlphaLab and were connected to their system of mentors which has been hugely invaluable to have that kind of expertise.
How did you know there was potential demand for your product?
We surveyed a whole bunch of parents here [in Pittsburgh]. There’s a ton of parent groups on Facebook, for example a new mom’s coffee club that meets regularly. We did this quick survey and got a lot of positive feedback but we didn’t have a company, we didn’t have a website. We applied with a sketch of what we thought that the website would look like – like here you would put in your zip code, etc. We just thought it would be a great business, enough people said they would pay for it, and we thought there was something there. We thought, “This should be good, and we should make it.”
What do you think made it possible for Flexable to start?
Lots of people keep having children, so there’s a ready demand there.
Also, how do you find daycare if you’re driving for UBER? How do you find daycare if you work at Starbucks? Let’s say you used to have a regular schedule but now your schedule changes week to week. The traditional daycare industry hasn’t kept up with the change in the workforce and demographic. So that’s one key. Traditional daycare is very very expensive to ensure. As you can image there’s a ton of liability dealing with people’s most precious children. So even work places that want to be seen as progressive and exclusive struggle to build on-site daycare because it cost millions of dollars. Some of them may want to benefit their employees but they just financially can’t. So we’ve kind of figured out that we can provide on demand child care for just the days and night you need it.
How did you find caregivers for the website?
We’re able to do all of this just through word of mouth which is awesome. All of our caregivers have to have background checks, excellent parent reference checks, glowing reviews from folks, CPR certifications, etc. Most of their hires and sales are from word of mouth references– whether they attended an event, or thought about it, customers and employees passed their recommendations on.
Can you tells us about your involvement with Pittsburgh’s Inclusive Innovation Week?
Anyone who was organizing and event could contact us and get free childcare because the city got a sponsor to pay for child care. We did childcare that whole week. We did three events on one night for multiple nights, so that worked, and we proved we can do multiple events in totally different locations across the entire county. Everyone who requested childcare got childcare and so that was really gratifying.
How has Pittsburgh as a city helped shape your company?
People have been so generous in their referrals both of places to provide child care and people we should talk to. How we found our accountant was through word of mouth; how we found our lawyer was through word of mouth, so that has been huge. People here seem very genuine. When somebody offers to connect you to somebody it nearly always happens, and I don’t know if it’s like that in Boston or New York or the Bay area or anywhere else.
In the near future, Strong hopes to expand Flexable into new cities as she and Amin try to evaluate how to provide child care in new places. As far as advice to new aspiring entrepreneurs, Strong suggests to stop waiting for everything to fall perfectly into place. “So if you’re thinking about starting a company… if there is some doubt about how it will work, just start it at the cheapest, most basic level- you do not need a huge worksite, you do not need a website …you need a sale so if you can get a couple of people to prove your concept, then you can go from there.” She also highlights the importance of networking, especially in a city like Pittsburgh where connections are imperative. “…attend as many networking events as you can…and ask for help, and I think that’s a key that is hard for some people because you want to be seen as the expert but there’s no way that you can be the expert in everything. And because this city is so friendly and open with their help if you can say, ‘I want to do this childcare thing but I’m not quite sure how I will find caregivers,’ and then the more you kind of network people just refer their nannys to add and their personal sitters and teachers and you’re like ‘oh, great, so that’s how we’ll do that piece…’”
To find out more about Flexable, click here.