Vancouver impact-driven business spotlight: on-demand childcare with HopKidz
HopKidz is on a mission to change the world for parents by providing easy access to last-minute childcare to any parent anywhere. I first heard about HopKidz when I was working at impact-driven business community Spring, and they have certainly been busy this past year with iterating and growing.
Since launching, Founder and CEO of HopKidz, Alexandra Nestertchouk, has built her business to 8 people and is currently going through the fundraising process. She’s also a community leader, public speaker, author, parent's advocate, mentor, advisor to tech & impact startups, and world traveller. Are you feeling inspired yet?!
Thank you for your time Alexandra during this busy period! You launched HopKidz just last year in 2018 - can you share your biggest driver for starting the business?
I was personally affected by the issue I’m trying to solve 2 years ago when my son was 7 months old. I’d been scheduled for a dental procedure and had organised childcare for my son. My sitter ended up cancelling the day of the procedure, and I wasn’t able to find anyone within the 3 hours notice. I was faced with a $1k+ cancellation bill and having to reschedule the procedure for 4 months out.
I noticed that finding childcare quickly was an issue for many of my friends with small kids. One of my friends is a single mom with 3 children, and she is a midwife who works shifts. The stories she told me, and how much money she is paying for a regular spot at daycare for just 2-3 times a week was shocking.
I was raised by a single mother and it’s only now I truly get it. My mom used to teach me: instead of complaining about something, do something about it. Don’t wait for a change - be the change.
I saw an opportunity and I made my move... someone had to do something about it!
What is the mission and vision of HopKidz?
Built for Mothers by Mothers, the HopKidz team is on a mission to bring ultimate freedom to parents without needing to choose between their family and their career. We accomplish this by providing easy access to on-demand childcare to any parent anywhere.
Our Vision for HopKidz is to become a one-stop shop for parents to address all of their childcare needs, both immediate and ongoing, both backup and regular.
Even beyond childcare, we will be addressing anything kids related - full child lifecycle management so to speak - from 0-16 years old. With HopKidz, childcare will be not only available anytime anywhere, but will also become affordable through employee benefits programs where businesses will subsidize employees with both backup and regular childcare. HopKidz is a community builder, educational platform and an information resource.
And how is HopKidz different from other childcare services that are available here in Vancouver?
1/ We do not focus on one solution: we provide both options: hosted drop-in and Mobile Care - someone coming to your home.
2/ We are not one location brick-and-mortar facility, we are also location-agnostic. Parents can search for care to come to their home, come to their office, or anywhere else.
3/ We are faster than competitors - we provide options today-for-today, where a drop-in can be done within 15 min after booking, and a mobile caregiver can come to your place within an hour. The closest to this, unless your neighbour is your best babysitter, is Nannies On Call where a guaranteed sitter can be booked 36 hours in advance.
4/ Risks addressed - we are the only online service in Canada that applies government-level screening process on every single caregiver on our platform. We also work with Licensed daycare centres.
5/ We are building up unique features, capitalizing on the latest trends in technology.
Can you share about a pain point in your business journey so far?
The startup journey is painful! If you are lucky you’ll come out alive, but will be covered in bruises from top-to-bottom inside-out. Once you start - everything, literally everything is on a mission to test you. We’re facing new challenges and learning every day.
One of the biggest struggles is the funding. A user-acquisition focused technology business is expensive to build - you invest money up front and there is no guarantee there is any return whatsoever. It is all based on user-acceptance of your product. Up-front prototype testing and customer/market validation are key, and you have to be ready to pivot rapidly. You can start with a Swiss clock and end up with a doggy hotel if you know what I mean!
Therefore when it comes to funding, whether you raised $10 or $10mil, treat every penny with ultimate respect, and do not leave your full-time job until your product is out on the market, you have some traction, have somewhat drafted a “playbook” of lessons learned, and are clear on the growth strategies. I’ve personally underestimated two things:
How expensive it is to run payroll
How much money it takes to raise money
When you put someone on payroll, there are few things you need to keep in mind: be prepared to pay 20-25% overhead on that budgeted salary through employer-related payroll deduction top-ups, your bookkeeping and accountant fees, payroll software and bank remittance fees. Fortunately, there are a few fantastic government programs out there that offer wage subsidy for startups. We’ve tapped into NRC/IRAP, GetYouthWorking and Canada Summer jobs. You can’t apply unless you are putting that person on payroll. But before running to apply and get “free money” you should understand that the money is not really “free” - most will cover a portion of the costs, the employee portion of taxes and deductions, and other overhead expenses such as training is typically not covered. In addition, most of the programs are provided via a refund for the expense incurred and it takes time for the refund to process - which could be a significant hit on your cash-flow. So before you get all excited about it, think hard if you really truly need that person on your team…
And the second lesson, that I’ve personally learned the hard way - it takes money to raise money. A lot of startup events like VC conferences, Angel networks and Angel forums, have a fee for the opportunity to present. You should research this in advance. Factor in travel expenses to this too! And most importantly, to prepare for a raise you need to make sure your “legal affairs” are clear-transparent - and THAT is the ultimate expense, unless your uncle is a lawyer specializing in funding.
Not all flowers and rainbows... thank you for sharing these lessons. What are your plans for growth and where do you see HopKidz in 3 years time?
We are currently establishing ourselves in British Columbia and hoping to be lined-up for national expansion by the summer. We’ll most likely start with Alberta before taking on Ontario. Once Canada is tucked-in, there is nothing to stop us, and we’re going international. We’ve already got requests from New Zealand of all the places!
Technology-wise there are solid plans to grow into an app that everyone uses and to achieve our vision to become a one-stop shop for parents to address all of their childcare needs. It is hard to say where we’ll be in 3 years and the world is changing so rapidly. Who knows where the tech takes us in 3 years - maybe we’ll be equipping a childcare centre on the moon with our software solution! That will be interesting to see. One thing I can tell you though - whatever it is, we are building HopKidz as a very pivotable and scalable solution in both business and tech, so whatever rapid unexpected change request hits us - we are ready to react in a heart-beat.
Your journey so far has certainly been pretty amazing to follow, and the number of award nominations you’ve received is a nod to this. How can someone support HopKidz, do you have any asks?
Thanks - yes, the top ask is for introductions and connections to Angel investors. We are a bit early to run a proper SEED round as we are still building up our technology. Therefore we are looking for early supporters who are interested in “cracking” this market. The childcare market, by the way, is 8 times larger than the cannabis market, and almost 25 times larger than the global blockchain services market.
We are running our pre-SEED/Angel round raising $300k CAD to be used for completing the technology, for sales and marketing to ensure BC growth, and lining us up for national expansion.
We actually have a whole blog post on our asks here!