When Lynn Perkins took a short break from working six years ago to spend time with her then two-year old twins, she had no idea that the opportunity to connect with other mothers with young kids in her area would lead to a hugely successful, on-demand babysitting and nanny service. But then again, Perkins has always loved setting people up with jobs, spouses, and friends in new cities, so it makes sense that she was able to add childcare to the list.
UrbanSitter, an online service and mobile app, was started after Perkins realized that moms were looking for trusted sitters in their area who came recommended by friends and people in their communities. So, she got to work creating the most powerful nanny and sitter search tool online, and six years later, parents in dozens of cities across the U.S. are able to have a much needed date night.
How UrbanSitter Works
UrbanSitter uses a parent’s Facebook connections as well as information about their neighborhood, their kids’ schools, and any local groups they’re part of to match them with babysitters who’d be a good fit. Once a user’s profile is set, they can post a job, book it online, and pay with a tap. And while the benefits to parents are obvious, this service is also helping thousands of child care providers connect with potential employers in the communities they live in.
To get a better idea of the story behind this very relatable CEO, Paste interviewed Perkins to find out more about her story of success, why she is UrbanSitter’s target audience and the motivation behind her desire to mentor younger women.
We already know why you started UrbanSitter, but can you share with me how it came to life?
Lynn Perkins: I was lucky to attract some talented friends to co-found the business with me and they provided product, technical and marketing talent that I don’t have. We bootstrapped the business through our first market launch and once we had data on repeat use and growth rates, we raised our initial round of venture capital funding.
We were also fortunate to cultivate a highly engaged sitter pool in our first market and they helped to spread the word to other motivated, high quality sitters in our home market, as well as expansion cities. We prioritized ruthlessly to get our initial product to market quickly by starting with the biggest pain point for both parents and sitters—discovery—and later added payment, mobile and other product enhancements.
How does having three kids influence the ideas and decisions you make about the company?
Perkins: I am definitely our target customer, so my own childcare experiences and needs help to inform decisions we make in the company. Whether it’s feeling the angst of a nanny calling in sick the night before a big meeting, or the urge to find a great date night sitter who my kids like so I can have an adult evening out without any guilt, I can relate.
Having three kids has also helped me be a better CEO. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and I’ve also become very good at prioritizing since time is now my most precious commodity. In fact, having children is a lot like running a startup business. Just when you think you are getting into the swing of things, something changes. With kids, they enter a new development phase and the parenting tactic you used last week is no longer applicable. Similarly, at a startup you may enter a new market or a new stage of company growth. Both parenting and running a startup keep you on your toes!
Why is it important for you to be a mentor and work with younger female founders on startups?
Perkins: I was recently following a car with the bumper sticker, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This message really resonated with me. I think one of the ways to change broader perception about something is to demonstrate the behavior you wish existed at scale.
I’d love to see more women running startup companies, becoming board members and in investor roles. I hope to influence this outcome by mentoring women who are earlier on in their startup businesses and encouraging them to continue developing their companies.
What do you love most about what you do?
Perkins: Honestly, I really love connecting great people. At the company level, I get out of bed each morning excited to work with a great group of people whom I admire both professionally and personally. And in terms of the UrbanSitter service, I love that we are helping parents solve one of their toughest, most stressful problems by making it easy to find fantastic childcare. I’m equally passionate about helping sitters maximize their available work time and do so by introducing them to wonderful families.
UrbanSitter seems to be really successful. Why do you think that is and what are your plans moving forward?
Perkins: The response from parents has been incredible because we are solving an acute need in the lives of most families. In fact, many parents say they literally could not live without us. Over the years, I have also met many of our sitters and their response is equally positive. Many have been able to pay their way through college, while others are able to pursue their dreams of being an actor or musician because of the flexible work that they can get on UrbanSitter. Ultimately, I think it’s our community of parents and sitters (mostly women) that has made our business take off.
When people ask me who our biggest competitor is, I often say, “staying home.” It’s the fact that we’ve been able to bottle the “word-of-mouth” recommendation in an easy to use app/website that enables parents to say “yes” to all the things they want to do. We are excited to continue expanding geographically and to enhance our product offerings.