All parents know how hard it can be to find a babysitter, and solving that problem is just one reason that U.S. services like SittingAround and UrbanSitter are doing well. Both companies offer an app-driven, social alternative to traditional classified ads: making introductions, handling payments and taking cuts —effectively applying the Airbnb model to the babysitting market.
Now a Berlin startup called Kinderfee is doing something similar — and it’s raised a “big six-figure” angel round to fund expansion and development.
Right now Kinderfee covers the six biggest cities in Germany, but it’s got plans to go much further.
“The UK is probably next,” co-founder Daan Loening told me. “If we do it, it will be late this year or early next year. But we really want to nail the German market first, and introduce more social and community elements into our platform.”
The names of the investors have not been disclosed, but Loening indicated they were chosen for their expertise in the social and mobile spaces.
Loening showed me a prototype of Kinderfee’s upcoming iPhone app. It offers Foursquare-like check-ins, along with a series of what he calls “communicator” functions – preprogrammed messages that can be sent along with photos to let parents check “a stream of what’s going on at home”.
What could go wrong?
The biggest problem for services such like Kinderfee is that of trust. The idea of an Airbnb for babysitting is frankly terrifying when you first think about it: remember the time that an Airbnb user’s house got trashed? Sure, it was a fairly isolated incident, but the ramifications would be infinitely higher in the babysitting space. No amount of insurance can compensate for a child getting harmed.
For that reason, Kinderfee is trying to set itself apart from its stateside competitors by adding an extra layer of trust to the babysitter-parent transaction: in short, the parents personally interview the babysitter before the sitting.
And with that feature, it’s hard to see how Kinderfee is any riskier than finding a babysitter through traditional classifieds. Indeed, Kinderfee also interviews and does ID checks on prospective sitters.
In the five months or so that it’s been operational, Kinderfee has had 7,500 caregivers sign up. It also has “several hundred active parents” using the service on a monthly basis (according to Loening, the number of bookings is growing at 50 percent per month). So, in that time, what’s the worst thing that’s happened so far?
“A babysitter not showing up for an interview,” Loening said. “We also had one babysitter that once stole something. We banned her from our platform, called the police and helped the mother. The mom actually booked another babysitter via our site.”
Loening also pointed out that Kinderfee’s platform allows parents to recommend babysitters or express dissatisfaction, giving the sitters an extra incentive to behave. Kinderfee also gives itself an incentive to manage the relationship between the two parties as smoothly as possible: parents don’t have to pay Kinderfee anything until they establish a regular arrangement with a sitter.
Kinderfee’s funding round comes at an opportune time, as the company is pretty small — only eight employees. Europe’s childcare market is worth €137 billion ($165 billion), but the human touch that’s needed to cement trust could mean scaling difficulties without a good amount of cash to grow the team.
If and when Kinderfee (or ‘child fairy’) does expand out of Germany, it will be in different guise. “It will definitely not be Kinderfee,” Loening said. “People simply won’t understand what it means.”