By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Gery Petrof
In response, they began a traditional babysitting co-op with a simple formula: Families exchanged free babysitting with people they knew. Empowered by its success, the women wanted to expand the concept.
With input from their husbands, Andrew Husted and Gary Wallace, who both work in the technology field, they developed Komae, an app that allows families to exchange childcare within a secure network of personally selected friends. A pilot group of 10 families launched in March 2014.
“In a traditional, neighborhood co-op, you’re committing to letting everyone in that group watch your children,” Husted says. “With Komae, you make your own village. I can choose to have Audrey, my neighbor, a friend from Bible study, and my sister-in-law in my village, and they can choose whom they choose. We liken it to Facebook. You get to choose your Facebook friends, but you’d don’t have to ‘friend’ their Facebook friends.”
Komae offer points to serve as the app’s currency. Families earn points by providing childcare for someone in their village and redeem points when someone in the village cares for their children. A formula on the app determines and “banks” the number of points earned and spent on each transaction.
“Ko’me’ is Greek for village,” Husted says, noting the women altered the spelling. “We’re foundational in our faith and know it takes a village to raise a child. We looked up ‘village’ in Greek, since that’s the language of the New Testament.”
The app is still in the development stage. Funding is secure thanks to a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign, a $10,000 win at Contempo Communications’ Female Entrepreneur Summit pitch competition, and personal investment.
The women hope to take beta testing live in February to Kickstarter contributors and their invitees. After working out any technological kinks, the entire system is expected to go live in August. During the beginning stages, Komae will exist as a web app. Eventually, it will be available on Android and iPhone and will be accessible to anyone who has a device that allows him or her to go online.
Membership is anticipated at $27 a year—less than the cost of three hours of traditional babysitting.
Husted and Wallace, both Baldwin Wallace University graduates, know a thing or two about being moms who want the best for their children but also time to nurture themselves. Husted, whose sons are five and three, has worked in restaurants and banking; four years ago, she opened La Hoot Bakery in her home. Wallace, whose sons are ages four and two, has worked in professional management positions, as an event planner, and in offices. Not only do they understand their target market, they are their target market.
“We are reinventing babysitting and enriching family life,” Wallace says, noting that children will bond with other children, and parents will form friendships with other parents. “No matter what we do, we run it through that filter.”
In the short term, they hope to introduce Komae to moms (and dads) nationwide and turn Komae into a verb. “We want someone to say, ‘I’m going to Komae the kids, honey, so we can go on a date,’” Husted says.
Down the line, they are looking to iterate the Komae model to other markets. This could include apps for pet sitting or caring for elderly people (such as earning/spending points to take a senior citizen to the grocery store).
Groups such as Love Akron Network and Launch League, a community for scalable startups in Akron, have been helpful to Husted and Wallace. They have also sought advice from church friends, who own businesses. Above all, they credit their deep faith.
The women encourage moms to use Komae in unconventional ways. A pilot group participant redeemed points to go on a hike to “regroup” while her husband was out of town on business. Some use points to go grocery shopping or exercise. Wallace saved points so she and her husband could attend a wedding without paying a sitter.
The bottom line, Husted says, is families should not feel guilty about using the service.
“It’s not about how to get away from your kids,” she says. “It’s about balance. If my sons are going to a friend’s house or they have one coming here because I’m babysitting, they’re excited about it. Because you’re all in the same village, you’re sharing babysitting with people who have the same values as you. Your kids have other adults they can almost see as mentors.”
For more information: mykomae.com
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