Childcare is a form of assistance. Parents work hard to pay crèches, nurseries or childminders to look after their children when they often haven’t the time to do it themselves.
These childcare professionals manage hygiene (both of the children and the environment), handle teaching and file paperwork to keep parents informed of how their kids are getting on.
But what happens when that assistance stops being so helpful? That’s what Vanessa Bileu – a childcare professional – and Joao Carlos de Sousa – a software engineer – wondered as they gained more and more experience in the childcare industry.
The Portuguese duo had emigrated to Ireland where, to their surprise, they realised that the same problems existed here as there: childcare professionals were drowning in processes, drifting amid a sea of paperwork, floating further and further from their core activity: caring for children.
“It’s tough,” said Vanessa, who along with Joao co-founded ChildDiary, a startup that looks to empower childcare services by giving them everything they need to offer children the best education ever.
“If there are 10 children in your care, as a childcare professional, that’s potentially 20 parents you greet at the end of the day. You may get two or three minutes with each child’s parents, and it’s just not enough time to communicate with them sufficiently, to explain everything that is going on with their child.”
Strolling through NUI Galway’s campus on their daily route home after the duo moved to Ireland’s west coast in 2012, Vanessa and Joao got thinking about a solution.
Pretty soon, ChildDiary founded.
“ChildDiary is an online diary for childcare professionals and parents,” explains Vanessa. “Usually a childcare professional spends one hour of their working day writing up what happened with the children: their meals, their toilet trips etc.
“The more children, the more paperwork. Then we only have a very narrow window to convey this to the parents before they’re gone for the night.
“This is important information, it’s valuable to parents and childcare professionals. With ChildDiary, we now have a way to keep everything stored, protected, and in view of the few people who really need to see it. This includes inspectors. ChildDiary really helps childcare professionals to be inspector-ready.”
‘The platform is simple, it was built with the current generation of parents in mind. If you can use Facebook, you can use ChildDiary’- Joao Carlos de Sousa
The duo moved to Dublin in 2014 to set up the company, picking up Wee Care’s RTE-based nursery as its first paying customer.
“We never had free customers,” explains Joao, “and since then we have grown our operation to include customers in Portugal as well as Ireland, with our team now spread across Barcelona, Lisbon, Venice, Fafe and Dublin”.
Expansion is the name of the game for ChildDiary, which was taken into NDRC through the Female Founders Programme in the summer of 2016.
Vanessa and Joao still operate out of the NDRC’s Digital Exchange offices, with the plan to hire more sales staff in Portugal as business ramps up in the duo’s former home. Though development and support will always remain in Ireland.
“Selling into Ireland and Portugal is different,” explains Joao, “childcare is approached in a different way in each country, but we’re finding that our product really resonates with parents and professionals alike.”
The company’s churn rate is less than 10 per cent, which the duo put down to the fact that the “product is sticky” (Vanessa) and the “software is great” (Joao).
“Support for our customers is minimal, it’s residual. There are no headaches, the platform is simple, it was built with the current generation of parents in mind. If you can use Facebook, you can use ChildDiary,” said Joao.
Now raising €500,000 to help support the current growth in sales in Ireland and Portugal, as well as entering Spain in the coming months, the duo feel their endless hours of hard work was helped by an eclectic range of sources at NDRC.
“It’s the small elements,” says Vanessa, “as simple as learning how to market, how to speak to the press, how to price our product, the help is everywhere at NDRC”.
Their biggest lesson, they claim, is indeed pricing. “It’s an art,” smiles Joao.
Now, with their eyes on an international expansion, ChildDiary’s founders are going from strength to strength.
“We applied three times to NDRC,” says Vanessa. “The first time we didn’t reach the pitch, the second time we pitched and fell short.”
Third time’s a charm.