Founder Interview - Candy Cowan of Kowalah
With 2018 well underway it's a good time to check in with co-founder Candy Cowan and learn more about why she set up the business and her plans for the future.
Why did you set up Kowalah?
We have four children in our family - four in four years with no twins which was quite an endeavour! When they were young we were very much house-bound - we didn't go out at night and there was no school during the day. But as the youngest reached 3 and 4 we started to breath again - planning an evening out with friends or a trip to see family at the weekend.
At the same time we had moved house to a new area where we had no childcare network - we spoke to friends (who either used family or a secret babysitter they didn't want to reveal) or tried to find a good contact via the pub or village shop - but the whole process seemed to be antiquated and totally inefficient.
We believed that every road, village or town is full of families with young children who need on demand childcare, but is also full of people looking for local, flexible work - university students, mums - anyone looking for additional income.
We set up Kowalah to help make that connection simple.
What have you learned over the last year?
When we set up Kowalah we had evening babysitting in mind - after all that was the initial problem that we were trying to solve for ourselves. But what's been most interesting has been seeing how over 50% of our bookings are for the day time.
The world of work is changing - there is much more flexible working these days - with either mums working part-time hours, or mums and dads being able to work from home for a number of days a week. This is breaking the traditional model of full time childcare and we're seeing the effects of that as parents look for on demand childcare - a day here, a day there - with their children being looked after in their own home, or being dropped off and picked up from school.
We've evolved our messaging from talking about babysitting and sitters (that infers evenings only) to talking about on demand childcare and we call our sitters Kowalahs!
What has been the biggest surprise?
It's not so much a surprise, but a reassurance! When we launched Kowalah one of our biggest concerns was whether, once we'd introduced a parent to a Kowalah, they would exchange numbers and go direct.
What we've seen is that access to sitters is one benefit, but its actually a small one in comparison to others like choice and the removal of the need for cash at the end of the booking. Even if you have the phone number of a great sitter you go back to having to call them, check they are available and get an unknown amount of cash out to pay for them. For parents and Kowalahs alike working on the platform is just easier.
We'll occasionally get an almost apologetic email in from a parent after a booking "Sorry, I asked Hannah whether she could help us again on Saturday - we'll book it in via Kowalah!"
What do you enjoy most about Kowalah?
It's a bit of a cliché, but when you grow a business like Kowalah, that is built on connecting people - you build a community - a community of parents and of Kowalahs, and knowing that at any time of the day we have Kowalahs that are out there looking after children, dropping off at school, helping with homework, preparing an evening meal while their parents are out for a cheeky drink - that is a fun experience.
We have such a wide range of people who are earning on Kowalah - students earning some extra money during their studies, mums getting back into work - it feels good knowing that we're helping people find flexible income.
We get some very kind comments back from parents and Kowalahs as well, and that shows that we're building something that is of value to the local community.
What is your biggest concern?
From day one of Kowalah our top priority has always been child safety - and that is just as important today. As a business like Kowalah grows we need to ensure that every sitter on the platform is as safe and trusted as the very first one. For this reason we interview every Kowalah, we get two written references for each, and the parents will speak to the Kowalah before the booking to give that parent the final say so.
Just as important is our Kowalah's safety - they are arriving in a stranger's house, often remaining there late at night, and so ensuring we know where everyone is supposed to be, and when, is a key concern for us as well.
As we expand into new areas we must never lower these standards and that is my biggest concern.
What is next for Kowalah?
Over the last few months we've learned a lot about how parents and Kowalahs are using the platform, and we've prioritised some exciting new features that we're building into the app.
We'll continue to recruit Kowalahs as we extend our coverage beyond Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.
We're focused on ensuring every time you hit that Kowalah button you get a great selection of trusted local on demand childcare. If we continue to deliver in that - I'm excited about what the future holds for Kowalah!
Kowalah is a mobile app delivering On Demand Childcare across the Cotswolds by connecting parents with local babysitters and providers of childcare. Parents are connected with up to 5 available Kowalahs in 15 minutes giving them speed and flexibility. All Kowalahs have been interviewed and referenced providing parents with peace of mind.