Welcome to another installment of our entrepreneur of the month series where we talk to some of the region’s leading entrepreneurs and get their thoughts on what it takes to succeed in the Arab world.
This week we’re chatting with Angela Solomon from Jaleesa to learn what it takes to break into child care and solve one of the region’s most common problems; finding a babysitter.
What was the inspiration for Jaleesa?
The seed for Jaleesa was born when a friend of mine had to cancel her dinner with me because her babysitter wasn’t available. We realised that finding a trusted child care is a real problem for parents especially when they can’t rely on other family members as backup. A little later, Hassan, Stephanie and I met at a hackathon and worked with a team to develop the first Jaleesa prototype. Since then, it’s been full speed ahead!
What problem are you solving?
We solve a problem for parents: finding a trusted child care, that is easy and flexible. It’s so important for parents to be able to continue their work, and also their social and personal lives, without feeling guilty or worrying about the kids when they’re not there. So we help to look after the physical, psychological, and social wellbeing of both parents and children.
Parents often rely on other family members for child care, or on live-in domestic help, but sometimes neither of these are right for the kids’ needs. We conducted a survey last summer and 71% of the families who answered said they rely on word of mouth. That’s great, but friends’ recommendations are not always objective and the system doesn’t offer flexibility or peace of mind. That’s why we created Jaleesa.
How does it work?
We make it very easy for parents to find child carers, get to know them, and book online. After each new booking both the family and the sitter give a review and star rating.
We place a unique emphasis on the quality of our babysitters, who are all hand-picked and extensively vetted, using international standards.
We’ve just upgraded the website at www.jaleesa.co and right now there are great babysitters waiting to work with families across Beirut and surrounding areas of Lebanon.
What is your target market?
We really want to build a community of both families and child carers. We aim to reach families who live in urban areas, have children under 10, and a medium-to-high family income. We can offer specialised infant care and also tutoring for school-age kids. We also have a child development training programme, being developed with education specialists, which ensures that our sitters know what kinds of activities to do with children of different ages.
What differentiates you from other competitors in the region?
We’ve found that many families want to give back to the community – and so do we. So we work in partnership with NGOs and training institutions to recruit excellent, qualified sitters from diverse backgrounds, on an equal opportunities basis. We want to create employment for women (and qualified men – 10% of our babysitters are male) in communities where it is needed. We also have a family events programme that funds child care for underprivileged kids.
Our mission is to build a business with social impact that scales with our success. The more families use our service, the more jobs and training we are able to create in communities that need them.
How much time did it take you from conceptualization of ‘your venture’ to actually launching it in the market?
We moved quickly to take our child care to the market because we decided to invest in understanding the need and working out product-market fit. So we started working together in summer 2016 and by September we had our first booking. Since then we have developed and deepened our vetting and training process and invested in retooling our online platform. We hope that every time families use Jaleesa’s services they get better and better.
Are there any obstacles that are impacting Jaleesa?
We’re a problem-solving team so I hope we’re approaching all the challenges of a startup with positive energy and a can-do attitude. One thing that would make things much easier would be more developed internet laws so that we could have our contracts signed online, as in other parts of the world. But we are working around that, and doing our best!
What role has social media played in growing your business?
Personal recommendations are a key part of how we build trust, so social media has played a really important role. We’re really excited about the potential to support families through Facebook discussion groups, Instagram, and other social media.
What sort of support and feedback are you looking for from the community?
We would love to encourage parents, especially those in the tech community, to visit our new, upgraded website at www.jaleesa.co and share their feedback via our live chat.
What advice would you give to new start-ups in the region?
We’re still at the beginning of our journey, but so far we have felt really welcomed into the ecosystem. One tip would be to coordinate and collaborate with other startups, especially those who are a bit further into their journey. We are based at the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, surrounded by startups at all stages, and whenever it all gets too much (or if we need some friendly advice), it’s great to be able to learn from those who’ve seen it all before.