Founder Focus is a “Humans of New York” style spotlight on the human stories behind diverse startup founders, their life experiences and perspectives, the origin stories of their startups, and the path they took to where they are today.
This episode of Founder Focus features Melissa Tran and Emma Harris, co-founders of EarlyDay.
And we're live. Welcome everyone to another episode of Founder Focus. I'm your host Jade Wang.
I run the startup program at Cloudflare and today we are joined by our guests, the founders of Early Day, Emma and Mel.
Welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having us.
Awesome. So first before we jump into anything else, very briefly tell us what your startup does.
So Early Day is the first and only dedicated career marketplace for the early childhood education industry.
So we make it faster and easier for preschools, child care centers and daycares to hire qualified educators.
And that's what we do. So you're basically like the LinkedIn for early childhood education.
Exactly. How broadly are we talking about? Are we so like preschool teachers, daycare teachers, like BCBAs too?
Or like how broadly are we talking about here?
Yeah. So we're really serving any center that is educating students from six weeks to six years old.
So this really includes all your preschools, all your daycares.
And this is anywhere from large chains that are corporately owned to franchises as well as mom and pop and even family child care centers run out of people's homes.
Anyone who's looking to hire educators to lead these classrooms is our target customer.
Do most early childhood professionals currently have LinkedIn profiles?
Or where does most of this trend hiring happen right now or happen before you guys?
So the answer is no. Most educators do not live on LinkedIn like we would for our careers, which is why we built these LinkedIn style profiles for all the educators.
So we are really aiming to be more than just a place for a candidate to come once or twice or whenever they're looking for their next job and find their next job on early day, but really be a place of record for everything having to do with their career, their education, their credentials, their resume really.
And so because there isn't a LinkedIn really for this industry, we're really on our way to being one.
And right now before early day, the real options for finding a job in early childhood education were the large talent marketplaces like Indeed or Craigslist.
Those are probably the two largest places that people go to right now to find a role.
And so on the platform, do the child care professionals also review a profile of the center?
So bringing more transparency to this industry is one of our key focuses.
What that means is that the educators right now, we're really trying to give them as broad of a view of their opportunities for career growth.
So for us, that's bringing transparency to salaries and benefits.
And we're already amassing the largest database of salaries and benefits in the markets that we're currently existing in.
And we're really proud of that to be able to let educators know what is their market rate, what they can expect if they move from place to place.
And next up, I'm so glad you asked about the reviews.
We do want to be kind of like a glass door for this industry where we'll allow educators to review their employers.
And we really hope this just pushes the industry higher and higher up and give educators just a better view of what's out there.
Yeah, given some of the things that I've seen on Reddit, like r slash ECE, some people really have strong opinions about their former workplaces in early childhood education.
I know, I was just gonna say turnover is upwards of 40% in this industry.
And obviously, there's a lot of factors that play into that.
But it is an industry where people move around quite often, and it's expected.
Why are people moving around so much in this industry?
Yeah, so I mean, it's not a very well paid industry.
And so if there's an opportunity to move to another center where potentially you could make $1 or two more an hour, or get stronger benefits, that is definitely a reason why people are moving.
We see that matches aren't always a good fit.
So if there's a specific educational philosophy, for example, that you really believe in, let's say, you're a Montessori educated educator, and you're at a school that is not Montessori, maybe it's a different method, then that could also be a reason to move around for not being a great fit.
Yeah, so we're addressing that with early day by, on the one hand, like I mentioned, making salaries and benefits a key feature of our platform, it's required for any preschool or center posting a job to also clearly lay out what they're offering.
And we're also collecting all of this preschool specific information from the teachers.
So as they're filling out a LinkedIn profile, it's really a LinkedIn specifically for this space, because we're asking you, what age were the children that you worked with?
Was it in a center? Or was it, you know, in a home based setting?
And then this all feels are matching.
So when schools tell us in a job post, they want x, y, z, we're able to recommend candidates for them, and vice versa, when candidates tell us they're looking for a certain location or a certain type of job, we're able to also recommend jobs makes the matching process faster and easier, and just essentially making better placements of teachers into school.
So, so what markets are you currently operating in?
Yeah, we're live right now in New York City and the surrounding areas, and we just launched in Houston, Texas.
Oh, cool. And what, what places are next?
And what are the criteria that you're thinking about in terms of where to open up next?
Yeah, so for us, the opportunity is all across America. And one of the reasons we are going into Houston as the second market to New York City is that it's very different as a geography and a lot of different ways.
And so we really want to test and we've had early proof at this point that a market like Houston is a great one for early day and that there's really high need.
We actually heard from some of our largest partners that Texas was a market that they had really strong demand in based on the data on the hiring side for them.
And that's why we started looking into it.
So definitely a lot of that will, our growth geographically will be focused on or dictated by some of our partners who have demand there already.
And so, of course, though, in education, you can't really think about expansion without thinking about some of the really big key States like California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, of course, which we just launched in.
But there's really opportunity for us in both major cities, let's call them second tier cities and suburbs alike across the country.
So in terms of expanding, can you tell me a little bit about like what you learned from operating in New York that you like lessons that you learned from opening in your first market that you that you benefited from in opening your second market?
Yeah. So maybe I can start. You can fill in.
Yeah, go for it. Yeah. So on the supply. So we're a two sided market labor marketplace on the supply side.
We have teachers. And one of the things we learned is to look really at our supply side in a few feet.
So we're actively looking for work.
We found that we'll be able to really target these folks super quickly and cheaply from acquisition perspective.
But that's not just it.
Right. Like we want to be able to become the default go to place for all preschool teachers, not just ones who are actively looking for work now or not ones that have found work through our platform.
We want to be able to keep them around. So that's why we're expanding into retention products like content and community to really give early day, give teachers a reason to stay around and and or to join early day.
And then really like third phase is opening up the supply funnel, creating opportunities for teachers to work, not just full time in preschools, but also opening up substitute and part time last minute roles.
So that's kind of like a second, second, third phase for us and really will open up a lot more teacher supply.
And so by taking that strategy in New York, we're really focusing first in Houston on teachers actively looking for work.
But, you know, regardless of where we go next, like we know we need to continue to retain our teachers and create the the community and the content to keep them around.
So slightly on a different topic, and partly because I learned some of this from another interview that you two had given, how has the pandemic impacted your startup and the and the vertical that you're operating in?
Yeah, I think that the pandemic has only brought light to all of the issues that we are trying to solve.
So child care crisis, it's unbelievable.
I mean, this is why we got into this business in the first place.
So when we decided that we were ready to build another business together, we started digging into what the opportunities were out there.
We knew we wanted to build a marketplace because it's what we've done together before.
And I was pregnant for the first time when we started digging into this, and it was 2020.
So it was the beginning of the pandemic. And so I was personally pretty obsessed with child care.
And Mel and I started digging into the child care industry as a whole.
And within 10 conversations, probably, but we ended up having hundreds of conversations in our research with different owners and directors and people within the child care space.
We learned so quickly of the hiring and retention problem that exists in this industry.
And it was very clear to us that this has always been a problem that needs to be solved.
And that has been so overlooked.
And that COVID really just brought light to it because there are, I mean, of course, there's a larger need for hiring when many centers in the last year or so have been focused on reopening from the pandemic from when they were closed in 2020.
There's more of a need on the substitute side, like Mel mentioned, our next product, because of people being out due to COVID-related health issues, like needing to take more time off than traditionally PTO or sick days would have accounted for prior.
So there's also, as you know, a lot of press and additional spotlight in the media on the child care industry.
And COVID just brought light to all of that, but so much of it existed before.
It's just been really exacerbated. What do you project, like, what does the future of the child care industry look like, like five years from now?
There is still so much opportunity for growth. So our children are totally underserved in this country in terms of the amount of spots, for example, that there are preschools and daycares.
So in five years from now, I think that we hope to see a lot of growth on both sides of our marketplace, for example.
So growth on the school side, school and center side, as well as on the teacher side, seeing even more people coming into this industry and being passionate educators and supporting our youngest learners.
For us as a company, there are so many opportunities for us to become the go-to embedded tech partner for everyone in the child care industry.
And a lot of that is growing with the industry and having other products beyond just permanent hiring and substitute temporary hiring that we can offer to our school partners and also support the educators who we work with to continue the growth in the industry.
So I think you briefly mentioned that you two had worked together on a startup before.
So how did you two meet and how did you decide to, yeah, walk me through the origin of your origin story?
Yeah, so I decided that I wanted to live in Southeast Asia a couple years after graduation.
And so I started my career consulting at BCG out in Southeast Asia and was doing that for about three and a half years when I met Emma.
We actually met at a yoga class. And at the time, Emma had just moved to Thailand and she was helping a couple of friends with their new startup.
Well, she eventually became employee number one and recruited me to join as well.
And that company was called Guavapass.
We were building the largest group fitness class marketplace in Asia.
And originally I joined to launch the Dubai market and Emma joined to launch the Bangkok market.
So this meant running around those cities and signing on as many yoga studios, spin cycle studios, CrossFit gyms as possible to the platform.
And probably like for me, still one of the best experiences that I've ever had.
And we both ended up staying on and becoming exec leaders at the company leading expansion across 17 other markets.
And that's really what deepened our friendship, but also our working relationship together.
So I don't know if you have anything to add.
Emma probably has many more funny stories. From that.
No, no. I mean, that's the origin of how we met originally. And we were lucky enough to spend four years at Guavapass working together side by side.
And I think that for us, there was an immediate connection in the workplace.
And we always have been able to really bounce off of each other.
We have very complimentary and different skills.
And we're lucky that we're the type of founders that can be friends outside of work and also be serious, but also playful at work together.
So we're really fortunate that the timing over a year ago made sense perfectly for both of us to be able to come back together and think about what we wanted to build next.
And I think it was only helpful for us that we had the experience already of working together.
So we knew getting into it exactly what we were getting into and how to work with each other.
So it's been great. And in addition to us, our CTO, James was actually an engineer at Guavapass.
So we worked side by side with him as well for those almost four years.
And now he's our CTO.
So it's kind of like bringing the band back together, keeping it together, I guess, which is awesome.
Yeah, we love it. I'd love to shine the spotlight now on both of you individually as people.
Can you give me a brief overview of the path that you've taken to where you are today?
Before Guavapass, how did you end up in Southeast Asia?
Good question. I think I always had just a sense of adventure, but also tend to say yes when an opportunity sounds interesting and a little bit mildly crazy.
So really actually started off after college in Columbia first and then moved to Southeast Asia in the 10 years.
In the last 10 years, I've lived in six different countries.
And yeah, I think that's really been kind of what has led me in my career. Just if something sounds like a great opportunity, it will be a gross opportunity or an ability to just learn something new and see the world, then I will take it on.
So that's kind of how I ended up in Southeast Asia. I came back right before the pandemic and I was to be closer to my family.
And I really think that probably like more like origin stories, like growing up in an immigrant, a refugee family, my family's from Vietnam.
I think most immigrant kids have a sense of entrepreneurship in them just because we've seen our parents go from zero to where they are.
My dad in particular, he worked in the OG Silicon Valley as an electrical engineer.
So really for like the first startups of like the nineties and two thousands in the Silicon Valley.
And that was his day job, but he was moonlighting doing a bunch of different businesses.
So a story I like to tell is when him and my uncle and another friend started a company that was like really before their time.
They put these laundry boxes into tech companies in the mid nineties to collect laundry and do kind of pickup drop-off service.
And I still remember with my sister, we would go around with him in this giant white van, like rolling around the back with all the laundry.
That company failed. I really think it was before it's time, but those memories stick with me because I think, yeah, it really just instilled within me this idea that it can come from nothing and really build something out of it.
A lot of ideas from the nineties were legit good ideas that were before their time.
Totally. How about you? So I, I've basically always been in tech after graduating from college, I moved to the city to New York and I worked at live stream, which was the original live streaming platform when it was still novel to go live.
And before you could go live everywhere and we, I was in the sales team.
So I was selling both the software, but also the hardware.
We were doing these six figure production, production services.
And that kind of got me hooked on working at an early stage startup. It felt very cool to be 22 years old.
And we were, we had an office in the Google building on 14th and eighth because Google couldn't fill that space at the time, which now of course they've had to buy lots of other buildings in the neighborhood.
But I just really loved the startup culture. And I loved learning about product and all different aspects of the business.
And so I ended up moving out to Southeast Asia at the end of 2014, not necessarily because I'm as adventurous as Mel, although I've always loved to travel, but never really dreamed of living abroad per se.
But my husband who was then my boyfriend was transferred for his job at a different tech company to move to Bangkok and help to help with their operations out there in Asia.
And so we moved and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I felt really sad to be leaving live stream in my life in New York, because it felt like that was, that was life.
And I couldn't even imagine at 24 years old life outside of all of that.
And so when I got there, I think my, all of a sudden this new kind of entrepreneurial brain started going off and I was looking around everywhere and seeing all these opportunities because it felt like I was coming from the future and moving to the past almost because Southeast Asia at the time was like five to 10 years behind what was happening in the States.
There wasn't even e-comm at all when I, when I first got out there.
So started having all these different ideas about things that could be created and bouncing ideas off of different friends.
And then a friend of mine from New York, Rob, who was based in Singapore one day was like, Hey, what about like ClassPass in Asia?
Like, what do you think? Like you're an avid gym goer.
You were using ClassPass in New York. And this was actually like very early ClassPass days, even I think they had just rebranded from Classivity to ClassPass and went from like the 10 pack to the unlimited model.
And so I was like, no way it's like way too early for boutique fitness in Southeast Asia, but let me poke around in Bangkok and see like, let me just find every small yoga studio and potential CrossFit studio that exists and see what's out there.
And then very quickly I was like, okay, let's do this.
This is so cool. And ended up being on the founding team at that company, which is where Mel and I met and ended up staying in Asia for four years, even though originally my husband and I were supposed to be out there on a one-year contract for his job.
We were based in Bangkok for the first three years and then ended up moving to Singapore where the rest of the executive team for GuavaPass sat.
And then following the acquisition of GuavaPass by ClassPass, we were moving back to the States and we came to Miami and I knew that I wanted to start something else.
And at that point I had fallen in love more with the fitness side of what we were doing than the tech side of what we were doing, which was really interesting.
And I decided to, I wanted to build something in fitness once I got back to the States.
And so I was working for a year on building a project called Rue Space, which was boutique fitness studios for women who were pre and postnatal.
So moms to be and new moms, which I still think is an incredible idea.
We had signed our first lease in Miami for our first location and then COVID hit and we were supposed to, we were about to start the renovations on the first studio basically in April, 2020.
So with the blessing of our investors, we were able to get out of our lease and very quickly after testing digital realized it just was no longer the world that we were building in and it didn't make sense for us to pursue that business idea, which is how I then had the time and opportunity for Mel and me to come back together, which couldn't have been more faithful and perfect.
Yeah. Talk about a hard pivot and then realizing like, wait, like everything that's in person is shutting down.
Oh my God. Childcare crisis, right?
Yeah. So pivoting a little bit back to the entire childcare vertical.
I mean, something that I've kind of noticed as an industry trend is it, and I mean, generational trends is, you know, the households went from being predominantly single income to predominantly dual income and, you know, every advancement that we have in whether it's household appliances or the kinds of consumer services that families need has so much, a lot of it enables more of, you know, more dual income households as compared to single income households in the past.
Right. And at the same time, there's like, it's almost like the past generation and our generation has this sort of like, at some point it's almost like you had like a one point, like 1.7 incomes was kind of like a sweet spot.
Right. Because there's still more work than people hours to do it.
But like, how do you see that impacting childcare as an industry moving forward?
Well, I mean, like you are enabling more parents to be working more hours than they otherwise would be able to if there, you know, if there wasn't reliable childcare.
I mean, definitely. Listen, like childcare is fundamental to our society and our economy.
And I think one of the reasons why we are building this space is because there's such a need.
And also because we know that it's, you know, really the pillar holding up not just dual income, but single income households as well.
We're also, you know, realize that this industry is one that needs more attention from companies, from a, you know, as a benefits perspective, from a benefits perspective, companies should be, you know, making it easier for their parents to not miss work.
The governments locally and nationally should be more, you know, investing more in this space.
Rationally, there's no reason why a parent should go from zero support when their child is zero to six, and then all of a sudden have completely free public education from there.
This gap of, you know, five to six years is the most crucial time for brain development for children.
So for sure. Yeah. Yeah. We're really playing in a space where we know there's so many challenges, but it's also just so fundamentally important for our society that these are big problems that we are taking a crack at solving in our way.
Anything else to add?
No, I agree with that. I mean, as we shared the way that we even, the reason or why, how we even got into building this company, which might seem slightly disjointed that we were both, we're both passionate about women and supporting women in the workforce.
And also it became a personal issue for me with childcare as I was going through pregnancy for the first time and trying to figure out how I was going to continue to be a woman in the workforce.
It might seem disjointed how we went from that to building a hiring platform for this industry.
But I think to the point that you're making, they're directly correlated.
And we know that families and both, whoever it is, that's working in a household or both people in the household cannot work if there is not childcare.
So it's just a fundamental society issue.
That's incredibly important. And I think we both feel proud to be building in this space and invite other founders and innovators to be building in this space as well, because there's lots of opportunities and lots of need.
Awesome. So we have two minutes left in the episode.
Very quickly, your favorite book or movie recommendation that's been your favorite thing recently and why?
Oh boy. I have a music recommendation. Oh yeah. I'm listening to Bad Bunny's new album, which is like a summer album.
And I love it because it just makes you feel like you're on a Caribbean holiday.
So that's my recommendation.
Awesome. I can't even think of a great recommendation. I used to be such an avid reader.
Mel and I are both avid readers. And since having a child, I think that I've read one book in the last...
No, I've probably read two complete books in the last year and a half, which is the most embarrassing thing that I'm saying on a live broadcast right now, because my Kindle used to be absolutely full.
And I can't even think of the titles of the two of them. So I'm out on this one.
I pass. Oh, I remember those days. I feel like the main book I read was Mayo Clinic's Guide to Your Baby's First Year.
Exactly. Okay. Cribsheets by Emily Austin.
Oh, great book. Oh my God. Yes. That is a fantastic book. I will also second that recommendation.
She's amazing. I also read her book for When I Was Expecting, which now I can't remember what it's called.
Expecting Better. Expecting Better.
And she's amazing because she's an economist, so she's really thinking about things, weighing out the pros and cons, not just, oh, don't eat sushi because all sushi is bad when you're pregnant.
No, that's not really how you have to think about it.
So I love her perspective. And if you don't follow her on Instagram already, you should, because she does a lot of Q&As and they're amazing.
Yes. I love her books and the way that she dives into every study for how we know what we know.
Yeah. Yeah. Definitely the best way to be an informed parent. All right. Well, thank you two so much for joining us on the show.
And all right. And looking forward to joining us for our next episode.
Bye, everyone. Thanks, Jade. Thank you.