Originally aired on November 24, 2020 @ 4:00 PM - 4:30 PM EDT
Ilk is coming to the rescue of worried parents who need to find better/safer childcare solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic by creating childcare pods with certified teachers. This episode is a spotlight on its founding story.
Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Founder Focus. I'm your host Jade Wang and I run the Cloudflare Startup Program. Today we have Brian Park, founder of Ilk, a company and a mission that I believe so much in that I invested in them. Thank you for coming on the show. Thanks Jade. I'm so excited to be here and of course so pumped that you're one of our investors. So before we get started, I wanted to let our viewers know that if you have questions for Brian, we will be taking them at the end. You can call into this phone number right here or this email address and throughout the show they will be available right down below. So if you just scroll down a little bit, the email address is right there and we'll be taking audience questions at the end. Cool. So very briefly, Brian, can you tell us a brief overview of what your company does? Yes, definitely. So with Ilk, what we do is we set up and manage childcare pods. And what childcare pods are is essentially where two to five families come together to share childcare in their homes. So as part of that, we essentially help families match with one another with similar preferences. We connect them with a childcare provider we vetted. We also provide them with software to kind of manage the pod on an ongoing basis, like managing payroll. Cool. So you were in the most recent YC batch. And usually I ask a lot of folks on this show, how are you holding up in 2020? How are you staying alive? But in this case, this is really up your alley. This has been your year, huh? Yeah, you know, I I'm a first time founder. So I want to say that starting a startup during a pandemic is a unique one, but it's all I really know. So it feels somewhat normal, as weird as that sounds. So did you start out with the model that you currently have or did you kind of pivot and fine tune the model during this year? Yeah. So my co-founders and I, we've been within the childcare space for a handful of years, even before starting Yilk. And one of our main observations that single handedly capping the supply of childcare within the US is simply having a lack of space to have that childcare. So historically, there have been kind of like two options available to families. One is to kind of enroll in your kind of traditional daycare center. And the other is kind of like the in-home daycare route where you send your kid to a provider's home to have childcare. And both those two models partly contributed to the huge shortage of childcare within the US pre -pandemic. Right. Like daycare centers are very resource intensive. It's hard to find the real estate. It takes a very long time to spin up, which kind of limits the amount of supply available in that camp. And then with kind of like in-home daycares happening from the provider's home, that's limited by the fact that a lot of providers just aren't living in homes that actually enable them to have a program. They might be living in a studio or they might be living with roommates and it might be really hard to have an in-home daycare within their own homes. And so we were always intrigued by this idea of nanny shares and this concept of sharing childcare. A couple of reasons for that, like one, there's just like fewer regulatory barriers where childcare that actually happens in the family's home is considered license exempt. We actually think it's also a better form of childcare. And so the pandemic has kind of rebranded this concept of nanny shares and it's kind of expanded the scope of it so that more families are considering it. But it's been something that we've been thinking about for quite some time as like a model. And certainly the pandemic has like introduced like a number of wrinkles or we've kind of adapted with that with our model. But this idea of sharing childcare within the family's home has been something that we've been excited about for some time. Let's let's dive a little bit into how it works. So if families with similar requirements come together on your platform and then you find them the nanny or a teacher, is that right? Yes. Yeah. So we're very much focused on kind of like that childcare use case. We're very much focused on kids between the ages of zero to five and kind of matching families that are looking for childcare with childcare providers. Can you tell us a little bit about the experiences of the users on your platform from the perspective of the families or from the from the caretakers? Yes. So everything happens in person. And that's very deliberate, because when you think about the age group zero to five and you think about their development, doing things remotely is quite tough. Since a lot of the development is related to developing those fine motor skills, developing their social and emotional learning. So that's that's definitely one clear distinction I want to make versus other types of learning opportunities that might be happening remote. But in terms of the teacher side of things like this is one of the things that gets me really excited about this model is it's like the teachers are part of the magic of what makes childcare pods really great. And so the crazy stat here is that the average career for a preschool teacher in many parts of the US is about two years, oftentimes less. And the reason for that is because they're severely underpaid and they're very, very overworked. So in places like San Francisco Bay Area, which is where we're based, the average pay for preschool teachers anywhere between 15 to $17 an hour, which is close to minimum wage for San Francisco standards. And on top of that, like the ratio of students to teachers about 10 to one in these preschools. So my understanding is that quite a few parents kind of like tuning in, like imagine chasing like 10 preschoolers by yourself and thinking about their development. It's awfully tough. And so with these childcare pods, it's actually a path to teachers earning considerably more than what they've historically been paid within these preschools. But it's also a much more sustainable working dynamic where the ratio of like students to teachers also considerably smaller within these childcare pods. And so like how this happens is essentially what these childcare pods, there's significantly less overhead in terms of operating them. Right. If you think about comparing it to like a preschool center that's got all this real estate and all these layers of management that also need to be paid. But these childcare pods, it happens within the family's home. And so the bulk of the tuition from families goes directly to the provider, which is kind of how we're able to find this model. Like teachers get paid more, parents can pay less, teachers have way more workable conditions. And so we're hoping that this is a model that that will significantly reduce the churn of teachers within the industry, which is really exacerbating the supply of childcare within the US. And so on a more nuts and bolts level, what that means for like a teacher experience is it's not all that different from like a job application process when they want to join ILC. So essentially interested providers and teachers, they apply on our platform. We do an initial screening based on their resume and their cover letter. We have an interview to kind of go through their motivations and run through a series of hypotheticals to kind of gauge their experience level. And then we ultimately, it culminates in like reference checks to confirm that, you know, everything that we've heard from them is as great as kind of they painted out to be. And so that's the whole teacher side of the experience. On the parent side of things, it's also pretty simple to get started. You essentially go to our platform, you sign up, and as part of that sign up process, we essentially capture like the most important bits of information that are critical to kind of begin to matchmake families and kind of identify those that are compatible with one another. So like that bits of information is like the age of your child, the schedule that you're looking for, like the location in which you live, your budget, as well as like your ability to host as well, or whether you want to split host. And nowadays we're also certainly asking how folks are sheltering in places as another important criteria around compatibility as well. So essentially people sign up, we begin matchmaking them so that they can kind of get to know each other and see whether there's a fit in terms of wanting to share childcare together and start to team up. And then from there we also kind of cover everything from A to Z in terms of providing them with handbooks to kind of iron out those important details around how do you deal with holidays, like what's the responsibility of the host, like how do you share expenses. And so instead of having to essentially reinvent the wheel entirely, like we've got like a pretty simple handbook that folks can kind of use as a starting point to really kind of inform the relationship on an ongoing basis. And we also have like mentors and folks that can provide guidance in terms of how you can modify or set up your space to be able to be suitable for childcare as well. And for kids who don't necessarily have siblings, this is a good way for them to get socialization. Exactly. Yes, and I know that that's a huge kind of stress point and a point of anxiety for a lot of parents with young kids. Especially during the pandemic. Exactly. Yeah, a lot of them like their hearts ache when they think about, you know, the lack of socialization that they're able to offer their kids. And so with these pods, it's a great way to kind of manage risk, while also kind of giving their kids like a great opportunity to build friends, as well as kind of develop their social and emotional skills. So seeing as how real estate is one of the main costs that's getting cut out of the equation, where are you operating? So Bay Area first, what's next? Yeah, so with the model, like density is really, really important, right? So like one of the important criterias for families is location. They don't want to be driving like 30 minutes to be dropping their kid off in the morning. So with that in mind, like we're very much focused on the Bay Area for the foreseeable future to drive up that density on the parent side of things. When parents do sign up, there's a higher degree of confidence that we'll be able to match them with folks that are also compatible with them. But with that said, we are also kind of testing out building out relationships with employers. So we actually have like our first kind of like beta relationship with a pretty meaningful employer. And so with that, we think that can also give us like inroads into expanding into like new markets and new geos. By essentially kind of like jumpstarting those like geos, like this particular employer that we're working with, they've got offices all over the US. And so like that would be like a really strong signal for us in terms of like, oh, what would be like the next interesting market that we want to expand to? So we do have our eyes off kind of on the distance to kind of like suss out kind of what could be interesting markets. But we're very much focused on the kind of driving up density to ensure that's like a really great experience for all folks involved to start. Nice. That brings me to another interesting point, which is, you know, so in the pandemic and generally outside of the pandemic as well, employee turnover can be very disruptive to a lot of companies. And especially when it comes to, you know, institutional knowledge and processes that have to get preserved and retraining a whole new employee and finding them and interviewing them. And the pandemic has really been wreaking havoc. I read somewhere that in the US alone, almost a million women have left the workplace thus far in 2020. And with two main leading causes, one being inevitably that the service sector and the sectors that are hit the hardest by the pandemic often employ a lot of women. So people who work in restaurants, people who work in other parts of the service sector. And the other is the lack of child care coming to a crisis. I think there was a Washington Post article saying that this would set women back a generation. Can you comment a little bit about the child care crisis and what it's going to have on social justice issues and also how employers you've seen deal with this and what employers can do? Yeah. You know, as much as it's difficult to admit, this one's really tough to sugarcoat. I think exactly kind of like what you've described is kind of what we've seen as well. And it's really been exacerbated in many ways. In large part, when you think about the fundamentals of child care as a business, it's very much a low margin business, given how labor intensive it is. You're essentially capped in terms of how many children each child care provider can look after. And so pre-pandemic, these child care businesses have already been low margin. And so with the pandemic having to be closed down or operating at limited capacity has forced many of these programs to close down, unfortunately, many times permanently. And so this has had a number of downstream consequences that have disproportionately impacted women and people of color. So in terms of some of the stats that you referenced, women are taking on extra burden of taking on the responsibility of being the primary child care provider. And luckily, some employers have adopted more flexible work schedules to kind of help alleviate the impact of some sort. But not everyone has the privilege of working in that type of environment. So many women are being forced to make very difficult tradeoffs between investing their energy and their time toward their career versus taking care of their little one. And we're seeing similar things in terms of essential workers as well, which also tends to skew sometimes toward people of color as well, where they're forced to scale back work since they can't leave their kids alone at home. They might even be forced to leave the workforce in case they can't find child care. Or in some instances, I've also heard of folks that are driving long distances to drop off their kids at a relative's place. It's just a series of suboptimal options. And so it's very much like TBD as to what changes in behavior will persist or what will revert back post -pandemic. But we're certainly hopeful that with these child care pods, we can be part of the solution to help counterbalance things. And so because so many of these programs have closed, these child care options have closed, we're hoping to introduce more options to kind of slowly but surely increase the supply of options so that more women, more people of color, more folks that are in these very difficult situations as a consequence of the pandemic don't have to be making similar difficult tradeoffs. And so on the employer side of things, I think there are definitely companies that are trying to get creative around this. And you see a whole spectrum of different types of activities that they're doing to try to help alleviate that burden and that challenge. On the more kind of resource intensive kind of side of things, you've got companies like Patagonia that have created on-site child care options, which are absolutely adored by their employees. I think they've got a ton of media coverage around it. Like the ROI has been really clear in terms of high employee retention, satisfaction, easier ability to attract talent, all that good stuff. But we are also seeing a ton of employers that are trying a lot of other things, right? Whether it's securing spots at nearby daycare centers, coordinating kind of backup daycare options in case something falls through, or also in some instances like actually contributing to the cost of child care. So we're definitely seeing more and more companies kind of thinking about how they can support their employees with these different types of benefits within this new world, so to say. So let's talk about some of the good news on the horizon. So several vaccine trials have been successful. And I think I read an article with an estimate saying that, at least in the U.S., they expect that medical workers and essential workers will likely be vaccinated by April. And then the priority comes to the rest of us. Can you discuss how things will play out for you guys as we all round the corner in the pandemic and what's the new normal going to look like? Yeah. So from what I gather, it seems like there's going to be a lot more flexibility post-pandemic. So I think it seems like some will go back to the office full time, but a lot of folks will kind of still be able to have that option of that hybrid type setup where it's like part work from home, part go in the office. I've also, I mean, there's certainly been instances of plenty of companies that have kind of gone full remote and they're kind of investing in that as a future as well. And so one of the things that gets me excited about like these child care pods is it offers a ton of flexibility. Like flexibility goes to its core, especially relative to other child care options available that are referenced in things like daycare centers and stuff like that. So with these pods, there's a ton of flexibility in terms of like the location of care, right? Like whether it's hosted at one family's home, co-hosted across a number of different places, flexibility in terms of schedules, flexibility in terms of how many kids are in the pod. So we actually think like giving that type of control to families is really great in terms of allowing them to kind of cater their child care situation to their kind of work life, so to say. And to be able to kind of like, I guess, roll with the punches, so to say, and be really kind of flexible in terms of catering to all those different types of needs. So I think that's one thing that bodes well for these child care pods. I think the other thing to really highlight, again, is that a lack of child care options has been an issue in the U.S. for a really long time. Like the pandemic has only made it worse. And so we're doing our best to be considered essentially another option that families can consider alongside those daycare centers or kind of in-home daycares happening within the provider's home. And so I think with the pandemic, it's like accelerated kind of like openness and interest with these kind of like pod type setups and kind of like new different types of models. But we think it's something that will kind of sustain long beyond the pandemic as well. If you're a parent living in a city that you currently aren't operating in, let's say in Texas, how do you find a former preschool teacher? Where do they hang out? Yeah. So I think a lot of preschool teachers, they've unfortunately been laid off due to the pandemic. So I think you'll certainly find more appetite amongst kind of preschool teachers to kind of explore different types. And so for us, something that's worked pretty well is essentially creating these job postings. And so I have heard of some instances where families are like, I need a solution right now. I'd love to have you guys in our city, but since you're not here quite yet, like how are you doing it? And so one of the ways that we're doing is just essentially like getting creative and like putting out kind of job postings and like all those different types of job boards out there. And I'm happy to share tips in terms of like how to interview them and how to vet them if it's something of interest to our viewers today as well. Yeah. Yeah. Actually. Yeah. Share with us. Yeah. So in terms of what we do is basically like I think one of the really important things to keep in mind is like, you know, probably again, like not all that innovative in terms of like the job interview process. But we're really looking for how many years of experience the individual has. I mean, you know, on the one hand, like academic experience and early childhood education is certainly valuable to understand the theory. But certainly working with children in person is a very different animal. And so I think really looking for folks with at least three years of experience, ideally working with like multiple children at the same time, I think is something that is definitely something to look after. There are childcare providers that have primary experience just kind of working one to one with a child, which could work if you're looking for like a traditional nanny. But if you are kind of looking more for the childcare pods and kind of sharing childcare, I would definitely recommend looking for a couple years of experience looking after multiple kids at the same time. And so if you are targeting kind of preschool teachers that are working with like 10 kids at a time, like two, three, four kids is no problem. But that's definitely something that we pay attention to. And I think aside from that, like once you do that initial screening, like in the interview process in terms of actually speaking with them, I'd really pay attention to like the level of chemistry that you have with them. So these are individuals that are obviously going to be looking after your kids, going to be either be in your home or your podmate's home. And so having that kind of warm chemistry and like kind of camaraderie in terms of like how you speak with one another, like different types of communication, I think it's really important to kind of like hash out like, okay, do we have similar communication styles? But aside from that, like we essentially kind of walk them through a variety of different hypotheticals to kind of understand how they navigate different situations. So like one thing that I like to ask is, what do you do in situations where a child is crying uncontrollably, right? Kind of like leave it like a pretty open-ended hypothetical to just see like how their mind operates. And you can kind of see like the level of experience that they have as well in terms of how they reply to that. What do you do in situations where a child talks back to you? Like essentially hearing answers to that like allows you to understand like the different ways that like the philosophies of the provider around like disciplining and all that to see whether that aligns with kind of what your, what your values are as well as a parent. And so aside from that, I think like reference checks are also really important. I recommend doing at least two with like prior families that they've worked with or preschool teachers that they've kind of been colleagues with as well. So that's, that's kind of I guess like a little overview. So like what I would recommend in terms of interviewing and vetting folks for yourself. Nice. That's a, that's a super insightful. So speaking of insightfulness, let's say you were to magically join a Zoom call with your past self from maybe a year ago, maybe two years ago, definitely pre -pandemic and pre-YC. Can you tell me about what that conversation would be like between current you and what you've learned and all the knowledge you've accumulated in this, in this recent year and past you? Yeah, I've, I've certainly learned so much as like a first time founder. And, you know, during our YC batch, we had all these amazing speakers come, come share their wisdom with us. One of which really sticks out, who's Emmett Shearer, who's the founder and CEO of Twitch. He came into our batch and he described kind of entrepreneurship in kind of two phases. Like he described pre -product market fit as feeling like you're pushing a boulder up a hill and kind of like post-product market fit is almost chasing the boulder down the hill. We're still, we're still very much in that first phase of trying to find product market fit. And no lie, it definitely feels like pushing a boulder up a hill. And so everything that I like rationally understood about folks talking about like, hey, it's important to take care of yourself, eat well, exercise, spend time with loved ones. Like that's something that I've really had to internalize after becoming a founder, almost out of necessity. So that's definitely something. I think the one thing that I would really tell myself a year or so ago or two years ago is how I think about goal setting and how I think about expectations. So the way that I'm hardwired, I can be pretty impatient, which I think is sometimes certainly a strength, but other times a weakness. But I think the founder journey is certainly a long one and it requires a lot of patience. And so I've been trying to think a lot about how do I set goals to set our team and myself up for success to kind of be in that journey over a long period of time. Especially knowing that I have a little bit of tendency to be impatient at times. So one of the things I've been trying to do is focusing on inputs versus outputs. So certainly the end goal is to be moving those metrics, those outputs. So in our scenario, the number of childcare pods that we're creating and how many are retaining on the platform. But there are a number of things that are outside of our control there as the outputs. So I'm trying to focus a lot more of my energy on focusing on the inputs. What are the leading indicators? What are the things that are purely within my control? So long as we keep hammering away at that, that'll eventually kind of translate into those outputs. So that's been a shift in terms of how I've been thinking about goals and all that, which I think has been helpful in terms of having a more healthy mindset. And I think the other thing around expectations has been around how we define what is normal. So I think as a founder, you hear a lot about all these outliers all the time. I think that's almost what populates a lot of my Twitter feed, at least, in terms of these smash hits and these companies that seemingly are overnight success stories. But I think part of the thing that's been really amazing along this journey so far, especially during YC, is that we've had all these amazing founders come in, speak with us. And they talk about how it really is not an up-and-to-the-right type experience. It's not linear. All these stories are littered with near-death experiences. And so I guess almost reshifting kind of what is normal along the founder journey has also been really helpful and something that I would impart on myself kind of a year or so ago. Thanks. So we have about two minutes remaining. So I guess probably just enough time for one last question. So as someone who grew up in an immigrant household, can you tell me about how that's impacted your path as a founder? Yeah, definitely. So my parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea and Japan, respectively. And having been born in the U.S. myself, but being raised in a household of Asian values, I felt like I grew up at the intersection of many different cultures. So at school, I was exposed to kind of the American culture system and values, while at home, kind of the Japanese and Korean ones. And because of that, I think from very early on, I think I've developed a keen sense of empathy and understanding a variety of different types of perspectives. And it also, I think, instilled in me a lot of curiosity to learn about other people's lives and backgrounds. And I guess when I reflect upon the very early stage of entrepreneurship, in my opinion, that runs to its core. Fundamentally understanding people's problems, identifying the roots of them, building solutions to try to solve them, and all the kind of iterations in between. And so for me, I think having grown up in an immigrant household and being exposed to kind of all those different intersections and cultures, I think has allowed me to kind of have that empathy to better listen, better learn, identify what are the problems, to hopefully be able to craft some solutions to make a dent in them. Cool. Well, thank you so much for coming on to our show. Thanks, Jade. Yeah, this has been a lot of fun. I appreciate you having me on. Thanks. All right. And bye, everyone. Bye. Bye.