A Coquitlam start-up is poised to disrupt the childminding industry, and all because its founder needed some “me time” from her young son so she could get to the dentist, attend job interviews or have an adult conversation over coffee.
Alexandra Nestertchouk is a 34-year-old IT professional who loves her two-and-a-half-year-old toddler, Cosmos, dearly. But the 24/7 responsibilities of parenting don’t always play nice with the demands of adulthood.
For Nestertchouk, it all came to a head when her son’s daycare announced it would shut down for maintenance with two weeks notice. With no immediate family in the area and Nestertchouk and her husband, newcomers from Ontario, still developing their network of friends in the Tri-Cities, they scrambled to cover the gap. She ended up flying in her mother from eastern Europe for babysitting duty.
There must be a better way, she thought.
“Life is complicated and it doesn’t always accommodate kids," she said.
So Nestertchouk looked at her own lifestyle: She can order toothpaste from Amazon, book a car from a car co-op whenever she needs one, get dinner delivered by Skip The Dishes if she doesn’t want to cook. But when it comes to childcare, it’s all about working the phone and hitting up friends, family or neighbours until they stop answering her calls.
“We’re used to life on demand,” she said. “It’s good to have a network but it’s good not to have to depend on it.”
Nestertchouk applied her tech background to her real world experience with services like AirBNB and TripAdvisor to come up with HopKidz (www.hopkidz.com), an online platform that connects childminding services such as family and group daycares, nannies and even professional babysitters who have excess capacity with parents who need someone to look after their kids for a day, a week or, perhaps, a couple of hours or an afternoon,
What it's not is a babysitting app, Nestertchouk said.
All providers are vetted, she said. Those that are licensed must have their credentials up to date and all go through a check of their criminal records, age and identity, eligibility to work in Canada, CPR and first aid certificates, references as well as a profile of their social media and online footprint. They’re also screened with a phone interview or on-site visit.
“Our kids are the most precious thing we have,” Nestertchouk said in outlining the care her team takes to affirm providers that register on HopKidz.
(A spokesperson for Fraser Health said all licensed daycare providers must ensure they conform to the terms of their licence with regards to the age of children they can care for and their daily capacity limits, and must maintain accurate attendance records for ongoing and drop-in participants. Providers would also have to ensure participants have completed required paperwork including the child’s emergency contact information, immunization status and photo ID.)
Parents who sign on to the site can then employ various filters to seek out a short-term childminding solution that works for them.
The providers set their own rate, as long as they meet or exceed the current provincial minimum hourly wage for staff, and HopKidz takes a cut from each side of the transaction, which can be completed by secure credit card payment.
Nestertchouk test drove a basic version of her platform using Google Spreadsheet in Coquitlam and Burnaby last year, putting the word out through the 50 parents' groups she belongs to on Facebook — she said the response was overwhelming.
Since then, Nestertchouk has been assembling her team of eight women — with 15 kids and one grandchild between them — to build out and refine the platform. Registration for providers from North Vancouver to White Rock to Langley opened recently with the parents’ side of the site ready to roll imminently. Further deployment to other parts of Canada will happen as local teams to assess providers are put in place.
And the platform likely won’t stop there.
“Our vision is global,” Nestertchouk said, adding she has already received inquiries from stressed parents in Oregon, Cypress and New Zealand.
Relieving that anxiety and giving parents a chance to be their adult selves for even a couple of hours is what’s driving her, Nestertchouk said. Because having some balance will help make them better parents.
“Parenting is a 24/7 job, it’s social isolation,” she said. “If mom is having a hard day and has no idea what to do, now she has an option. It provides a chance for her to do her thing and return refreshed and to be a good mom.”