Reimagining Childcare with Playdate PALBy Aditi Bhatia
PAL is a platform that connects parents with shared child care needs to a highly selective network of child care professionals. By allowing families to split the cost of care, PAL aims to achieve higher quality and socially enriching care at a lower price point for parents. I sat down with Founder Amanda Raposo to learn more about her vision to build a new model for childcare that provides children with safe, social, and stimulating experiences at an affordable cost.
PAL’s Business Model
PAL seeks to solve the problem of finding and organizing affordable, high quality childcare solutions by connecting families with shared childcare needs to a highly selective network of childcare professionals. The platform offers a few different services aimed at parents, and also has partnerships with businesses like employers, co-working spaces, luxury buildings, fitness studios and retailers to provide play dates on their premises.
“Group care can be a place where all children, caregivers, and parents form deep, meaningful, and satisfying relationships that support both the family and the full development of the children.”
– Amanda Raposo and Courtney Bernabei, Co-Founders of PAL
The parent-side of the platform has 2 services:
- Parents can search for play dates in the open play date marketplace, filtering by their child’s age, interests, event location, group size. They can also follow certain childcare providers to stay updated and receive notifications on new play dates.
- Parents can create members-only groups within their social circles (for example, their child’s class, their friend group, their neighbors) to bring together people with shared needs and make coordination easier. The group can can list child care requirements and providers can then apply to the job with an itinerary.
Every play date has a theme and a structured activity, which helps children try new experiences and discover new interests. Examples of play dates include:
Pricing is dynamic based on the number of kids in the play date and the duration, since different age groups have different provider-to-child ratios to ensure adequate care and supervision. The cost per child decreases as more children join the play date, which creates an inherent network effect that incentivizes parents to invite their friends to join.
The website has a pricing calculator that determines the hourly and total rate based on a customer’s inputs:
There is also a review function on the website, which will help parents decide on the right provider for their child. The types of play dates on offer are frequently revisited based on how much interest there has been in a particular type of activity.
During customer discovery, Amanda identified a range of situations under which PAL’s target customer might benefit from childcare, including at co-working spaces, after-school play dates, fitness studios, and at events like weddings and parties. PAL has worked on establishing B2B partnerships, which benefit businesses by helping them to offer a differentiated service to customers. PAL successfully hosted pilot events in these spaces, including a fitness class for parents at SoulCycle and a two-hour wellness-themed playdate for their kids. They also currently offer a “bring your kids to work day” package to employers, where they plan and host a day of activities in offices for children. In addition to facilitating customer acquisition, on-premise events remove some of the frictions associated with new customers trying the service by eliminating the need for pick-ups and drop-offs, and enabling them to host in a familiar, convenient location. Parents can take time for themselves without feeling guilty about leaving their kids alone.
Strategic partnerships also address the question of scalability of this business model from a customer acquisition standpoint. While PAL currently operates only in New York City, it can leverage the partnership model to acquire customers in new cities without requiring a significant marketing budget. Amanda found that after parents were introduced to PAL’s services at one of these events, they were more likely to use the tools on the website to plan and sign up for other play dates, and include their social circles.
Provider Selection and Vetting Process
The other side of this marketplace is targeted at childcare providers. PAL offers two types of opportunities for childcare providers: a Lead, who builds out the entire play date experience and coordinates the details, and a Support who assists the Lead. The compensation levels are $23-25/hour for a Support, and Leads are paid up to $50/hour depending on the play date size. In comparison, babysitters earn $12-15/hour – higher compensation ensures that PAL attracts and retains better quality providers.
PAL has created a comprehensive vetting process for providers in order to ensure highest standards of safety. Application requirements for a Support include an online application, a personality test, a reference check, a background check, and an interview. Additional requirements to be a lead include completing 10 hours of work in a Support role, receiving a first aid / CPR certification, and having approval from the Leads they have worked with. Providers that are or have been teachers or daycare providers get expedited vetting. PAL currently acquires providers by building connections with teachers, daycare providers, and babysitters, with the value proposition of higher pay per hour as well as access to customers. PAL also has a manager each to oversee parent experience and provider experience.
The Market for Childcare
PAL competes with traditional solutions for childcare like babysitting, after-school programs, daycare, and nanny shares. Current competitors can be segmented into childcare (Urbansitter and Care.com) and enrichment providers (Pearachute and Kidpass), or a combination of both (Curated Care in NYC). The first segment, childcare, offers the ability to find and book vetted nannies and babysitters to come to your location. The enrichment providers offer the ability to book a variety of activities for children.
PAL hopes to differentiate itself by providing a combination of childcare and enrichment activities, and by adding a third element – a social platform aspects for parents. There are now 17 million millennial women in the US with at least one child, and close to 90% of babies born in a year are to millennial parents – the timing for this type of model for chilldcare seems appropriate. The value from this social element is that parents can pool and split childcare needs with their social circles. They can also use the platform to plan the logistics around recurring playdates with that group. As an added differentiator, PAL offers the flexibility of adding on an hour or two of individual time after a group playdate has ended in case the parent needs more time, or the option to have the provider drop the child home after a playdate at an external location.
Amanda Raposo realized she was passionate about improving childcare at the age of 19 while she was a student at NYU’s School of Social Work. She was working with a lot of at risk youth and moms, and started a non-profit called Project Playdate to provide care and supportive services to help them. She ran this non-profit for 7 years, reaching $260k in annual revenue as a solo founder. Inspired by the success of Project Playdate, she had the idea to create a social platform to bring affordable childcare to a larger market. She decided to go to business school to access the resources and knowledge she needed to best build her venture, and so she enrolled in the Executive MBA Program at Columbia Business School in 2015. She spent her time in business school doing deep customer discovery and figuring out how to best build this platform. Since 2011, Amanda has conducted several play dates for different customer profiles and venues, and was able to use the data collected to be deliberate in the choice of which customer to target, what their needs are, and what types of play dates are most likely to be successful. PAL was launched in July 2018 with $20k of equity-free financing from the Columbia Venture Competition, and has since raised $320k from friends and family and angel investors.
Co-Founder Courtney Bernabei has over 11 years of advertising and marketing experience, and has worked on and in association with some of the most popular children and family brands including LEGO, Kid Cuisine, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Scholastic, Crayola and Walmart. Courtney currently oversees marketing strategy and brand development at PAL as the CMO.
“My vision for PAL is reimagining childcare so that the standard PAL is setting becomes the norm both for jobs and for experience without compromising quality over affordability.”
– Amanda Raposo, PAL Co-Founder
The invite-only platform launched in NYC three months ago and is currently in Beta. The founders plan to focus on establishing more corporate partnerships, and saturating the New York market before expanding to other cities.