When College of Charleston alumna Katie Tumbleston ’08 (M.P.A ’13) found herself working as one of three full-time nannies six years ago, the logistical challenges of syncing everyone’s schedules to care for a busy family with four children left an impression.
And as someone who has worked as a babysitter before, during and after college, she knows the panic parents feel when they’re trying to find a last-minute sitter, having received more than a few phone calls herself from stressed moms and dads desperately seeking someone to watch their child.
In her mind’s eye, Tumbleston began to envision a better way for parents to quickly and easily find reliable childcare. Last year that idea took flight when she left her job as the program coordinator for the City of Charleston Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families to launch the NannyPod app, which aims to simplify the sitter search for parents. The service currently operates solely in the Charleston market, but Tumbleston plans to expand to other areas such as Charlotte and Atlanta.
“There’s tons of turnover with college students and recent grads constantly changing their schedules,” she says. “Instead of families spinning their wheels to find one babysitter and then all of a sudden find she’s not available, our goal is to help families find a pod of reliable, locally vetted babysitters. It’s a safety net for parents so they don’t have to change their plans.”
NannyPod, which Tumbleston describes as the “Uber of babysitters,” connects families and sitters for on-demand childcare. Parents can choose sitters from profiles on the app to include in their pod. If none of a family’s pod of preferred sitters are available on a particular day, parents can easily search for another caregiver in the NannyPod database.
All NannyPod sitters go through a rigorous hiring process, and the company performs background checks on both sitters and families to ensure everyone’s safety. And like Uber, sitters are paid down to the minute through the app, avoiding any awkward calculating of fees and exchanges of cash. Sitters and families pay a monthly membership fee for access to the service, and families can choose from three different payment plans (pay-in-advance or pay monthly for a package of hours, or pay-as-you-go) to compensate sitters.
The response has been more than Tumbleston could have foreseen, with NannyPod generating more than $390,000 in sales since May 1, 2015. And in April 2016, an audience at the Dig South technology conference ranked NannyPod as its fourth favorite among 12 businesses competing in the event’s Wild Pitch contest – further validating the demand for a local childcare app. But the concept hasn’t just been a hit with parents. NannyPod also counts event planners, hotels and resorts among its clients.
“It just kind of became this huge business that now I’m responsible for,” she says with a laugh.
Not resting on her laurels, Tumbleston is already working to expand the NannyPod concept into a full-fledged software company. She and Kevin Hedges, who is an investor and chief financial officer for NannyPod, are working with the Lucey Fund, a Dublin-based tech firm, to create their own custom software platform to market to nanny and childcare agencies.
“Currently agencies across the U.S. mainly work in full-time nanny placement and they’re not quite tapping into the market for on-demand occasional babysitters, after-school care and part-time care,” Tumbleston says. “Our goal for our custom software is to really allow these agencies to capture that extra market share the way we’ve been able to, literally overnight.”
Tumbleston is working to raise $1 million in investment capital to support the development of NannyPod’s software, which is on track for a soft launch in 2017.
The company’s success and rapid growth are at times dizzying for Tumbleston, who as a political science major at the College, never conceived of being an entrepreneur. But she’s up for the challenge. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not learning something and that I’m not trying to be the best business owner I can be.”
In the video below, Katie Tumbleston discusses the NannyPod app on WCIV’s Lowcountry Live.