When parents look for babysitters and nannies to watch over their kids, they often search for caregivers with a driver's license and a car. Shuttling a child, or children, from school to soccer practice and back to the house is a real challenge parents face frequently. In fact, many have turned to using car services like Uber and Lyft to act as their children's chauffeurs.
But what if parents had access to an app that melds child-care and a chauffeur service into one package?
That's exactly what Carolyn Yashari Becher, Joanna McFarland, and Janelle McGlothlin sought to create when they founded HopSkipDrive last year, following a mothers' chat at a kid's birthday party and much commiserating about that exact struggle. After launching in March and operating in the greater Los Angeles Area, the company said on Tuesday that it raised $3.9 million in fresh funding.
The service offers pre-booked rides for children age seven and up starting at $20 per ride, with additional charges depending on distance and duration.
HopSkipDrive sits in a particular intersection of the on-demand service sector, being both a ride-sharing application and a childcare provider. As a transportation service, it's a convenient alternative to using public transit or frantically begging a fellow parent for a favor. And because the service specializes in transporting children, HopSkipDrive's founders made sure that the same trust and reliability necessary for selecting a childcare provider would apply to their service.
Since the rise of Uber and its rivals, many parents have turned to ride-hailing services a way to get their children where they need to be. And yet, summoning a stranger and entrusting them with your child is not an easy task, especially with younger kids. Both Uber and Lyft have come under fire in the last couple of years for incidents of driver assaults on passengers, sexual assaults, and faulty backgrounds checks that have missed records of misdemeanors and felonies.
The use of background checks in screening drivers, of course, comes front and center for child-transportation services like HopSkipDrive—and that has come with challenges. Last week, USA Today reported that Shuddle, a HopSkipDrive competitor from San Francisco, wasn't compliant with California laws regarding childcare providers that require they register with TrustLine, an agency that uses fingerprinting to run background checks on people working in childcare. The California Public Utilities Commission also issued Shuddle a cease-and-desist letter in November, according to the report.
But Shuddle claims that its own procedures and requirements for background checks for its drivers exceed those required by California. A company spokesperson told Fortune that the company has started to require all its drivers register with TrustLine and expects to finish the process in the coming weeks.
Shuddle also disputes how thorough TrustLine really is, telling Fortune via email that “TrustLine is a list that pulls from municipalities limited to the state of California. There are no reporting requirements for municipalities, so the list is only as good as the information that is voluntarily reported.”
HopSkipDrive, however, has required its drivers to register with TrustLine from the get-go, and conducts additional background checks as well, such as using national crime registries to scan for .
Nevertheless, the startup is still facing its own crop of challenges, though it hopes its new funding will infuse resources to help solve them.
Right now, parents still have to book rides 24 hours in advance, though McFarland admitted her team does its best to accommodate for parents in desperate last-minute situations. The service is also only available in Los Angeles, but plans are in the works to soon expand it to nearby areas of California. HopSkipDrive's founders also hope to lower the price down from $20 per ride. Parents can save by pre-purchasing rides in bulk, which can cut the price of a ride down to $12 — still a long way from a subway or bus ticket price.
Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Upfront Ventures led this round, with additional participation from FirstMark Capital, Maveron, Built by Girls Ventures, and angel investor Joanne Wilson, among others.