Exclusive: This Startup Wants to Be the OpenTable For Kids’ Classes
At a time when nearly everything is possible to access at the click of a button—or, more likely, the tap of a phone screen—booking classes for kids is still a remarkably laborious process.
Sawyer, a startup founded by three former Rent the Runway employees, is seeking to change that. “Education is going through an unbundling the way TV and music has,” says co-founder and CEO Marissa Evans Alden. She believes that the key is making the process of booking after school activities as painless at making restaurant reservations; in her words, Alden wants to build the “OpenTable for education.”
To help reach that goal, the startup has raised $6 million in funding, Alden tells Fortune exclusively, led by Advance Venture Partners (AVP) and with participation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, 3311 Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and Female Founders Fund, among others. The startup has raised $7.9 million to-date.
Courtney Robinson, a partner at AVP, points out that Sawyer is solving a marketplace problem with “friction on both sides.” Not only is the process of booking kids’ activities overwhelming for parents, it’s problematic for providers, who spend a significant amount of time juggling various Internet tools. “On both sides of the market, there wasn’t a product that was fulfilling their needs,” says Robinson.
Subscribe: To the Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on powerful women.
While there are other players in the kids’ activity space—KidPass and Pearachute have raised $6.3 million and $1.45 million in VC funding to-date, respectively—Robinson says Sawyer’s differentiator is its focus on the provider first. The startup’s strategy is to focus on acquiring class providers “until you reach a tipping point” and only then invest in the consumer side.
The company’s main selling point to businesses—it targets mostly small and medium-sized operations—is its proprietary software, Sawyer Tools, which helps with back-end administrative tasks like scheduling, payment, and communication.
The platform currently hosts “hundreds” of providers across 15 states concentrated in New York and Los Angeles and has over 10,000 classes per month, says Alden. The Brooklyn-based company plans to use the newly raised funds to expand into new markets and expand its nine-person team.
Alden credits her and her co-founders’ tenure at Rent the Runway with their approach to solving the marketplace problem: “We look at classes the way one looks at inventory in that we think about utilization and capacity,” she says.
Alden led the growth team at the clothing rental company, COO Stephanie Choi spearheaded inventory and planning, while CTO Andrew Fernandez was a lead engineer at the company. Rent the Runway co-founder and CEO Jenn Hyman serves as a mentor and advisor to the startup.