The digital marketplace changing the way parents shop for childcare

September 19, 2021, 11:00 AM UTC

Shadiah Sigala is the cofounder and CEO of Kinside, touted as a childcare service for today’s working parents. Sigala is herself a single mom and two-time tech founder. She previously cofounded HoneyBook, a startup that reached unicorn status and provides client management software to more than 100,000 freelancers running their own small businesses.

But after having her first child and experiencing the lack of transparency around childcare that caused her to delay her own return to the office, Sigala began researching childcare benefits that could have been of use not only to herself but to the many new parents with whom she worked.

Seeing a dearth of options on the market, the Kinside team began brainstorming the top challenge around childcare. Soon after, the startup launched out of famed startup accelerator Y Combinator in 2018, guided by the principle that all families and kids deserve access to high-quality care.

Fortune recently spoke with Sigala about Kinside’s first year in business and plans for its future.

Shadiah Sigala, cofounder and CEO of Kinside
Courtesy of Kinside

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Fortune: Can you share a bit about your professional background before you launched Kinside?

Sigala: Prior to launching Kinside, I cofounded the now billion-dollar company HoneyBook, a software as a service [SaaS] tech company that powers over 50,000 freelancers in managing their business and clients. This is where I first began my journey with my now cofounders, Brittney Barrett and Abe Han. At HoneyBook, we familiarized ourselves with the process of taking a large offline industry, composed primarily of sole proprietors, and bringing it online. Our goal at HoneyBook was to help freelancers run their businesses more professionally, effectively, and efficiently through software and online payments.

Now we’re leveraging that expertise at Kinside to transform the childcare industry—made up primarily of small-business owners—and solve an immensely challenging issue both for childcare providers and working parents who are struggling to find care.

What inspired you to launch Kinside? How can parents and guardians as well as teachers and childcare providers make use of the platform?

Kinside was inspired by a personal problem that revealed a structural problem within the childcare industry. I had my first child while running my last company, HoneyBook. When I went to return to work I was unable to find a nearby childcare opening that was actually affordable. I called and called different programs, to no avail, only to have to cobble together an expensive nanny situation after delaying my return to work. I wanted to make sure my employees didn’t go through the same thing I did so I started researching childcare benefits. What I found was that the incumbent solutions were not only wildly expensive, but didn’t address the concerns of the majority of our workforce. 

It was clear there was space in the market for a new employee benefit that addressed factors that actually influence whether a parent returns to work or doesn’t: the availability, affordability, and convenience of a family’s primary childcare solution. It’s 2021, and we should find childcare the same way we find everything else: online. 

Today, parents from over 3,000 employers can use Kinside to search for open childcare inventory in their area and take advantage of pre-negotiated tuition rates. They can use filters to search by what matters to them, like price, pedagogy, language, hours, and more.

Childcare providers can also benefit from using Kinside to quickly and easily fill open spots. Prior to Kinside, there had been no way for providers to efficiently communicate openings by age range directly to parents. Kinside makes it so openings are automatically updated and providers don’t need to worry about managing pricey digital marketing campaigns that won’t lead to enrollments. Kinside is a risk-free way to fill open spots and create a frictionless enrollment experience with parents.

Kinside is a childcare marketplace that connects parents with open spots and ways to save.
Courtesy of Kinside

Accessing childcare has been a huge problem for many parents even before the pandemic, but it has gotten even worse over the past year and a half. How does Kinside fit in here? What problems and pain points does the company aim to address?

There is certainly a lack of childcare inventory, but what makes finding childcare so challenging is that the particular shortage in a given area isn’t fully known. When there’s no easy way to identify open or filled spots it makes childcare harder to find at the micro level and the problem more difficult to solve on a macro level. Childcare websites aren’t updated to show openings, so many parents will add themselves to a wait list or settle on a place outside the range of affordability just because they think that’s all they can get. This can often lead to a delayed return to work or, in many cases, leaving the workforce entirely.

Kinside is solving for that by addressing the lack of transparency into pricing and inventory across the childcare industry. Once there is visibility into inventory, there’s an opportunity to leverage data to solve challenges like waiting lists, childcare deserts, and affordability. Today, you can book everything from a restaurant reservation to a plane ticket in a few clicks, but the process of finding an open childcare spot still involves endless phone calls and discouragingly long wait lists.  

Childcare is one of the biggest expenses for Americans. Kinside reduces this cost by leveraging the employer-based system to negotiate preferred tuition rates and facilitate payments using pretax dollars. Kinside is solving inefficiencies for both parents and childcare businesses, which often have many inquiries that don’t align with their current open spots. Kinside gives parents everything they need to seamlessly and efficiently shop for childcare—from securing a spot for your child, to paying for care online, to accessing tax savings and contributions from your employer. 

Kinside serves thousands of employers by connecting their employees to over 1 million spots at the most reputable and safe centers and home day cares nationwide. Kinside’s intuitive app brings much-needed relief for new parents transitioning back into the workplace and aids employers in their retention efforts with parents at all stages.

Kinside is currently available as an employee benefit at more than 3,000 businesses nationwide and partners with over 20,000 childcare facilities.
Courtesy of Kinside

With back-to-school season on the horizon but also the Delta variant threatening reopenings, is Kinside doing anything in particular to help working parents looking for childcare?

One misconception a lot of employers have is that parents only need childcare when they have to go into an office. Working parents need childcare, full stop. Our support team is going above and beyond what’s visible on our platform to help parents find childcare that works for their new normal. This includes finding smaller, home-based childcare openings outside our network, for parents who want to minimize potential exposure by enrolling their child in a facility with fewer children.

Looking ahead, how do you want to see Kinside evolve in the next five years?

Our goal is to be the single source of truth around childcare inventory and pricing. We’d like to become the place where parents can find, enroll, and pay for childcare. We’ll continue to leverage our data to create new inventory with our childcare partners and, hopefully in tandem, raise the bar on the quality of care overall. 

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.