Ask any working parent with small children about one of their biggest challenges, and they’ll tell you it is (or has been) finding the right daycare. A new company called CareLuLu wants to help by offering an online marketplace that connects parents with local preschools and child care programs. The company has now raised $1.7 million in seed funding – capital that will be used to expand the service to new markets outside of Washington D.C., where it’s been live for a year.
The funding was led by Khosla Ventures, and includes participation from CrunchFund*, The Startup Factory and 500 Startups. (Disclosure: CrunchFund’s founder Michael Arrington also founded TechCrunch.)
Founded in 2013, CareLulu was created by two parents, Patrick Matos and Evgeniya Usmanov, following their own personal struggles to find a daycare for their daughters after moving to D.C. Matos, whose background is in engineering, product, consulting, and project management, says he was surprised to find there was no centralized directory for comparing daycares online. He ended up calling and visiting around 16 child care centers in order to make a decision.
I can relate to this. While I’m not located in a major urban area like D.C., my daughter has already been in three different programs by age 4, and I’ve visited at least a half-dozen centers and called several more. Though many of the daycares have websites, they don’t generally offer enough photos of the facility to get a feel for it, are light on curriculum details and rarely seem to include pricing. You generally have to pick up the phone or visit in-person.
Meanwhile, there are several online services today that help parents find babysitters or nannies, in comparison.
Along with co-founder and CTO Gabriel Marques, the team built a platform that lets parents perform custom searches for child care centers, using criteria like budgets, hours of operations, age of children, and more to help them narrow down their options. You can even look for “peanut-free” daycares, if your child suffers from allergies. The service includes options from a range of providers from small, home-based daycares to larger childcare centers and chains, like KinderCare, now a CareLulu customer.
The service itself is free for parents to use, and “freemium” for child care providers. Centers can be listed for free, or pay a monthly fee to be given additional exposure on the platform.
In the D.C. metro area, which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland, 25% of area providers – “thousands” – have joined the platform to date. With the new funding, the company is expanding to Los Angeles next.
In addition to the full platform live in D.C., and soon, L.A., CareLulu also offers a nationwide directory that lists over 200,000 child care centers to aid parents in other regions with their searches.
In my personal experience, I found that using a combination of Yelp reviews and personal recommendations helped me when narrowing down the choices in my area. If not who to pick, I at least knew who to avoid. Matos agrees that CareLulu won’t fully replace friends’ recommendations.
“But while friend recommendations work well for a babysitter, it’s not enough for a daycare or preschool,” he says. “There are so many things that go into finding the right fit for your family. Just because your friend wants a Montessori philosophy doesn’t mean you do too, and just because their child care is within your friend’s budget doesn’t mean it will be within yours, he adds.
For instance, you may want a facility that has a computer center, while your friends may be more interested in finding a school that offers cameras.
“Every family is different, and a good fit for your friend might not be for you,” says Matos.