Sawyer, a two-year-old, Brooklyn-based startup that aims to become the OpenTable of children’s activities, has raised $6 million in new funding led by Advance Venture Partners. Others that contributed to the round include Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, 3311 Ventures, Female Founders Fund, and earlier backer Collaborative Fund, as well as unnamed investors from the company’s $1.5 million seed round, which closed in April of last year.
Sawyer sees itself as capitalizing on the more customized ways that parents are trying to educate their children, in an age where they also expect the online tools they use to be simple. It has a two-pronged approach toward that end, too.
First and foremost, it’s been at work on a subscription-based software suite called Sawyer Tools that it says “hundreds” of outfits across the U.S. — from camps to after-school programs to early-development classes — are now using to schedule classes, communicate with parents and process payments.
Sawyer CEO and co-founder Marissa Evans Alden suggests it’s a big opportunity that’s just waiting to be exploited. “None of these vendors run on any type of [sophisticated] software,” she says. She likens what Sawyer is building to the cloud-based business management software made by publicly traded MindBody, which caters to the wellness industry and went public in 2015. “Where MindBody was able to power yoga facilities, there isn’t this layer in that space,” says Alden.
As a kind of hedge — as well as a complement to that first business — Sawyer is also growing a direct-to-consumer business that sees it competing with a host of other companies that are providing children’s classes to parents on a monthly basis.
Much like venture-backed outfits KidPass and Pearachute, customers of Sawyer (who are parents and caregivers mostly) can pay for classes featured directly on its website. Unlike many services that charge a fixed price per month, and/or a membership fee, however, the classes are available à la carte, and no membership is required.
The service is only available in New York, L.A. and Chicago for now, though Alden says some part of Sawyer’s new round will be used to enter new markets.
Whether either approach works remains to be seen, but Alden has some experience in exploiting undiscovered opportunities. She previously co-founded Go Try It On, a photo-sharing app that allowed members to upload photos of their outfits so that other members could provide feedback and fashion advice. The company was acquired for undisclosed terms by Rent the Runway in 2013.
In fact, several others of Alden’s nine employees come from Rent the Runway, and she credits Sawyer’s software-first strategy in part to her former boss, Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman, whom she calls a “huge mentor in this whole process.” Says Alden, “Once you get [the software] right, you can build robust city marketplaces atop it. But the infrastructure comes first.”