It was a Sunday morning in October of 2015, and Mana Sanghvi was at the end of her rope. A marketing manager at General Mills, she needed to get to work early the next morning to prepare for a presentation – but then, who would take the kids to the babysitter? Her husband, who also worked full-time, would be catching a plane to see a client somewhere across the country.
Of course, that Sunday morning wasn’t the first time Sanghvi scrambled to find childcare. Two parents with full-time careers often needed sitters, and the process to find reliable childcare wasn’t easy. Sanghvi had to track down promising candidates, talk to the them on the phone, interview them in person, and then, if they passed the first few rounds of screening, introduce potential sitters to the kids. The multi-step process was exhausting. She realized there had to be a better way to go about it.
Not long after that fateful October morning, Sanghvi left her job at General Mills to embark on a quest. She would create something to make the process of connecting great sitters to great parents just a little bit easier and a whole lot more enjoyable. After about a year and a half of research and production, Sanghvi’s solution launched in February – a mobile app called Sittereco. Sanghvi envisions a “circle of empowerment” created by Sittereco: parents juggling careers can find role models for their kids in young women, and young women can find mentors in parents with developed careers. Sanghvi said, “I specifically say ‘empowering women’ when it comes to the babysitters, because 97 percent of the industry is women.” Sittereco serves as a networking tool to connect parents and sitters – to Sanghvi, the app is “LinkedIn for babysitting.”
The Sittereco app was built in part by two interns at the Minneapolis software company Bust Out Solutions. Kevin Mei, a junior at Carleton College, and Macalester’s Cody Molho ’18 worked closely with Sanghvi over the summer of 2016. Molho, the app’s developer, wrote the code for the mobile app.
In an email, Molho described the process of building the app: “The design intern put together some simple layouts of what the app could look like, the team would give feedback and improvement ideas, and I would start implementing them in code. The rest of the summer pretty much followed this iterative process of design, implementation, feedback, and improvements. Sometimes it was hard remembering to move forward and get more of the app completed while overlooking many small details, when we totally could have spent an entire week debating the shape of a single button or layout of a couple icons!”
Via email, Mei also described the process and the group dynamic: “I saw the app start from just sketches on a piece of paper all the way to real-life designs implemented in code. The team was amazing (shout outs to Mana, Cody, and Paul) and it was a pleasure to be part of such an amazing app that connects parents with high-quality, trusted babysitters.”
Paul Cantrell ’98, a visiting instructor in the MSCS department who also does freelance software design and development, helped work on the app by building the server. He was impressed with the product that Molho and Mei created. Initially, the interns were only to build a prototype of an app for Sanghvi to test, but according to Cantrell, “The interns did such a good job that at the end of the summer, I increasingly thought, ‘Well, we should just try to release what they built.’ “ After the interns went back to school at the end of the summer, Cantrell continued to develop the prototype, which went through closed-beta testing beginning in October of 2016. Over a six week period, there were over 900 engagements on the app. Seeing her venture attract such interest was validating for Sanghvi, but the October test was just the beginning. According to Sanghvi, there have been about 400 accounts created and almost 4,000 engagements since the app went live in February.
“At the fundamental level, it’s about creating value,” Sanghvi said of Sittereco’s potential. Now that the beginnings of a user platform has been established, a next step is introducing a subscription-based model for parents on the app (which is currently a free download on the Apple and Google app stores.)
One Sittereco user at Macalester, Sarah Fee ’18, described the app as “LinkedIn meets Tinder.” Fee needed about 10 minutes to set up her account, a process which she found straight-forward and user friendly. “You can see how close people are located, if they are recommended by anyone, and a way to contact them directly. Also you have access to their profile where they can list qualities, the pay rate, and a picture of themselves along with a bio,” she wrote in an email.
So far, she hasn’t gotten any jobs through the app. The few times she’s been contacted by parents, she was unavailable. Still, she wrote, “I really like the idea though and how it is community based. I think is great for college students. Being from out of state, it is difficult to know where to look to find occasional babysitting and it is a nice way to get connected.”
Reflecting on her work building the app, Molho commented, “I am very proud, though, that I wrote most of the original code in the beginning of the development process. It’s an exciting feeling having an app that I put so much time and effort into actually go live on the app store.”
For Molho, it wasn’t just the project that was rewarding, but also who she got to work with. As she wrote in an email: “Working with Mana on Sittereco this summer was a very rewarding and inspiring experience. I watched first-hand how passionate she is about this product and the impact it could have, specifically for empowering women in the workforce, and look up to her as a female entrepreneur and CEO. Through my experiences with entrepreneurship both at Macalester and in this internship, I have come to see entrepreneurship as a tool which can be used create positive change.”
As Cantrell said, “There’s a lot of commonality between, say, starting a software business and becoming an activist. You have to get people to believe in what you believe in, and communicate with them, and build excitement and find the right kind of structure to serve the goals that you’re seeking to achieve. And in one form, you start a business for profit, and in another form you change the world – but actually the skills that they share are huge.”
Sanghvi said, “The most remarkable entrepreneurs of our society are the ones who have seen that there is a problem, and that they need to solve that problem.” Entrepreneurship, according to Sanghvi, is a creative mindset. As she wondered: “Just because we do things one way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way, right?”
*P.S. For students still seeking summer work experience: Sittereco is accepting applications for a 10-week paid summer internship. Email [email protected] for more information.