For Week 9 of Female Founders Weekly, we interviewed Jessica Chang. Jessica is the co-founder and CEO of WeeCare, a mother, and a preschool owner. When Jessica was pregnant with her first child, she began touring daycares only to discover that all spots were full with long waitlists and exorbitant costs. Unable to comprehend why there were so few spots available and so many parents searching for childcare, she decided to dive into the childcare space and become an investor and owner of a preschool. By applying her background in finance and business to streamline the school’s operations, she grew it to full capacity within months of ownership. Jessica co-founded WeeCare in 2017 to empower educators and daycare directors to start, fill to capacity, and efficiently operate a licensed home daycare business. WeeCare eliminates parents' stress of finding a quality daycare by matching them with the best small home daycare environment for their children.
THE INSPIRATION: How did you get the idea for WeeCare?
I was working in finance and operations with experience in startups when I became pregnant with my first child. While I was pregnant, I started to look for childcare options - I thought I was getting ahead, but soon learned that I was already very behind on my search, and my son wasn’t even born yet. I toured 50 or so locations and kept seeing the same issues wherever I went. Preschools and daycare centers had waitlists that were years long, and had tuition costs that most parents wouldn’t be able to afford.
As a soon-to-be mom, I was frustrated with how difficult finding childcare was, and was doing tons of research into the space. As an entrepreneur and operator, I felt like this issue needed to be solved, and I wanted to be the one to solve it in order to help other parents experiencing the same difficulties. I found a preschool broker and ended up actually buying my own preschool to learn more about the industry and see if I could find some answers. Soon after, in 2017, I decided with my two WeeCare co-founders, Jesse Forrest (our CTO) and Matt Reilly (our CMO), that we wanted to solve the issue of making affordable, high-quality, childcare a reality for all families.
THE PITCH: What is WeeCare?
WeeCare is the largest network of in-home childcare in the United States and works as a marketplace where families and providers can match with one another for childcare. Parents are provided with free placement services for touring, we help them enroll, and then they receive tech-enabled photo and video updates of their child once enrolled via our app. Providers receive full service support - our team handles marketing for their daycares, enrollment and tuition billing, and provides them with thousands of early childhood curriculum lessons to help them run their in-home preschool.
There is a lot of stress both parents and childcare providers feel when it comes to finding or providing childcare - our job is to take all of that stress off of their plates and make their lives easier so that they can be better parents and better educators.
FROM IDEA TO REALITY: How did you get started with WeeCare?
My son was born and so I was juggling being a new mom while also starting a new business. In our first month, my co-founders and I started building WeeCare out of my garage. We were spending lots of time researching the space and putting pen to paper to figure out how we were going to create a scalable business model - that was when we discovered home daycares. The home daycare model allowed for teachers to make more money, while also being the most affordable option for families. Starting a home preschool was also a realistic option for most people looking to enter the childcare space, as there are few startup costs and not many restrictions other than following state licensing guidelines and abiding by safety regulations.
Once we decided on a home daycare model, we actually went door to door to speak with home daycare owners directly and learn about their businesses. I asked questions like how long they had been in the business for, what kind of previous experience they had, were they able to send parents daily updates, could parents pay tuition by credit card, and how did it work during the day when the phone rang - how were they able to run a business with new clients constantly calling while also keeping their attention on the kids already in their care? (We now address this issue by providing 24/7 phone support for our providers so that they can fully focus on the kids at their daycare instead of worrying about incoming calls from prospective parents.)
These conversations ultimately resulted in the first feature we built in the WeeCare app, the Moments feature. Moments allow WeeCare Providers to share photo and video updates with WeeCare Parents throughout the day. We built this feature first because we knew families wanted to be able to watch their child’s development when they were away at work and also stay in the loop throughout the day. Before we built this capability, childcare providers had no easy way of doing this. The feature was simple to build with just our small team during our early days, but was very rewarding as a brand new startup in that we were able to see the value it instantly brought to our families and providers.
WORK EXPERIENCE: Did you rely on any previous business experience to help you start WeeCare?
The experience I gained from running my own preschools was invaluable to me in starting WeeCare. I was able to see if I could operate a preschool first to learn the struggles and best practices there, and after later running three preschools and making them profitable, I knew we could make WeeCare work as a healthy business.
My three biggest learnings from owning and operating my own preschools were:
There was a big disconnect when it came to demand (parents) being able to find supply (childcare). There was no single source of discovery for families to easily be able to locate daycare options. It was a mess.
The majority of preschool owners were mom-and-pop businesses. 97% of the entire industry is actually run by mom-and-pops. They were great teachers, but didn’t have enough operational expertise and had difficulty keeping up with the times. Millennial parents needed to be marketed to in new ways, they wanted to pay by credit card, and they wanted to see the same technological advancements that they were seeing in other industries, like easy communication through an app and visual updates like those provided through our Moments feature.
In the childcare industry, the individuals being paid the least are preschool teachers (making between $20-30k each year), and because of this they are leaving the industry completely.
FUNDING: Did you raise capital or did you bootstrap WeeCare?
In 2018, WeeCare raised a seed round of $4.2 million.
CHALLENGES & MOTIVATION: What have been your biggest hurdles with WeeCare and what motivates you to keep going?
My biggest challenge has been trying to build and maintain WeeCare as a marketplace. Marketplaces take a lot of time and resources to build, and it’s always a balance of deciding when to focus on the demand side versus when to shift that attention to focus on the supply side.
I’m always motivated by my family - my kids motivate me every day. Every day that I’m here, my kids remind me how important accessibility to quality early childhood education is, and that keeps me going.
SUPPORT NETWORK: Who do you lean on the most for support?
My husband is my biggest supporter. He makes serious and difficult times easier by being my center. He helps me stay balanced if I am having a tough day. If I’m stressed then he makes me laugh, if I’m stuck then he helps me by working through the problem with me logically until we find a solution together.
WORK-LIFE BALANCE: How do you manage work-life balance and what do you do when you’re not working?
Two things I make time for each day to help me stay balanced are a daily workout and also 30 minutes just to myself in either the morning or at night. Those two things help me destress. When I’m not working, I’m always spending time with my kids and my family.
CELEBRATING THE WINS: What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Starting a company after I got pregnant with my first child felt like a huge achievement for me. Then, being able to raise WeeCare’s first big fundraising round when I was pregnant with my second child was another proud moment. Both of those achievements just go to show how perseverant women can be and that we have the ability to balance both work and life without having to sacrifice one for the other.
ADVICE FOR FUTURE FOUNDERS: What’s your best piece of advice to other women starting a business?
My biggest piece of advice to any women reading who are starting a business or thinking about starting one is: don’t doubt yourself. As women, we have a tendency to doubt our abilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll be surprised at how strong the female founder community is, and how willing many people will be to go out of their way to help you. I also think that it is okay to be emotional. Our emotions make us stronger because through our emotions we are able to care and be more passionate about the work we do.
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