Shadiah Sigala and her co-founder Brittney Barrett were already seasoned tech entrepreneurs when they started Kinside, a platform that helps working parents find and pay for child care. And they knew they could solve their own problem.
“We’re parents and we feel the pain of child care every single day,” Sigala says. “That was the impetus for Kinside, of combining our technology background with the fact that we’re employers and we’re parents.”
Since launching in 2020, Kinside serves more than 4,000 employers and their employees, who get access to a database of available child care providers, along with a tech-forward way to pay for it, using dependent FSA dollars and other employer-provided stipends.
While the pandemic set Kinside back “at least a year,” Sigala says, their team hasn’t lost their momentum — or their passion for changing the narrative around family-friendly benefits and workplaces.
You’ve founded tech companies before — what inspired you to tackle the child care industry with Kinside?
So tech and child care are two presumably different spaces, and they have been historically. But what if we could actually bring some of those best practices from tech to reorganize and innovate and reconceptualize industries and apply that to child care?
Before Kinside, I co-founded another tech company called HoneyBook, and as we were building it, I was the first woman on the team to get pregnant. I had to think through all of our policies from the beginning, from paid leave and other benefits, and the cultural nuances on how we wanted to support parents. I knew that whatever I did for myself, I had to model it for the staff. Within two years, we had a baby boom and it became clear that we weren’t providing that support for employees to re-enter the office, in terms of helping them find child care. When I went to look for a child care benefit, I didn’t find one that suited our needs.
What was missing from the market?
Child care providers often only serve very large companies, and we were a 100-person company. And by the way, they cost $4,000 a month. So the point of Kinside was to support the entire small and mid-market space.
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As an employee, you’ll find a suite of benefits to help you actually find child care — we have the open spots for your age range, in your budget and in your neighborhood. Then you can actually go ahead and seamlessly book a tour and enroll and continue paying that provider for the duration. We also allow you to load the app with pre-tax dependent care FSAs. We’ve just raised $12 million on a Series A from venture capitalists. So Silicon Valley understands that there’s massive business to be built from a really antiquated industry.
Some of what you’re describing seems like how we’ve learned to do a lot of things, like finding a doctor, or buying things we need. Why has it taken so long for child care to adopt a tech-forward view?
Child care providers are very small and fragmented — there are 800,000 independently owned businesses and they’re still operating primarily offline. When you go to sign your kid in, there’s a paper clip sign-in form, and you’re paying them with check and cash. Nobody’s been able to aggregate them and create a system of record. So we wanted to create an incredible software for them to use, and then they share their spots which we then sell back through the employer marketplace.
You launched Kinside in 2020 — how did COVID disrupt that roll out?
We launched our marketplace in January, 2020. And then March of 2020, child care was not on the menu. But a couple of things did play to our advantage: things did slow down, but child care actually never shut down all the way. Child care is not in the public school system, which means that they didn’t have to follow the public school system mandate. So the vast majority of centers stayed open; they just had to cut down their capacity significantly.
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We also just accepted that we were not going to be fully ramped up in this period. So we focused on the product and the infrastructure so that when employers were ready to hit go, we’d have partnerships with very large ecosystems of third-party administrators who facilitate FSAs to big insurance companies, to thousands of employers.
You’re a business owner, a CEO and also an advocate for this issue now. How is that playing out at Kinside and in your day-to-day?
From day one, we’ve built Kinside to be incredibly responsive to the needs of caregivers. Even as an early stage startup, we’ve been offering 12 weeks of paid family leave. We also offer six weeks of paid sick leave or wellness leave, no questions asked, as well as child care stipends to contribute to the cost of child care.
I was a mom with two kids when I started this company. I already knew exactly what I needed. It’s actually not that hard for me to have that split between work and life. And I’m not saying the word balance, I’m saying the split. That means that when I’m off work, I am off work. I don’t Slack and I don’t email, and I don’t Slack or email my employees during off hours.
What’s your advice for other employers who want to support working parents?
Fundamentally, every employer must offer paid family leave. Unfortunately we live in a country where that is not universally sponsored by the government. But step one is to support newborn babies and their parents so they have time to bond and heal, and make it inclusive for all caregivers. Help employees and employers understand that caregiving is really hard. It’s expensive and it’s logistically a nightmare. So the final bucket I would say is provide financial help — that might be offering a dependent care FSA, or offer subsidies if you can.
Our sales go to show that employers are being responsive. In our next phase we want to reach 10,000 employers and one million parents. And I am very optimistic that we are really reexamining our work values in this country. We are going to have to come to terms with the fact that there’s a much more balanced place that we can end up than where we have been in the last few decades.