Alba, An MIT Startup, Helps Latin American Mothers Easily Find Babysitters

Recent demographic changes in Latin American countries have resulted in more women entering the workforce. As more Latin American households have both parents working, child and eldercare has increased in demand. An MIT MBA and Andrés Bello National University graduate have created an online platform to help families find trusted, qualified caretakers immediately.

Dan Stern, 28, and Teresa del Sante, 34, came together to start Alba, the online platform built to helping families in Latin America retain the perfect babysitters on time through a simple, technology-driven process. Stern, an MIT MBA hailing from Chile, brings his technical and management expertise to establish a streamlined process for matching families with babysitters. Del Sante, a graduate of the Universidad Nacional Andres Bello and a mother herself, has intimate cultural knowledge of the caretaking ecosystem in Chile, and extensive marketing and business development skills needed to address mothers’ concerns and establish fruitful relationships with babysitters who use their platform.

Over the past fifteen years, more women in these countries have joined the workforce, reducing the supply of babysitters. Also, with caretaking seen as low-skill labor, current babysitters would work outside of their immediate role to increase their skills to obtain a middle-class job, further dwindling the number of available caretakers.

In Latin American countries, finding a babysitter for your child or caretaker for an elderly parent is a human-driven, complicated process. A typical family of four may have both the mother and father working full-time, which creates a need for someone to look over their loved ones while the parents are away. Usually, the mother would reach out to her immediate network to find a suitable babysitter for her children.

She generally has three options. The first option is finding a good babysitter based on the personal recommendation of other mothers. The second option is that the mother asks an immediate or distant family member to take care of her children temporarily. The third option is the most complex and unclear. The mother, still in need of a caretaker, calls a ‘mom,’ or babysitter agency operator. The mother requests a sitter. The babysitter operator flips through her Rolodex (either a WhatsApp contact list or names scrawled on a piece of notebook paper), and responds anywhere from two to twenty-four hours later with information about the next available sitter. The sitter receives the address of the requesting mother, who then meets with her and the family for roughly ten minutes.

In these ten minutes, the mother runs through the gamut of how the household operates, reviewing the kids and their names, the required tasks and contact information. The babysitter is expected to understand and retain all this information in this brief, hurried ten-minute informal meeting as the mother heads off to her activity.

“There are around 10,000 babysitting agencies throughout Latin America. A majority of them only solve the primary problem of matching families with adequate babysitters,” del Sante says.

Stern and Sante recognized that a limited supply of babysitters was in high demand due to societal and cultural transformations occurring in South America. Their platform, Alba, allows potential babysitters to apply for a job online and be matched with a family in roughly fifteen minutes. The prospective caretaker can meet with the family at a convenient time, and the family can see their Facebook profile in advance.

Leveraging social networks of both the family and the prospective babysitter allows Alba to provide a babysitter for any parent. Alba delivers a curated selection of babysitters through matching algorithms. The prospective babysitters go through a rigorous screening process, consisting of a background check and verifying government documents to ensure a high-quality, legitimate candidate pool. In two years, Alba has brought on 10,000 babysitters to their platform. With this growth, the cofounders hope that they can provide instant and trusted caregivers to any family.

There’s more than just matching a compatible babysitter with a family in need. Stern and del Sante found out that families want to have the peace of mind knowing that their loved one is safe at any given time. The biggest question the two cofounders must answer from parents is: “What’s happening at home?” Alba puts babysitters through a strict process of notifying parents at regular intervals that their child or elderly parent is doing fine. Alba also provides support to the babysitter through a chat center, where an operator on the other end of the line can help guide the caretaker in interacting with parents or state services in case of an emergency.

Another set of problems in providing a fast and accessible babysitting matchmaking service is payment and retention. Through the traditional search and matching of babysitters to families, the latter can be late or negligent in paying the former. Cash is usually the preferred method, but if money is unavailable at the end of the babysitting session, families opt to wire the money to the sitters’ bank account. Wiring money can be slow, and complicated, in rare cases. Instead of those options, Alba charges the family’s credit card and directly transfers the whole payment to the babysitter, making sure the latter is paid on-time.

Retention proves to be the trickier issue to resolve. Once a family finds a babysitter they like, they ostensibly do not need Alba. They can call on the babysitter without the platform anymore.

“However, most babysitters tend not to stick around in their role after two or three months, as they work to gain an education or start a new position at a higher-paying place of work,” Stern states.

This natural churn keeps families in need of a caretaker. Also, other babysitting services do not provide additional services to maintain parents’ peace of mind like Alba does, keeping parents as consistent users of the platform.

Alba’s ability to fend off the competition comes from its thorough solution of providing value to both families and babysitters.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out my other work on LinkedIn and my personal website, Follow me on Twitter @fredsoda, on Medium @fredsoda, and on Instagram @fred_soda.

This work was first published on Forbes.

Forbes Under 30 Contributor, 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice, Venture Fellow at Rough Draft Ventures

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