The majority of parents would surely say that it’s good for their kids to take part in a variety of after school activities when they’re young, from learning an instrument to playing a sport, joining a Code Club – but getting them to and from these activities can be difficult.
As a result, the last few years have seen a number of startups emerge looking to tackle this problem. Another to try its hand is carpooling service Parachuute, founded by two working mothers in Melbourne, Maggie Scott and Melanie Higgins.
The app allows parents to tap into their trusted networks to get their kids to and from school and all those sports practices and matches, playdates, and other activities after school and on the weekends.
As Higgins explained it, the app allows members to either enter a trip request or list a spare seat, which are then sent to the people in their network; other members can accept the requests that are convenient to them, with Parachuute then taking care of things like reminders and confirmations.
Rather than payment, the app works through virtual currency, with members awarded points or currency for each favour they do.
“Points reward those that help and reduces the obligation parents can feel to reciprocate a favour one on one,” Higgins explained.
The idea came to Higgins and Scott through their own experiences trying to manage the logistics of getting their kids everywhere they needed to go.
“Getting kids to school and back and then to sports, social and other activities takes a lot of time and we observed how little car pooling happened. We asked ourselves why this was the case and whether there could be a better way,” Higgins said.
“We found part of the reason people don’t do more car pooling was to do with perceptions of it being awkward to ask or not wanting to feel indebted to others when it would be hard to reciprocate directly. Other reasons were more practical and included that it’s just hard and inefficient to organise using email and texts one to one.”
Having spent the majority of their careers in consulting firms working to define strategies or managing large projects, Higgins said she and Scott felt like the opportunity to make something out of their idea was a good one.
They spent time looking to understand the problem and exploring a variety of potential solutions from various angles, considering market fit, human behaviour, legal issues, risks, regulatory hurdles, and of course, the viability of a solution as a business.
“Based on market research and speaking with parents, the concept evolved through various models from direct peer to peer payments, to no cost bookings, to a points system,” Higgins explained.
Upon sign up, a new member will be asked to detail information about their children, such as whether they have any allergies or particular needs.
They will then be asked to give the app access to their phone contacts; with those already on the app identified via an icon next to their name, a user can go through and add selected contacts to their trusted network, and invite others to register via email, SMS, or Facebook. A trusted network, Higgins said, typically consists of parents who have connected via their kids’ school or other activities.
From there, to make a request for a ride a member can complete a short form detailing information like pick up and drop off time, location, and the number of points that they will offer for the favour. Important information from the user’s profile around their child’s special needs, if relevant, will be forwarded on, while the user can also input additional information relevant to that specific booking, such as a reminder to ensure the child has brought the equipment they need for their soccer training.
“After sending this request to selected people from their trusted network, Parachuute manages messages around acceptances, declines, trip reminders and confirmations. Integration to Google Places and Google Maps also provides ease and certainty with trip details,” Higgins said.
On the other side of the equation, a user can create a listing for a spare seat by filling out the ‘offer spare seats’ form and sending it to selected people in the network. If they want to take up the offer, the people in the group who receive the message can convert it into a request form pre-populated with the details for the ride.
Rides are exchanged for points, which can be purchased through the app via Pin Payments, with one point costing $1; Parachuute suggests that five points are standard in exchange for one favour, with the app taking one point as a booking fee.
Members are also able to donate points to the startup’s partner children’s charities, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Kids Under Cover.
Targeting the parents of school-aged kids, in particular working parents and families with kids participating in a variety of after school activities, the potential scope for Parachuute is significant, but so is the competition. As well as babysitters and nannies, Higgins acknowledged the other apps emerging in the space.
Among them is Hobart app AirParents. Founded by two couples, Therese and George Koning, and Guenther Draschkowitz and Jessica Wade, the AirParents app aims to make life a little easier for parents by connecting them to others in their local or school community who know how they feel and can lend a helping hand.
After signing up and creating a basic profile, a user can check out those nearby who are in need of school pickups or dropoffs or other childminding and offer to help by sending the other user a message. Given the nature of the service users are asking for – putting your children in someone else’s hands – the app looks to facilitate a conversation or meeting that can be taken offline rather than a transaction to be completed through the app.
However, Higgins said, “Our competitive advantage is that we are cost effective and safe and our unique points system provides a fair platform for parents.”
Having tested the platform in Melbourne, Higgins said the goal over the coming months is to grow it out further in local communities before expanding interstate.
Image: Melanie Higgins with her kids Annie, Zoe, and Jeremy. Source: Supplied.