Parents are in desperate need of help when it comes to taking care of kids or homeschooling them in our new work-from-home world. Kumbaya, a gig marketplace that connects teens with parents who need childcare services, wants to lend a hand.
Launched a few weeks ago, the Kumbaya app on Google Play and the App Store aims to support parents and teenagers during the COVID-19 pandemic by making it easy for parents to find gigs for their teens — and for parents of younger children to get help.
Sure, it sounds crazy to hire a babysitter when you can no longer physically visit other homes. In fact, Kumbaya was originally designed for physical gigs, like walking pets or in-person babysitting. Work on that iteration had been underway for the past year. But in light of recent events, the app’s creators, Chen Levanon and clinical psychiatrist Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski, redesigned it for virtual helpers.
Levanon said in an interview with VentureBeat that hiring a virtual babysitter who will use something like Facetime to keep a child occupied while the parent works in another room is actually a big help. Sure, kids can still go and interrupt the parent, but they will likely find the babysitter someone new to talk to in an otherwise boring household, Levanon said.
She said tutoring services and arts and crafts projects can also work well virtually. Of course, the pet walking part doesn’t work, and that will have to come back when physical restrictions are eventually lifted, Levanon said.
Pivoting after COVID-19
Levanon may be a familiar name for VentureBeat readers, as she previously cofounded SimilarTech and was the founder of Israeli mobile performance advertising firm ClicksMob, which merged with AppGrade in 2016. SimilarTech, where she served as chief operating officer, is still running and profitable. A former college hurdler, Levanon is a driven entrepreneur.
“After giving birth to my kid a year ago, I felt as if I wanted to do something that matters to parents,” Levanon said. “I love businesses, but I also wanted to make an impact for working parents and parents of teenagers. I feel if I had spare time, my personal vision is to go and teach middle schoolers and high schoolers about entrepreneurship. That’s my vision in life. When I grew up, I didn’t even know I had an option to become an entrepreneur.”
Levanon and cofounder Zief-Balteriski launched the app earlier than they had planned to support people during the outbreak. The app’s name refers to the song Kumbaya, and it means “come by here.”
“We decided that parents need to help other parents and teens need to help other teens, and it’s all about community and it’s all about helping each other out,” Levanon said.
Before launching Kumbaya, Levanon spoke with investors about the right way to get a startup off the ground.
“I learned from my mistakes,” she said.
The company has raised $500,000 in funding so far and is in the process of raising more. It has also gotten into the Avanta Ventures Studio accelerator program. Kumbaya currently has four full-time employees and five contractors.
Free for now
The company originally planned to charge parents who hired teens a 10% service fee. But it is not charging any fees for the next couple of months.
Kumbaya limits the age of participating teens to between 13 and 18, in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The legislation is also the reason parents have to control the app in the U.S. Age limits vary by country, per local laws, and the company will add new countries as it can.
A single work session can last no more than six hours, and participants must adhere to strict privacy rules and terms. Teens are not allowed to promote themselves, leaving it to parents to arrange gigs.
The app will look at the parents’ contacts, and it can invite people they know already to tell them about gig availability. Parents are also sharing posts on LinkedIn, so a teen in New York can teach math lessons to a child in California, for example.
The app contacts a teen via SMS when confirmed gigs come up and uses Daily.co’s video platform to handle the call. That turned out to work better than Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype, for various reasons, including cost.
An organic launch
The app is spreading organically, with no advertising.
“We created this app and were shocked to see lots of people are using it in these ways,” Levanon said. “It is a great resource for parents of bored teens with lots of free time looking to make extra pocket money, and [for] parents of young children. The parents need help creating structure and keeping the children occupied. Some of them volunteer just to spend some time with each other, and now we are going to support elderly [users] as well, as they are lonely too.”
“This past week, while sheltering in place, my two teens have been earning extra cash and having fun babysitting, leading kids in arts and crafts (slime anyone?), teaching little ones to dance, all online,” said a parent in Los Altos, California. “My fourth grader is getting tutored online by a friend’s Gigster so she doesn’t fall behind. And I can get work done.”
Teens are also chiming in.
“I work at Kumbaya and do virtual slime workshops and tutor elementary school kids. I enjoy spending time with the kids and hope to do more of that daily,” said a 13-year-old tutor in North Potomac, Maryland.
For now, parents are required to sign the kids up and approve any gigs. Payments happen via third-party systems such as Venmo.
“This Generation Z can learn they can make money, they can save money, they can invest money, and they can even donate money,” Levanon said. “And this is our future and feels as if it’s an unaddressed market.”
Kumbaya is being downloaded at a decent rate, and the app has added 80 teens to the system in less than two weeks, with no advertising. Those teens have already completed more than 100 virtual paid gigs.
“We decided to create a marketplace for teens to find gig opportunities,” Levanon said. “It’s not that they’re lazy. We are all mistaken. They’re not lazy at all. It’s a great generation. They want to work. They just don’t like to commit. They have had demanding schedules. But what about babysitting or tutoring? Once in a while, a few hours a week for your friends, your neighbors. The teens are willing to do it because they want to make money. Now they are so bored at home.”
Over time, the app will incorporate physical gigs. But Levanon believes the virtual gigs will be with us for good.
“I think that the connection will stay for a long time, and our reality will change because of COVID-19,” she said.