The next big thing in Local: Kids
Local is hot. But there is more to local than the food-reviewing, cab-hailing, home-cleaning, pet-sitting apps that 20-something hipsters living in SOMA care about. If you're looking for the next billion dollar opportunity, help parents connect with kid-focused local services. (And before I go much further, parents really means Moms.)
Kids: Bigger than cabs and dogs
Parents spend a lot of money on their kids -- a whopping $121 to $257 billion each year, according to USDA. They spend a sizeable portion of this on local services, like pre-schools, day care, summer camps, after-school activities, pediatricians, birthday parties, tutors, counselors, therapists, driving schools, babysitters, nannies, events, and local attractions.
To give you some sense of how much money this is in comparison to other service industries, let's pick one kid-focused local service: after-school activities and summer camps. Parents spend $30 billion in just the fees for these classes & camps, which is five times the amount of money spent on Taxis & Limos ($6 billion), three times the money spent on Dog Sitting ($10 billion) and twice how much is spent in the Home Cleaning industry ($14 billion).
Yelp is inadequate
Existing solutions with a broader focus, like Yelp and Angie's List, don't provide the detailed information and vertically integrated tools required for every niche. The same set of attributes cannot help you make informed decisions about the peking duck, the plumber and the pre-school.
Also, social recommendations from other parents are very important. Because while a 4 star rating is good enough for you to pick a Chinese restaurant, parents need to ask their network “Will you hire this babysitter again?” or “Will you send your child to this camp again?” before choosing a sitter or camp. It is not uncommon to overhear them exchanging these recommendations while waiting outside schools, in the doctor's office, or even in a grocery store line, because parents trust other parents to be as obsessive as themselves to have done the research for their kids.
And by parents, I really mean Moms
While dads are equally involved in making decisions and raising a child, it is the moms who are sweating the details, collaborating with their network & gathering the data needed to make the decision. They should be target demographic for every kid-tech startup building parenting tools. In "Why Women Rule the Internet," Aileen Lee talks about how women are also more likely to plan in advance and care more about saving money.
Isn't that what online mom communities are for?
The emphasis that moms place on research and social connections explains the huge popularity of mom communities and blogs. The biggest online mom communities like BabyCenter and Circle of Moms, have each tried to leverage their extensive user base to implement various forms of Local in the past, and have been quagmired by the Innovator's Dilemma. They still remain content and ad-driven businesses.
Hyper-Local online mom communities like the Parents Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park (3000 members), Highlands Mommies in Denver, Co (3500 members), West Village Parents (750 members) are also highly trusted sources for these local service recommendations, but lack the tools and technology that can help moms find-communicate-book kid-focused local services. (Or product recommendations, for that matter.)
So what do parents really want?
Apart from better tools to interact with kid-focused local services, digitization of the local parenting network will make decision making easier for parents.
A social referral network, comprising of parents you've met at playgroups, at school, at work, in your neighborhood, in your soccer league, through your religious and cultural organizations etc. will make any kid-focused local service booking tool comprehensive – something that can provide answers for the “will you take your child there again” question.
This local parent network can help with not only better social recommendations and faster decision making of local services, but can also serve as a distribution platform for online products and services as well.
Leveraging the Mom powerhouse
Companies that serve this demographic can also capitalize on entrepreneurial moms and enable peer-to-peer services, like TaskRabbit for parents by parents. Pick up and drop off, meal planning, summer camp planning, local shopping, organizing birthday parties, after-school care etc. are some services that parents can either exchange between themselves, or pay another parent to do it for them. With moms being prolific users of mobile devices, you're only limited by your imagination to come up with the next P2P parent-trusted service.
At the end of the day, parenting is about making decisions you're unsure of, but you have to make them anyway. This generation of moms are used to making all of their decisions for travel, food, housing, and more, for themselves, online, and they are frustrated by the lack of tools needed to do the same for their children.
The tech industry has overlooked this space because traditionally moms have not been in tech to build a solution to their own problems. But the world is changing and getting over the stereotypes for the soccer-mom and the mompreneur, and, investors are latching on to this. Now is the time to help these large network of users and take a cut of the billions of dollars being spent on raising kids.
[Image courtesy x-ray delta one]