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Social Entrepreneur Nominee: Koru Kids

After experiencing first hand the fundamental flaws in the UK's after school care system, Rachel Carrell decided it was time for a change. With the aim of tackling the expense, inflexibility and inconsistency in the quality of child care available for busy working parents, Rachel founded Koru Kids. She shares her journey with UMi. 

What does your social enterprise do?

Koru Kids is building an entirely new childcare system from scratch, using modern technology. We specialise in 'after school care', covering an awkward part of the day which many families find very difficult.

Through Koru Kids, parents get a regular nanny who looks after the children at home so the kids can go to their after school activities, chill out, have dinner, and parents can come home to have quality time with them before bedtime.

Koru Kids nannies are energetic, enthusiastic, flexible and reliable – plus we take care of all the administration and payroll. We've delivered hundreds of thousands of hours of after school care in London and train and deploy 100+ new nannies each week.

What made you start your business up?

I was the CEO of a healthcare company when I had my first child, and all my friends also started having kids at the same time as me. I saw them struggling with childcare and thought, 'There must be a better way.'  Why hasn't anyone reformed the childcare market yet? It's huge! And it's SO broken!

• Expensive: Families in the UK now spend more on childcare than they do on their mortgage

• Inflexible: working parents increasingly don’t work 9 to 5 – but part-time, flexitime, late-night and freelancing work         don’t fit with traditional childcare options

• Patchy quality: while there are great carers available, they are hard to find and there are a large number of poor quality providers. It’s so hard for parents to tell the difference.

• Terrible experience: every parent who has tried to find childcare has a story! Finding childcare is exhausting and emotional. Despite being so expensive, the experience is vastly worse than other purchases.

I particularly wanted to unleash the potential of the millions of mothers who want to return to the workforce but can’t, because childcare is too terrible.

Having worked in the healthcare industry where the advent of smartphones and other technologies had revolutionised the way in which care was provided, I assumed similar revolutions were underway in the childcare industry. But after conducting hundreds of interviews over 12 months I realised that the problems were worse than I imagined and that no startups were solving them. So I founded Koru Kids.

How do you measure your impact?

As an organisation, we obsess over customer feedback and we are constantly trying to get insight from our customers about what more they want and what we could be doing better. We’ve been talking internally about coming up with a really good way of measuring our impact on family wellbeing.

Our mission is to profoundly improve the wellbeing of our families, and I totally believe we are doing that since so many families tell us, in words, as part of their feedback– but we could get better at systematically tracking our impact on wellbeing. If anyone reading this has any ideas or would like to join the conversation about this, they should get in touch.

What help did you have to start your social enterprise?

I had so much help! It’s really impressive how much support there is out there for startups these days. I had lots of people advising me, mentoring, giving pitch feedback, connecting me with other people working on ideas, getting excited alongside me about what I’m doing, lending emotional support and venting with me. We’re in a golden age for startups and all you need to do is ask. Especially in London, there are countless avenues for help.

My team is incredible – packed with graduates from top universities and veterans of successful startups. I recruited for ‘intelligence’ and ‘humility’ – the combination is dynamite.

I’ve also benefitted from the advice of my many fantastic angels and institutional investors, including Michael Pennington, Andrin Bachmann, Damien Lane, Matt Clifford, Alice Bentinck, Oli Samwer, Ed Lascelles, Matt Bradley and Nic Brisbourne, Andy Phillips, Ian Davis, Pete Davies, Akshata Murty, Ned Cranbourne and Richard Reed.

How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?

It was really important to me that I build a sustainable business and that it be a for-profit entity. I felt doing this, alongside a really strong social purpose, would attract superb talent and allow us to built something really lasting.

What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?

Having kids focused me on what is important in my life. My tolerance for wasting time has never been high, but it dropped through the floor when I had kids. If I’m going to work at all – if I’m not going to be with them – I need to be doing something that I think is really important. At Koru Kids, I truly believe I’m working on the most important thing I could possibly be working on, and that’s an incredible privilege.

What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?

The problems we are solving are so difficult. Ultimately we will solve every problem of childcare but they’re very complex, intractable issues and we can’t solve them all at once. This is frustrating as we care so much about improving childcare. I so wish I could serve every single family that approaches us, and help in every single situation. We’ll get there.

What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?

I am really influenced by a famous Michael Jordan quote: “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I just love this quote, and I try to live it. I fail so many times, in so many ways, every single day. Any success is only because I try so many things so many times.

What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?

The First Round Capital blog is really fantastic—some of the best writing out there on starting up and scaling up. Our investors Forward Partners also put out some amazing content. Aside from that, my most-recommended business book is ‘The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team’. It explained so much toxic behaviour from previous workplaces and has helped me build a really healthy, resilient and high-functioning team.

What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?

We are insanely ambitious. We’re building a whole new childcare system. In five years’ time we will have built out several of the core services for this, and we’ll be in more than one country. We’ll be well on our way to our mission of profoundly improving the wellbeing of 1 million families.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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