AKRON, Ohio — Parents know the babysitting drill: Call the grandparents. Text the friends. Offer the teenager down the street extra pay if she’ll cancel her Friday night plans.
All so you can get someone to watch your kids for a few hours.
But a couple of entrepreneurial moms have developed an app that promises to eliminate those hassles.
It’s called Komae, and it’s an electronic version of a babysitting co-op. It was created by Amy Husted of Copley and Audrey Wallace of West Akron, who have since added developer Adam Skinner to their team.
Komae is named for the Greek word for village, and has at its heart the concept of community. Users of the app build “villages” of people they know and trust and then send out child care requests to everyone in their villages when they need help. The villagers can either respond with offers to babysit or just ignore the requests if they’re not available.
The beauty of the app is that it eliminates the need to ask people individually and frees them from the guilt of saying no. It also saves the users money, because sitters are paid not in cash but in points they can redeem for their own child care.
Before joining Komae, Akron resident Liz Yokum used to send a group text to friends when she needed child care, but only when she absolutely needed help. “It was always awkward,” she said, because she didn’t like putting her friends in a situation where they felt obligated to respond.
Komae, however, has enabled her to arrange child care for things like running errands, surfing with friends on Lake Erie or taking advantage of the fitness options at Rock Mill, the rock-climbing business she and her husband own in Akron. Recently, she used the app to get a few hours to herself at home while her kids were off school for the holidays.
Yokum said she uses Komae mainly to free herself for things she wants to do rather than needs to do. That way, if no one answers her request for a sitter, it’s no big deal.
They’re things she probably wouldn’t hire a sitter for otherwise, she said. “It just given me the opportunity to do things that I wouldn’t find the time to do.”
Komae grew out of a child care co-op organized in 2014 by Husted and Wallace, both stay-at-home moms. As the co-op grew from 10 participants to 16 and other parents heard about it, “they’re all like, wow, how do I get this in my life, too?” Wallace said.
The idea of turning their co-op system into an app came during a brainstorming session involving Wallace, Husted and their husbands, who both have backgrounds in computer technology. “It literally was around the kitchen table,” Wallace said.
She and Husted raised seed money through pitch competitions and a Kickstarter campaign. One of the competitions was Project Entrepreneur, where they won $10,000 and an opportunity to spend a month developing their business in the New York offices of the fashion-rental company Rent the Runway.
A beta version of the app was launched in September. By the time it was released in the Google Play Store in late December, it already had 800 users — most of them in Northeast Ohio, although Husted and Wallace hope the app will be used around the world.
The Komae app is currently available only for Android devices, but an iOS version for iPhones and other Apple devices is coming soon, Husted said. A web-based version is at www.mykomae.com.
One of the aspects that sets Komae apart from traditional babysitting co-ops is the village concept. In a traditional co-op, Husted noted, parents have to be willing to swap child care services with anyone in the group. With Komae, they can deal only with the people they trust.
“One person might have three people they trust, and another might have 50,” Husted said.
Another feature users like is Komae’s point system, which makes child care more flexible. Rather than trading babysitting services directly, users “pay” their friends in Komae points. The recipient can then spend those points on any babysitter he or she chooses or even give them to another Komae user as a gift.
The app calculates the point value of a babysitting session automatically, so no guesswork is involved. The value works out to roughly one point per hour, although it’s adjusted based on the number of children, the day of the week and whether the child care is provided at the parent’s home or the sitter’s.
Users are free to increase the point total as an incentive or tip — say, for a last-minute request or a high-demand time like New Year’s Eve.
While the app is aimed at parents, other caregivers such as neighbors and grandparents can participate, too. They just become part of a parent’s village and make what are called angel offers, donating their babysitting services without earning points.
Wallace and Husted see all sorts of benefits from the app. It can connect new parents who might otherwise feel isolated, give at-home parents free time to build businesses and promote stronger partnerships by freeing parents for date nights together, they said. It can also lay healthy foundations for children by letting them form friendships with other “Komae kids” and long-term relationships with their caregivers.
In fact, the two women want the app to have the opposite effect of most online networking sites: They hope it will build genuine relationships among users, as opposed to the superficial friendships social media can foster.
“It actually deepens the relationship,” Wallace said. ” … This is a way to bring you back to a tangible friendship.”