New lesbian social networks like OurChart and Olivia.com are getting lots of publicity these days. More useful for us moms, however, may be a new community network for parents and caregivers of all orientations, CareSquare. Through the site, parents can find babysitters and nannys whom their friends recommend, then check availability and book services through an easy online calendar. Conversely, caregivers can enter their experience, skills, and availability, and connect with new families and jobs. CareSquare will also roll out a number of additional networking features for parents this spring—but the practicality of what they offer now is enough to make them stand out from the many other parenting networks.
Co-founder and CEO Ariel Kleckner Ford was kind enough to answer some questions for Mombian readers about her growing business. She’s a straight ally and mom who has taken active steps to ensure LGBT parents feel welcome in CareSquare’s online community.
What are the advantages of CareSquare over finding caregivers offline or through an existing online service like Craigslist?
CareSquare.com exists to automate the process parents are already going through offline when looking for babysitters and nannies. The problem with the offline process as it stands today is that it just takes too long – all the back-and-forth with phone calls, waiting for responses, checking on references, checking on availability is just a very arduous process, but one that we currently deal with all the time when using our community as a resource for new caregivers. CareSquare wants to streamline this process as much as possible for families.
A service like Craigslist is great, but it is just not that robust – it is simply not focused on the specific needs of families and caregivers when trying to connect and book services.
What gave you the idea to start CareSquare?
CareSquare was borne wholly of need. I started it with a close friend from my high school days. We are both parents of young kids, and are both geeks :-). About a year and a half ago, we were trying to make weekend plans and were struggling with finding a babysitter. We started brainstorming on what we WISH we had online to help us. And CareSquare was born…
Security and privacy are obviously key concerns. How can parents and caregivers be sure that they are viewing trustworthy information about the others on CareSquare? What steps have you taken to ensure personal information is kept secure?
This is always the first question that comes to mind when we talk about CareSquare, and one we take very seriously. While CareSquare does not assume responsibility for the performance of each and every caregiver on the site, we do everything we can to inform and empower parents to ensure ultimate safety. We offer connection to Trustline – a California state agency that performs comprehensive background checks for free. But the most powerful mechanism CareSquare offers to ensure security is the referrals from other community members. We do everything we can to encourage babysitters to get references and recommendations from families they have worked for before, and make it very easy for parents to contact one another privately to check on references. Additionally, we highly encourage parents to perform background checks on their own. We can never be too careful with our kids.
As far as information being displayed on the site, both parents and caregivers are in full control of who gets to see what. We think this allows for the maximum amount of security, and allows our users to feel comfortable sharing private information.
It seems that the usefulness of your site will grow as more caregivers use it to offer their services within a given geographic area, and as more parents rate these caregivers. Are you focusing on specific regions as you roll out? If so, where?
We have initially rolled out in the SF Bay area because that is where we live and we feel we understand the market well here. We are testing different marketing strategies now, and once we understand what works, we can begin to roll out in other urban areas. That being said, people across the country are starting to hear about CareSquare and are starting to use it, especially in Texas, Florida and Los Angeles. We encourage them to do so – we just haven’t focused our marketing efforts yet in those areas.
It’s clear you’re LGBT-friendly when your application form says “First Parent” and “Second Parent” instead of “Mom” and “Dad.” What can CareSquare members do to indicate they’re looking for (or are) an LGBT-friendly caregiver? How else can CareSquare benefit families with special requests or needs?
As a mom living in the heart of the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, I am close with a number of LGBT parents and spoke to them extensively when we were designing this site. I hope our design and service reflects these efforts. Later this spring we will be launching the CareSquare service on a broader social networking platform, allowing LGBT parents to form their own groups and message with one another privately. Meanwhile, LGBT parents can post their specific needs on their profile page. We are wide open to suggestions from Mombian users on how to even better service their needs. [Leave suggestions here. -Ed.]
CareSquare is still in beta testing, and currently free. How do you intend to make money going forward? Will there be a fee for the service? Advertising?
We plan to make money from a blend of (tasteful) advertising, premium services and partnerships with companies offering products of interest to our users.
Can you let us know of any additional features you’ll be offering?
We are really excited about the launch of a lot more social networking features later this spring – things like job posting boards, message boards, tags, private blogs, recommendations on other household services and enhanced abilities for communication between families and caregivers. We are currently drawing up the specs for this release now and are WIDE open to recommendations.
Your bio says you’re expecting a second child this spring. How do you manage to be CEO of a startup, pregnant, and the mom of a two-year-old son?
First and foremost, wiith the love and support of a fantastic life partner. I do need to draw boundaries for myself and be very clear about which hours and days of the week are devoted to work, and which are devoted to family. It’s hard to turn those things on and off sometimes, but it is necessary for the balance and health of our family.
Being pregnant has really fueled my drive to make CareSquare an even greater success – I feel like I am in this incredibly fertile period of my life right now and am channelling as much productive energy as possible into the business. Keeping my mind on growing the business has kept me from counting the minutes left until I am not pregnant anymore, as this last trimester in particular has been pretty uncomfortable and time feels like it is protracted. I’m sure things will slow down for a little while after the newborn is here, but am excited to witness the ongoing growth of the amazing community already being fostered on the site.