Need a Break? UrbanSitter CEO Lynn Perkins Talks How to Get Help Now

TILDEN: Urban Sitter CEO Lynn Perkins on What to Look For with Child Care

Daycare is closed because of a pink eye scare, but you have a presentation at work today; your bathroom flooded; you haven’t exercised in five weeks; your baby was up all night; and, if we’re being honest, you could really use a glass of wine.

Sound familiar? Exhausted, time crunched moms have a million reasons to need a helping hand, but few know where to find a babysitter they can trust.

Enter UrbanSitter. For CEO and co-founder Lynn Perkins, it was the ultimate chicken and egg scenario: she was a frantic mom who needed a break, but had no time to find someone competent to watch her kids.

Perkins said she set out to help moms by delivering trusted childcare efficiently.

“Who has time to text one sitter, call another, email a third; and hope one replies?” Perkins said. “I knew there had to be a better way.”

UrbanSitter has reinvented the process of finding a babysitter by combining tech and social angles to help moms find a trusted partner.

Through its subscription service ($19.95 per month and you can cancel at any time), UrbanSitter works like an OpenTable for childcare: you can seamlessly find, hire, and pay babysitters available now or whenever you need them.

What’s more, by sharing your social networks (like your kids’ schools, your mom groups, and your Facebook info), you’re notified of those sitters who are most trusted by your personal community – adding that hugely important element of social vetting to the process.

UrbanSitter is available in more than 60 cities, the newest of which include Atlanta, Portland, Dallas, Austin, and Sacramento. There are over 150,000 caregivers in the UrbanSitter network, and most respond within three minutes to last minute jobs.

Perkins said UrbanSitter takes no cut from your payment to a caregiver. The company believes this is the best way to incentivize the best caregivers to source jobs through their site.

UrbanSitter enables you to use a credit card (much like Uber). Perkins said this system makes everyone feel a little more comfortable (don’t you hate that super awkward moment where you’ve come home after a few drinks and you’re rifling through your purse trying to find cash to pay your sitter?).

Caregivers can be hired for a wide range of time periods, but most parents are using the service for short chunks of the day. Perkins said they’re seeing average booking times of about four hours nationwide.

With UrbanSitter, you can find caregivers who are close by – some are just a mile (or even less) from your house.

“Using sitters for small breaks is a trend we seeing increasing more and more,” Perkins said. “Not only is it great for parents to take an hour or two to get the grocery shopping down or go to the gym, it’s also a great way for sitters to engage with new families and make some money without having to give up their entire day.”

Vacation help is surprisingly common, too. Over ten percent of UrbanSitter parents have used the service to book sitters away from home. Perkins said she used the service to hire someone while on a family trip to Tahoe this summer.

“I just really wanted a few hours to go on a hike at an adult pace,” Perkins said. “It made the whole trip better – I was in a much better mood because of it.”

While her service is quickly become ubiquitous across the U.S., Perkins says UrbanSitter is (not surprisingly) biggest in urban areas. 

If you’re in a major city, look for UrbanSitter’s clever ads in places you might find yourself needing a babysitter most, like pediatric dentists’ offices and lice treatment storefronts.

“Every parent could use a helping pair of hands. But if you’re in there, you probably need us immediately,” Perkins laughed.

For expert tips on finding, interviewing, and compensating babysitters, we sat down with Perkins to get her seasoned advice.

WHAT ARE THE TOP QUESTIONS PARENTS SHOULD ASK IN AN INTERVIEW?

  • The number one question is to ask about their availability and how long they will have that schedule. Too many parents interview caregivers who just aren’t going to meet their needs. Then they fall in love with them and end up adjusting their own schedules just to keep them. Ultimately, it doesn’t work out.
  • What’s their favorite thing to do with kids your kids’ ages? This will tell you what relevant experience they have and what a day with them might look like for your kids.
  • Ask them to describe a time where something went wrong and how they handled it. This will tell you if they have good judgment and the ability to handle tricky situations.
  • What are their future aspirations? This will clue you into what they might be excited about exposing your kids to – someone going to art school, for example, will likely want to take your kids to a museum or lead them in cool projects at home.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST RED FLAGS TO LOOK OUT FOR?

  • The biggest red flag is not being able to provide a reference from a previous job.
  • If they’re late for the interview or if they miss a follow-up phone call.
  • Kids not liking the babysitter. I’d say to always try someone you like once. Kids may cry when the sitter arrives or when you leave, but at the end of a job, I’d be worried if my kids didn’t warm up to her. If you come home and your kids still seem upset or distressed, that’s a bad sign.
  • Not engaging with your kids in an interview. If my kids are around when I’m meeting with someone and she doesn’t get down on her knees and play with them, that’s not good. Try to remember that some nannies can’t engage as well with adults, but are actually great with kids. Definitely make sure to see how someone is with your kids before hiring them, if possible.

WHAT'S THE GOING RATE FOR A BABYSITTER TODAY?

We use crowd-sourced data by area to obtain average rates that help guide parents. We also survey parents every year. Nationwide right now, the average rate we’re seeing is about $16.50/hour. The most expensive city in the U.S. is San Francisco (where we’re based) at over $17/hour. The cheapest major urban area is Denver at just over $12/hour (all for one child).

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO IF URBANSITTER ISN'T IN THEIR TOWN?

Many nursing schools and early education schools have lists of sitters they keep. Also, check for neighborhood list services – Noe Valley, a small community in San Francisco, has a listserv that frequently includes care provider recommendations, for example. Sometimes the local Red Cross has a list of sitters that have taken their classes, such as Infant CPR, etc.

TIPS FOR GETTING HONEST REFERENCES?

First of all, do what you can to speak to the reference yourself. You’ll learn a lot from tone and also be able to glean color around the sitter's personality and needs. The best way to get the real scoop is to ask – right before you hang up – something like, “Well, Jenny sounds terrific – if you could give her one piece of anonymous feedback, though, what would it be?” If they say, “She’s not always the most organized person…,” you know you will be coming home to toys and dishes everywhere. No one is perfect; but with that piece of (euphemistic) feedback, you can ask yourself whether you can live with a weakness or not.

WHAT MAKES FOR AN EFFECTIVE JOB POST?

My best piece of advice is to write a very detailed job description. Even when you think your job description is complete, ask yourself what else you could add to it. The idea is to put as much in there as possible, with the key components in the beginning, to get the candidate that can actually perform most everything you truly need. Many parents think more information will scare potential candidates away, but it’s actually more detrimental when they’re surprised by tasks or responsibilities that were not made clear before they were hired.

WHAT ARE BABYSITTERS' BIGGEST PET PEEVES PARENTS SHOULD AVOID?

  • When you come home very late and don’t give them any heads up; and
  • When you’re not clear on direction.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT?

People always want to understand sitter safety, but no one ever asks about the families. While the majority of families are fantastic, it’s important to us to monitor them also. We always ask the sitters if they felt safe in the home and if they’d go back.

Another thing that isn’t as talked about as it should be, in my opinion, is parent guilt. Many parents feel guilty to some extent when they leave their kids with a sitter. If you’re feeling that way, try to look at it as an opportunity to expose your child to something important you can’t offer. For example, if you hate sports but have two athletic daughters, you could look for sitters that are really into sports.

I want to tell parents that it’s okay to hire a sitter for a few hours on a weekend, even when you’re not working. Every parent needs a break sometimes. It will make you a better parent, and you’ll feel more refreshed.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR URBANSITTER?

We have a lot on the horizon to be excited about! One new feature we’re introducing is an enhancement to the reviews on the parent’s side where you can note when a sitter has specific traits or strengths. You could say, for example, she’s great with quiet children, or one-on-one, or with older kids. This will be a more constructive way to give feedback in situations where someone isn’t the right fit for your family, but might be good for other situations. It’s like writing “Good for romantic dinners” on OpenTable. It doesn’t mean the restaurant is bad by any means, but it helps the next person understand that she should probably leave the kids at home.



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