Birmingham resident Ginger Mayfield knows first-hand the hassle that comes with hiring a babysitter — especially in a pinch.
She recalls one instance when she had an evening graduate school class to attend. After learning that her attorney husband, Tommy, had to work late the same night, she scrambled to find a sitter for the couple’s two children, ages 3 and 14 months at the time.
“At that point,” she says, “I probably had 20 names in my phone, a network of sitters that I had built out through our church and our community. So I had plenty of people to text, but I couldn’t fill that job through my network. I ended up having to miss my class.”
She says paying sitters at the end of a night also proved challenging at times.
“I never had cash,” she says. “I had a checkbook, but a lot of the high school and college students I was using weren’t in the habit of going to the bank to cash a check. So a lot of times babysitters would have to come and get their money the next day once I was able to run to the ATM.”
Fed up with the stress that comes with scheduling sitters, in 2017 the Mayfields launched the mobile babysitting app Wyndy that lets parents and sitters connect via their smartphones and book jobs in just minutes.
Wyndy comes just as the childcare app business is expanding with competitors like Care.com, Urbansitter, eNannysource and Babysitters4Hire. The name Wyndy is a reference to Wendy Darling, a character in the novel “Peter Pan” who cared for the Lost Boys, co-founder Ginger Mayfield says.
The Wyndy app works like this:
Downloading the Wyndy app from Google Play or the Apple App Store is free. With the app, parents can scroll through sitter profiles, create a list of preferred sitters and set their hourly rate. They can also view how other parents have rated sitters.
Sitters, on the other hand, or “Wyndys,” create their own profiles and can scroll through available jobs. If the sitter accepts a parent’s offer, the job is booked. If not, or if a Wyndy does not respond in time, the offer rolls to the next Wyndy on the parents’ list until they book a sitter.
When the sitter arrives, they start the timer on the app, and they turn it off when the parents return. Parents can then pay the sitter through the app, thus eliminating the awkwardness of trying to calculate what to pay and the need to have cash on hand, Ginger Mayfield says.
“The app automatically calculates it for you, and does it seamlessly,” she says.
When a parent hires a sitter, Wyndy deducts a portion of the hourly rate as a platform fee. A parent also pays the price of the job along with a service fee.
For a sitter to work, however, they must complete an application and undergo a background check before they can use the Wyndy app and book jobs.
Wyndy uses a third-party, web-based company called Checkr. With Checkr, applicants submit their information by smartphone or computer and Checkr then verifies their employment and education and searches civil and motor vehicle records, county, state and federal criminal databases, sex offender registries and terror watch lists. Founded in 2014 in Silicon Valley, Checkr is one of the top background check companies in the country and counts among its customers Uber, Instacart and GrubHub.
To help mitigate risks even further, Checkr runs continuous checks and notifies clients if an employee’s status changes.
But a distinguishing feature of Wyndy is that it accepts only full-time college and graduate students as sitters. The thinking behind the policy is that college students are more mature and may have more sitter experience than the average teen, Wyndy Marketing Specialist Maggie Gann says.
“A lot of the feedback we got from parents was that college-age sitters were the most trusted as far as babysitters go,” says Gann. “They’ve all been babysitting since they were teenagers, and, at this point, have five or six years of childcare experience.”
So far, the app is available in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Charlottesville, Virginia.
Germ of an Idea
Wyndy co-founder and CEO Tommy Mayfield says he came up with the idea for the babysitting app back in May 2016 and discussed it with Ginger. “She was instrumental in understanding the particular pain points that we were trying to address,” he says.
So the couple started researching the competitive landscape, says Mayfield, and consulted other tech entrepreneurs, including a co-founder of Bellhops, a venture capital-backed start-up headquartered in Chattanooga. Bellhops’ customers can go online to book movers, and moving team members use an app to enter their schedules and connect with people who need movers.
By November 2016, Mayfield says he was working on the Wyndy project full time. Because the functionality of the core business would center on the app, they hired a developer to build it and a website.
“We did some focus groups and interviews with parents and college students to understand the unique needs the market had,” he says.
They also used their Facebook groups to test their product, and he says interest in the app grew.
“We felt like there was some validation that parents and college students were ready to start using technology to address this problem in a way they hadn’t before.”
In January of 2017, the Mayfields introduced Wyndy so parents could preregister for the app and prospective sitters could apply. They officially launched the app in Birmingham that March. Then Wyndy won $80,550 from the Alabama Launchpad in April 2017.
Afterward, the Mayfields’ startup landed a spot in the Velocity Accelerator program, sponsored by the Birmingham business incubator Innovation Depot in January 2018. The program gives startups the workspace, resources, mentors and networking opportunities to grow their businesses.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “It gave us some visibility that helped us build some additional relationships that were meaningful.”
Wyndy also captured $100,000 from the Velocity Fund in 2018. They then closed a $1 million seed round at the end of July 2018. The seed fund allowed them to grow their team, Mayfield says. They also moved into a larger office space at Innovation Depot.
Today, they have 10 full-time employees and one part-time employee. Mayfield says they are planning another round of fundraising for some time in the next year.
To recruit sitters, Wyndy has purposefully targeted cities like Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Nashville and Chattanooga that support college and university communities, Gann says, listing schools like Samford, Birmingham-Southern College, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Vanderbilt University as examples.
“It’s really about finding the sweet spot between a residential area, families with the right demographic and household income combined with the support and love for the school that’s in their area,” she says.
The marketing team’s strategy, says Gann, includes setting up informational tables and passing out t-shirts on campuses, as well as partnering with sororities and other campus organizations. They also use paid social media to target prospects.
“We also have campus ambassadors who are our eyes and ears on campus,” she says. “They hang up posters for us and recruit their friends.”
Designing for App Success
“Because these are proven, well-supported technologies,” says Lormor, “we can ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and focus on delivering a fantastic user experience and building interesting features instead of the infrastructure needed to keep things running smoothly.”
Today, Lormor says he and his team are focusing on how to refine the process of creating and sending job offers to potential sitters.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to streamline our core interactions to make the task of finding babysitters as easy as grabbing a ride on Lyft or buying a book on Amazon.”
As Wyndy continues to enhance the app, the company also is looking to expand to new markets as well.
“Our long-term vision is for Wyndy to be available in 50 to 100 markets in the next several years,” Mayfield says. “So, we have an aggressive growth strategy.”
Gail Short and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.