Your maternity leave is coming to an end, and you are frantically looking for a daycare centre that’s convenient, safe and trustworthy. What seemed like a simple enough task (after all you see daycare facilities dotting the roads all around town), appears impossible now that the well-being of your child is at stake.
Divya and Ketika saw this as a potential area where new parents needed help. But where others see problems, they sensed an opportunity and turned it into a successful business. ProEves, an online portal that aggregates, verifies and engages with preschools and daycare centres across India, services parents and corporates to finalise a childcare centre that meets their requirements.
We spoke to Divya Agarwal, a driven first-time businesswoman, and mommy of two, about her entrepreneurial journey.
Q: You and Ketika started ProEves just a couple of years ago, and it’s already growing at a spanking pace! Give us a quick glimpse into how it started and the early days.
Divya: So, I was a corporate workhorse (Ketika is also a workaholic par excellence!), but with motherhood, some priorities shift. I loved my work in HUL – the team and the work environment were fantastic, but I was itching to do something of my own. Naturally, both of us had discussed this idea of connecting parents to good daycares.
During my maternity leave (with my second child) I felt its now or never! So, in 2016, Ketika and I bootstrapped our company and started our business with our little kids sleeping beside our desks!
Q: Tell us a bit more about ProEves. What services do you provide exactly?
Divya: A lot of parents don’t know what to ask or check when they go scouting for daycare facilities for their kids. I mean we check reviews of restaurants before we go out for a meal, so how can we rely on word of mouth for our kids! Basic questions about staff and first aid kits etc. are never touched upon. There are no legal requirements and licenses for day-cares in India, the industry is not transparent, and it does not provide flexible options to parents.
So we come into the picture as a daycare aggregator, we help corporates and parents discover, decide and book centres. There are features like mom references, block a visit, counsellor chats that parents can make use of.
On the other hand, many local, regional childcare centers are not tech and marketing savvy. The investment in infrastructure and staff is sizable, but they only end up relying on word of mouth to attract business. They don’t know how to manage social media or get reviews or do reputation management.
ProEves helps both sides of the child care spectrum; we help parents by ensuring that the daycare centres meet all requirements and we help daycares by streamlining their marketing and giving them a trusted platform.
Q: This is a completely new service. It must have been tough to create an ecosystem from scratch. Tell us a bit about some of the challenges you faced.
Divya: Well yes, any business is challenging. For us specifically, the biggest bottleneck was creating a large network of preschool, daycares and getting inroads to our target customers of new parents. It took a while to talk to managers and owners and explain the concept to them and get them on board and to create a list of standardised features that everyone followed – safety, first aid, staff training, etc.
Also, as we were bootstrapped, we had financial constraints. Putting together a good team took some effort as we were looking for like-minded professionals.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 gave a good boost to our business – it made crèche facility mandatory for every establishment employing 50 or more employees. By this time, we had already connected with over 600 daycare centers and had honed our knowledge of the whole ecosystem (in fact we were the only ones in the field).
This helped us work with corporates as consultants – they outsource their entire process to us. We shortlist facilities, conduct audits and manage the entire front end between the creches and parents.
Our corporate business has helped us grow and sustain our other operations. Now we are ready to go in for a round of funding in 2019 to expand our B2C business.
Q: What are your plans for the next phase? How do you plan to use your funds?
Divya: Increasing the depth and breadth of our network, technology-enabled bookings and ramping up marketing is a priority for our business. We plan to roll out various services like event booking, hourly daycare bookings etc for our customers
And yes! We also continuously conduct large-scale surveys and research with corporates the whole year round. Extra funding could help us increase the scope of these as well.
Yeah! So, lots to do! We have big plans!
Q: Did you face any special women-centric issues? Are there any struggles that are specific to women entrepreneurs?
Divya: Well, to be honest, not really. The field is largely women dominated. There is a perception that women don’t have a good head for figures, so maybe we will face these biases when we start tapping investors for funding. But I am pretty confident that in our field we are the experts and we have a tested business model, so I am not too fussed with how we will be perceived by investors.
Q: What are your learnings from your professional journey?
Divya: Business is not easy, setting up a new concept or service is even harder. I wouldn’t lie – there were times we wanted to give up. But am glad we hung around.
I have been blessed with a great team that has grown with us and with the support from my family. For both of us, Ketika and I, things worked out great – we found a good business idea that we are passionate about and a complementary partner in each other. She is meticulous in her work, plans for the next things and brings the big picture thinking, while I focus on executing with excellence. Maybe starting a company with a 6-month-old baby wasn’t the best timing – but there is no perfect timing for everything in life!
Q: Anything you would like to say to women starting their entrepreneurial journeys.
Divya: You need to let go of the salary mindset. Initially, for the first year, I was validating when the business outflows will be matching my corporate salary. It took me some time to realise that when you are building a business you need to think long-term and you need to think big. What excites me now is – what is the growth rate of our business, how many customers are we acquiring, how soon we will hit the 30 Crore, 50 Crore and 100 Crore mark.
Divya, Ketika and their team are doing a commendable job of helping women get back to work without worrying about daycare centers. We wish them all the success because therein lies the success of many women returning to work.
If you would like to share your entrepreneurial journey, then drop us a quick note or a comment below. We would love to hear from you.