At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on those who make up the UK’s thriving technology community.
This week, we spoke with Rachel Carrell, CEO of Koru Kids, a platform which helps parents find affordable childcare.
Carrell talked about her toughest and proudest moments to date and how her husband, a late-stage investor, is annoyingly always right.
Tech vertical: ParentTech
Funding: £600,000 from 12 investors, including Global Founders Capital, the co-founders of Entrepreneur First (investing personally), and the co-founder of Gumtree, Michael Pennington
Staff count: 4
Location: The Camden Collective near Euston in London
Q: Where did the idea for Koru Kids come from?
I was running DrThom.com, the world’s largest online doctor service, when I had a baby. On going back to work and finding childcare for my own daughter I was gobsmacked to discover how difficult it was. Childcare is too expensive, quality is too patchy, the hours are often very inconvenient and everything is subscale, leaving parents overwhelmed and mostly ‘only just’ managing –even the ones who can afford a nanny.
I found an amazing childminder in the end, but I just got lucky. If you have a ‘big job’ where you can’t reliably get home to nursery at 6pm, but you can’t afford the £37,000 average cost of having a nanny, then you are really going to struggle to find quality childcare you can afford. It’s even harder still if you’re freelance.
I decided to solve all of these problems… eventually. We can’t solve them all at once, so right now we’re just concentrating on bringing down the cost of having a nanny. We help parents share their nanny with other families, so that each family pays one third less for care, while the nanny gets a pay rise.
We take a small commission in return for the introduction and managing all the paperwork of employment. We’ll gradually roll out more services in future. My vision is to build the world’s greatest childcare service, bar none.
Q: What’s your background? What were you doing before?
I’m originally from a small sheep farming town on the South Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I came over here for postgraduate studies at Oxford, then was at McKinsey for 6 years.
I learned a lot, but really wanted to build my own company. I got a great break when the founder of DrThom.com sold the business to a German company Celesio, and they needed a new CEO. When I took it over, DrThom.com had 12 employees and 200,000 patients and in over three years I grew the business to 1.3 million patients in three countries. It was an amazing ride and I feel extremely lucky to have been able to do it.
Q: What has been the most challenging part about setting up your company?
It all felt quite easy and cosy while it was just me, putzing about learning stuff and having ideas over a few months. Ever since we have other people’s money in our bank account, though, and actual team members, I feel like there is a big clock ticking loudly above my shoulder.
We have to seize every day. Startups are so fragile and anything can kill you – cashflow, poor team, bad product decisions, wrong strategy, inept marketing and sloppy operations. There are so many ways to fail but you have to do everything well to succeed.
Q: What’s been your proudest moment, so far? And your worst?
I have a happy place, which is our page of customer testimonials. It’s bookmarked on my phone for tough moments. I am really proud of our customer feedback since it’s the culmination of so much hard work.
Our worst moment so far: We’ve gotten to the finals of a couple of things and not won, and it’s gutting because it’s such a time sink. I am a very impatient person. I hate wasting time and this trait has not exactly been toned down by founding a startup.
Q: Have you had any mentors along the way, if so, what have they helped with?
I have so many mentors it’s hard to list them. My first instinct with most problems is to crowdsource the answer or to think of a mate of mine who’s an expert. I am constantly on my Whatsapp groups, Telegram groups, Facebook groups, asking people for help with stuff.
Some of my Facebook friends did some maths for us the other day on my Facebook wall. If I were to name a few I’d say: our investor Michael Pennington has been incredibly helpful on technology strategy, as has Ryan Sikorsky, another backer.
My husband Dave, who is a later-stage investor, is annoyingly wise. He keeps telling me things that I only realise are right a month later.
Q: What’s your top advice for any budding tech entrepreneurs out there?
Q: Do you ever regret becoming self-employed?
Not for one second, never. I want Koru Kids to be my life’s work. I can’t think of anything I’d be doing that would be more fun, difficult or important.