Grandnanny scoops the win at the 2021 Tyk Side Project Fund

Tyk began as a side project. Our CEO Martin couldn’t find the ideal API gateway solution, so he set about building one. Now, clients around the world rely on Tyk. But what about all those other side projects out there that are still in their early stages?

This is what the Tyk Side Project Fund is all about. And it’s why we’re so excited to announce intergenerational childcare matching service Grandnanny as one of our 2021 winners!

We caught up with Grandnanny co-founder Sarah Vick to share all the details…

Tyk: Please can you tell us about your side project and where the idea came from? 

Sarah: In a nutshell, we match working parents who need childcare – mostly wraparound childcare – with local, older neighbours who are looking for work, most of whom have either childcare experience or have brought up their own children. We try to bring together these two groups of people who live nearby but often don’t have those local, community connections.

A big part of the work that we do is trying to promote health and wellness for the older age group and combat loneliness. We like to encourage people to think about intergenerational connections in their local community.

At the same time, because parents are paying the grandnannies, we are boosting people’s financial security and contributing to the economy. 

Tyk: What gave you the idea to start Grandnanny?

Sarah: It was actually my co-founder’s idea. She was volunteering for a charity called North London Cares, which matches people in the local community with older community members. She realised that the lady she was visiting with only ever saw her and her carer, once each week.

While that was playing on her mind, her day job was in advertising, so she was seeing lots of her colleagues who were working parents being really stressed out about finding childcare. So that’s where she came up with the idea of bringing these two groups of people together.

She started it up as a side hustle and set up a website. She’s also studying for an MSc in Aging and Gerontology, which is the study of aging. With so much on, she decided she wanted a partner for her side hustle, so she advertised for a co-founder. She was looking for someone with commercial and technology experience, but also particularly wanted someone with their own children, who had experienced the struggles of finding childcare first-hand.

I saw her advert and it really resonated with me. I have twin daughters and my husband and I have tried absolutely every type of childcare – some good and some not so good!

At the time, I was looking to do something a bit different from my background. I saw her ad on Ada’s List, which is an online forum for women in tech. There was just something about the ad that really caught my interest, so we connected online and then met in person a couple of times.

We did the Women in Social Tech accelerator programme together, then away we went! We registered the business in January 2020, with no idea that there was a pandemic on the horizon. So 2020 was quite a year for us.

Tyk: How did you find the experience of trying to start a business as the pandemic took hold?

Sarah: We launched the business in January and began attending our accelerator programme, where we met loads of great business contacts and were introduced to some really good mentors. In February, we launched our pilot for the business model and about 50 parents registered their interest with us within just a week or two. So we knew we’d hit on something.

At that point we began advertising with the Department for Work and Pensions’ Find A Job service. We got some really amazing applicants through and began interviewing people, which took us through to around the second week in March 2020. At that point, it became clear that it wasn’t the best time to be encouraging people to go round each other’s houses. And because we were such a new business, we didn’t feel we had enough experience, so we paused everything. There hasn’t been any point during the pandemic when people haven’t been able to work in each other’s houses, but we decided to stop even so.

As such, we spent the time from mid-March to July building another website, getting our legal terms and conditions written up and focusing on planning the business. In hindsight, it was probably a really good thing to do. Obviously, had the pandemic not happened, we would have carried on and begun placing people and ended up further ahead that we are now. But, actually, that extra planning time was really helpful.

At the start of July, we had a few parents come back to us to ask about making matches, so we thought that was a good time to relaunch. That meant we began invoicing in August/September 2020.

Very incrementally, as we’ve been coming out of the pandemic, the business has been growing, which has been nice to see. It grows a little more each month, but it’s still a side hustle for both of us – I do consulting work for digital business as my day job and my co-founder is still doing her Master’s degree.

It’s been challengeing to try and fit in Grandnanny, along with everything else, but we won some EU grant funding and the Tyk Side Project funding, which has been great to really give the business a kickstart. We’re on the Kings College University accelerator programme as well and have won some grant funding through that as well.

We’ve hired a couple of part-time members of staff, one to do our marketing and one to do our sales. So as we’re coming out of the pandemic we’re building things slowly but surely.

Tyk: What challenges have you faced while work on Grandnanny as a side project?

Sarah: The pandemic has delivered some unique challenges. In January, for example, when parents were trying to brief us on their childcare needs, they had absolutely no idea whether they would need two hours of childcare per week or 40! Thankfully, now parents are a lot clearer on what they need, so that’s a lot easier for us to manage.

Tyk: What are your immediate next steps for Grandnanny?

Sarah: The future is looking bright for Grandnanny. We’re at the very beginning of starting to look for some angel investment. We’ve done a couple of pitches so far and have a few more coming up, so that’s exciting. It’s good to see that the interest is coming from people who are particularly passionate about our cause – about bringing communities together and building intergenerational connections – so it’s very interesting to talk to those people, as they have a keen interest in social enterprises.

We’ve also had the green light from the Department for Work and Pensions to hire a couple of Kickstart Scheme roles. It’s a scheme where the government will essentially pay for a young person (16-24) who is on Universal Credit to join your business and work for it. It’s a great scheme for any size business to help get younger people into work. We’re advertising for a sales and marketing person and a finance administrator at present.

We’re also cracking on making matches. We have a regular number of parents registering now, along with masses of applicants because so many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Our focus is mainly on North East London and South East London right now, though we’ll be expanding across more of London eventually. And beyond!

Tyk: Do you have to jump through any hoops in terms of regulatory compliance?

Sarah: We have a rigorous vetting process. People apply to us and we review CVs and then interview them, before the families we work with interview them. If the family decides to make an offer to an applicant, we put them through an enhanced DBS check and give them safeguarding and paediatric first aid training. And we take references from previous roles. 

It’s every interesting – in the UK, the nanny industry is highly unregulated. There are quite a lot of nanny-related companies that are fighting for greater regulation across the sector. What you need to have in place to work as a nanny is completely different to what you would need in any school setting. Our processes are based around the more stringent requirements that apply for school settings.

Tyk: What difference has the Tyk Side Project Fund made to Grandnanny?

Sarah: From a technology perspective, our business is quite simple. We just need people to register with us and then we take them through an onboarding process. Plus we have a payroll process. We’re not trying to reinvent anything from a tech perspective, but the numbers of pieces of technology that you need just to achieve these few tasks is really quite complex. We have over ten different systems, even as a small start-up.

The Tyk grant will help with a number of things from this perspective. Winning it has prompted us to rethink about what we should be spending on in terms of technology and the tech ecosystem that we need to build to run the business.

The other thing that we’re constantly thinking about is the fact that what we need to build the business today is not what we’ll need in one or two years’ time. As the business grows, it becomes harder to replace old tech with new. So we’re thinking about what we have in place, what we’re going to need and what we have right now that we’re not going to need in future. That’s been really useful for us.

Tyk: There’s clearly a strong social focus for Grandnanny. What are the values that drive you personally?

Sarah: My co-founder pointed out the other day that I absolutely love creating jobs for people, and she’s spot on. I haven’t worked in the childcare or intergenerational space before; my background is in managing agencies and the favourite part of my work has always been picking up the phone and offering someone a job.

You know you’re growing your business when you offer someone a job, but you’re also giving that individual an opportunity to grow and create a career. That’s probably the part at Grandnanny that gives me the greatest job satisfaction – we’re creating jobs for people to go and work in the childcare sector, but also for our business too.  Being able to recruit for our two current part-time people, who are both working mums, gave me a huge amount of job satisfaction.

Tyk: What tips would you give to someone thinking of starting a side project?

Sarah: Think about your time! That’s always been our biggest challenge – working out how we carve out time to spend in the business. Try to plan this as much as you can.

Being a co-founder really helps here. There’s a lot of research showing that co-founders are more successful than solo-founders. Plus it’s a much less lonely journey. We agreed from the outset how much time we would both spend in the business and we’ve always tried to keep that fair between us.

Obviously, you also need to do something that you’re passionate about. And understand that it takes time. A lot of start-up chat in the media implies that you’ll go from zero to the top of your hockey stick really quickly, but that’s just not the case.

It’s important to learn about finance, too. Learning as much as you can about finance and the commercial side of the business can make a big difference. You have to understand how the business will make money and how it will grow.

We’ve been on a number of different accelerator programmes and they can be really brilliant. It’s useful to look at the kind of cohorts that are on them and find a suitable match. We’re still really good friends with the people who were on our initial accelerator programme. Connections like that can form a strong start-up ecosystem; you can get a lot of support from it.

Tyk: Where will Grandnanny be in five years’ time?

Sarah: Hopefully we’ll have a grandnanny at every school gate! That’s our aim.

Tyk: Thank you Sarah – and best of luck!