Connect Spotlight: Parentalist

Posted: 3 Jul 2020

Last year, we welcomed Bsit into the Connect portfolio. Initially focused on helping parents get the best quality childcare, the team has expanded its horizons and built Parentalist, a community of parents, friends and experts sharing their own parenting knowledge and skills, empowering every member to be the best parent they can be.

In our inaugural Connect Ventures Spotlight, our partner Sitar, sat down with Bsit and Parentalist co-founder and CEO, Dimitri De Boose. Read on to find out what inspired the creation of Parentalist, how COVID-19 impacted the team and business, and how to find opportunity in uncertainty.

Dimitri — I think it’s time to share what you guys have been working on over the past few months with a wider audience! Let’s start off with everyone’s favourite question of the moment: how has COVID-19 affected the company?

The impact on a platform that connects parents with childcare providers during a lockdown is quite massive. After COVID-19 hit France and Belgium, the first thing we did was help hospital staff members connect with volunteer sitters offering their services for free. But our overall activity was very low. In April, we were at 5% of the usual activity level. In May, at 10%. We’re talking huge, huge drops. We quickly had to decide between putting the company on furlough or switching our focus to building Parentalist.

The idea for Parentalist was actually born in November of last year, when we did an internal hackathon. We had been working on it since the beginning of the year as a side project and planned to launch it within Bsit mid-March. So our decision was more about whether to stop or go, rather than what to do. We said, “let’s go,” and focused 100% on Parentalist — all remotely. Because our team has been working together for quite a long time, we were actually super efficient. We built something in three months which as a side project would have taken us more than twelve months to do. It turned out to be a big opportunity for us.

What was the hardest part of refocusing the company on Parentalist?

Once the decision was made, it was easy, because we have this amazing, flexible team.

Imagine: in one day, people completely changed some of their job descriptions. The Support team suddenly became Creation & Content, because there was no need for Support anymore. Developers completely shifted the things they were working on. The Admin staff started creating content and doing sales, creating lists of potential creators and ambassadors for Parentalist.

The adaptation and flexibility of our team was just amazing, and I think that is what made this whole shift not that hard. In addition, the team believed in the vision from the beginning, because they co-created it during the hackathon. It’s always super exciting to start something new, and on top of that, initial results were so good — better than expected. It gave everyone even more energy.

Let’s start from the beginning: What is the company’s background? When did you start and why?

First, I am myself a parent of four daughters, aged from three to twelve years old — I am fully aware of the challenges active parents face. When we started Bsit five years ago, I was younger, had a very active social life, and was not yet the founder of a startup. I had plenty of time!

Back then, the main need was finding a babysitter. We wanted the ability to hire a reliable sitter very quickly, with last minute matching. Of course, trust has always been at the center of Bsit. We’re talking about your children; they are your most important asset. In Brussels, Bsit could find you a responsible babysitter within 5 minutes.

Ultimately, our raison d’être was to offer freedom and flexibility to parents. Making parents’ life easier was our mantra.

You started with Bsit, and then you recently developed Parentalist. Why the shift?

A big part of the reason comes from my personal story. After five years, I noticed that the challenges you face as a parent are constantly evolving. My wife always says “small kids, small problems; big kids, big problems.” I think this is quite true — but don’t tell that to my eldest daughter!

I also believe that being a modern parent brings new, more complex responsibilities than in the past. It goes beyond babysitting and childcare; you need to ensure your kids are fulfilled. They deserve serene, available, inspired parents, which naturally makes things better for them, too.

You need to take care of parents for the good of the children.

That was really the starting point.The other aspect is we wanted to offer a solution to all parents, not just privileged ones, i.e. those 20–25% of parents with the financial means to regularly hire a babysitter. And we wanted everything to be in a single place. Before Parentlist, there was no easy solution that helped all parents, at all times, and for the whole family.

After 5 years of building trust with Bsit, we realised we could use it for more than just babysitter recommendations. We could foster collaboration and community-building between parents.

If you think about it, parents experience something at one time, and six months later, different parents experience the exact same things. Parentalist bridges that gap.

It’s crazy, but there is no school for parenting. Even if there were, each kid is so different, with different needs. The answer is continuous assistance no matter what stage of parenting you’re in.

What’s your vision for Parentalist? How do you define success?

With Parentalist, we are building more than just a new platform.
Our mission is to help every parent be the best parent he or she can be. For us, being a good parent is about making the right choice, every single day.

Parents are not perfect; they need constant advice and support. They need parental assistance, and that’s what we create. Whether that’s help with things like recipes to make the kids love eating vegetables; activities for the whole family, including indoors; or even books for children about to have a younger brother or sister.

To me, success is that as soon as a couple wants to become parents — that one’s on you — they know they need parental assistance, and they choose Parentalist everywhere in the world, because it’s the best.

What has developing Parentalist helped you understand about the family tech market?

Today, finding ideas, service providers, parental advice, is generally a really poor experience. It requires a complex combination of search engines, social network groups, inspiration boards, direct messaging to friends, phone calls, paper, pens… You spend hours online, deep-digging, scrolling through forums and conversations, taking screenshots, only to end up on a very old, SEO-optimised website with an activity that just doesn’t exist anymore — that’s a classic example. We saw that parents were doing a large number of things, but very inefficiently. When time is precisely what parents don’t have, this is a problem.

Then, as I mentioned before, everything is very split. You’ll find things for kids, but not for kids your age, because that’s rarely taken into consideration. You don’t have this all-encompassing experience that will accompany you through all stages. Our analysis was that nothing really existed that was good for parents first.

If you could go back in time one year, what would you do differently?

I remember! That’s about the time we closed our seed funding round with Connect and were still focused on Bsit.

On positioning, I would further prioritise creating a new category. I have to say, the workshop with Pietro and the Play Bigger people was really helpful. We actually did start quite early, in August, but I think it should have been a focus even earlier. When we entered new markets, Bsit was a better product than the existing ones in those countries, but it wasn’t really unique enough. We should have started with category design.

On the economic side, when we launched in a new country, in France, we launched with a freemium model. We thought making it free would result in more adoption. But it actually made parents trust us less. It turns out, free does not inspire trust. We changed it, and we actually have better results with a paying model than a free one. That was very counterintuitive, but a good lesson.

Inexpensive is sometimes better than free.

My last change is I would hire a star Product Designer earlier. Since ours joined us in November, the quality and speed of the product has increased dramatically. Parentalist would have never been what it is today without him.

Generally, every founder knows that hiring a star team early makes a big difference.

At the beginning, when you’re small, it’s not that easy to get star people to join you. You may know you need them, but you can’t really get them. Or you’re not absolutely sure of it, so you don’t spend enough time trying to make it happen. But really, a star Product Designer makes all the difference.

What is your approach to product design? Has it changed since you started the company?

Since day one, we’ve been inspired by product vision, with incremental upgrades. We know where we want to go — product first — without being too detailed. We build step-by-step improvements that work. We haven’t changed that.

What has changed is the product organisation. We used to work more on a “waterfall” basis: I had the ideas, then it went to a product manager, then we did the design, then it went to developers. Now, a lot more work is done before anything gets created, with collaborative discoveries.

Every member of the team can join our discovery sessions and share their advice, feelings, and opinion before anything goes to developers.

Another thing we do more of now are user tests — I think we run four to five user tests per week to make sure users really understand the value we want to deliver. It’s fascinating: you believe you’ve built something that is easy to understand, and then you see users trying to navigate it, and sometimes they just can’t. One of our team members from Hungary runs these tests so magically. She just keeps asking questions without telling people what to do. It’s very insightful.

Last, we now track everything with data and user behaviour, which was not the case at the beginning. This is even more accurate during lockdown, what with all the live and collaborative tools that exist online. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to work remotely than in the same room. That’s another good lesson from the last three months.

As CEO, what’s one thing that has significantly changed in your role and approach through your shift from Bsit to Parentalist?

At the start, as a founder, you do a little bit of everything yourself. Afterwards, it’s about building the team that does the things, owning the vision and value of the company, and making sure everybody understands and aligns with it.

What I’ve learned from the lockdown in particular is the benefit of doing more in writing, because you don’t have the choice.

I’ve always been more of a speaking guy than a writing guy, and now I really love writing. It’s so clear. It’s written; please comment; all agree; move. These are the targets of the week, of the month, of everything, and it’s crystal clear. It also helps junior team members, who don’t always speak up when they don’t understand in person. When it’s in writing, you avoid so many misunderstandings.

Wonderful, thank you for your time, Dimitri! We are so excited to see what lies ahead for Parentalist.