Serial entrepreneur David James built his latest venture to address a problem that plagues the modern day family, pairing kids that need keeping an eye on with willing carers in the local community.
Founded in 2014, Juggle Street has grown slowly and steadily, attracting some 95,000 users and $3 million from private investors and high net worth individuals, and from Aussie venture capital firm Investible.
Now, the business is launching an equity crowdfunding campaign through Birchal in a bid to cash in on its growth spurt and take its tech to the next level.
Speaking to SmartCompany, James says in the past three months, Juggle Street has seen a 47% increase in revenue, compared to the same period last year.
The startup’s user base has also seen about a 31% uptick, year-on-year, with more parents than helpers signing up at about a 60-40 split, “which is really healthy for a marketplace”, he says.
James built Juggle Street to address a pain point that was very close to home for himself and his wife. At the time, the founder had one child in daycare, one in primary school, one in high school and one at university.
While the older two were sporadically looking for neighbourhood jobs babysitting or nannying, when he and his wife wanted babysitters for the younger ones, they found it hard to find one.
“There’s a massive demand in the neighbourhood for local services, but people just don’t meet anymore,” James says.
“These services have always been provided by friends and neighbours.”
Juggle Street provides a proximity-based marketplace platform, allowing parents to find suitable sitters, and vice versa.
Parents can rate and recommend helpers, and also compile a list of favourites to reach out to first when they need a little help.
Through the platform, parents pay to post a single job, or subscribe to the service for a year. Sitters are able to set their own rates and take home 100% of the money they earn.
After almost six years in the market, Juggle Street is getting close to breaking even, but that’s not something James feels particularly strongly about.
When the startup secures the funding from the equity crowdfunding round, its costs will inevitably go up, he says.
“We could have carried on the way we were going, growing incrementally and slowly chipping away to get to break-even and then profitability.
“But we believe the time is right now, with the user base that we’ve got, to go and get a substantial amount of investment and kick on to the next level,” he explains.
“We’ll be profitable before the end of next calendar year.”
Sausage sizzles and car boot sales
James launched the Juggle Street app in 2014, and spent the first two years or so building up trust in the local community. He rolled it out through primary schools, starting with the one his own children attended, and then approaching one at a time.
“We sponsored sausage sizzles and car boot sales,” he says.
“It’s quite easy nowadays to build a pretty app. But in a marketplace where children are involved, trust is the main thing — that’s the currency.”
It took the startup two years to reach its first 10,000 customers, and seven months to double that number.
“And then it grew from there,” he says.
Now, the marketplace is in use throughout Sydney, and in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and even New Zealand.
User numbers just surpassed 95,000, and that’s increasing every day.
“Word of mouth is our most powerful tool,” James says.
“Parents love to help other parents.”
“We tick a lot of the boxes, apparently”
A capital raise of this kind has always been loosely in the startup’s plan, James says. At the end of the day, it’s a community-focused venture.
“From a business point of view it makes sense,” he adds.
“We could end up with 1,000 or 2,000 people who are already emotionally invested in Juggle Street; for them to be also financially invested in Juggle Street is a very powerful marketing tool to spread the word.”
At the same time, James suggests he’s had some trouble getting traditional investors excited about the product. With the exception of Investible, investors have typically asked him to come back with more customers and more traction, he says.
“We’re not a startup anymore, we’re close to 100,000 users, we’re closing in on break-even,” he explains.
“We tick a lot of the boxes, apparently … but there’s a bit of risk aversion going on.”
The equity crowdfunding campaign is still in the expression-of-interest phase. When that’s over, James and the team will have a better idea of how much they will aim to raise.
But, he says it’s likely to be in the millions, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands.
And already, about 50% of those signing up for the expression of interest are users of the tech. Of those users, it’s a pretty even split between parents and helpers.
The helpers’ expressions of interest are generally of a lower value, he concedes, but for James, it shows this is a big part of their lives.
“They’re excited about owning a piece of it.”
Many of these helpers are of high school and university age — not exactly the demographic you think of when you think of equity investing.
But, James notes these people are tech-savvy and finance-savvy too.
“They’re starting to think about investing and their options,” James says.
“They all know they’re not going to get any interest on their money in the bank, and a lot of them follow podcasts about investing,” he adds.
“Equity crowdfunding is an easy way to dip your toe in the water.”
This cash injection is partly pegged for investment into marketing, in a bid to reach more communities in Australia and New Zealand.
James is also planning to build up Juggle Street’s tech and development team to improve user experience.
The plan is also to build out the app’s functionality to include a home tutoring offering.
“Having established the base mechanism and the supply and demand, we started out with simple babysitting jobs, then we were really driven by user demand,” James says.
As Juggle Street has grown, it’s added additional job types — before- and after-school care, regular babysitting jobs, and au pair positions.
That was why the founder chose an “umbrella brand name”, which didn’t specify exactly what kind of care the service facilitated.
Putting the words ‘baby’ or ‘daycare’ into the company name may have been better for SEO, he notes, but it may have turned out to be too restrictive.
“We didn’t want to box ourselves into a corner,” James says.
“We want to have a 10- to 15-year relationship with our parents.”