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Helpr's new Uber-like app lets parents find a babysitter in a pinch

Any parent knows how difficult finding reliable child care can be, especially on short notice. Los Angeles-based start-up Helpr is bringing experienced sitters to parents in a pinch via app.

"It's a transactional booking, so you can book a sitter the way you book an Uber," said CEO and co-founder Kasey Edwards. "We have a lot of screening, and you can get consistent babysitters through the app. We call that continuity of care."

The company was launched in January 2016 by Edwards and Becka Klauber Richter, college friends who met at the University of California Santa Barbara. The duo previously ran a similar service, called University Sitters, a boutique agency for personalized child care.

Helpr is available in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the company is launching in New York City and Chicago by the end of this year. To date, the start-up has raised just under $1 million in funding from angel investors and a micro VC firm and has six employees.

The company's 8,000 clients are booking services with 350 sitters on the platform, and the current retention rate is at 70 percent. Rates begin at $25 an hour but vary depending on how many children need care and how much lead time is given. The company asks for a three-hour advance in booking but also works to service on-demand requests. There's also an extensive screening process.

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"We do an interview process that includes an in-person interview, we check professional references — calling parents, day cares, camps — and we check for CPR certification and do a social media review," Klauber Richter said. "We also do a background check. It's really as much as you can do."

A 'Helpr' for working parents

They've also expanded the model to offer child-care services in bulk to companies who offer Helpr as an employee benefit. The company has already caught the attention of Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, along with about a dozen other businesses in high tech, legal and financial services. Those booking services through their employers use a company portal for care.

"We're seeing not a lot of paid maternity leave, not a lot of paid sick leave. We're really trying to push the culture into the space of supporting all of those working-parent conditions." -Kasey Edwards, CEO and co-founder of Helpr

"Typically, we see companies, especially the bigger firms, will build on-site centers. But that isn't always possible for every company, so we found that by offering a benefit like Helpr, we can deploy babysitters to the home at a much less expensive rate, and there's no lead time in getting it set up — it's sort of a turnkey child-care solution," Edwards said.

And the option also allows for more flexibility for parents, Klauber Richter said, adding that "the difference between having an onsite center and in-house services is being able to offer this to parents with children of all ages. There's no rigid end time, like a day care would have."

As the debate over maternity and family benefits continues on nationwide, Edwards said the company believes it's helping to advance the conversation.

"We're seeing not a lot of paid maternity leave, not a lot of paid sick leave," she said. "We're really trying to push the culture into the space of supporting all of those working-parent conditions."