This stay-at-home mom turned a pandemic child care hack into a start-up that’s raised $3.6 million

Child care is in crisis. This mom-owned startup is trying to change that
Child care is in crisis. This mom-owned startup is trying to change that

In the spring of 2020, Gretchen Salyer suddenly found herself in a new role as homeschool teacher to her three daughters, after the pandemic shut down schools and day care centers — exacerbating a longstanding child care shortage in America.

"I'm a really bad homeschool teacher, and so it was just a really hard time for us," says Salyer, 40, who lives in Los Altos, California. She quickly saw that her family wasn't the only one grappling with the sudden lack of care. "My community and my friends and neighbors — they were really struggling. They were trying to work from home. They were trying to virtual school their kindergartener."

To lighten the load, Salyer began organizing child care swaps, where she and her friends took turns caring for each other's kids. "We would have weekly schedules, and then each person would take a day and take the kids on that day," Salyer says. "Then you would have reliable child care for the other four days of the week."

Salyer was a stay-at-home mom after quitting her job as a director at Intuit in 2018. She never thought she would become an entrepreneur after having three kids. But the success of those child care swaps led Salyer to a new business idea.

'Moms supporting moms in their most important work'

According to the Center for American Progress, in 2018 half of Americans lived in child care deserts — areas where there are three times as many children as there are seats available with licensed childcare providers. 

That only got worse during the pandemic. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, one third of all employees in the day care services industry lost their jobs in April 2020, as child care centers closed. Centers are still struggling to hire workers back. And the costs of care, already a financial stretch for many families, have jumped.

When child care falls short, it's often moms who bear the brunt. A disproportionate number of women left the workforce during the pandemic — many to care for their children.

Gretchen Salyer never thought she would start a business after having three kids.
Courtesy Gretchen Salyer

Sayler's startup aims to alleviate some of those challenges. June Care, which she founded in May 2021, matches parents seeking child care with fellow background-checked parents who can host kids in their home. "It's often a stay-at-home mom," Salyer says. "She's with her children as well."

June Care aims to provide a solution for parents seeking flexible child care as opposed to a full-time weekly schedule with a day care or nanny. Host parents caring for their own kids can earn an income by welcoming another child for a play date.

"We are tapping into the underutilized supply of care work that's happening in millions of homes across the country and making that accessible to families who are looking for care, and thereby creating additional income opportunities for everyone," Salyer says.

Host parents set their own rates, charging an average of $20/hour, Salyer says. June Care takes a 7% service fee.

Salyer wants to help moms make money — whether by caring for kids at home, or by working in a career now that they have access to child care. "Our vision at June Care is moms supporting moms in their most important work," Salyer says. "The work could be the work at home, or the work outside the home."

Gretchen Salyer
Helen Zhao | CNBC

'The child care crisis requires innovative solutions'

Salyer never thought she'd start a business after having three kids. As a 40-year-old mom of three, she felt she didn't fit the profile of a typical entrepreneur. Self-doubt crept in during the fundraising process, especially when coping with rejection.

At the time, Salyer had just a few hundred users and barely any revenue. She had to sell investors on her vision for a sharing economy approach to alleviating the child care crisis in America.

"I'm not 25, and then I'm also a mom," Salyer says. "I would wonder, is that factoring in to people not wanting to invest? And again, I'm not saying it was, but it's just all of these, yeah, self-doubt questions that I have — I think a lot of women have."

Salyer says pitching was a very "intimidating" and "vulnerable" process. "I would have a pre pitch ritual, because I would get so nervous, I would start shivering. And so I would have to strike like the power pose, you know, and then get a warm cup of hot water."

Salyer's perseverance paid off. In November 2021, she raised $3.6 million from venture capital firm Craft Ventures and several angel investors, including the likes of Pinterest co-founder Evan Sharp and Instacart co-founder Max Mullen.  

June Care raised $3.6 million from venture capital firm Craft Ventures and several big name angel investors.
Craft Ventures, Gretchen Salyer

As of early July 2022, the platform reports having about 5,000 members, split about evenly between hosts and care seekers. CNBC was not able to verify these numbers. The company is currently only operating in California, but plans to expand nationwide.

"We invested in June Care because the child care crisis requires innovative solutions," says Jeff Fluhr, who co-founded Craft Ventures and StubHub. "For decades, access to quality child care has declined because of high costs and burdensome regulations."

June Care investor Brynn Putnam, who founded smart home gym company The Mirror, says what the startup is doing in childcare "is very similar to what Airbnb did in the hotel industry and Uber did for the rideshare industry.

"I see tremendous potential in the June Care model due to the high supply and demand on both sides; from stay-at-home parents looking for ways to earn income and from parents seeking a more personalized and flexible childcare approach," says Putnam.

The article "This Stay-at-Home Mom Turned a Pandemic Child Care Hack Into a Start-up That’s Raised $3.6 Million″ was originally published on Grow (CNBC + Acorns).

I quit my $35K job to grow my side hustle — now it brings in $141 million a year
I quit my $35K job to grow my side hustle — now it brings in $141 million a year