And now the founders of the site called CareLuLu are seeking help to grow the business from the mentors and funders at the Startup Factory in Durham. CareLuLu already launched a nationwide directory of 200,000 childcare operations, and hopes to soon release the full platform in other large cities—places where the childcare and preschool market is crowded and it's hard to find openings.
An environmental engineer by trade Patrick Matos stopped work on his previous startup, an application to help homeowners make their homes energy-efficient, after he and wife Jen Usmanova went through the painful process of finding daycare in Washington D.C. for their four and two-year-old kids.
"I took a look at the market and realized there was a big opportunity," says Matos, who moved to the U.S. from France to attend the University of California at Berkeley. "You're used to looking for airplane tickets and very quickly finding a direct match. If you're looking for a home, go to Zillow and put in criteria. That was not available for daycare and preschool."
CareLuLu offers a free service for any daycare or preschool that wants to list information about the business. It encourages centers to post photos and list prices, hours of operation, educational philosophy, and whether it caters to children with allergies. But to get added features, more direct referrals and better placement on the site, daycares can pay for premium plans.
The site is already getting a lot of attention in the Washington D.C. area, and that was a draw for Chris Heivly's team at the Startup Factory. "They're ready to blast to the next level," Heivly says. "I love it when I see teams that formed prior to the Startup Factory." He also learned of CareLuLu from Fortify Ventures, a respected venture fund and former accelerator operator in the nation's capital.
Matos and Usmanova partnered with CTO Gabriel Marques and developer Igor Barroso, both of whom graduated from a top Brazilian computer engineering school and then worked for Groupon Brazil, to build the site. The men are working to add features in response to the requests of providers and users.
They're also mining traffic data from the national directory to determine where to expand next. CareLuLu plans to hire staff in those regions to sell the product to daycare chains, independent operations and even home-based businesses (that are certified as childcare centers), Matos says.
Will the Triangle make that list? It's possible, Matos says. But it wasn't too hard to find daycare and preschool for their kids in Durham. Only time at the Startup Factory will tell.