Fredrick W Smith made a simple observation in a term paper as an undergraduate student. The problem was the fact that with evolving technology, people needed a more efficient system to transfer goods from one place to another. There was a need to provide transportation capabilities for goods of the modern age. He interacted with several experts- pilots, airplane operators and supply chain management theorists, and set sail on his idea. The key here? The fact that his idea was profound yet he possessed the clarity and vision to make it work. FedEx was born.
“The entrepreneurial scene at HBS is very rich and vibrant where professors are constantly encouraging new ideas and seeking inputs from students.”
With similar clarity, two Harvard MBA Alumni, Sridevi Raghavan and Raghavan Jawahar, have created India’s first onsite daycare facility.
Not just an idea
When Sridevi worked with Ogilvy & Mather, before she went to Harvard, she saw parents, particularly working women worrying about their toddlers, constantly calling childcare centers and making arrangements for their care. That’s when she felt that childcare within the office would be so convenient for these women. And her idea didn’t just remain an idea. She went to the right place to give life to it – Harvard Business School (HBS). “The entrepreneurial scene at HBS is very rich and vibrant where professors are constantly encouraging new ideas and seeking inputs from students,” says Sridevi. Before she knew it, she was in touch with senior professors who had been researching work-life balance for 20 years. After months of research and interaction with one of the largest on-site daycare facilities in the U.S, Sridevi with a lot of inputs from her husband, Raghavan, worked on the business plan, which did well at the business plan contest held by HBS in 2008. A couple of judges at the contest who were HBS alumni decided to fund her plan. “Before we knew it, we were back in India to start a business and didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into,” laughs Sridevi. And thus was born Amelio Child Care.
The differentiating factor
Their focus is on employer-sponsored daycare that will operate from 8:30 AM to 6 PM. Their flagship centre in Shollinganallur showcases what they have on offer to companies and parents. Although the Shollinganallur branch is a stand-alone daycare, they don’t plan to open very many of these. They wanted companies and people to understand their infrastructure, curriculum, staffing and other details of their plan. “It has helped companies understand what Amelio wants to do,” clarifies Raghavan.
Hiring is probably the most important dimension of any business especially in one that involves toddlers at an impressionable age. Their team is equipped to handle their customers, especially those from the IT field. They have differentiated themselves from a crèche where safety becomes the only consideration. “Having a maid at home does that job. We go beyond that. We have a curriculum of our own and that needs to be understood by teachers. They need to speak English and build confidence among parents and understand the curriculum,” explains Raghavan. To be able to get that mix was a hurdle in itself.
They follow a 1:4 teacher-student ratio and keep hiring as and when the need arises. Right now they are about 25 employees. Within 4 months of starting up operations they had their first client, Mahindra & Mahindra, at Mahindra World City in Chennai. They are working on extending their client base, and are in talks with several large IT companies. Their clientele depends on three crucial factors – Any place that hires young people where the average age is 25 – 35, where the problem of childcare is really stark for the employees and where the participation of women as a percentage of workforce is high. The natural fit in terms of all three parameters is IT but there are other large corporate offices in Chennai, for whom this could project their corporate image as an employee friendly organisation and they are willing to partner with them. Amelio also offers a unique pitch, where they offer to conduct a survey for the client company to understand whether the need for an onsite daycare even exists.
Mindset of people has changed in the last five years with Chennai opening up to daycare. And the next stage is perhaps the onsite facility. This solves psychological issues for parents such as proximity concerns and the need for reassurance. “Amelio stands for transparency. Even in our centers we have a wi-fi connection, and welcome parents to check on their kids frequently. Invariably a working mother gets an hour between meetings and that’s the advantage of an onsite daycare, you can engage your kid and spend that hour with her,” feels Sridevi.
Expanding to other cities where the natural growth is – like Bangalore, Noida, Hyderabad, and Pune – and where the transient population is high (young urban upwardly mobile couples struggling with this need), is the next logical step. The target for next year is to open a centre in another city. Although expansion requires funding, their business model helps them to be self-sufficient for the time being. “We want to consolidate before we expand. We’ve bootstrapped ourselves from the beginning and our biggest investment is in people”, feels Sridevi. At this point, their concern is standardization and consistency. While a franchisee model is an easier bet, Raghavan has a different story to tell. “Safety, hygiene and the right inputs going into a child are our biggest concerns. So we wouldn’t want to adopt the franchisee model. For the next 3 years we are targeting completely organic growth,” wisely states Raghavan.
The concept of a daycare is not new to the world. But Indians are still warming up to the idea of leaving their kids with complete strangers. As more and more women don the role of a working professional, and considering the modern nuclear family concept, onsite daycare centers are an option for any parent. Companies are soon identifying the need to satisfy their employees by providing daycare facilities. By identifying this important gap in the market, Amelio is investing in the future of India.