Koru Kids is the UK’s biggest childcare brand, building an entirely new childcare system from scratch, using modern technology. Having changed the face of after-school care in just three years, Koru Kids now has thousands of families registered on the platform and over 4,000 nannies trained and referenced.
At the end of last school year 1,000 Koru Kids Nannies picked up children from schools in London and we’ve also provided thousands of hours of childcare to our parents since December 2018, profoundly transforming the lives of thousands of families.
CEO, Rachel Carrell and the team have recently raised and secured £10 million in Series A investment from tech company Atomico, designed to scale the business’ offering. In particular, the investment is being used to grow the sole care and nanny-share services, to expand the offer of new services such as the Family-Family matching tool, a free service that introduces parents of pre-school children to one another, and to hire more staff and launch in new cities.
That means the total raised is now £14.1 million, a big leap from the £600,000 the business started within 2016.
Koru Kids is driven by a triple mission: to help families – especially working mothers – juggle the hardest years of their life; to help caregivers thrive in a difficult role; and to give children a childhood full of everyday adventures, setting them up for life.
Below I interview Rachel about her work.
Describe a typical day for you?
I don’t need an alarm to wake up, I have young kids. Having said that, usually my husband has been up for an hour or so already with the kids before I properly wake up around 7 am. Then, everyone comes into our bedroom and we have stories every morning. It is my favourite part of the day.
Our nanny arrives at 8 am and my husband and I go off to work. I wear the same clothes every single day to keep things simple. I love having a work uniform: jeans and a Koru Kids t-shirt.
At 5.30 pm I walk out of the office, take the Tube home and play with the kids a bit more. They’ve already had their dinner with our nanny but my 5 year old loves to cook so sometimes we will make a snack together, or tell more stories or make some art. They watch a bit of TV before bed. At the moment, we are all obsessed with a Netflix train cartoon called Titipo which is South Korean. I watch it with them too, I find it very soothing.
Once they’re in bed I work until around 11 pm or midnight, then watch a tiny amount of TV -right now it’s Brooklyn 99 – and go to sleep.
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
I’m really proud of the fact we now have 1000 nannies each day picking up kids across London. The other day at an event, a mum came up to me and told me we had changed her family’s life. That’s why we do what we do, it’s the ultimate motivator. It’s also brilliant to hear about the many nannies we’ve helped find great jobs.
We now even have a few mother and daughter teams working for us (sadly no father-son teams yet!). When a mum is recommending a job to her daughter, you know you’re on to something special.
In my personal life, the greatest turning point was winning a graduate study scholarship to come over to the UK. It really was a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment – had I not won that scholarship, my life would be totally different now. The scholarship paid for all my tuition fees and living costs, without which I would never have been able to do graduate study. I worked really hard during my undergraduate years to win it, and then spent 3 years wandering around Oxford in a state of bliss.
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
All extremely practical stuff! Far too many chargers and extra batteries for my phone and laptop. A big bag of nuts and raisins for when I get too busy to eat properly, and hand sanitiser for when I get off the Tube.
What are your ambitions in life?
To build the world’s best childcare service! Koru Kids is building an entirely new childcare system from scratch using modern technology. ‘After school’ was previously a very difficult time for many parents. I think it’s shocking that 1 in 3 London schools don’t even have an After School Club. That’s a severe failing of public infrastructure. My team and I are working as hard as we can to build a much better system.
We work towards a triple mission: to help families – especially working mothers – juggle the hardest years of their life; to help caregivers thrive in a difficult role; and to give children a childhood full of everyday adventures, setting them up for life.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I was in such awe of people who were more senior than me. I thought they must be so wise and knowledgeable. I remember being 22 years old in my first job, sitting at a dinner next to someone who must have been only about 26 but was a couple of rings more senior than me. I remember thinking, how do I talk to this person?
What could I possibly say that would be of interest to someone so senior? As I got more senior myself I realised that they were winging it, just like everybody else.
Answering this question has reminded me of that feeling…. I should try to remember this when I interact with my own junior team. It’s so easy to forget what it felt like to start your career. I really didn’t know how to do anything at all.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I’ll still be at Koru Kids in 5 years. The vision I have for the childcare system we need is going to take a while to build. We probably won’t be finished in 5 years’ time…. But we’ll still have built something freaking amazing! The childcare service we’ve already built is really good but the most exciting thing is that it’s getting better and better so quickly. We’re adding new features almost every day.
What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
Ask for help, ask for advice, be a sponge. There’s so much support out there for startups these days, especially for female founders. Almost everything you need to know is freely available on the internet and for emotional support and local advice, there are loads of great networks. I have had so many people advising me, mentoring, giving pitch feedback, connecting me with other people working on ideas, getting excited alongside me about what I’m doing, lending emotional support and venting with me. We’re in a golden age for startups and all you need to do is ask.
One of the best things I have done along these lines is join a small group of founders – there are 8 of us – who meet each month for a few hours where we follow a really structured process to help each other grow. We are really open and honest and share our own experiences in great detail. We’re all facing similar challenges.
I was in this group for about a year before one of the founders referred to it as ‘therapy’. In the moment I reacted like, ‘What? This isn’t therapy, this is just a group of people working through their problems in a highly structured…. Oh…. this is therapy’. My group were like, ‘Rachel, haven’t you realised you’ve been in therapy this whole time?’
What advice would you give to a new parent?
The best thing I ever did in terms of parenting was join an antenatal club on Mumsnet. Mumsnet has these monthly groups that you join based on your due date while you’re pregnant. The group I joined had almost 100 mums all due to give birth in June 2014.
We’ve moved to a Facebook group now and 6 years later there are still about 80 of us in touch every single day. We know each other so well it’s insane. We’ve gone through so much together: divorces, operations, diagnoses, love, death, births (so many births!), sex scandals and friendship bust-ups, and everything else you can imagine that can happen to a group of 80 people. They’ve given me the most incredible support, advice, tough love at times, and they’re all hysterically funny, too.
I’ve learned so, so much from my mum group about parenting and people in general. They’ve made me a better person, definitely more empathetic.
So my advice would be: find your tribe, you’ll need them. And you might well find them in an antenatal club on Mumsnet.
Finally, happiness is… stroking the back of my little toddler boy’s neck. His skin is so soft and warm and beautiful. I often sit next to him on the sofa and imagine him as a teenager and think, ‘He won’t let me cuddle him for long. I have to remember this moment.’
Photo by Fiona Freund.
Read more Wonderful Women interviews on the blog.