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Fran Maier

How BabyQuip Delivers Unique Value to Its Community of Providers

Special Guest

Fran Maier

Co-Founder of Match.com, CEO of BabyQuip

Episode 3

May 22, 2019

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How BabyQuip Delivers Unique Value to Its Community of Providers

Want to keep providers engaged on your platform? Consider this your master class!

In Episode 3 of Platform Players, Fran Maier discusses how to create a community of advocates, drawing from her experiences as a co-founder of Match.com in the early 1990s and her current role as CEO of BabyQuip.

Transcript

Announcer:

You’re listening to Platform Players – a new podcast for the marketplace revolution.

How do you keep providers engaged on your platform?

Consider this your master class. Today, Fran Maier, Match.com’s co-founder and BabyQuip’s CEO, will share her secrets about how to nurture a community of advocates.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Platform Player Flashback.

Narrator

Fran Maier was making BANK as an Airbnb host.

Despite the controversy of the new platform and the general public sentiment that letting a stranger in your house could only lead to theft, assault or murder, Fran welcomed the business opportunity.

Being a diehard entrepreneur, she figured that she didn’t need the upstairs of her house, so it made sense to monetize it. But what would her friends think? Telling them would only conjure images in their minds of those post-Civil War stories where a woman falls on hard times, has to take in boarders, and becomes prematurely grey for all the hardship.

Maybe Fran would tell them just to get a rise out of them? She was always up for a little excitement.

And this whole Airbnb controversy was nothing compared to the early fear of the internet, which, according to many, would certainly only be used for crime. Fran chuckled to herself. She never saw the internet as scary. To her, the sound of dial up was the sound of possibilities.

“Just think of the world wide web’s ability to connect millions of people!” she had thought.

This passion for connection had led to her very first platform – Match.com, which she co-founded in 1994, when most women (in particular) weren’t jiving with the idea of booting up the internet, let alone using it to find love. She and her team tried every which way to quell their fears – eventually catapulting Match.com to earth shattering success, connecting millions of couples – and making a lot of money in the process. Those were the good old days!

Now, as she sat on boards and accelerators for female entrepreneurs, she sometimes daydreamed about what she herself could do with a platform now that people’s view of the internet was far less sinister.

Then one day, when she saw a particularly good pitch from a woman who created the Airbnb for baby gear right in Fran’s hometown of Santa Fe, the daydream began to creep its way into reality.

With this new platform, parents would no longer have to lug cribs, car seats and strollers while traveling, when they could simply rent from a local parent for a small fee.

“What a great idea,” Fran thought. “Wish that was around when the boys were babies.”

Yes, she certainly respected the ingenuity, but also, she was a tiny bit jealous of the tremendous journey that entrepreneur might take to gain mass adoption, as Fran had done with Match.

Though this new platform was still a small operation, it had already seen strong initial traction in Santa Fe, which proved there was a market. “This could be huge!” she thought. But the brilliant entrepreneur who created it was young and somewhat inexperienced scaling a company. Could she be the gas that would light this idea on fire? Well, that remained to be seen.

“Great idea or not, you have to have the right people to take this idea to the top,” Fran thought.

As the pitch continued, Fran turned the idea in her head over and over, weighing the energizing pros to the disheartening cons – until the pitch concluded. What would the verdict be?

“So, what do you think?”

Fran stared across the table from the young entrepreneur.

“I’ll invest in your platform. But I should be your CEO.”

And thus, the Airbnb for babies was born, later to be named BabyQuip.

Announcer:

Flash Forward! Since 2016, BabyQuip has raised $2 million in investment capital and in four short years, the company went from 4 to 400 markets, earning numerous accolades including Sunset Magazine’s Best Travel Hack for Parents award.

Let’s get down to the NITTY GRITTY! Here’s your host, Kurt Bilafer.

Kurt:

Hello, everyone and welcome to Platform Players. We’re coming to you from the Marketplace Conference today, so, if you hear a trolley, boat horn, or a rambunctious group of entrepreneurs walking by, it’s because we’re recording this in the heart of San Francisco, where so much platform innovation happens!

And I’m really excited to welcome one of the original marketplace innovators to the show today, Match.com co-founder and CEO of BabyQuip, Fran Maier.

Fran, it’s great to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Fran:

Thanks for having me.

Kurt:

So, during our discussions, we did a panel earlier today at the Marketplace Conference, one of the things that we talked about was community and how important community is. When you talk about it to me, it sounds like an extended family. Travelers are going to new destinations either to go see their family or go on vacation, and your providers are providing them not only with the necessary baby equipment but with advice and all sorts of insights and even curating special events whether it's an Easter egg hunt or some of those other things. Talk about how important and how much of a differentiator's community or this extended family network is for you in your platform.

Fran:

Yeah. I think community is absolutely key, especially when you're talking about a family-oriented business, travel-oriented business, and really one that's driven mostly our community, the stay-at-home moms. What they tell us they value, when they come in, they say that they're thinking, "Okay. They're going to take the transactional support. They're going to give me leads." That makes sense. What they underestimate is how great it is to be part of the community.

So, we've had some who are now part of our community who were solo operators, mom-and-pops in a given market. Again, they love that we're driving leads, that they're getting transactional support insurance which is really critical, but I think they just really want to stay and continue to share their journey, their experience with the other people who are doing it with them.

What I love is that the community is so generous. They share ideas. They share strategies. It seems so simple, but how to have your own Google or your own phone number just for BabyQuip was a really big deal. I love the community. The community is very active. It's a lot of problem-solving.

In a special needs case, somebody would say, "Hey, what do you think I should do about this?" People would give advice. They'll share ideas on new products to offer to our parents. They'll share—maybe they see a really good price on something from Amazon, or Target, or what have you.

Customer service issues happen. They hardly ever come up to corporate because they all solve it in the community. It's kind of amazing. What we try and do with the community from a corporate standpoint is answer the tougher questions. We have webinars. We have trainings. We have social media. Webinars, we try and get them local press.

We continuously are giving them ideas and stats. We celebrate wins like when somebody has their first order or their hundredth order, or an anniversary, we usually have a Provider of The Month. We usually award that to somebody who really did go above and beyond for a family or maybe helping another provider.

It's really put a lot of emphasis on I think our core values which are around hospitality because we're a hospitality business, collaboration, positive attitude. We've gotten the community involved in a lot of different things because one of the things that you understand as a marketplace where you have to take care of your providers, your community, your supply side is that we've got to bring them along. Not just surprise them with things.

What's been helpful is many of the community people are now working for us. They're helping with the recruiting, or with training, or developing new materials, or retention. They're great because they already know the business, so they can do that really well.

We'll also have meetups and talk about important changes. A real important change was our name was Babierge until last summer of '18. So, for two years. Babierge was a great name. Baby Concierge. Yeah. I'll accept that. Nobody could pronounce it. Nobody could spell it, and if you go to Alexa, it comes out baby hairs or baby urch. Neither one of those is good.

Now, it seems obvious; we're BabyQuip. Duh. How easy. But no. It's not easy at all to come up with a name. It's expensive, and after we launched the name, SEO—it was a very hard thing to do, but we had the community behind us. Even those who really liked Babierge and had built their business along with us as Babierge, they really, really stayed with us. There are these things that you do early that can really make a difference.

Kurt:

That's true.

Fran:

I think one of the other ones was it was difficult and sometimes remains difficult for people in the community to understand that we're going to put additional people, additional providers in a market.

I think one turning point or one point was I was in Los Angeles meeting with our provider network down there, maybe a half dozen people. One of the newer providers said, "Hey, are you going to stop putting people in LA now that there are so many of us?" Before I could answer it, one of our longest tenured providers said, "No, no. This is why it makes sense for them to put more in the market. I was like, "Oh, great. She's answering it. Not me." That means they've really embraced the strategy.

One of the things investors often ask is can we guarantee the equipment and guarantee the cleanliness? For the most part, I think these questions come from people who don't understand that the millennial mindset right now is they're happy with gig economy services. They're happy. They know they'll have a chance to review it, rate it, and read other people's reviews and ratings. They trust that. That's part of their trust framework, and they're preferably comfortable.

I had to tell these investors, "Well, right. There's no guarantee, but we are doing everything that we can from the beginning to end to make sure that it works. We have an 82 Net Promoter Score which pretty much is world-class, so tell me where the problem is." They don't like to hear that though.

Kurt:

I think it's the social accountability.

Fran:

Social accountability. Yeah.

Kurt:

The interesting thing whether you [look at, yell 6:54] for these other services. The reality is when you know anybody can go and say anything about you, I think it just raises the bar. It's kind of like these peer-level expectations when you're—we're only going to change in setting expectations when it's a mandate top-down. There's typically some resistance there, but when it's peer pressure for like, "Here are our expectations, here is how you're going to respond." Typically, everybody kind of rises to meet or achieve those expectations.

Fran:

Right. Back to our community, they are fanatical about things having to do with safety or cleanliness. They share stories about some gear, let's say a highchair or a car seat that comes back terribly dirty. They give advice on how to clean it. Or, should they buy the Dyson steamer or the other one? They go on and on.

Kurt:

So, there's this concept of what's called a Halo Metric, which is like one metric that rules them all whether it's like the frequency of transactions or average monthly users. [Crosstalk 7:52]

Fran:

I have a KPI spreadsheet that I work at, look at almost hourly. Number of words is important, and GMV, and dollars are important. But what percentage of my community has an order this month?

Kurt:

Interesting.

Fran:

That's a liquidity measure.

Kurt:

Yep.

Fran:

Then how many orders per provider per month? That will vary because it's a seasonality thing to some degree, but I really am looking at those numbers because [inaudible 8:28] supply side marketplace? Yeah.

Kurt:

I think what's interesting is there are so many metrics we can look at in traffic levels and GMV and these different things. You need to have that north star. That's why I like this concept, this Halo Metric that everybody in the company understands what is it we're doing? The reality is in these multi-sided marketplaces whether it's two or three or more parties is you have to have one that you're going to focus on. Not hopefully to the detriment of all others—

Fran:

No. Like I said, my KPI spreadsheet has a whole lot of stats, and one that we don't have, but I was saying, "Well, we need to have this one" is repeat rate. Now we're so many years into this, and I can do analysis, but now I want to know every month what is our repeat rate.

One of the things coming out of this conference is how important data is, and I appreciate the importance of data. I could tell you back in Match we didn't have the tools people have now. This one will tell you because you're tall enough, but a guy who was under 5'7" had a really hard time finding a date.

Men would pay for the service when they're about 31,32. Women would pay at 28, 29. So, just some stats there. I am really thinking we need to improve the data and the analytics that we're—I'm not saying that we don't do it, but we need to make data—we need to up our game.

Kurt:

I think persona and understanding, especially because with children, they're going to get older. So, the reality is their needs are going to change, and you move from an infant to a toddler, and those sorts of things. Making sure you have the right selection of products and the right providers and the right markets. I think you might see repeat usage starts as the kids age out.

Fran:

Oh, yeah. No. So, that's why we're really happy that our average order has a number of items and usually comes in around $160. Our cost of acquisition is much lower, and our takeaway is about 24%. So, we're positive on pretty much every order.

Kurt:

As platforms are listening to this podcast, what's the one thing that you've underestimated so far in this journey that maybe you didn't see coming, or you didn't know how difficult it was going to be? Do you feel comfortable sharing?

Fran:

I pick the things that surprise me on the good side where it's the power of the community that people were looking for this kind of work, and that they'd be really hard working and dedicated to it, and that there's the demand.

The cost of running a marketplace gets to be a little crazy. Just today is the last week of the quarter. I've been negotiating today because just everything is so subscription service. A lot of the money I have in the budget every month goes to Google. Not just for advertising, but for Google services and other things like that. Some of these costs just surprise me, and they keep on going up maybe a little bit faster than I want them to go up.

Kurt:

I think that's part of it is as we build things in the cloud and they're multi-tenant and lots of these different services, the reality is you don't have visibility into what your spend is going to be. The theory, the more successful you are, the more those costs go up, especially with the cloud infrastructure costs.

Fran:

Because I used to run a B2B business and know what the last week of the quarter is, I try and take advantage of those incentives, aligning those incentives.

Kurt:

Very smart. How do you unwind and make sure you have that time for reflection and really preparation for the next day?

Fran:

You know, I live in a great city. I usually end up going for a walk, or going out, or connecting with some other people. Or just [those stupid two 12:46].

Kurt:

Yes. Lots of stuff to watch at night.

Fran:

Right. I tend to have things that I get. Like a couple of years ago, I was all crazy about the eclipse. So, I would spend some time reading about it, and I went to Oregon and went to a festival with the other people who were crazy about the eclipse. It was really kind of fun.

Kurt:

What's your most productive time of the day?

Fran:

Sometimes, it can be between 9:00 and midnight, and sometimes, it can be between 10:00 and 1:00. Things like that.

Kurt:

Do you have a favorite book or book you're reading now?

Fran:

What book did I really enjoy recently? I listen. I've been a listener of books for many, many years, and I always find a good John Grisham, although I didn't like his last one to be very good.

Kurt:

When you look at how you draw your inspiration, and you've been doing this for a while. You started with Match, and you've gone through this. What is it that really motivates you to continue to come back and be this serial entrepreneur because the reality is like we talk about a lot of these people being serial entrepreneurs, but typically, they build something and two years later, they sell it, and they build something, and two years later, they sell it. Your journey has been a little bit longer than those five or six years.

Fran:

I would say that I've been driven over the years on the promise of technology. I still believe in the better parts along. I'm not quite as naïve as I used to be. I like to have impact.

Kurt:

Well, Fran, thank you so much for coming out and sharing this journey.

Fran:

Yeah, thank you. I enjoyed it too. One of the things I like is being in this travel industry is kind of fun.

Thank you.

Kurt:

Yeah. It will be very interesting to watch where things go next. I think with a lot of these marketplaces and platforms is they are fulfilling these unmet needs. The biggest challenge is like how do people find them? How do I identify them? Once they do, they fall in love with them. It becomes part of our everyday routine or our frequent routine. So, I'm going to be interested to follow the progress. But again, I really appreciate it.

Fran:

Yeah, thank you. I enjoyed it too. One of the things I like is being in this travel industry is kind of fun.

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