Singapore based start-up, Social Weaver, launches a new one-stop platform that solves a myriad of problems for time-starved young parents. Photograph:( Others )
Solving parenting problems with technology: The Social Weaver Story
Sumedha Khoche was a marketing professional who was busy building multi-billion dollar brands for P&G, when her life changed forever in 2012. With the arrival of her first child, followed by the second one a few years later, time acquired a whole new meaning. What also changed was how she spent her time.
Spending hours looking through multiple sites to find information became a process that was frustrating and very time-consuming. From basic, everyday things like where to buy a stroller or a birthday cake for her son, to bigger decisions like which paediatrician or pre-school to choose for her daughter, she found that there just wasn’t a one-stop solution to getting this information online. “When I was trying to organise my daughter’s first birthday celebration, the experience was frustrating; I spent days trying to figure out a caterer and couldn’t compare any options. The time, effort and cost were just not what my uber-generation is used to!” she says.
What she needed, she realised, was a reliable resource that combined information relevant to her with local community knowledge. As she began talking to other parents, starting with her childhood friend Kaivalya Gundu - a tech professional with years of experience in product management and business analysis - she realised that it was not a problem she faced alone; this seemed to be a common problem for many parents in Singapore and it soon emerged that it was a viable business opportunity for South East Asia as well.
As avid travellers, both Khoche and Gundu had always loved the value and simplicity of sites like Tripadvisor, which made travel planning such a breeze. And this was what they needed: a ‘tripadvisor for parents’, that could make local parenting decisions as simple and straightforward. When they test-drove the idea of creating such a platform, the response was resoundingly positive. It was an a-ha moment.
Finally, in 2017, along with Kaivalya Gundu, Khoche decided to take the plunge and launch Social Weaver.
What is Social Weaver?
Named after the Social Weaverbird, which builds spectacular community nests, this platform aims at being an online ‘nest’ of parenting wisdom. It is a one-stop, reliable content-community-commerce platform that allows you to discover and book local services, write in queries and review products or services through any web or mobile device. It has a curated database of 4000 recommended service providers in Singapore, spread across a hundred categories, so the answers to your parenting queries from pregnancy to pre-school and beyond are only a click away.
The site also aims to be the go-to marketplace for service providers to connect with parents, making their own associated marketing and administration processes much more efficient and effective.
“Social Weaver as an idea is very relatable. Being the parent of a 6-year-old myself, I could completely relate to the problem that we were trying to solve by building a one-stop solution for all parenting needs,” says Gundu, who is the CPO.
The site also aims to be the go-to marketplace for service providers to connect with parents, making their own associated marketing and administration processes much more efficient and effective. “Ultimately, our mission is to help parents spend more time with their kids and less time researching online. We want to make the discovery and booking of great services instant and fuss-free, so we simplify the process for both parents and service providers,” adds CEO Khoche.
For time-starved and stressed young parents today, having access to relevant information, local community knowledge and the experiences and practical tips for other parents is invaluable. As nuclear families grow, young mums and dads are feeling the pressure of having to tackle parenting without support and wisdom of an older generation. But Social Weaver is here to fill that gap.
Friends in business, making it work
25 years ago, when two little girls living next door to each other decided to start a business - a lending library for kids - it didn't quite go as planned. “Most of the books didn’t come back. But that’s because we didn’t have defined processes and roles at the time, so we couldn’t work it out effectively,” laughs Khoche. This time around, however, these two friends have set the ground rules for their business from the start.
That, they say, is very important when working in a team.
While they are both co-founders, each of them is solving her own unique problem, but with the same goal in mind. For Khoche, as CEO, resource allocation and getting the right processes in place is key. She drives the vision for the company, while as CPO, Gundu defines and manages the end-to-end functionality of the product and works directly with the tech team. Both work together to develop the roadmap for the business based on market needs. “We are both interested in the best product that we can build, to help parents save time. So we are on the same page and we do this by keeping the lines of communication open. We respect each other’s opinions,” says Khoche.
But starting a business with a close friend can be a tricky thing. Did either of them any reservations?
Having been involved with the idea right from its inception - by being Khoche’s voice of reason through the process of setting up the company and participating in all the initial surveys - quitting her own corporate job to join Social Weaver as a co-founder and CPO was a very natural step for Gundu. “It helps that she (Khoche) is very professional and transparent. And the trust was there from the start. She really does her homework and doesn’t do anything she is not passionate about, so I know that whatever she does is with the aim of adding value. For me, the standard fears one would normally have when joining a start-up were not there,” Gundu says.
The experiences and skills they gained from working for bigger companies have given them a huge advantage in dealing with these situations.
Gundu has always been Khoche’s sounding board and because they have known each other for so many years and been through a lot together, they recognise each other’s strengths. So the mutual trust that you might not have with a normal business partner was already there.
Although they have their fair share of arguments - which they feel is also healthy - they are both committed to driving Social Weaver in the same direction, working not as two individuals but as one. “Kaivalya knows the processes because she has a tech background; she knows both the business side and the tech side. She knows how to spot bugs early, is a fantastic software tester and is very good at customising user cases,” says Khoche, “and this is core to our business when we are trying to build something scalable. She’s very detail orientated, whereas I tend to be more macro in my approach. We have different temperaments, but we are similar in the way we work.”
Lessons from corporate life
The life of an entrepreneur has not been without its challenges. But both these women at the helm of Social Weaver feel that the experiences and skills they gained from working for bigger companies have given them a huge advantage in dealing with these situations.
Khoche says that, during her time at P&G and Pepsico, she learnt end-to-end marketing, from making sales calls & helping distributors with their ROI, to understanding consumer insights, brand launches, TV commercials and digital marketing. But more than that, she learnt to put people first. “In the last 10 years, I have met thousands of parents across Asia - literally lived their lives and walked in their shoes and it’s been such a humbling experience. For one, you stop seeing only numbers on a spreadsheet but see people, their joys and their challenges and get inspired to make their life better in a small yet meaningful way. Even when we designed Social Weaver, the starting point was in-depth research with parents across South-East Asia so we could create something that put their needs first.”
The most critical and lasting lesson they have learnt from corporate life, however, has been the respect for people and the focus on doing the right thing.
Working in Indian start-ups as well as with financial giants such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, Gundu, on the other hand, was often challenged by engineers who couldn't see why she – without a background in engineering – was managing them. “I learnt to read the code, even though I couldn’t write it,” she says. She also had to deal with slow decision-making processes and lot of uncertainty, which she now says helps her face start-up issues with ease.
The most critical and lasting lesson they have learnt from corporate life, however, has been the respect for people and the focus on doing the right thing. “We are starting Social Weaver on the foundation of these values and will percolate in all aspects of our operations,” affirms Khoche. Gundu adds they have also learnt not to be apologetic about what they are doing. “We are here because we are trying to achieve something. We wanted to be part of something that was going to bring about a change, so we are very confident in what we are doing and are not fazed by put-downs,” she says.
Challenging the future
While there have been issues like technical snags, bugs in the system and delays in timelines – issues that every start-up faces - the growing team at Social Weaver is enthusiastic about the future. “I am lucky to have my childhood friend as a partner with me on this journey. I’m proud of the team and what they’ve accomplished in such a short span of time. We have also been fortunate to have a great set of angel investors who also bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the table,” says Khoche.
So far, the beta learnings have proved to be invaluable; the site has had more than 19,000 page views so far and over 5,000 parents are following them on social media, even before their launch. There are many exciting developments, such as a mobile app, cool new CRM features and chatbots in the pipeline for the future.