Every parent has felt the pinch - a sudden and overwhelming need for a baby-sitter, with no familiar source of child care in sight. In some cases the pinch is a legitimate emergency, in others it's just a sudden need to get to the movies to see something other than a cartoon — but there are few in the world with children who have not at least once found themselves with a desperate need for a sitter and absolutely no way to find one.
But good news has arrived, if one happens to live in Manhattan or one of Brooklyn's tonier neighborhoods (DUMBO, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope) in the form of Hello Sitter, a service that describes itself officially as the Uber of baby-sitting.
An apt description given the on-demand app's purview.
Hello Sitter is not the first mobile-sitting app to hit the market, but it is unique in that it does not require membership or a subscription to the service (gigs can be a la carte). Parents can enter their information, scroll through available options and have a sitter at their door within an hour.
The information entered is typical in some regards — name, address, payment data, etc. Some is rather unique — and uniquely granular — as parents are also able to enter data like their child's food preferences, allergies, bath routine and interests. That data is then combined with the magic of algorithmic matchmaking, and parents can then watch profile videos and select their sitter. Altogether, there are about 200 sitters on the site, the vast majority of whom are female.
Hello Sitter maintains that all of its employees submit to a full criminal background check and social media scan, and all have been thoroughly vetted for safety before ever arriving on the doorstep of the families they are watching. The site also notes that families are vetted before a sitter is sent over, though they were somewhat less specific as to how that vetting is done (or even how it could be done, given that the site advertises it ability to connect patrons to sitters within an hour of order).
“Trust is definitely a big thing,” said the app’s founder, Lauren Mansell.
Mansell further noted that some parents order the sitter ahead of their departure for further one-on-one vetting.
“We do have people who want to meet the sitter first for an hour before leaving." she said.
And pricing probably helps, too. Unlike Uber, Hello Sitter as of now has no surge pricing. Sitting for one child is $21 per hour, with cost increases for up to four children (the limit for a single sitter) capped at $26.
In its early days, the app has drawn somewhat mixed reviews.
Users are great fans, as evidenced by the effusive praise on tap in a recent New York Post story covering the service. Moms like the variety of sitters in the rotation — an opera singer was particularly praised, as was the promptness of service.
“I love it,” said Sai De Silva of DUMBO, the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, London Scout. “They were in their 20s and 30s. They can run around with children.”
Others were somewhat less ready to make Hello Sitter their regular babysitting solution, but thought it made sense for those parental pinch moments.
“If I need a sitter last minute, I’d be OK with it,” noted Nicole Roberts. “Not as much as Uber, but I’d use it in a pinch.”
But the app has also drawn a lot of critics, particularly among those who note that finding a baby-sitter and a cab driver are somewhat different. Baby-sitters need a lot more review, notes Kerry McNally, a mother of two who said she would not use it.
It was a sentiment that was repeated a few times.
“How do you vet them?” asks Upper West Side mom Emily Kaplan. “When I get a babysitter I want to know who their parents are, who they’ve babysat for and who they know."
And while there is some awareness that background checking is done, parents like Camille Santiago of Williamsburg think that it simply isn't enough when it comes to putting their kids' safety into the hands of someone else.
“You can have no criminal record and still be a psycho,” Santiago told the NY Post.
Which, it seems, will be the biggest hurdle for Hello Sitter to overcome: convincing parents that the person who will show up at their door and ready to sit is verifiably not a psycho.
Can the Uber for baby-sitting catch on and get to scale? Time — and busy parental schedules — will tell.
We'll keep you posted.