Everyone has their story. Georgia Meek, Founder of Babysitters Club

By Babysitters Club | June 03, 2020

I thought I would take some time to share my journey with you all.

For those who don't know me, my name is Georgia Meek. These are my two incredible brothers, Matt and Jo. 

We were all born and raised in the beautiful town of Raglan. I was the boss of the family. I was great at directing and letting everyone know what they should be doing. As you can see from the size of the smile on my face, I also adored babies and children from a very young age.

We came from humble but incredibly creative beginnings. We spent a lot of our younger years camping around New Zealand. Mum and Dad loved us, and each other more than words can express. They raised us with strong values and encouraged us to do things that made us happy. They encouraged us to not overthink things and encouraged us to follow our heart and our gut feelings.

My brothers listened to my parent's words of wisdom and excelled in sports. They made New Zealand and regional teams. They were incredible, but I somehow skipped the sporting gene. Despite my parents encouraging words and support, I would often cry and repeat that I didn't feel I was good at anything. I felt lost for a lot of years. Mum would always repeat to me, 'Georgia, you're good with people. That's your talent'. I didn't accept that as a talent, to be honest. I thought Mum was just being a 'Mum' and finding something to make me feel better about myself.

What I did begin to realise over time, however, was the influence that others had on others' lives. I was fascinated by the fact someone's words could stick with me my entire life and build my confidence. I was fascinated that by spending time with one person, I could feel immersed in a totally foreign culture. Maybe my curiosity became my talent. I understood how incredibly beneficial it had been to meet certain people in my life, and I wanted to share the same opportunity with other people's children.

After finishing high school, I enrolled at Waikato University to complete my Bachelor of Primary School teaching. During my degree, I became inspired by the concept 'tuakana-teina'. This is a Māori philosophy that is based around the idea of an older person helping the younger person. It can also be reserved at any time. We learn just as much from our younger people as we do from those who have lived before us. The concept of tuakana-teina has been embedded throughout Babysitters Club's philosophy and practice.

While studying over in Hamilton in the first year of my degree, I ended up spending most of my time in the Mount. My 'high-school' sweetheart (if you can call it that) convinced me to transfer my degree to the Tauranga campus so we could be closer to one another. This was one of the best things that ever happened to me. You'll learn about that next.

Living in the Mount at the time was the wonderful Kerry. Kerry and I had gone to school together, although, she was a couple of years old than I was. We ended up hanging out with a lot when I moved over and formed an amazing friendship.

We both wanted to connect to the community more and loved children. That's how the original 'Babysitters Club' was born. Kerry told her work friends and we rounded up as many of our friends as we could. If we couldn't do the job, we would ask our friends. If they could do it, that family would become theirs to look after. Bookings began coming through and word spread fast. At the same time as completing my primary school teaching degree, I was also nannying part-time. Kerry and I never really saw Babysitters Club as a business. It was more so a way for us to connect with the community, hang out with kids, and do something we loved. Despite all of the work we put in, we made no money. We did it because we loved to help others.

With no real tie to the company at this stage, I decided to take a gap year. This was between the second and third year of my degree to go traveling. During this time, I ended up landing myself a job as an Au-Pair. The connection happened through one of my babysitting clients in the Mount, who had a friend living in London. The family I was Au-pairing for had achieved amazing things in business, and I was really inspired by them. They told me that businesses similar to Babysitters Club existed in London, which made me realise we had created something more powerful than we thought. From that moment, I began brainstorming ways to restructure what we had set up. I thought about how we could monetise it and how we could make the experience amazing for parents, children, and sitters. Kerry was just as inspired to try and make it work, so when I got home, we had our first meeting, and "The" Babysitters Club was officially born.

It was a pretty confronting year trying to finish my last year of university at the same time as figuring out how to run a business. I would interview people in my garage between lectures and hand them printed out standards and policies we had created. We tried hard, but with only charging a $5 booking fee per booking at the time, we soon began to think Babysitters Club didn't have a future. Kerry decided she wanted out, so we split the money and I began to explore my next steps.

I continued to take bookings but had the idea of setting up an after school care program instead. I was literally in the process of looking for a premise (which was proving to be hard), when a man came into the lecture and began speaking about a scholarship that Waikato University was offering for anyone with a 'big idea'.

I applied for the scholarship with the idea of creating a holistic after school care program. I wanted to incorporate natural resources and empower children through mindfulness activities that build on children's confidence. A few weeks later, I received an email to say that my application had been denied. I wrote back to say thank you for their consideration and immediately received a response to state that I had received the wrong email. Moments later, my acceptance letter came through. I received $5,000 and six weeks' worth of mentoring over the summer period. This time was to be used to allow my 'idea' to come to life.

On the first day of our summer school scholarship, we all sat around a table, and a Tedtalk by Simon Sinek was played. It was all about finding your 'why'. Soon after, another Tedtalk was played (I still can’t find it to this day). This Ted Talk was all about scaling a company. It encouraged thought around whether you could build a company with the opportunity of going global. I immediately came back to Babysitters Club. Matt Cowley from Tauranga Chamber of Commerce had once mentioned the idea of creating an Uber for babysitting. At the time I ran into Basestation and blurted ‘I have an idea, but I can’t tell you what it is’. The concept was in my mind (totally different from what it is today of course), but I thought people would steal the idea and do it themselves. I briefly spoke to a developer at the time, but they had told me it would cost $100,000 to do. So I didn’t put much more thought into it at that point and had put the ‘idea’ to bed.

After hearing this Tedtalk however, I began to think about the opportunity technology could bring to my business if I got the foundations right (remembering I was still only making a $5 booking fee from each job at this stage). So from here, my curiosity grew and my determination began. I had the concept, I just didn’t know how to go develop it. I didn’t know how to make the business financially viable or sustainable and I certainly didn’t know how I was going to get the app made with no money to invest myself.

You’ve probably begun to see a pattern throughout my story. Key learnings occurred by exposing myself to different people who had life experiences that were different from my own. A simple conversation sparked inspiration and provoked thought. If I wasn’t exposed to these people, would I be the same? Would Babysitters Club exist still? Where would I be? This is where I developed the philosophy ‘every interaction contributes to the person you become’ and ‘everyone has something special to offer’. I was like a sponge. Every time I would speak to someone, I would listen deeply. Although they had no idea, they were contributing to the way I thought and acted. One thing that was clear to me was that I knew my 'why'. It was never about making millions, it was always about making a difference. I was passionate about children, I wanted to inspire children and I needed the opportunity to make that happen. The clearest path for me to do this was through Babysitters Club. In the classroom, I could reach 30 children. Through this company, I could reach thousands, hundreds of thousands - potentially millions.

With my ‘why’ loud and clear, I wrote down all of the things I wanted Babysitters Club to provide to those within my community. I called what others call ‘users’ my ‘community’ because I didn’t want people to just ‘use’ my service. I wanted every person who interacted with Babysitters Club to feel as though they were supported, cared for, inspired, and as though they belonged. I wrote down our point of difference, why we stood out from the crowd, and began playing around with our pricing structure. Jo from Basestation was a mentor of mine during this time. She challenged me a lot throughout this process and made me realise how valuable our services really were. She expressed that children were priceless, time was priceless, and good services were priceless. She explained that if someone could take away the pain of sourcing and managing good childcare, we were essentially saving these families hundreds of dollars. Allowing parents to use their time (which is worth hundreds per hour) to focus on things that were beneficial in their lives was an investment, not a cost.

I had never thought of it this way, but it gave me confidence that I could make this company work. In saying this, I primarily wanted my sitters to be rewarded for their hard work, so I formed a business model that would rely on volume. I didn’t need much myself, it wasn't about me - I was just thankful to be able to do something I loved.

I began developing the concept of an app for Babysitters Club. I would draw for hours and hours on large sheets of white paper. I would add, remove, and tweak each screen as my thinking evolved. Those pieces of paper looked like scribbles half of the time - but they began to make so much sense to me. Less is more I would tell myself. I knew I wanted to make the process quick, supportive, and intuitive. As I was figuring out how this app would work, my mentor through the scholarship placed me in touch with a local developer called Darren.

Darren and I met for our first coffee at a cafe, and I bought my beautiful scribbles along with me. I began explaining the way the app would work. As I spoke out loud, I once again, began removing/adding/ changing the drawings. It’s amazing how much you can refine your ideas by explaining them to another person. Darren was inspired by my thinking and would meet with me once a week to ensure my ideas were able to convert into code.

I still didn't know how I was going to pay for this app. As a result of upping Babysitters Club's rates, I lost a few clients that could no longer afford our services. I wasn't making any more money than I had been before. I felt unsettled, overwhelmed, and once again, began to question whether I was capable of making this business work. Although I was great at sourcing and providing world-class babysitters, I didn't know anything about technology and that was one of the key factors to enable us to succeed.

Daren expressed his interest in the business during one meeting and from there, he and I began discussing the idea of him coming on as a co-founder/investor. He would take care of the development, I would take care of everything else. We had discussed the idea that Daren would own 50% of the business and I would own 50%. I spoke to many people during this time. I didn't know what the 'right' decision was. I was only 22 years old, I hadn't been involved in a business deal before! Daren had the smarts, the network, the experience. He had invested so much time in me at this point, so it wasn't a decision I was taking lightly.

It kept playing over and over in my mind that I had worked so hard to develop the concept and to build the idea of Babysitters Club. Was my business really worth anything at this stage? The idea was, but I hadn't proven it yet. Was this my only option to make my app a reality?

That weekend I was sitting at home when a last-minute job came through the website. I placed myself into the job and arrived at my client's home shortly after. We got talking and I mentioned that this developer and I were potentially going to go into partnership to get this app off the ground. She then expressed her interest in investing in my company. With this approach, she would pay for the app and we would become the two shareholders instead. At this point, I wanted to cry. The generosity of these people was beyond anything I had experienced, but I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, I wanted what was best for my company and I had two incredibly talented and kind-hearted people wanting to back me. A spanner in the works meant I needed advice more than ever. So, back I went, to those I trusted most, asking them to guide me in the right direction.

To cut the story short, word got out that I was considering taking on investment. I had two more prominent business owners approach me. My idea was worth something.

After speaking with my mentors, I decided I wasn't willing to give up 50% percent of my business (I learned about the golden rule of always holding 51% of a company). I also learned from a friend that a tech start-up they knew, was able to design and develop apps. I began talking to them because their design work looked beautiful. They thought my app would cost around $30,000 to build. I now knew how much money I had to raise.

I began exploring the investment with my client and one of the other business owners who had approached me. They both wanted a reasonable chunk in the business, which was fair enough, but I still felt my idea had so much more value than what I was being offered. I could see Babysitters Club's future.

My amazing grandparents had given Mum and Dad some early inheritance, and Mum wanted to put it towards helping me achieve my dream. It was a big decision for them to make, but they felt it was right to loan the money to me. I contacted the tech start-up, we organised our first meeting, I also set up an automatic payment to pay my parents back and the journey began.

You may also be wondering why I didn’t go with Darren to get my app developed. This wasn’t purely a timing and design decision. This new company said they wanted to design and build the app simultaneously, and they said they could get it out in three months. This was the fastest, cheapest option for me, and I consulted with Darren beforehand to ensure he knew it wasn’t anything personal. I still have contact with Darren to this day. I trust him deeply - he’s incredible at what he does and is wholeheartedly honest.

I also wanted to make a small mention to acknowledge my amazing grandparents. Not only did they allow this part of my journey to begin, but they also funded my schooling, so I could have a better education. My whole family is grateful for all that they have done and continues to do. They are selfless, kind, and want the best for us.

The summer school scholarship ended and I got a nanny job for 12 hours a week. I wanted to put all earnings from Babysitters Club back into the business, especially now that I had a loan to pay off.

The process of designing the app was amazing. The tech company I was working with was great. They were creative and understood where I wanted to take the company. We finalised the designs and they then went into development. This was where things got interesting. Three months turned into six months, six months turned into a year.

We expressed that it was taking a bit too long, then got to a stage where we put a strict deadline in place. We reached the deadline and they handed the app over for us to launch. People loved it, but it was buggy (a word to explain error screens popping up from time to time). The developers were saying they weren't sure how to fix the bugs and I didn't really understand the concept of testing before launching back then. I was embarrassed that people weren't experiencing something that was to the quality I wanted it to be.

The developers then admitted the app was too complicated for them, and they told me they couldn't continue on with the project. I had loaned just under $40,000 and had an app that didn't work as it should have. I needed to find a new developer fast.

I want to disclose that I hold no blame towards the first tech company. We were all young, new to business, and VERY naive. Although our experiences together weren't great, they tried really hard to make it work. They were kind people. The unfortunate thing was that they had committed to something that was simply out of their league.

During this time, my business began to explode. We grew by over 100%. People were spreading word fast, giving feedback that was incredible and bookings were streaming in more and more through the app. I was having to manually operate things behind the scenes to ensure things ran smoothly. The workload was enormous, but I was so thankful to be helping so many people. Parents were finally able to have a break, children were being inspired and we were providing meaningful work to so many sitters. We were only operating in Auckland and Tauranga, but bookings began coming in for Wellington. I quickly adapted and began recruiting in Wellington. I was now offering babysitting services in three locations with only me operating the business.

I heard about an event in Auckland that was being hosted by a company with a great network. I didn't know anyone, but I jumped in the car and attend the event by myself. It was intimidating watching these confident and experienced business women mingle, but I wanted to learn about business more than ever and this was a great opportunity to do so. At the end of the event, the company displayed a new website they had just launched. It looked great, so I asked them for the details of the company who developed it. Turns out this company also developed apps.

I met with the COO of the technology company and talked about my needs. It was time to fix the app and to develop a website that linked in with the app. Once again, I had no idea how I was going to fund this. I did, however, have more clients reaching out, wanting to invest in me, so I knew I could make it work somehow. The important thing was finding the right developers (I didn't want anyone who lacked experience this time).

My gut told me something wasn't quite right when I met with the COO, so I kindly declined proceeding with his company.

I spent hours and hours contacting different tech firms, but everyone was stating that what I wanted to build would cost me $300,000. It didn't seem so complicated to me, and I couldn't understand why these extorted quotes were being thrown out.

The app began to get worse, so in desperation. In that moment, I had an email set from the COO I didn't feel quite right about, asking how things were going. I told him what was happening, and they took over my app immediately. They spent a bit of time fixing bugs but advised me I needed to start from scratch if I wanted this app to work long term. They were good to work with for the initial part of our arrangement and I got caught up in my vision for Babysitters Club. In this time we had lots of discussions and they then came back to me, stating it would cost me $120,000 for a new app and a website.

I somehow convinced Mum and Dad to get a bank loan of $50,000 so I could pay them off again and convinced my older brother to invest a further $80,000. Finally, I had found a capable technology company - my excitement was through the roof.

Now, $50k is a big loan for a 24-year-old to take on and $80k is a large investment for a 27-year-old to make. For the purposes of a legal agreement I had to sign, I cannot go into too much detail about what happened next. I will give a brief overview and mainly talk about the affect it had on me.

I ended up engaging with a company that was technically competent, but totally incompetent when it came to management. Myself and seven other companies (that I know of) were essentially scammed. We thought the project was going well when suddenly we were told it was going to cost us four times the amount to complete the project. We were then faced with extreme circumstances, as our business was in their hands (we launched the basic version of our website, so they could have more time to develop the rest). We re-read the terms and didn't own any of it until we paid in full. I tried my best to stand up for myself. I involved lawyers, high profile business owners, I had an investigative journalist and FairGo interested in my story. But the contract I had signed without having a lawyer look over it beforehand (trusting they were good people) meant that there were grey areas. I also ran out of money, my mental health took a downturn and couldn't afford a court battle.

What you are about to witness next is raw emotion, but it shows just how devastating business can be.

I had thankfully set up robust systems and had incredible mentors that were guiding me through this stage in my business. My business continued to grow, I couldn't stop. I was thankfully able to place others before myself most of the time, which helped me get through these tough times.

For those who know me, I am a happy person. I am always smiling, laughing, and excited. At this moment, I felt broken.

'.... Alongside this, my mental health has taken a rapid decline. I had to move in with my Grandparents, as I couldn’t cope with the stress I was experiencing. I’ve questioned my purpose, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost my passion and enthusiasm and honestly have considered whether I could continue on with The Babysitters Club. I feel as though I have let my brother down, who trusted me when investing a large amount of money. I can’t even explain to you how many times I’ve had to calm myself down and wipe my tears, only to pretend like nothing is wrong when a client calls my phone in desperate need of help. I can’t explain the feeling of having to force myself out of bed each morning when the only thing I’ve felt like doing is placing my head under the blankets and not having to face the world. I’ve stared at my computer endlessly, with no courage to complete what once was a seamless task. I have isolated myself and suffered significantly. I have lost trust in every person I know, even those who are close to me - because, through this experience, I have learned that you can’t trust anyone. No words can truly describe the overall effect this event has had on me or the effect it has had on my family or my friends. The suffering has not ended'.

Being a young female in business is interesting.

It's a strength, but at times it can mean people don't take you seriously. At times people can see your innocence and they can try to take advantage of that.

Being a young female in business is interesting.

It's a strength, but at times people can attempt to belittle you. They can say that your ideas are 'aspirational' in an attempt to make you look as though you don't know what you are talking about.

Being a young female in business is interesting.

It's a strength. You have empathy. You care deeply about the way your actions impact others. You have time to make things great. You can be curious and learn from those who have acted before you. Being a young female in business is what you make it. You should never let others tell you otherwise.

With the evidence we had, my lawyers advised me not to sign the documents - they wanted to take them to court. My mentor told me to cut ties so we could move forward.

As I said earlier, I didn't have the money and I had to make a choice regarding what was most important. If I wanted to do good for this world, I realised I had to give up the fight. It upset me that they could get away with this, but at the end of the day, I just wanted my business back. I wanted my passion back. I wanted my happiness back. This company didn't care, they had all of the power. I realised I was making their problem my problem by allowing it to affect me so deeply.

A local MP, Clayton Mitchell was heavily involved in assisting me with this case and helped to get all of the code into our hands. As this was happening, I had to call one of their staff to ask for something that had been missed. In that phone call, I was told that most people in the company were now leaving and I was apologised to. They said this should have never happened and that they were so sorry I had to go through this.

When I signed this document, an instant weight came off my shoulders. I was free from working with bad people.

If I wasn't in business for the right reasons and if I didn't know my 'why' I probably wouldn't have bounced back the way that I have. The children, parents, and sitters within my community remind me every day that there are good people in this world. They remind me that I'm contributing to their lives in a positive way. For me, that's all I need.

A year ago (when I was in the depth of this traumatic experience), I had lost trust in people. I have since learned that you can trust others, you just have to trust the right people. I'm incredibly good at reading people and I should have listened to my gut at the time. Lesson learned. It's not often that you come across bad people, but as I said before, you can't allow their problems to become your own. This situation was unavoidable, I had done my due diligence, this had happened to other reputable companies, I wasn't the only one. My path had unfortunately been formed when I signed that contract.

More than ever before, I want to have my sitters teach children their worth. I want them to teach children how they deserve to be treated. I want my sitters to build children's confidence and I want my sitters to inspire them to be the best versions of themselves. My parents taught me that money is money, but happiness and connection is priceless. I'm incredibly grateful for the families and sitters who have supported Babysitters Club along the way. I'm also incredibly grateful for their patience, as I know I've been promising an app and changes to the website for a long time.

Thankfully the company was good developers, so we don't have to start again and in this time, I found three incredible developers who continue to work on our project to this day. One developer Mark, who was referred to me by a wonderful boss lady I know, has been my saviour. He helped me when things were really bad and has been the most loyal, kindhearted, and hardworking person I've ever come across. I admire him so much.

My brother Matt and my Mum were my rocks. They continue to work alongside me to this day. They get just as excited as I do when discussing ways to develop the business. They are innovative, smart, and have the kindest hearts you'll ever come across. Times get tough and it's hard to speak up when you're going through challenging times (as a lot of us will be experiencing right now). But I want to remind everyone that life is full of surprises and challenges. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and you should never be hard on yourself. If you saw yourself through the eyes of others, you would realise just how incredibly beautiful, talented, and inspiring you are. Never feel as though you are alone and always know that everyone has their story.

Today I am more passionate and dedicated to my community than I've ever been before in my life. I am strong, resilient and I am confident in my abilities. I am excited to get out of bed every morning to interview amazing sitters, to help parents and to know that beautiful children are surrounded by the best people in New Zealand.

My mentor invested in my company in December last year and we have the most exciting plan in place. This plan will allow us to help people more than ever before. We are now offering babysitting services, nanny services, our app is on its way and we have a new product that we are beyond excited to share with you once it is ready. Good things take time right? The wait will be worth it, I promise.

My name is Georgia Meek, I am a 26-year-old entrepreneur, who has worked incredibly hard to get to where I am today.

The rewarding nature of helping so many different people through the service I have set up is something that has given me confidence and certainty. I am proud to put others before myself because life is about doing good. It's about making others happy and it's about being supportive of those who need help. I have always been passionate about the development and well-being of children and I can hand on heart say, that any person that has used our services, or anyone who has worked for me, would tell you that I have given my all to make Babysitters Club the most trustworthy, high-quality child care service there is. I have been completely selfless in making this a reality.

My name is Georgia Meek and I am the Founder of Babysitters Club.