As the father of two teenaged kids, David Watkins knows how difficult it is, especially during the pandemic, to keep kids entertained—preferably without them starring at a screen. He is also too busy to constantly search for new and enriching activities for his kids.
Watkins’ experience is a common one among parents, which is why he founded the Raleigh-based startup PlanMyKids, an online activity-planning service that helps parents find and manage their child’s involvement in local camps and other programs. Watkins launched the MVP in March, 2021, to help parents in Wake County plan summer activities, track-out camps (camps for kids on break from a yearlong school) and other “school’s out” camps.
Watkins, who serves as PlanMyKids’ CEO, said he wants to expand into afterschool programs, weekly classes like in dance or martial arts, and weekend activities such as a trampoline park. The startup currently serves parents of school-aged children in Wake County and surrounding towns. Once the service is fully fleshed out for that area, Watkins will expand the service to other cities in the Triangle and beyond.
“Especially with the pandemic, it really showed that there’s a need for kids to do stuff,” Watkins said. “Because we all sat with our kids at home, and it’s like, what are we going to do with them?”
By providing personalized services to parents, Watkins’ vision is to help families facilitate relationships with activity providers in the area and increase children’s participation and learning in local enrichment programs.
Before founding PlanMyKids, Watkins spent many years at IBM and AT&T providing consulting services to large companies in the retail space. He said he aims to use his background to help the various businesses that provide children’s programs, many of which tend to be small and local.
Watkins met Moses Agaba at a Triangle tech networking event in 2019 and now Agaba—an implementation specialist at 3M—assists with product management for PlanMyKids on a part-time basis. A local startup, Allobee, which specializes in providing underemployed women opportunities to use their skill sets to help growing businesses, provides social media services to PlanMyKids, Watkins said. Watkins said he is currently searching for a social media intern.
A personal assistant for parents
Parents create an account on the website and answer a questionnaire about each child’s interests, age and ability level, which the website then uses to suggest programs. Although matching is done manually now, the startup is working on utilizing machine learning to automate suggestions, Watkins said.
Future product iterations include using machine learning to recommend programs to families based on the experience of other children with similar interests, as well as allowing parents to create and view reviews, he said.
“It’s like Netflix recommendations, but it’s more guided recommendations based on other parents in the community,” he said.
PlanMyKids is much more than just a matchmaking service, Watkins said. It is also a platform for parents to communicate with each other, whether to suggest programs or coordinate with the parents of their kids’ friends to do the same camps, for instance.
When surveying parents, Watkins found that many struggled with small logistical details such as forgetting to pack a lunch or swimsuit, so he is currently working on new features that will enable parents to communicate with program coordinators for information on itineraries and packing lists, he said.
Transportation is one of the biggest barriers preventing children from participating in activities, which Watkins knows from his own experience as well as talking to potential customers. PlanMyKids is working with the Cary-based startup GoKart Kids to explore ride-sharing services to offer parents of PlanMyKids when they live near each other and whose kids have activities in close proximity. [Editor’s Note: We wrote about GoKart Kids in 2019.]
Another headache that Watkins struggled with as a parent is figuring out which of the programs his kids did that year were eligible for tax write-offs. He wants PlanMyKids to completely handle this part for parents, by including a feature where they can see eligible programs and relevant tax ID’s (rather than calling every individual place).
“We’re trying to be like a personal assistant for parents to manage their kids’ activities,” Watkins said.
Parents pay either a monthly or yearly subscription fee. PlanMyKids employs a commission-based business model, similar to a travel agency, where it earns a commission every time a parent books their child for a program on the website.
A key part of the PlanMyKids mission—which is to increase children’s activity, learning and participation in enriching programs—is to make sure these opportunities are accessible to all families, regardless of their income or where they live.
“One thing we hope to do as well is create more supply in this area,” Watkins said. “There may be areas in our community that don’t have a lot of options, and once we have enough data, we can start seeing where some of that is. Then the idea would be we could bring supply to those communities in the form of pop-up camps.”