Start-up of the week: Child Paths

15 Aug 2016

Pictured: Ciaran Flynn, founder, Child Paths

Our start-up of the week is a company called Child Paths, which has created an app to give parents a valuable insight into their child’s development and welfare while in crèche and school.

“I wanted to know more about my child’s day when she was in the creche,” explained Child Paths founder Ciaran Flynn.

“After researching I realised that many parents have the opinion that childcare is like a babysitting service, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I wanted to help more with my child’s development, but unfortunately, I did not have the knowledge.

‘We want to take parents on a journey through their child’s early care and education, from toddler to teenager’

Future Human

“So we developed an app that gives parents not only updates on their child’s welfare in real time but also gives parents greater insight into their child’s interests, capabilities and development progress while cutting down the amount of paperwork for early years settings to spend more time with the children. This is only the beginning of what we’re creating.”

The market

Flynn explained that parents are part of the target market but also childcare professionals who want to perfect their skills and provide a valuable service to parents.

“Parents are part of the target market as we see this as an excellent way of getting them more involved in their child’s early years.

“We also target early years facilities as our software helps them spend more time with the children, cuts costs, promotes parental involvement, simplifies observations and acts as a learning tool for staff with the National Frameworks of Aistear and Siolta, while helping to attract new parents to the facility with this innovative software.”

The founders

Flynn’s background is in the media industry, with 10 years of extensive managerial experience working for one of the largest media organisations in the world, News Corporation.

A key decision maker with a remit that covered recruitment, training and learning, as well as cost management, he also had responsibility for the setting and administration of departmental budgets.

Aligned to the commercial sales team in Ireland but reporting directly into News UK in London, Flynn had full influence and input in all the key initiatives, developments and projects at News Corp.

“I participated in a multi-million pound three-year change programme, committed to developing the next generation of multimedia systems.”

Flynn was responsible for training and driving the cultural shift across the business through a structured programme of behavioural change, which has proved very beneficial to the creation Child Paths.

Shareholder and director Gillian Doyle has 17 years of experience in the IT industry. Initially working on Oracle technical software development for large multinationals, she migrated to business analyst roles and large-scale project management. Previously an IT consultant, she has worked with both public and private sectors and small, medium and large companies.

Another shareholder and director, Jonathan Lyons, is a highly-experienced and successful finance professional with 21 years of experience in finance and accounting in positions of increasing responsibility. He is currently finance director at Pfizer where he is responsible for European operations, managing a team of 90-plus finance professionals. He previously held a senior global role with eBay.

The technology

“Early years facilities currently use pen and paper to capture, store and communicate information on each child,” Flynn observed.

“This is labor-intensive, time-consuming and staff are under enormous pressure daily to comply with reporting regulations.

“Our software now allows them to capture this information quicker and smarter but, more importantly, parents now have access to more details about their child in real time.

“When you ask a child what they did today, the answer is usually ‘nothing’. Child Paths changes this answer as we provide a platform for information through photos and communication that is relevant and fresh in the child’s memory, which creates conversation.”

Flynn said that the ultimate goal is to develop a platform to support and assist parents in understanding what they can do at different stages of their child’s life to help with their development.

“We want to take parents on a journey through their child’s early care and education, from toddler to teenager, capturing all the pictures, data, milestones and achievements to help with development, allowing parents to monitor, track and analyse the information.

“The ultimate goal is to help parents realise how much more they could do and, through our partners, give them the information they need to get more involved in their child’s early years.”

Word of mouth works

Now that a number of early years facilities around the country are using Child Paths, news is spreading through referrals, which Flynn says are the best source of business.

“Funny thing is when a childcare facility asks us out to do a demonstration the most commonly used word at the end is ‘excited’. You only get a real understanding of the product through the demo and many customers have already told us we need to change oor brochures or website as it does not give an accurate reflection of the product.

“Every month, customers are coming to us from our competitors, which is always a great sign. Two investment companies in the US have contacted us showing their interest, which is a statement in itself considering the amount of childcare software platforms in the US. We are currently speaking with some investors here in Ireland [who are also] very interested.

“However, we’ve grown the company organically to this point with great results, and you always question do we need the investment or can we do it on our own; only time will tell.”

Overcoming the technology barrier

Flynn believes that technology remains quite inaccessible to the general public.

“You may have an excellent business idea but, in the beginning, it was not clear how to move forward with the idea. To do that I spent quite a bit of time networking and researching and then also needed to get an IT specialist as a director. Without her expertise, it may have been months later before we started making real progress on the product.

‘Giving our children the best start in life is our responsibility and one of the biggest challenges’

“There are so many options out there and so many different opinions in a rapidly-changing field, it’s quite a minefield for even techies! Picking the right development partner was also pretty challenging – although we are very lucky with the team we have now – again these were identified using our network contacts rather than via an RFP (request for proposal) process. We tried the formal process, and it didn’t work.

“Finding the right team and partners can be a big challenge. When you’re starting out it makes so much difference to have somebody there to bounce ideas off, to look for advice and to tell you what you need to know. We would not have made so much progress without them. You need to be surrounded by people in your team who are better than you and are experts in their field. They need to be telling you what to do, not the other way around.

“Working with partners like the Crann Support Group,  a company providing a wide range of management support and consultancy services to 15 childcare outlets in the Meath region, was also essential. They support early childhood care and education to almost 1,000 children and 720 families on a daily basis and have an excellent understanding of childcare and what it’s like on a day-to-day basis, which gives us a greater insight.

“The National Childhood Network provides a broad range of information for those who work in a variety of roles within the early childhood and school-age childcare sector. The NCN exists to support the achievement of national quality standards in all areas of service delivery, including areas covering governance, management and holistic, play-based learning that enhances children’s health, well-being, learning and development.”

“We recently partnered up with the Adult and Child Therapy Centre, which is a team of doctors, psychologist and speech and language therapists offering professional therapeutic services to adults, teenagers and children. Their team is dedicated to providing assessment, diagnosis and therapeutic input. Their team will bring a new level of experience and expertise to the Child Paths platform.”

Flynn said a huge challenge, not only in Ireland but across the world, is promoting parental involvement.

“Recently, we were contacted by a TV producer in America. After a lengthy conversation he asked would we appear on their programme on Fox Business and the Bloomberg Network. Calls don’t come like that every day, and it was flattering, to say the least. When asked why they were interested in Child Paths, he said his researchers found most of the other childcare software products were designed as an operational tool for the childcare facility, whereas Child Paths was about the child’s development and how to get parents more involved.

“I’m a father similar to others, where their children mean the world. I didn’t realise the impact a parent can have on their own child’s development. I, like many other parents, didn’t have that knowledge and still don’t. However, along with our partners, we’re going to change that. Giving our children the best start in life is our responsibility and one of the biggest challenges also!

Use your initiative

Flynn’s advice to fellow entrepreneurs is you need to use your initiative, get involved and network.

“Since starting the business, there are more and more options for start-ups. However, you still need to get out there looking and meet the right people who can and will help.

‘When you believe and have passion in what you do, when you know you’ve created a product that makes a difference to other people’s lives, it’s no longer just a job’

“Don’t just go with the first person or company, choose them carefully to make sure they suit and you’re comfortable working with them, and don’t forget the individuals and companies who help get you there.”

He said resources that were very helpful included the Dublin Business Innovation Centre (DBIC), which helped him to validate the idea, Local Enterprise Office for support with mentors and grants, and the Hi-Start Programme, which he described as a great experience.

“These programmes played a huge part in how we’re developing and growing our business. Years ago, these supports were not available, so it’s up to each start-up to get out and look for the support they need to make their ideas a reality. They’re not going to come knocking on your door; you need to find them, and they will help you think differently.”

To succeed as entrepreneurs, Flynn urged fellow founders to have dedication, motivation and determination, but ultimately perseverance.

“In the beginning, we appeared a lot in the media, but we got little response. Why? Because the industry wasn’t ready, apart from a few.

“That didn’t mean we gave up; we just had to work smarter to help our customers see all the benefits and convince them they’re making the right decision, which is paying off now. Starting your own business is never easy.

“You will have days that are exceptional and others where you have to pull yourself through to fight another day. You need to make things happen.

“Otherwise, you’ll find yourself going around in circles making no progress. You need dedication, motivation, and determination to see through your vision. When you believe and have passion in what you do, when you know you’ve created a product that makes a difference to other people’s lives, it’s no longer just a job.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years