MingZhang Zeng and YiHsian Godfrey, Co-founders, Apiari
How a solution built to solve a personal pain point grew to transform the future of work for care providers.
Q: Apiari connects families with caregivers. Tell us what inspired you to found Apiari.
Yi-Hsian: The inspiration for Apiari started with three friends, all of whom had needs for care across different life stages.
Ming: As a new parent at a large New York law firm, I needed part-time babysitting help. I looked on existing platforms and interviewed over 40 babysitters over the course of two days. It turned out that no one I liked could fit me into their schedule. It just seemed impossible to find quality childcare on a part-time basis. I thought with all the technology we had, there had to be a better way to find quality childcare.
Yi-Hsian: My kids were in elementary school, and I had a different problem. I had 29 days of public school holidays, summer vacation, after school time and school half-days that I was constantly looking to fill. Our third friend, who is now an investor in our company, had older children, but her pain point was finding elder care. One day the three of us were sitting around a table, mourning our professional and personal losses as we realized that there was no end to the care that we have to provide for our families. That was our lightbulb moment. We decided that if no one else was going to fix this, we would. That’s why we started Apiari. We’re starting with childcare, but at some point we plan to expand to elder care.
Q: How does the Apiari platform work?
Yi-Hsian: One of the biggest misunderstandings in the industry is treating childcare as one type of care. Care looks different at different life stages. Right now, we’re focused on childcare for children ages 0 to 10. And that means night nannies, daytime sitters, and enrichment teachers. We added that third category of care – enrichment -- during the pandemic when most schools were closed. We found that with home schooling, kids were missing out on much of the enrichment aspects of being in school, such as arts and crafts, dance and music, and some sports activities like Yoga and soccer.
Before we onboard a provider for any one of those three roles, we conduct a live interview, do a full background check, conduct two professional reference checks, and gather detailed information to enable our technology to make a refined match. We also require at least one year of childcare experience and, for night nannies, five years of childcare experience.
Ming: After the providers are onboarded, we use a smart algorithm to recommend the best matches to parents. Parents don’t have to browse hundreds of applicants to find the right one. Our technology was developed by our third co-founder, Adam Berlinsky-Schine, who was the CTO of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagels. Believe it or not, there is a striking similarity between finding the right date and finding the right childcare provider!
Amy is our conversational chatbot who learns about parents’ care needs. The parent provides information about what they’re looking for and, in less than a minute, Amy will present the top five to eight providers who match the parent’s criteria. When the parent finds a provider they like, they request a booking and enter their credit card information. Once a provider confirms the request, Apiari preauthorizes the booking, charges and settles the payment at the end of the week based on actual usage, and then pays the provider.
We help both parents and providers manage the transaction. Providers get a form 1099 and a weekly payment summary, which helps them track how much time they’ve worked. Parents get a childcare expense receipt to help them claim child and dependent care credits.
Q: Why did you chose the name "Apiari," and what does it signify?
Yi-Hsian: The name is our homage to the bee colony. As Ming and I talked about the needs of our family, we realized that we were the queen bees of our homes. But we were also the worker bees, the nanny bees, the cleaning bee, the cooking bee, and the door-guard bee. With so many roles and responsibilities, it felt like our lives were falling apart. In a bee colony, the queen bee has a big job, but she also has teams of workers who have dedicated special jobs. We named the company Apiari in recognition that the queen bee needs a team to get the work done.
There was another reason the name made sense. Bees are natural algorithm-writers. When bees collect honey, they work out the shortest route to get the honey and return to the hive. When we learned that, we realized Apiari was the perfect name: we use an algorithm to give parents the quickest route to finding the right caregiver.
Q: What have you learned since you started the company, and how has that changed your mission?
Ming: Yi-Hsian and I founded the company to solve a problem we were experiencing – finding quality, part-time help. But as we built the solution to that problem, we discovered an even bigger problem: care providers are struggling to find the work they want. They are overlooked and underserved in the tech ecosystem. There’s no meaningful technology to really empower them as business owners. I think this is the underlying issue in the care industry in this country.
Yi-Hsian: Apiari is now building the future of work for in-home care providers, which is a very diverse and underrepresented segment of the population. The Economic Policy Institute found that 50% of domestic workers are underworked due to their limited availability. Their biggest challenges are finding and managing multiple jobs and clients. That’s where Apiari comes in. We treat providers as micro business owners who need support for things like marketing, client management, and payment. Just as parents can spend hours finding the right caregiver, providers tell us they can spend up to 55 hours to find a job. Our algorithm matches the provider to a family to meet their specific needs in terms of time commitment and type of care. And, once providers are on the platform, we learn more about them with each job accepted or declined. That helps us to continually improve the matches we make.
Q: What advice would you give co-founders to build a high-performing, cohesive team?
Ming: Early on, Yi-Hsian and I sat down and wrote down all the things we needed to do to grow as a business. We each checked the things that we thought we were good at. We were lucky that our interests and skillsets complemented each other’s.
Yi-Hsian: When we first got together, we also sat down and wrote out what our values are. These values guide the way we behave as a company and as individuals, and it’s how we interact with customers, providers, and our partners. The top line is that we are building trust, and as a care business, that is the most important thing. But it’s not just in terms of our providers and families. As co-founders, we need to learn to trust each other as well. To build that trust requires honesty, transparency, respect, and collaboration. Those are our core values. We’re all in it together through everything – the fun, the good, and the ugly. I think this is how founding teams can really come together at the early stage of their business. Your values are your North Star that keeps the company and the founders on mission.
Learn more about Apiari here.