RITU NARAYAN: CEO & Co-founder, Zum

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Ritu is founder and CEO of Zum, leading on-demand rides and care company for children. Ritu Narayan founded Zum out of her firsthand experience of raising two active kids and managing a fast-paced tech career in Silicon Valley. Ritu is an alum of Stanford Graduate School of business and earned an undergraduate degree in computer science at the Delhi Institute of Technology. Ritu has worked for more than 15 years at leading tech companies such as eBay, Yahoo!, Oracle, and IBM. Like all mothers, Ritu wants to provide the very best to her children so that they become well-rounded individuals. But she is also acutely aware of how this desire to meet their children’s needs can sometimes clash with the demands of a high-flying career, resulting in working mothers holding themselves back from fulfilling their ambitions. Ritu’s mission is to improve the lives of busy, working mothers through technology.

How did you get into the industry?

The idea for Zum came about three years ago when I was trying to figure out transportation and childcare for my two kids.  I was working at eBay and my kids were both transitioning into school. We were at a stage where my family no longer needed a full-time nanny to take care of them.  Instead, I was looking for someone reliable and trustworthy to help get them to and from school and other activities. I also wanted to find someone who was capable of supervising them for a short time before or after each ride, while I was still at work. I realized that our family was not unique is dealing with this dilemma, but 17 million families have both parents working full time and struggle everyday with the same need. The potential of solving a big problem like this excited me and inspired me to found Zum.

Any emerging industry trends?

We hear a lot of businesses in the on-demand economy referred to as “the Uber of X”. At Zum, we never tried to create the ‘Uber of childcare,’ because we felt that replicating the Uber business model would be unsustainable and wouldn’t provide solutions for the specific needs of our customers. At Zum, the nature of our business required a culture of trust, empathy and responsiveness both toward our customers and service providers. We have been able to think innovatively and built these values into the DNA of the company. We always strive to promote innovation from the people, processes and technology we create here at Zum.

I think the service industry is fast moving towards automation and removing the human touch behind many services, like self driving cars, for example. We at Zum believe that there is a need to have a sustainable middle ground where we can keep the human involvement as a service provider while automating some important aspects of the solution, making it more scalable and safe. This vision has helped us focus on investing in our service providers and not just thinking of them as a commodity that will be offset by technological developments.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

When I first started thinking about the concept of on-demand childcare, I had to analyze why traditional rideshare services didn’t work for children.  The first issue was that the last-minute nature of these services meant families would be unable to schedule in advance. We knew that families would likely want to build a more consistent schedule around their kids’ school hours and activities. Many existing solutions also only offer rides from Point A to B, whereas childcare frequently requires multiple stops and extra add-ons such as hand offs at pickup/drop off locations, waiting at the appointment/activity, childcare, or chaperone responsibilities.  We had to completely renovate the business model to create a concept that we knew would help families most effectively. Finally, most ride sharing services assign a random driver every time, causing huge churn for families. At Zum, we built a special matching process where each family is served by only a small pool of drivers.

We strongly believe we have a distinctly differentiated business model from other solutions in the market.  Instead of focusing on a transactional model, our main focus has been to build strong relationships with our community of users and providers.  Zum has a very loyal customer base, in part because our hiring and retention rate is extremely high. We focus on providing trusted and consistent care to families in our community.  Zumers are not just drivers or care providers, they are brand ambassadors who believe in the company’s mission and in building a community which values a culture of trust, respect and purpose.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I was working at eBay and saw the impact that a simple, convenient marketplace structure had on millions of users. I starting thinking, ‘why isn’t there something similar that fits my childcare needs?’  I left my job and went to Stanford Business School, and used Design Thinking, Lean Launchpad, and Entrepreneurship classes at Stanford to refine my idea further and apply my professional, educational and personal background to create Zum.

The vision behind Zum is three fold- since families are busy all year round,  Zum’s goal is to simplify scheduling, give parents the peace of mind they need, and provide mobility to kids to participate in education and development activities of their choice. An important aspect of Zum’s vision is to create jobs that provide flexible yet predictable income for our Zumers.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We started prototyping in 2015 in the South Bay and Peninsula areas. In early 2016 we launched our full service on the Zum app. We’re growing quickly, now serving in six counties in the Bay Area. We recently launched in Orange County in Los Angeles and will expand to other major US cities in the coming months.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

One of the main decisions we faced when deciding to provide ‘on-demand’ child care was what safety standards we would adopt in regards to screening our care providers.  We complete a multi-point review on each applicant before they’re approved to be a Zum care provider: this includes fingerprinted background checks; Trustline certification; DMV record check; insurance confirmation; and in-person interviews.  The process takes 2-3 weeks to on-board but we’re confident that we’re providing only the best in child care, and that parents will value the extensive checks, knowing that their child is in capable hands. We are also proud to say that each of our Zumers are our brand ambassadors and are the best people to promote Zum among the parent community.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Balancing supply and demand is a difficult task for any new business.  In our situation, we did not want to over-promise care to parents or work to our care providers.  Thankfully, I had experience managing large scale marketplaces at eBay, which was great to draw on as we began building our Zum platform.  We learned to ensure that satisfaction level and NPS at both customer and provider ends are very high, which keeps turnaround low. Today, we have built a very loyal and recurring base of users and this helps us accurately anticipate the amount of care we need to provide on any given day.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The experience of Zum focuses on three aspects: trust and safety, ease of use, and personalization.  There’s nothing more important to a parent than knowing their child is in safe hands, which is why our background checks include fingerprints, references, Trustline certification and training.  The experience of our product is seamless. Families can easily schedule rides or childcare through the app. During the period of the ride and care parents receive notifications and photo updates from the Zumer, and parents even use the app to pay.  We also pair families with a small group of trusted providers, allowing for a sense of consistency in care.  

At Zum, we understand how important it is for parents to get connected to our team promptly to get their questions answered. Parents can connect with us anytime on live chat, email, or over the phone and our team provides quick response with little to no wait time in the queue. Our goal is that parents should be able to focus on their work knowing their kids will be in safe hands.

How do you motivate others?

I believe in motivating others by matching their talents to a bigger purpose of the job they are performing. At Zum, all of our employees (Zumers) and stakeholders are deeply moved by our mission of empowering working woman using technology. They are charged by our goal of enabling parents to excel personally and professionally by providing them with trusted and convenient rides and childcare for their children. All of our employees as well as Zumers believe that they are an intricate part of Zum’s mission of building a community of trust. As we say at Zum: “We are not in the business of rides or care, we are in the business of building trust…. And it does take a village.”

Career advice to those in your industry?

There are a few mistakes I see far too often in the on-demand startup world.  Copying instead of innovating is one that plagues our industry.  I believe this issue most often arises when entrepreneurs fail to focus on the actual pain-point they are resolving and the core business model, revenue generation, and quality of experience that is specific to their product or service. I believe that entrepreneurs should definitely chase big ideas and lucrative businesses but always try to make their business their own- put your stamp on it- innovate and make it better.