First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shilpa Dalmia: COVID-19 has certainly changed what normal looks like for our family. My husband and I work in high tech companies, so switching to working from home was quite seamless for us. We have 2 teenagers in the house – a freshman in college and a sophomore in high school. They have both had their own sets of challenges. Overall as a family, there is some amount of anxiety, but it has also helped bring us closer together. We now go on more family road trips than ever before!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ActivityHero.
Shilpa Dalmia: Being a working mom and first-generation immigrant in this country, finding after school programs and summer camps for my kids was very challenging. While there was Yelp for restaurants, marketplaces like Expedia and Airbnb for travel, there was nothing to find and research kids’ programs. The only option was word-of-mouth or mommy groups. Being a software engineer, I decided to build a marketplace for kids’ classes and camps. I immediately saw a lot of interest in this space and was connected to Peggy Chang, who shared this vision. That is how ActivityHero was born.
How does ActivityHero innovate?
Shilpa Dalmia: We are a small team of highly motivated people. The majority of our employees are parents themselves, so they live and breathe the problem we are trying to solve as a company. Our core strength lies in our customers’ relationship – both activity providers running programs for kids and parents. Listening to customers’ needs is in the DNA of our company. Every product feature that we launch stems from the needs of activity providers and parents. In addition, all our employees are constantly giving us feedback based on their experience with the product or customers.
How the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Shilpa Dalmia: Before the pandemic, ActivityHero was a marketplace for local in-person camps and classes. When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March, and all kids classes and camps had to be cancelled, we helped teachers and small businesses start offering live online classes on Zoom.
While we really want to have kids be able to play, learn and hang out in person, the silver lining for us is that we are no longer constrained as a hyperlocal business — we can now sell to any family online. Now our marketplace business has grown even faster than before the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shilpa Dalmia: We had to cut expenses and reduce everyone’s hours in the early days of the pandemic since we suffered a huge dip in our revenues. We decided not to furlough or have layoffs because it would have impacted not only the employees but also our customers. Ultimately, this decision paid off as revenues started to pick up, and we could restore everyone to their normal schedule.
What got us through this phase was empathy towards our employees and customers. At the same time, we worked very closely with our customers, who are small businesses and were struggling to keep their companies alive too.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and ActivityHero in the future?
Shilpa Dalmia: To deal with stress, I like to go hiking and get re-energized by being outside and keeping active and spend time with my daughter binge-watching Marvel movies!
As ActivityHero, this experience has broadened our horizon, as we now know that kids can learn online as well as in-person, and there are benefits to both environments. Our future vision is for a marketplace where families can find kids’ activities a few miles away or choose to start an online class with a few mouse clicks.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shilpa Dalmia: ActivityHero has a unique value proposition that offers families a wide range of in-person and online kids’ activities. Families use our website and app to plan their summer camps as well as find after-school and weekend classes.
We stay competitive by listening to parents and activity providers’ feedback and coming up with solutions that help them thrive. When our service helps everyone save time, parents and teachers can spend more quality time with kids.
Your final thoughts?
Shilpa Dalmia: Kids are our future. We want to provide every child with education and experiences that will set them up for success, and it’s what motivates us at ActivityHero every day.