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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Disrupting the Childcare Market during COVID-19: Meet Zarja Cibej, Founder and CEO of myTamarin

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Zarja Cibej myTamarin

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Zarja Cibej: I’m a very active and outdoorsy person, so being stuck indoors is a bit of a challenge. I have two little boys who are bursting with energy too, which can be difficult to manage at times, but luckily in this lockdown (unlike the first one), they can go to school, and that is a huge help.

We’re all healthy, so thankfully we don’t have much to complain about. If anything, this pandemic has reinforced the importance of self-care, where regular exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep are essential.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded myTamarin.

Zarja Cibej: After graduating, I worked as a corporate lawyer for a couple of years, focusing on cross-border financing and mergers and acquisitions. It was fun, but I wanted to move closer to decision-making. As a lawyer, I felt I was just executing someone else’s transaction, but I wasn’t at all involved in the decision-making around why we were doing the transaction in the first place. In other words, I wanted to be the decision-maker; the business lead.

I then went on to do an MBA at the Wharton School, after which I worked as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group for almost a decade. I loved my job. But ultimately, I wanted to build something amazing, on my own.

Three years ago, I started myTamarin when I realized how broken the childcare market was after having my own children and wanted to fix it. I saw an opportunity that I instantly knew was the right idea. I had a strong opinion on how we could improve things — for parents, their children and the nannies.

How does myTamarin innovate? 

Zarja Cibej: We started out helping parents find the best nanny or newborn support for them. We match parents and nannies on both objective and subjective criteria — a bit like the dating world and match.com. This is so often neglected when it comes to childcare, but we’re matching based on lifestyle, parenting style, family values and personality compatibility, as well as experience. We’re also using AI to enable our matching. Because of our emphasis on the subjective criteria, our placements typically last 2-3x longer than traditional agencies. We’re grounded in psychology and powered by technology.

Over the last year, myTamarin has become so much more. Now, we offer a virtual platform that offers transparency for both parents and nannies in the vetting, recruitment and onboarding processes and we take care of the HMRC (tax) compliance, payroll, pension, payments and legal processes as well as training and career management for nannies.

We’ve also evolved from childcare to parent care. We’re offering parents the support and tools they need to help them be their best selves for their children. I am very passionate about this, and we have a lot of new things coming up.

We’ve been so busy since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic helping working parents whose nurseries and schools have closed sort out their childcare, and we will continue to support them — and nannies — through these challenging times.

We’re now also partnering with progressive employers who understand the value of childcare for working parents, and hence diversity at the workplace so that myTamarin childcare becomes part of the employee benefits packages. This could be a total game-changer – watch this space!

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Zarja Cibej: The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges working parents face, establishing just how critical childcare is for working families. Without childcare, many parents – especially mothers – struggle to balance work with childcare and consequently have to stop working, pushing women back a few decades in terms of gender equality and balance at work. 

Right now, we’re proud to be playing such a critical role in helping parents find the right childcare by matching them with the best nannies, offering them support and reassurance in case their nursery closes or if they have reservations about sending their children to nursery in the first place. We’ve seen quite a spike in demand for our services at the beginning of the pandemic, and have continued to grow throughout!

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Zarja Cibej: Be clear about what you stand for and follow your (brand) values. Throughout this pandemic, it’s been important for us to look after both the families and nannies that we work with, yet at the start of the pandemic, the UK government wasn’t explicit about whether or not the nannies were allowed to work. Since then, it’s been made clear that nannies are allowed to work, but until then – about 6 weeks into the pandemic – it was a contentious topic.

Some nannies didn’t want to work, and to be honest, I can’t blame them. However, we did have a duty to interpret the guidelines, and although our interpretations were correct (that nannies were allowed to continue providing childcare services throughout the pandemic), we found ourselves applauded by some nannies and disputed by others. It was impossible to satisfy everyone, but I believed it was better to have a voice and opinion as a brand, rather than shying away from the discussion.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety?

Zarja Cibej: Self-care! I always try to get enough exercise, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep (although unfortunately I often fail to achieve the latter). I also take a lot of vitamins and minerals, especially C (for immunity), B (to support the nervous system), D (as we don’t get enough sun, plus some studies suggest that it helps against coronavirus) and magnesium (to help prevent fatigue and aid sleep). 

For the past few years, I’ve been working with a coach, although I find right now it’s more important than ever. It’s like having a personal trainer for your mind and soul. I also started meditating about a decade ago, and although I don’t have that much time to meditate today, I do find that slowing down just a couple of times a day to focus on my breathing massively makes a difference.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Zarja Cibej: Traditional childcare agencies have been around for a long time. In the UK, there are more than 400 of them, so the market is very fragmented and therefore incredibly inefficient. Many of these agencies don’t have any backend or database infrastructure and work mostly out of notebooks, making it hard for them to stay in the game without modernizing. Going digital, however, is costly, so I predict that the market will need to consolidate. myTamarin already has a state-of-the-art backed infrastructure, which allows us to provide a much better and much more efficient and affordable service to parents and nannies. 

I also perceive traditional nurseries as competitors, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust their business models in the context of the pandemic. It has already become harder for them to run their businesses profitable, with reports suggesting that 20% of nurseries will never re-open, with an additional 70% struggling financially. Nurseries have a real estate overhead which adds to their expenses, whereas since nannies work in the home, we don’t have that expenditure.

Your final thoughts?

Zarja Cibej: In every crisis, there is an opportunity for change and progression. Historically, after every economic downturn, some companies have emerged as clear winners, while others have not. As leaders, it’s important that we are reflective as well as agile to adjust our businesses to the new needs and wants of our potential clients.

Your website?

mytamarin.com

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