Uber-like babysitting app available for Toronto parents
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The person who’s going to look after your kids might be waiting on the other side of your smartphone.
At least, that’s the idea behind fledgling Toronto start-up DateNight, which aims to match parents with babysitters through a downloadable app.
“We don’t employ babysitters. We help people connect with them,” explained Elize Shirdel, a 36-year-old with a PhD in computational biology who started working on the app about a year and a half ago.
“The best part is you can request babysitting from your babysitters within, like, five presses of a button.”
The app, which Shirdel said is still in the process of being launched, is not unlike Uber, a tech company that has courted controversy in Toronto and across North America by connecting drivers with people looking for rides. Alongside Uber and other apps like Airbnb, which helps people temporarily rent out or stay in private residences, Shirdel’s creation counts itself amongst the emerging businesses that rely on a user’s trust in strangers that are found through the Internet.
As such, Shirdel admits, some people approach apps like DateNight with trepidation.
“Asking somebody you don’t know to come to your house is a little bit tricky,” she told Torstar News Service while showcasing her app Thursday at a Ryerson University job fair. “People are reluctant until they meet the babysitters.”
To overcome that reluctance, DateNight has a series of checks to ensure not just anybody can sign up to be listed as a babysitter on the app. Shirdel said people should go to the app’s website, where they punch in their name, address and references. They are then contacted by DateNight for a “Skype interview,” where they will be asked about their experience working with kids and whether they have a criminal record, CPR certification and first aid training.
If the sitter is deemed suitable, they join the list of DateNight sitters that parents can sift through on the app when they’re looking for someone to take care of the kids. Then DateNight helps them set up a time to meet and find out if they’re a fit. But Shirdel stressed that, beyond this initial check — as it’s been since the dawn of humanity — it’s the parents’ job to make the final call about who’s watching over their offspring.
“It’s still up to the parents to find who’s a good fit for their family,” she said. “We just streamline the path to get there.”
Shirdel pointed out that her app is also designed to give babysitters a sense of safety and choice when it comes to whose kids they look after. Parents have to give references, too, and DateNight gets notified every time someone books a babysitter, meaning the company has information about everyone involved.
“I think you can feel be really vulnerable (looking for babysitting jobs) on Craigslist, especially as a younger woman,” said Naomi Hazlett, 25, who signed up as a DateNight babysitter last November.
“This gives you an extra sense of security.”
Bruce Schneier wrote a 2012 book, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive, which probes issues of trust in the digital age. Speaking with Torstar News Service on the phone from Germany, Schneier dismissed any fears over apps such as DateNight as exaggerated. Such an app, he argued, simply provides a new medium through which to find someone to babysit.
“New is scary,” said Schneier. “This is just a resource to find babysitters. They shouldn’t abdicate any of that responsibility.”
In the four months since it got off the ground, DateNight has recruited 50 sitters and connected them with about 30 families, Shirdel said. With two kids of her own to support, she hopes that’s just the beginning.