In this week’s Meet the CEO we speak with Ari Last, CEO of childcare startup Bubble. The new business connects parents to babysitters both for short notice cover and regular childcare needs and the product builds on recommendations from friends and family. In this interview, Last discusses the way technology has transformed the world of parenting and his journey to finding the right market for Bubble.
Can you tell me about yourself and your business background?
I studied journalism at University and spent some time after graduating as a sports broadcaster and commentator for UEFA. I always had an interest in business and joined Betfair in 2008 – although I wasn’t big on sports betting, it was an incredible business to work for with super-smart people, a ground-breaking product and many interesting challenges.
I spent five years at Betfair before joining MarketInvoice, which was then a small but growing Fintech in London. I had an amazing journey there over three years, from ~10 people and £5m in funding volumes, to 100+ people and over £1bn lent. It was a great experience that taught me a lot.
What’s your journey to becoming CEO of Bubble?
My wife and I have three little kids now and the idea for bubble came from my own personal experience of how hard it was to find good childcare.
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You realise quickly what an impact it has on your everyday life and doing the boring everyday things that we all take for granted before kids come along. Childcare was a massive issue for us and every parent I knew – and the sector as a whole had been completely left behind by technology.
Having worked at two hugely successful, tech-driven marketplace companies, I felt I could apply some of those learnings to solve what I felt was a problem that simply had to be fixed.
How does the business utilise technology to drive new services?
We use big data to connect parents to the trusted carers already operating in their own communities. Our on-demand app sits on top of our proprietary social graph.
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It contains 100m+ relationship ‘nodes’ between members of our community, and we utilise that data to serve parents with local sitters and nannies that are used, loved and recommended by other mums and dads they trust.
All we’ve done is take a very simple ‘real-world’ dynamic – parents always want childcare that comes personally recommended – and we’ve used technology to make the process of getting those recommendations much more efficient.
Our USP is how we are digitising trust, and on top of that, our tech also brings parents the convenience-features we all associate now with on-demand apps such as cashless payment, insurance, and the end-to-end booking management process.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a tech CEO?
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Getting comfortable with the fact that things will go wrong is a big challenge and key skill. It ensures you get good at acting with clarity and rationality during fraught times.
It helps ensure you’re good at prioritising and thinking a step ahead, and most importantly it means you manage to get some sleep at night.
What advice would you give to another CEO?
To be honest I feel as though I’ve got far more lessons to learn then advice to give, but getting good at ‘switching-off’ has helped me greatly. It’s not easy and definitely takes work, but personally I’ve found it massively worthwhile.
In the same vein, try not to listen to the noise and hype that surrounds the startup/tech scene, which is especially loud in London. There’s a huge amount of hype and bluster and not much honest appraisal of the things that go wrong and the challenges we all face doing what we do.
Is there an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
My kids are my biggest accomplishment and the biggest influence on my work everyday. Most importantly, they give me perspective, which is an unbeatable tool when going through the rigmarole of launching and growing a startup.
Where do you see Bubble in the next few years?
Our mission is to make parents happier. We all have many struggles as parents, and across the board, childcare has to be one of the biggest. What motivates us is knowing that if we get this right, we’ll be making a massive difference to the lives of millions of people.
What’s the favourite app on your phone?
Deliveroo, Spotify and Bubble – we use them a lot!
What’s a business you wish you founded and why?
A few years before doing bubble I wrote a business plan for a residential property marketplace and thought about giving it a go, but probably for the best I didn’t as Purple Bricks is a phenomenal business which has disrupted an industry that was crying out for it.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
Focus on the benefits, not the utility.