It's a truth universally accepted that necessity is the mother of invention. And on this occasion, the mother of invention just so happens to be a woman who grew tired of seeking out and juggling after-school activities, while making huge one-off, bank-account-clearing payments for swimming and dance and gymnastics and … well, as any parent knows, the list is endless. This is a mother who saw the UAE parenting community as one giant ecosystem and sought to bring everything to do with children – education, activities, leisure time, birthday parties, you name it – together and put them in one place: your phone. Step forward Aarti Shah, the Dubai mother-of-two who launched parent connector app, Kiddo, and who is on a mission to bring parenting in the UAE into the 2020s and into your pocket.
The app, which launched in November after 10 months of development, is billed as a "one-stop shop" that lets parents not only search for a wide variety of educational and leisure providers across the country, but also book and pay for classes through the app. "It all really started coming about when I welcomed my second child, my daughter Amyra, back in January 2018," explains Shah. "I was a working mother, and was struggling to find activities for my first child, my son Ayaan, who was 5 at the time. I started thinking about how we have so many apps to order transport or food, but nothing to cater to all the things that centre around a child's needs.
"This would come into my mind time and time again. I can pay Salik, Empower and Dewa through apps, and order food delivery through Zomato and Uber, so why couldn't I find, book and pay for swimming lessons near me, too?"
The idea blossomed and led the marketing executive to quit her job. Along with two partners – her husband, Bhavin, and their friend, Ralph Stobwasser – they developed the app to enable parents to search for suitable schools, nurseries, after-school clubs, soft play and leisure activities based on all manner of things that really help save time when you're a parent. This includes narrowing down searches by age, location, personal preferences and, in a genius move, what activities your child's friends are currently enjoying.
“The Kiddo app not only lets you search for after-school or leisure activities based on preferences – such as ballet or football – it also lets you see what your child’s friends are doing, so your kids can join in with their best friend’s activity. In this way, it connects you to friends and family,” adds Shah.
A survey carried out by education consultancy GK and Partners in the UK last year found that the average parent spends 156 hours a year taking kids to and from activities and pays out about Dh134,000 on those pursuits by the time the child goes to university. This amount adds up over time, especially with the higher cost of living in the UAE and if you have more than one child, making it all the more imperative to get your choices right in the first place.
With this in mind, Shah drew on her financial services background to come up with the range of payment plans Kiddo offers, an aspect of the app of which she is rightly proud. "There are around one million students in the UAE and, on average, a UAE-based parent spends around Dh1,000 per child, per month outside of school fees," she says. "My son does swimming, chess, karate and other activities, and it's always the way that payment for these activities comes at the same time. So, if I have to pay for them all at the start of the term, then I can face the prospect of shelling out up to Dh6,000 at any one time."
She came up with the idea of having instalment plans on the app, which allows you to split payments over a period of time for certain activities, some up to three months. “This is a huge bonus because the majority of people I know get paid monthly, and Kiddo allows you to spread the costs. A lot of stand-alone service providers can’t offer this, as they don’t have the relationship with the banks that we do. Plus, some providers don’t have credit card machines at their facility because of the cost involved in using them, or their customers might not have cash on them at the time. Using the app bypasses all of this.”
Within two months of its launch, interactive children's play museum Oli Oli, Blossom Nurseries, Cheeky Monkeys, Splash N Bounce, Beyond Basketball and Absolute Gymnastics have already signed up to Kiddo, and now the app boasts more than 1,000 providers that can be sought out by parents in a few clicks and swipes. It was also downloaded more than 1,500 times in the first six weeks.
"It's an education and activities marketplace that aims to connect the whole ecosystem from when the child is born, through their development, through exams, until they start university," says Shah. "We also have the Kiddo Card, where in lieu of birthday gifts, parents can contribute towards a child's experiences which they can then use for the things they really enjoy. We are very confident the app will become a very important part of UAE parents' lives."