Designed to fill two massive demands in the Egyptian market, CairoSitters is the brainchild of four bright, young things, who wanted to create part-time jobs for skilled students, as well as provide an organised babysitting service for tired parents.
Most people in Egypt seem to neglect the fact that the youth are the future of this country. The way children they are treated, what they are taught and what they're exposed to in their formative years is essential to shaping how they'll turn out ot be when they grow up. Sadly,education seems to be on the backburner in this country. Children are becoming more spoiled and less independent with each generation, and it's honestly become quite frustrating. However, one group of young entrepreneurs decided to change all of that. Ahmed Ismail, Omar Fayez, Hussein Yehia and Hossam Taher put their thinking caps on together and decided to launch CairoSitters, a tutoring and baby-sitting service that aims to improve the quality of education and interaction for Egyptian children and teach them the morals and values they don't necessarily need a text book for. We sat down with the two of the young minds behind the service, Hossam Taher and Ahmed Ismail, to find out more about the small business with big plans...
Do you like children?
Taher: Not until I founded CairoSitters. And just to clarify, I like children in the same way parents like children...nothing creepy!
When did CairoSitters get started and how?
Taher: It started in September 2011. We were in Sahel and thinking of starting a business but we had no capital. We decided we need to find a service, not a product, that’s in demand so we brainstormed a bit and realised that a babysitting agency is missing in Egypt. The other part of the story is one time I was in Gezira Club and I saw all the kids running around with their maids or nannies behind them and I thought to myself I would never leave my child with a nanny like that. They’re usually so spoiled and have a person running behind them that ties their shoelaces and wipes their nose. They don’t feed themselves or dress themselves. I didn’t feel like that was something healthy for the child. So, I thought I’d rather leave my child with a friend that I know. So why aren’t my friends doing that? Because there’s no babysitting agency in Egypt. We don’t have the culture of a part-time job here in Egypt so we realised there’s demand from the parents' side and young adults that are looking for part-time work.
How does CairoSitters work?
Taher: We started off recruiting friends and friends of friends and now we have a database of over 150 babysitters. This database includes all the information about the babysitters, gathered when they apply and make it through the interview stages. They don’t need to have any babysitting experience and during the interview we ask them trick questions like “If you had a birthday party on the same day as an appointment, what would you do?” or “Do you party?” We expect them to be honest. If the applicant says, “I never party” or lies in any way, we don’t accept them. After they get accepted they go through a training session that covers everything from babysitting to tutoring to how to deal with the parents, the employees in the household, like a servant for example because our babysitting should be put in the same standards or category as a nanny or a maid. Once they’re done with the training they’re added to the database which highlights their specific skills, availability and location. That way, a client can ask, for example, a babysitter in Zamalek that speaks German. We filter our babysitters that fit that criteria and then ask them if they’re interested. If they are, we go with them to an interview with the family in their house. The reason we do that is for safety so we can ensure that the babysitter is going to a good, safe home and that s/he’s comfortable with the family. After that, if both the client and the babysitter agree, they decide on a schedule and start working together.
What would you say differentiates CairoSitters from your average nanny, apart from teaching the kids not be spoiled?
Taher: Definitely education. For me, the root of all problems is the lack of education. Teaching a child something as simple as saying thank you and please is not something a dada would do. Her way of dealing with problems, talking, her behaviour and so on will all imprint on the child. The child needs someone from the same social background to teach him.
Don’t you think the child needs to be exposed to different social backgrounds and the everyday Egyptian?
Taher: He does need that, but not from the inside of the home. We are a generation that uses a lot of curse words and maybe that’s because we spent too much time with drivers and maids ourselves. That’s one of the things we’re trying to solve.
Who oversees the training process for babysitter?
Taher: Our trainer, Salma El Masry, is a Psychology graduate who is soon going on to do a masters in Child Psychology. We've supplied her with a babysitting curriculum from California and asked her to teach it but from an Egyptian perspective, concentrating on the problems we have in Egypt like the kids being spoiled. We also teach minor and basic first aid and CPR, though we're not officially certified yet so we mainly teach the babysitters how to deal with minor injuries like nosebleeds and paper cuts, though we are working on a deal with the Nun Centre to offer first aid certification to our babysitters.
How do you ensure that after the training these people are really qualified to take care of the kids?
Ismail: The training covers babysitting, tutoring and business so they understand how the business runs, what entrepreneurship is and commission. After the training, they are given a quiz.
Do you ever offer any training for your babysitters to learn how to deal with disabled children?
Taher: I look at it as another expansion. Salma, our recruiting director and trainer, loves working in that field. I want to do it right. I don’t like doing this inefficiently. Once we’re done with the current expansions we’re doing, we’re definitely going to look into it.
How much can a babysitter earn?
Taher: Well it depends. We have packages and we have single hours. For example, a 16-hour package would get the babysitter an average of 1000 LE. The single hours are a bit more expensive to encourage people to buy in bulk so to speak. For babysitting, the first single hour is for 200 LE and every hour after that is an extra 50 LE but an hour in the package is for 45 EGP. The language teaching package is for 80 LE an hour, while the tutoring package is for 120LE. The commission we take differs, but it's usually around 20%.
How old are the babysitters?
Taher: Generally it’s 18 – 24 years old. But we have one American babysitter who's 70-something years old. When I was interviewing her, I was so embarrassed. I felt she should be the one interviewing me!
How many people are currently working in your company?
Well, we have the founders who are me, Ahmed Ismail, Omar Fayez and Hussein Yehia. We have a manager, a recruiting director and someone that helps out with PR. These are the seven that work full-time and about 150 babysitters in our database. We also have a lot of mentors. We won the Egnaz Business Plan competition and were part of an incubation programme. The company responsible for us now is Americana Foods. They are helping us with developing the business. For example, we’re trying to start a call centre so they took us to theirs to see how it works, as well as helping us with finances, HR and PR. The one thing we’re missing and are looking for in a mentor is an owner of a nursery or school to help us learn how to deal with parents and so on. It would be very useful.
How many boys do you have working as babysitter?
Taher: Not that many because most parents aren’t too comfortable with boys. We have around 10 at the moment but I imagine after a couple of years, when Egyptians start getting used to the idea of a babysitter and CairoSitters becomes a very well-respected, trusted and known company, they will be more comfortable with boys.
Have you ever had a case where the babysitter messed things up and the parents were very unsatisfied?
Taher: Only once. The thing is, we’re all very young at CairoSitters so we’re not unfamiliar with all the excuses in the book! This one specific babysitter kept constantly calling in sick and we were very strict with her so she’d be a model to all the other babysitters. We eventually had to stop working with her.
Have you ever had a complaint from the babysitter who came back and said, “I just can’t deal with this child anymore, he’s crazy!”?
Taher: It happened once before. The child was around 10 years old and we sent him a French babysitter who couldn’t speak English or Arabic. She came back and I couldn’t understand the complaint! So I just decided to send another babysitter, an Egyptian this time. She was too embarrassed to tell me what was happening. Then the third one we sent came back and told me exactly what’d been happening: apparently, the boy had been hitting them!
Have you ever seen a conflict where a babysitter was trying to discipline the child and the parents were not pleased?
Taher: We have that quite often with homework. Again, comes in the whole spoiled thing. The mother just wants someone to come do the kid’s homework and that really annoys me because that is not what we do and we won’t ever do it. The whole idea of CairoSitters is teaching the child to do things on their own. Mothers would call me and say, “How dare the babysitter not only refuse to do the child’s homework, but also give him/her extra homework!?” Of course, the client is always right. In one specific case we changed babysitters because the mother was very set on her ethics and wouldn’t change them. It’s one of the reoccurring conflicts. We plan on covering this issue through our newsletter that's sent to babysitters and mothers alike. For example, ideas on what to do with your child when the power is out or during curfew.
What’s the weirdest request you’ve gotten?
Ismail: This one time we got a request from this random old guy. He called and, honestly, I don’t think he even had kids. He was requesting a foreign girl to come babysit... I think he misunderstood us for CairoEscorts not CairoSitters!
Have you every thought of branching out to CairoEscorts?
Do you have any babysitters working in Sahel or other resorts for the summer?
Taher: What we do is see which of our team members are in Sahel and are available and we set it up. But opening up an actual branch in Sahel is not quite possible at the moment especially since it's a seasonal location. What we did have in mind for Sahel though, was a summer school but we had to postpone that until next year. We were thinking of getting students from abroad to come supervise, kind of like a camp. We had everything set up, a place in Sahel and everything, but we postponed because we’re currently expanding from inside CairoSitters. We’re trying to increase the capacity, build a call center, have a bigger, more useful website which is all a bigger priority than the summer school right now.
How do you market your services?
Taher: Until now, through word of mouth and events like the DEO Christmas bazaar and the Taste of Zamalek. We were lucky to know the organisers so now we always have a kid’s corner in the Taste Of Zamalek events. These are our main markets. They come to our corner, leave with a flyer and call us the next day. After we finish our new software and website we want to start working on a good marketing campaign with a strategy and a plan.
How many sessions do you book a week, roughly?
Taher: It varies. This month, for example, has been very bad because of everything that’s happening in the country. By the end of September, I expect things to get better. But we get an average of around 30 session bookings a week.
Ismail: We have clients that have been using CairoSitters from the beginning, so it’s not just one job and that’s it.
Do you offer live-in packages?
Taher: No. We don’t even like the idea of au pairs. We don’t like our members to spend the night. We only had one case where a client had a wedding with guests coming from abroad so she booked a hotel room for the kids and the babysitter, but that was an exception.
From a business side of things, what was the most difficult part of starting CairoSitters?
Taher: For me, at the moment, is getting the correct registration for our business. The laws in Egypt don’t help start-ups at all. They don’t help anything new. We had to register as a nursery, which we aren’t. When my lawyer tells me to write down that we’re a nursery, I tell him “no, we’re not a nursery,” but he insists on making me register it as one. Also, taxes are an issue. I don’t mind paying taxes, but don’t make me pay the same taxes Mobinil pays, for example. But the easy things are much more than the difficult things. Right now, social media has made it possible for anyone to open up a business on their own. There are a lot of incubators and organisations like Endeavor or Injaz or the AUC business bank. All these things help with entrepreneurship a lot.
What do you think about the educational system for young children in Egypt?
Taher: There are only a handful of good schools. DEO, BISC, Lycée and CAC are very good. My problem with schools like AIS, for example, is that they spoil the students too much. When we hire a babysitter from AIS, they’re always so spoiled; they have absolutely no work ethics. They’re not punctual, they make up excuses and they take the whole thing as a joke. That’s my main problem: commitment to the job. I don’t want my child to graduate school knowing maths and biology and all that; this is all secondary for me. What’s important is for them to be able to deal with people well, to be hard-working and approach and solve problems well. This is what I grew up learning and this is what I’m trying to teach these children.
That being said, have you ever thought about starting a day-care centre or eventually a school?
Taher: We’re thinking of starting a day-care in Zamalek or a nursery/summer school. We’d also love to start a centre for children ages 10 – 14 to give them an introduction to entrepreneurship. Like for example, setting up lemonade stands in Sahel. These are all ideas we plan on following through but we have to take things step by step.
How can people get involved with CairoSitters?
Taher: We need a lot of babysitters because we’re expecting a lot of demand shortly as we’re launching a new website and marketing campaign. We’re recruiting people for a part-time job that makes you financially independent. We'll have a recruitment booth at AUC on the 14th of September so anyone can come along and get to know us.
What sort of person are you looking for?
Taher: We designed this part-time job for students so the working hours are flexible. You only need to be committed and hard-working. We will train you on how to work with kids. All the jobs will be near you so you won’t have to go far. You need to be 18 and responsible and preferably have a third language [alongside English and Arabic].We are dealing with children, who are very sensitive beings. At the end of the day, you’ll have a great influence on this child so you need to take the job seriously. When this child grows up and looks at pictures of you together, they’re going to remember what you taught them. You have a great impact so take it seriously because you might end up turning the child into the next Morsi!