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BabyQuip Founder Fran Maier on Making Travel Easy for Parents

Introduction

Traveling with children can be challenging, especially when parents need to haul along heavy strollers and car seats. There are many stories from parents about baby gear getting damaged on airplanes. Buying new equipment at destinations is both frustrating and expensive.

With BabyQuip, parents no longer have to overpack or think about the difficulty of carrying strollers, car seats, or other essentials. The startup is an online marketplace for more than 800 providers renting baby gear to traveling parents, so equipment can be ready and waiting at the vacation’s destination. We reached out to founder and CEO Fran Maier to hear more about working together with her son and possible upcoming projects for the company.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

In your own words, how would you describe BabyQuip?

Fran Maier

BabyQuip is the world’s leading baby gear rental service, delivering clean, quality baby gear items – from car seats to strollers and more – to families who don’t want to haul bulky gear while traveling. We save the family vacation!

BabyQuip Cleaning offers exceptional baby gear cleaning services for local families and businesses, particularly for car seats, strollers, and high chairs.

As a managed marketplace, the BabyQuip platform enables its community of more than 850 independent contractors, called quality providers, the opportunity to build a business renting and cleaning baby gear on the BabyQuip platform. Mostly moms, the quality providers benefit from an active and supportive community, ongoing training, and leads generated from both online advertising and through strategic partnerships.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Fran Maier

In early 2012, I left my last position (at the time president and chair of TRUSTe, now TrustArc) and bought a three-story home in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. As it happens, it was in Airbnb’s neighborhood, and everyone was talking about it. Before long, I was renting two rooms on the third floor of my home on Airbnb. I quickly realized that this could be a great money-maker and give me the time to think about what I wanted to do next.  

Because of my vacation rental side hustle as well as the emerging ride-sharing businesses, I  began to think about how travel and work (gig economy!) are changing. Change is always a great catalyst for new companies. What new companies could emerge and take advantage of these changes?

I came across a baby gear rental business, and it clicked for me almost immediately. I remember how difficult it was to travel with my sons when they were small. I’ve seen how difficult it is at airports. And as a vacation rental host, I didn’t have the gear families needed (nor did I want to buy and store it). 

We formed the company in May 2016.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Fran Maier

Not surprisingly, my team is mostly women and completely remote. Up until now, we’ve been a small team of eight. The lone guy is Joe, our CTO, who is also my son. He joined up in 2017 after spending five years doing tech at Accenture. It’s a rare thing to see a mother/son team, and we really enjoyed appearing on Shark Tank together (March 2020). Four of our team members, including Director of Lead Gen and Recruitment Nicole Kitzman, started out as quality providers, which really helps because they know the ins and outs of the service. I recently recruited Patricia Johnson, formerly of Virtuoso and Visa, as vice president of business development. She’ll be focused on driving more partnerships.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How is BabyQuip transforming the baby gear rental industry?

Fran Maier

As I looked at the competitive landscape back in 2016, I didn’t see any national brands or any company trying to do this at scale. BabyQuip’s really built the category.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Fran Maier

There is no other national brand doing this. There are a few regional brands, some that have been around since the ’90s, that offer baby gear rental and lots of mom ’n’ pops, especially in large family destination markets.    

At this point, we have several advantages. Some investors like to call them moats:

  • A trusted national brand that can serve families wherever they go (within the US and Canada).
  • Product-market fit, as evidenced by a Net Promoter Score over 90.
  • A strong community of more than 850 quality providers across the US and Canada. 
  • Trust and safety program, including liability insurance that protects the company and our quality providers. This is expensive and hard to get.
  • Strategic partnerships with national brands – most recently our host referral program on VRBO, where we’ve signed up more than 1500 VRBO hosts to introduce BabyQuip to their guests.  
  • SEO and social media dominance, with more than 30,000 followers and a robust influencer program.
  • Sophisticated technology that serves our travel rental and cleaning customers, our quality providers, and partnerships. It is quite complex to keep track of each quality provider’s inventory (multiple cribs, car seats, strollers, and more), dates available, etc.  
Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Fran Maier

In addition to building awareness of the category and BabyQuip, we plan to expand into new markets. We’re especially looking to those that Americans are traveling to, such as the Caribbean and Mexico, and potentially to other markets with similar dynamics. In addition, we are focused on building more strategic partnerships. We also have a number of new service opportunities, such as PetQuip (delivering pet gear to traveling families) and SafeQuip (baby-proofing homes), among others that we’d like to evaluate and launch.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Fran Maier

We are building a trusted brand to address a very large market of traveling families.  Our approach is right for these times in that millennial parents want to travel with their children, value experiences, are comfortable with marketplace and gig economy services, expect clean and safe services, and appreciate the sustainability aspects of what we do. We will continue to build “deep moats” and maintain our leadership position.

I’d also point out that we survived the pandemic. In April 2020, we had virtually no orders, but by July 2021, we had more than 4,000. That’s quite a turnaround! Families will want to travel again, and we’ll be there for them.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

As a female founder, what difficulties have you encountered working on your company? What advice would you give to women founders?

Fran Maier

This is my fifth startup, and I’ve benefited from an extensive network of investors and others, so I’ve been able to raise the needed capital. When we started Match.com back in the mid ’90’s, there was no support for women entrepreneurs. Now, there is much more of a commitment to back women as well as more women writing checks. Significant investors and advisors include How Women Invest, Theresia Gouw, Jillian Manus, Jan Brandt, Barbara Clarke, Randi Zuckerberg, Anna Zornosa, and Heather Morris, each of whom have built brands and companies.  

As for advice for women founders, the number one thing I’ll share is to have confidence. You know your market, and you know your solution. Believe that you can do what you are setting out to do. From a more tactical standpoint, build out your network, try to show traction faster, consider an accelerator, and persevere.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Fran Maier

I believe our foundation of a trusted brand will give us the ability to expand and succeed in a number of different categories, but for the near term, we are focused on bringing our service to families everywhere. I would not be surprised if we are eventually bought by a travel company, a big-box retailer, or another marketplace down the road.

We look forward to seeing where Fran and her team take the company. BabyQuip is currently raising on SeedInvest.

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About: Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Léa is passionate about impact investing and sustainability. Prior to KingsCrowd, she worked for Stanford’s accelerator, StartX, helping to select the most promising entrepreneurs. She also led the first award-winning study on the Malawian startup ecosystem. In her free-time, she volunteers to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Brazil and Colombia. Léa holds a degree in Anthropology from France and is currently enrolled in the UC Davis MBA program.

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