Fran Maier is CEO and Founder of FTA Member BabyQuip, the leading baby gear rental service and marketplace. She is a serial entrepreneur and brand builder with nearly 25 years experience in B2C and B2B internet businesses. She is best known for her 10+ years leading TRUSTe (now TrustArc), the leading privacy trustmark and solutions provider, and as Co-Founder and first General Manager of Match.com.
(You can learn more about BabyQuip by listening to Episode 8 of Family Travel Radio.)
FTA: What was the catalyst for your starting the company?
Maier: In 2012 I moved to San Francisco in Airbnb’s neighborhood (Potrero Hill). On a lark, I started to rent two rooms on the top floor of my home, and it turned out to be a nice money maker. It got me thinking about how travel is changing and how work is changing and what kinds of new businesses can leverage these big economic shifts.
Fast forward to 2016; I was getting a bit itchy to do another start-up (BabyQuip is my 5th, the first being Match.com where I was Co-Founder and first General Manager) and discovered that the baby gear rental business, and really family travel overall, had not been updated for this new sharing economy! I remember the days when my boys were small and needed all kinds of gear to travel or we skipped traveling all together to avoid the hassle of lugging everything we needed.
What would happen if we tapped into these changes with a laser focus on making family travel easier? Could we also design a better paying and more rewardable way to side hustle?
FTA: Who is the ideal client for BabyQuip?
Maier: On the renter side, we have two large segments. Parents, mostly Millennials, who love to travel, are comfortable with sharing economy services, and are not so invested in owning things. They’re seeking a fun, restful and relaxing family getaway and enjoy the home-like experience BabyQuip can deliver to their hotel, Airbnb, or other vacation rental. The second segment, no surprise once you think of it, are grandparents. They are motivated to provide a great experience for their children and grandchildren so that they’ll visit more often.
Over time we’ve seen other niches grow, including resorts and hotels hosting family-focused events who want to offer the fun (toys!) and convenience of modern baby equipment to their guests. We’re also providing gear to weddings, local festivals and even birthday parties. We’ve had inquiries from a few customers considering cruises too.
On the Supply Side, our Providers are mostly moms who are looking for a meaningful and rewarding “side hustle.” The BabyQuip platform provides almost everything they need to start a business renting baby gear, including training, insurance, transaction and scheduling support and more. They love the flexibility and that they can “BabyQuip with Baby.” We love their high level of dedication and knowledge about quality baby gear, as well as their understanding of their customers’ sometimes stressful travel experiences.
Finally, although we don’t quite see them as customers, we’ve had several leading travel brands approach us recently. We already have partnerships with several brands, including Destination Hotels, Kid & Coe and vacation rental property management companies, and we’re launching a test with a leading hotel brand now. BabyQuip’s affiliate program makes it easy for mom & pop travel businesses, as well as larger travel brands, to easily offer this service to their customers and guests.
FTA: How do families/parents describe the problems your company solves?
Maier: While we rent baby gear, we see ourselves and our Providers as providing a better family travel experience–one that is more fun, adventurous and relaxing. We might deliver a baby backpack, but what the customer receives is an enjoyable family hike where it’s easy to bring the baby along. A wagon filled with beach toys becomes a remarkable all-day adventure at the shore and a sand castle for the memory books. And a full-size wooden crib, just like a baby sleeps in at home, means everyone gets to rest well. I love reading our reviews, where parents say that BabyQuip is a “lifesaver” or we “rescued the vacation.” Simply put, if the baby is sleeping and happy, everyone is happy.
FTA: How have your clients’ experiences and feedback directly shaped your company’s products and services?
Maier: We are continuously improving the platform to better meet families’ needs. What I love is that some of the best new ideas come from our customers or Providers. For example, over the Easter Holiday, one of our Providers decided to offer a service to set up an Easter Egg hunt, she called it “Egg My Yard.” A bunch of other Providers did it too and it was a big success. We’ve been offering the ability to decorate your hotel room or vacation rental for various holidays. This might mean a Thanksgiving themed book package, a menorah and lights for Hanukah, or even a pre-lit tree and stockings to hang by the chimney with care for Christmas.
We’re nimble and very close to our customers, which means Providers understand their immediate needs and can easily add gear at a customer’s request. This might be a yoga ball and exercise mat for a mom who wants to exercise in her hotel room while the baby sleeps, or a maternity pillow to make it easier for a mom to sleep through the night,
FTA: How is the evolving travel industry impacting your business?
Maier: No one wants to pay more for luggage, and while the airlines do allow some baby equipment for no extra charge, it is still a real hassle to lug gear through an airport. And you can’t bring a full-size crib onto a plane. But I think the biggest driver is that Millennial parents love to travel and don’t want to stop once they have children.
We also see family travel as a growing segment for many travel brands. They’re paying attention to what families need. We regularly survey traveling families and our own customer base to better understand how to solve their travel challenges. For example, safety is probably a bigger concern for parents traveling with young children than most brands realize.
FTA: What are some of the major issues facing parents and families today that you wish would be addressed?
Maier: BabyQuip is fulfilling orders for a wide range of families, some very affluent and others who just want an affordable family vacation. It’s super expensive for families to travel. I remember how expensive it was when my kids were small. I hope the industry can find some innovative ways to make it easier for less affluent families to experience the joys of travel.