Island Sitters is a fully comprehensive online agency service based in Barbados, pairing families with qualified and trustworthy babysitters, house sitters, pet sitters, nannies and tutors.
The idea for Island Sitters came about after Malou worked for a sitter agency during her studies in Amsterdam and recognized the need for something similar here in Barbados. She approached her close friend Sheena about starting this business together because she knew that Sheena also has extensive experience in childcare. Neither of the young women had ever started a business before but they knew from past experiences that they worked well together and were both passionate about the idea.
Before Island Sitters launched, Malou and Sheena started indirect market research over the summer by recruiting sitters via Facebook and word-of-mouth and then offering their agency services to families free of charge, to get a feel for the business. They asked for a lot of feedback and it gave them great insight into the childcare sector. Through this research, the two young women recognized that there was a gap in the market for the services they had in mind, for both local families and families visiting the island. Parents and homeowners often had a difficult time when trying to find suitable people to look after their children, pets or home. The community was excited about an easy to use, professional sitter platform in Barbados. With that experience, Malou and Sheena felt prepared to officially start offering Island Sitters’ services on October 1st.
At the end of the summer, Malou and Sheena heard about the Automotive Art Entrepreneurship Competition, which offered great prizes for the winning business concepts. They entered Island Sittersin to the competition as it was a great opportunity to push the business concept even further. The competition was run very well, with a professional team offering support and workshops to all of the competitors. The ladies put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their entry, and really gave it their all when it came to pitching the idea. Thankfully, the judges shared their vision for what Island Sitters can offer Barbados and the region and awarded Island Sitters 1st place in the competition and a $12,500 cheque! What started with a simple, straightforward ‘side business’ has now developed into a full-time start up thanks to the competition.
How Island Sitters Works
The service is simple: Island Sitters saves their clients’ time and gives them the comfort in knowing that they’ll be provided with trustworthy, reliable sitters.
Island Sitters has a large pool of sitters which is continuously expanding through recruitment drives. Their sitters and nannies are all screened by Malou and Sheena and must pass their strict criteria including experience level, reference checks, personality assessment, character certificate and CPR training where available. Once a client makes a service request, Island Sitters gets in touch with the sitters to see who is available and with feedback from the client, the agency finds the most suitable sitter for the family. Clients and Sitters can get in touch with the company via their website or Facebook page. There is an agency fee for each booking which the client pays the sitter in addition to their wages.
Thus far, the babysitting and nannying services have been most popular, partially due to the fact that those services have been more heavily advertised. In 2014, Island Sitters will push pet and house sitting and tutoring services.
Since winning the competition, the Island Sitters website has become the main priority and clients will soon be able to schedule and book everything online, making the process even easier. Membership packages will also be offered to clients in the coming months. Future plans include expanding the business to include more services and eventually, expanding regionally.
On Becoming Entrepreneurs
For anyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur, Sheena and Malou would say ‘Go for it!’ Too many people sit on great ideas and never do anything about it. In a small island like Barbados, it is really important to recognize the power of your network. Once you pinpoint who can help you, don’t be afraid to ask for that help – no man is an island and every successful business person started out with help in some way.
Neither Malou nor Sheena saw themselves as ‘entrepreneurs’ before last summer, but they recognized an opportunity and went for it. There has been a lot more buzz recently surrounding entrepreneurs and creative business thinking in Barbados and young Barbadians should be encouraged to forge their own paths, challenge themselves and unleash their creative potential. Malou and Sheena believe that once people love what they do, they are more likely to excel at it and drive a country forward.