SupportBiz presents an exclusive conversation with Sridevi about Amelio, the daycare industry in India, entrepreneurship, challenges and much more.
When did Amelio Childcare start operations?
Amelio Childcare started operations in August 2008.
How is Amelio Childcare different from other daycare centres in India?
Amelio is India's first focused on-site childcare company. We create and manage high-quality childcare centers for companies so that employees can remain close to their children while they work.
Please give us some background on the founders of Amelio Childcare.
I, along with Raghavan Jawahar, are the founders of Amelio Childcare. I did my MBA at Harvard Business School and graduated in 2008. Earlier that year, I entered the Harvard Business School Business Plan Contest with the idea of Amelio. The venture idea greatly appealed to a few judges, who were also venture capitalists. Armed with funding from PEs, Sridevi returned to India to start Amelio.
Raghavan headed the Far East operations of Crew BOS, one of India’s leading leather accessories manufacturer, prior to Amelio. Having started a career in publishing, Raghavan took on an entrepreneurial role in leather before joining Crew BOS. When Sridevi spoke to him about the idea of Amelio, Raghavan decided to move back to India at the same time, to co-found Amelio.
How did the idea of starting Amelio Childcare come about?
During my early days in advertising, a disturbing trend that I noticed was that young senior women executives faced a stressful and difficult choice every day – one between their homes and careers. Many women dealt with this situation by quitting work altogether, much against their own desires, only because they had no other choice. It seemed a simple and powerful idea to me for companies to set up childcare centers within or near the workplace, so that women did not have to make a painful choice between work and their families.
In which cities of India do you provide childcare facilities at present?
Amelio is based out of Chennai. At the moment, we have centers only in Chennai, but plan to operate in a couple of other cities by early 2013.
Which are the major firms in whose premises you have started childcare centres?
We operate a center within HCL in Chennai, and have other large IT majors with whom we have partnered and will be opening centers within the next quarter.
How big is your team, at the moment?
We currently operate six centers in Chennai, and are opening our seventh center in Chennai by the end of August. We have a 15-member corporate team and over 70 employees across all our centers, who are primarily center managers, teachers and assistant teachers.
Do you advertise in any way? How do you get your clients?
The childcare and early education space is a delicate industry, and much of the dealings are completely based on trust. Therefore, a bulk of our admissions comes from word-of-mouth and the rave reviews of parents whose children are at Amelio. Our advertising is targeted and highly cost-effective, catering to the population whom we serve for each of our centers.
The number of reliable daycare centres in India is very less as compared to that outside the country. Why do you think this is so?
There are several reasons behind this. The first is the absence of regulations and government licenses, which makes the setting up of a childcare centre a pure cost-plus model. Therefore, there is the existence of several poor-quality centers at really cheap fees.
In developed countries, there are clear guidelines on how to operate daycare centers and what to do. In the absence of such guidelines In India, most operators are in the dark on how to care for children. In a few years, many daycare owners find this business unappealing and stop.
Having said that, I think there are a number of good childcare centers and pre-schools emerging in India that are beginning to push up the quality of offering. The increasing number of working women in the country working has also been contributing to the increase in the number of service providers. I think, in a few years, this industry will be abuzz with great players with a strong professional approach.
This is a very unique concept of daycare. How have the employers reacted so far to this concept?
Companies find the idea of creating onsite or near-site centers greatly appealing because they believe this is a strong retention tool to enable their best employees to continue working after a baby. Increasingly, we notice that companies are ready to create such daycare centres as part of their inclusion and diversity commitment, and are allocating resources to create such facilities. In the near future, I can see each company have an onsite or sponsored childcare facility, as this will become a way to hire and retain great talent.
How has the response of parents been to the services of Amelio Childcare?
We have been extremely gratified and humbled by the wonderful responses parents have for our offering. Parents notice a distinct, high-quality difference at Amelio. Parents are thrilled that their children settle at Amelio very quickly, start speaking soon, and enjoy coming to school. We have had instances where parents have had to drive their kids all the way to Amelio over the weekend just to show them that school is really closed. Kids pester their parents to take them to Amelio even over the weekends!
What are the major challenges that you face? How do you overcome them?
People – be it the team, vendors or partners. But we overcome them by having a strong focus on our vision and ensuring that we hire people who believe in the Amelio vision and will further the dream.
What have been your proudest moments as an entrepreneur so far?
Doing business in India is never easy. We are really proud that we have been able to hire fantastic talent and keep them motivated. We are also really thrilled that we have been able to create a venture that, today, runs on processes and systems and is not one-person dependent. It took us a lot of hard work and efforts to do this, but we are really pleased that, today, our centers run extremely well and are headed by great managers, who feel a sense of ownership but, at the same time, respect and value the systems and processes and adhere to them for smooth functioning of the centers.
What are your expansion plans in the near future?
We plan to operate 10 centers in Chennai by December 2012, and expand pan-India to other cities shortly. We hope to create a strong presence in large cities in India, which have a high percentage of nuclear families. By 2017, we hope to be the market leader in high-quality childcare across India.
What advice would you give to a potential entrepreneur?
While you as an entrepreneur have the vision for your business, you need great people to get there. So, be really finicky about hiring great people, and when you find good people, invest in keeping them motivated and happy.
There will always come a time when things get really tough, but always remember why you started, and keep your vision as the fuel for your growth. Do not give up – things sometimes get worse before they get better!
Corporate Website: Amelio Childcare
Image courtesy: Sridevi's photograph by Tony Deifell