Teens need us more than ever. Any teen that wants to work should have a job. Through the Kumbaya App, we want to help educate and prepare teens for the real world by helping them enter the job market earlier through the app. Today’s teens are motivated and want to find jobs earlier than previous generations, but they lack sufficient and safe solutions to find flexible job opportunities. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has caught us all off guard and has removed in-person job opportunities for teens as more people are staying home and unemployed adults are looking for jobs themselves. I want to start a movement to help teens feel empowered to meet their personal, professional and financial goals and continue to be the tech-savvy, resourceful and hard-working generation we are finding them to be.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chen Yahav-Levanon.
Chen Yahav-Levanon is a Co-founder and the CEO of the Kumbaya App, overseeing all business decisions for the gig marketplace company that connects teens with parents who need care services. She is a serial entrepreneur, having previously co-founded and led both self-funded and profitable SimilarTech and ClicksMob (acquired in 2017, ranked #28 in Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies in 2015 and listed at a Deloitte Rising Star winner in 2015). In 2019, Chen was featured in Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 40 under 40 as an individual to watch.
Prior to co-founding Kumbaya, Chen worked as an investment banker at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and was also a former European champion hurdler. She graduated cum laude from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics and holds an MBA from Bar Ilan University in Israel and Fudan University in China. Chen is also a mother of three young children and is passionate about helping people thrive in their professional lives while raising children in the modern world.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
With the Kumbaya App being my third company, I did not have fear when we started. I’ve been through launching a company twice. I’ve learned that if you choose the right team of people, inspired as you are for your idea work, you can make anything happen.
As background about the startup, I met my co-founder, Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski at a networking event in Silicon Valley two years ago. While trying to solve care services for our own families as working moms, Adi and I discovered 90% of parents who need childcare mentioned they are using their own teens or teens in their network to do a variety of care tasks. We paired this discovery with the knowledge that GenZ teens are not lazy. They want to work and save for their future, but their busy academic and extracurricular schedules do not allow them the flexibility to get part-time jobs. At the same time, many teens prefer smaller gigs to traditional jobs.
The Kumbaya App helps parents find trusted and affordable childcare and any teen in any geography who can work and wants a job to have a paid gig by doing virtual babysitting and other tasks. The platform connects teens with other parents in their own parents’ network. It provides them a safe place to make extra money, learn about financial responsibility, and foster a work ethic that will prepare them for the future.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has removed in-person job opportunities as more people look to stay home for the upcoming months and potentially years. It has taken away a lot of summer jobs and internships for teens, and also made the competition fierce with over 40 million adults currently unemployed. To address these issues, we launched the Kumbaya App early to help U.S. communities cope with the new reality by providing teens the opportunity to do virtual gigs for money, all while offering assistance to parents working from home during this time.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
At first, we were focused on our experience as busy parents who needed help, but then we had an “aha moment” and realized that every parent tries to promote their own teens to help others in their network. We did a focus group of parents and found that they either said they know a teen or they know of a teenager they can pay to help out with gigs. We realized GenZ teens were a huge audience and underserved community most of the business world has forgotten about. We then paired this with the fact that parents needed help and are looking to solve issues for both through the Kumbaya App.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We have never thought about giving up, even when times are hard, we work to think of short-term and long-term solutions for each challenge we face. However, COVID-19 happened right as we were in the midst of raising seed round funding. We had not yet launched the app and were trying to figure out the right path to take given the unusual circumstances. We decided to take a risk and launch the Kumbaya App early in the hopes that our app would help communities through the pandemic with virtual gigs for teens and care services for younger kids.
Within 48 hours, we were up and running and our platform spread through word of mouth, first through our communities in California, but then we started seeing parents and teens from all over the U.S. download and use the app and start to book gigs. We are moving forward full force and even though our app was initially for in-person work, we are finding virtual opportunities to be very popular, especially for parents who are working from home and need help keeping their kids entertained.
The drive to continue really came from the realization that we could offer virtual services ahead of the in-person-focused ones we had planned to launch later this summer.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
The Kumbaya App has really taken off. As of July 2020, two months after our official launch, we’ve had over 1,600 downloads, passed over 650 virtual paid gigs complete, and had 350 teens registered by their parents. Moreover, 100% of parents who hire a teen through the platform come back to hire another teen. Another really cool finding is that this summer we’ve seen a couple of teens make up to 1.5–2K dollars a month working every day through the app by booking gigs.
While we were faced with an unforeseeable circumstance, we applied grit and resilience to pivot our app and make the most out of an unfortunate situation. We wanted to meet parents where they are at now and help teens find work through the pandemic. The virtual world has increased its footprint in America, and we have seen so many creative ways teens are working with kids whether doing virtual babysitting, tutoring, science experiments, drawing and more.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I’ve made a fair share of mistakes, however, I do not find them funny because they are business-related! I guess the most recent one was a couple of months ago. Because I’m a third-time founder, I did not prepare as much as I should have when speaking with an investor. I realized from the experience that it is important to not let arrogance drive any business decision, even ones as basic as preparing for a meeting. It was a big wake up call and a mistake I will not be making again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My partnership with my co-founder, Adi, makes our company stand out. We are an incredibly strong and dynamic duo. When we met two years ago, we knew immediately that we would work together because our personalities and backgrounds meshed so well. This is the first time I’ve gone into business with someone who also became a good friend, and during the last two times, I always felt nervous taking days off, but with Adi, I know she can handle it. I can take a break knowing full well she has everything under control. Our company is agile, our tech is great, and we full-heartedly support our mission to help teens who want to work find jobs, and to get parents the help they need at home while being able to remain balanced in our leadership.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I have a lot of tips. In fact, the Kumbaya App is the first business endeavor I’ve started that I haven’t felt burned out about yet. My first tip is to hire good employees. You must also trust your co-founder. Exercise. Remember that there is an end to everything. Lastly, whatever you are thinking with your heart, remember to also think with your brain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
While I worked on Wall Street, I met a famous businessman at the gym I used to go to. I recognized his face from the newspapers and approached him to introduce myself. Stemming from the chance encounter at the gym, I convinced him over time to allow me to hire me as his “chief of stuff” and worked with him four years.
While working at his company, I transitioned to a financial associate and then to chief knowledge officer roles. It was the best business experience I could have ever asked for. As one of my most trusted mentors to this day, he taught me that money is not everything and the importance of being patient and understanding of other people. Without his guidance, I would not be the successful entrepreneur that I am today or have had such solid teams backing me up.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have over 1,600 downloads and more than 40% are 60-day active users. To build this community over a short period of time, we raised brand awareness and focused on the community aspect of the app. We also incorporated educational materials to help teens positively position themselves on the app to land more gigs and prepare them for jobs in the real world. Between parents and teens, our app has spread quickly by word of mouth over a few short months.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
The answer is yes. Since we just launched, we are still checking relevant options. We previously considered a monthly subscription model but decided to go with a fee-based model instead. We waived fees due to COVID-19, but are planning to charge parents who hire teens a service fee when the timing is better. Teens do not get charged at all and will even have a cashback plan to incentivize them to work.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important things an entrepreneur should do to create a successful app are: 1) listen to your users’ feedback, 2) conduct focus group research, 3) make sure the app is functional and looks ok 4) don’t wait until the app is perfect, go ahead and launch it and 5) think of a way to influence a network that gets the word out about your app and increases engagement.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Teens need us more than ever. Any teen that wants to work should have a job. Through the Kumbaya App, we want to help educate and prepare teens for the real world by helping them enter the job market earlier through the app. Today’s teens are motivated and want to find jobs earlier than previous generations, but they lack sufficient and safe solutions to find flexible job opportunities. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has caught us all off guard and has removed in-person job opportunities for teens as more people are staying home and unemployed adults are looking for jobs themselves.
I want to start a movement to help teens feel empowered to meet their personal, professional and financial goals and continue to be the tech-savvy, resourceful and hard-working generation we are finding them to be.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!