Give a sigh of relief, moms and dads. Summer vacation may be fast approaching and with it, the overwhelming hunt for the perfect programs for your kids, but thanks to Lauren Pohl, a NYC mom and founder of Kidz Central Station, the whole process is just a click away. But don’t stop there: Kidz Central Station is the perfect year-round resource to search, locate and enroll your children in any activity, any day of the week.
The website allows parents to search for children’s classes and programs in Manhattan and Brooklyn through filters such as activity, child’s age (2 months to 15-years-old), location, price, time of day and day of the week. Once users narrow their search, they can read reviews posted by parents, enroll in and pay for classes, all through the site. An email is then sent to confirm registration.
Launched in September of 2012, the idea for KCS came to Pohl while on maternity leave with her second child. She had tried to find activities for her newborn son and her then 2-year-old daughter, but found her search to be more frustrating than anything else.
“Why is it that I can go on OpenTable and make a reservation for any restaurant in one second and go on ZocDoc and find a doctor or schedule an appointment in 2 seconds, but for classes and activities for kids there is nothing like that?” said Pohl.
After establishing proof of concept by first servicing a small area in Midtown, East Chelsea and Union Square with soccer, enrichment, music and dance classes as the foundation for the site, Kidz Central Station has expanded in Manhattan, included Brooklyn in its scope and has added 32 different categories and over 1,000 classes to the site. Activities range from cooking to leadership skills to baseball to yoga. KCS is about to add a girl’s coding class – something that Pohl values as a female entrepreneur in New York.
“In my experience of trying to find coders to work with us, there are not a lot of women who get into it. These classes for girls are a terrific way to start them at a young age.”
Pohl’s own children are enrolled in soccer, ballet, Gymboree, an enrichment class and a sibling music class. Her daughter is even in a child’s acting class.
To create an account, users simply provide their name and email address – free and no membership required. And, to ensure return customers, users who book classes earn reward points that can be redeemed for credit off future classes.
Parents can also sync enrolled classes with their own personal calendar, such as iCal, Outlook or Google calendars, and share classes on Facebook to get feedback from family and friends.
“Being a mom, these were the kinds of things I knew would be helpful right away,” said Pohl.
A graduate of Cornell University, Pohl had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t know if she would ever be ready to take the risk. It wasn’t until the idea for Kidz Central Station that she finally felt inspired enough to make the leap. “What made me do it was that I realized somebody else would do it and when they did it, it would make me sick to my stomach,” said Pohl.
The site has also expanded to include parenting classes, stroller fitness classes and new mom groups, where women can meet to ask questions and share experiences. There is also a Boot Camp for Dads, in which new and expectant fathers meet with veteran dads for discussions and a crash course in baby basics such as cradling, swaddling and burping.
Feedback for her efforts has been positive and has demonstrated to Pohl that is filling a void in the parenting sector. “At a TechCrunch Disrupt event, a man came up and said, ‘I always wondered if there was like an Expedia for kids’ classes and now I found you.”
For Pohl, the purpose of the site is to use technology to expose parents to things they might not have known about, make the whole search process simple and easy and help providers promote the classes they’re offering.
“I do think that if you introduce children at a young age to different activities, they tend to develop talents and skills that could stay with them for the rest of their lives,” said Pohl.
It is this passion that has kept Pohl motivated. But, Pohl is no stranger to hard work and responsibility. Before starting the site, Pohl had worked at a corporate firm, where the hours were grueling and the pressure was high. Not that a startup is easy. “[The hours] are equally tough, but I have more control over them, so I probably work as much as before, but it doesn’t seem like it.”
For Pohl, the biggest challenge has been finding the right team. Right now, she has a department of four people for sales and marketing, someone who focuses on social media and a few coders, all of whom mostly work virtually. But, the process has taken a lot of trial and error.
“I used to think that you can judge by your instincts when you meet somebody, but I learned that that’s not necessarily true. Some people present really well, but are big talkers and there are others who don’t present necessarily as well, but perform great.”
Pohl believes launching a startup require someone who is passionate, capable of withstanding the highs and lows, persistent, likes to network and has a strong work ethic. These traits are especially important for a small staff, which relies on meetings to get the word out about their site.
Aside from contacting parenting bloggers to write about the business, the team typically goes to parenting conferences, events and tech meetups to talk one-on-one with people. These types of venues are very accessible in New York, which is why Pohl considers the city an ideal location for startups.
“It’s so amazing to see people who are passionate about their ideas and have an environment in which there’s so much support and networking.”
Support has been essential to Pohl’s business. In the beginning, she relied on a very small group of friends and family for financing. So far, the company hasn’t raised funding, but the site has started to generate revenue, which has been put back into the business – a defining moment for Pohl in her career.
Both she and her business partner have corporate backgrounds and believe learning from others has been essential to their progress.
“My advice is to talk to everybody in the world, whether or not you think they are related to your idea, because you learn things from so many different people, particularly people who are not like you.”
New York is just the beginning. With parents moving to Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey, asking when the site will include those areas, Pohl and her staff are continuing their expansion efforts in those areas, before ultimately going national.
With the continued support of friends, former coworkers, her current team and especially her husband, Pohl looks forward to the future. “I don’t think so much about the scariness as much as the excitement of what we’re creating.”