Entrepreneurial Journey

Building Family Teams: Joy Colino, Nannies Plus

This week, I had the honor of interviewing Joy Colino, founder of Nannies Plus. Nannies Plus creates authentic and impactful relationships between families and nannies, building family teams that are based on communication, respect, and valuing one another as equals in the important work of raising children. In this interview, Joy talks about her how she got started, her current Kiva campaign, and the social impact of Nannies Plus.

What inspired you to start Nannies Plus?

I was a nanny for 25 years. I had mostly amazing experiences. But, when I was well into my career 20+ years, I had a couple jobs right in a row that were not good fits for me. These families did not have a similar outlook or values, and there were a lot of mismatches in caregiving style and personality fit. So, we weren’t a family team. We weren’t a cohesive team. The work that I was doing suffered because of it. That was awful because taking care of children is such an important job. We’re really making the changemakers of the future. I realized that having this mismatched fit was ultimately detrimental to the children, as well as to myself and my own happiness.

I realized I needed to do something about it.  Several people had told me over the years, “Joy, why don’t you start a daycare center?” I owned a house in Seattle, so I could have done that. But, I wanted my home to be my home and my work to be my work.  Because the work that a nanny does is such hard work.  It’s deep caregiving. And, having a break from that was important to me.

But other people said, “Joy, you should start a nanny agency.”  And, I thought that was far off the mark because I didn’t know anything about business. Running a daycare center, I could probably figure that out. Going through the licensing process, and I’m kind of there. But, an agency was a whole different ball of wax.  So, I never really even considered it.

But after having those two experiences, I realized that I needed to be the change that I wanted to see.  Because both of those positions came to me through agencies that kind of pushed me in the direction of taking the jobs—mostly because they thought it would be a good fit. And they make a large commission off of the placement. I noticed they weren’t really listening to me and getting to know me.  So, I decided I would be the change.

How did you get started?

I started taking classes. Then, I eventually quit that last job that wasn’t a good fit.  I took a job closer to home for less pay, but it really freed up my time, energy, mental and emotional space to be able to buckle down, take the classes, do the work, and still be a great nanny while I was getting all that done.

I started through Operation Hope, and I took a night course through them.  Then, I went on to Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and took Urban FIRE with Boku Kodama. It was an amazing course that really, really opened up my creative pathways and got the juices flowing. But I realized that it didn’t offer the business skills that I needed; it was more about getting in the creative mindset.

Then, I found Uptima Business Bootcamp through a networking event. It was maybe the first networking event I ever went to. There were only four of us at the whole event and I met Uptima instructor, Kelley Nayo Jahi.  She told me about Uptima, and I went home that night and looked it up, applied and went through the enrollment process. Uptima really changed my outlook because it kicked my butt. I didn’t realize what running a business meant, and that there were numbers and other stuff involved.  And, that was scary for me.  But it definitely was the gamechanger for me and put me on the right path for so many reasons—the people, the curriculum, and generally the community of Uptima.

How do you find nannies?

I have a large personal network of nannies because I was a nanny for so long. And, then people come to us through our website and other methods. We have an initial discovery call with the nanny. On that call, we ask questions to find out if they are a good fit for our agency and if we’re going to be able to serve them well. We ask some questions to find out about their personality, caregiving style, and values, as well as what they need to be earning and where they are located. Sometimes, we have nannies who come to us and when we ask them what they would like to be making hourly, their quotes are so low. So, we help teach them what their value is.

If it’s a good fit, we invite them for an in-person interview. We ask them to bring a lot of documentation so that we can know they are who they say they are and they can show they have the legal status to work in the United States. We are a business and we are liable, so we do have to make sure they have the legal status to work here. We get to know them on a personal level. That happens quickly. Because our placement specialist Kristin and I both have nanny backgrounds and still identify as nannies, nannies feel very disarmed when they come into the office and meet with us.  This allows us to ask them questions they aren’t used to be asked, such as what’s going to make them happy in a job. When a nanny is happy in the work they are doing, they’re going to be doing their best possible work. Once we have completed the interview, made sure it’s a good fit, and have all the documentation, the nanny becomes part of the Nannies Plus pool.

Once the nanny is in our pool, we can start sending them out on interviews.  It’s important to know that we may not have interviews for them right away because we don’t have the right job for them at the right time and in the right location for the right pay. Once they are part of our pool, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to get them jobs.  If we do get them a job, we hope it’s a great one and it lasts for years to come. So, we’re really coming at this from the point of view of not matching nannies in positions that will not be a good fit for them.

The nannies don’t pay us anything to be part of the pool.  Without nannies, we don’t have a business, so they don’t pay us a thing. And because it may take some time to find the right match, we always encourage our nannies to be looking in multiple places for jobs, and not to rely on us solely for finding a position because that might not happen. We’re really transparent about that.

How do you match nannies with families to create authentic and impactful family teams?

With the families, we also do a discovery call. We ask some of the same questions we ask the nannies and find out what they are able to pay their nanny. We make sure that our families can pay a livable wage, which we believe is a minimum of $20 / hour.

If they’d like to meet with us, we do a complimentary in-home discovery.  We set up a time when everybody’s home—the parents, the children, the pets, whoever who lives in the home and will be there on a regular basis. I get to know them by interacting with the parents and children, understanding the children’s personalities, and understanding their family culture and dynamic that’s very specific to them. I do a tour of the house. On the tour of the home, I can really understand the family.  With my years of experience, I can walk through the door and understand so much about them, just by seeing the home and how they live. The tour helps me understand the working environment for the nanny. Because these are the questions we ask the nannies—what’s going to make you happy in your working environment. Understanding the working environment of the nannies is really important, especially for the longevity of the relationship. Also, I get a better understanding of what the duties will be. Sometimes, I help families understand more of what they need. They think the job is pretty simple, but they actually need more support than they think.

Once the family decides to work with Nannies Plus, we collect a non-refundable engagement fee of $500.  That allows us to go out and do the work of finding them an amazing nanny.  We let them know this may happen overnight because we might have someone in our pool that’s perfect for them and for whom they are perfect. If that doesn’t happen, we recruit. Recruiting can take time.  We let the families know it can take sometimes up to 8 weeks to find that perfect match. And, we’ll help them with a temporary nanny if we have someone in our pool who maybe isn’t a great fit but is looking for work and could use that extra income during the search. Because that happens quite a bit, we’re trying to build out a temporary placement department specifically for that purpose.

Once we go through and do our recruiting or look at our pool and find that great nanny for them, we ask the nanny if they want to meet with the family. We describe the family to them. And, we describe the nanny to the family. Then, we facilitate an interview. If the interview goes well and the family decides to work with the nanny and the nanny decides to work with the family, then the family drafts a work agreement. We have a template they can use and modify. It’s very basic best practices and points out a lot of things maybe the families don’t realize. Being a domestic employer is a huge responsibility. We are here for advice and support through this process. The families sometimes ask me what I think they should do for vacation days, which holidays should we offer, etc. And, the nannies often do the same thing. I always tell the nannies to come to us if they’re concerned about the work agreement because we can help facilitate a better conversation between the nannies and their employer.

Once the nanny and the family sign the agreement together, then the work begins. Nannies Plus gets a placement fee of $2,000 for a part-time nanny and $3,000 for a full-time nanny. In May, we will be raising our placement fee prices by $500. In the agreement there’s a 30-day exploratory period. During this time, if the nanny or family or mutually feel it’s not the fit they thought it would be (we hope this doesn’t happen, but we know that sometimes things aren’t always what you think they are going to be), we’ll do one additional rematch for the family for free.

From there, we’re creating community. We hope the nannies and families will reach out with any questions or concerns or just to check in with us, and we do the same.

Can you talk a bit more about how Nannies Plus is creating community?

I run a networking group called Unwind: East Bay Women Entrepreneurs. We meet once a month. It’s been going on for a year and half now. I launched that even before I launched my business. I was trying to create community and find a peer group of women entrepreneurs who have a similar mindset as me. Through Unwind, I have met so many incredible people, including a number of awesome women entrepreneurs who are service providers, such as pediatricians and health coaches.

Through these relationships, we identified an opportunity to run workshops for professional development and personal enrichment for nannies, as well as parenting enrichment workshops. They’re usually on the weekends. And, the parenting enrichment can also look like personal development for nannies. We’re hoping that the parents and the nannies will come to those workshops together, become educated on any number of topics, take that information into the home, and apply it together consistently. We have two different venues we’ll be using in Oakland, and will be rolling them out this summer.

You’re currently running a Kiva campaign. What has that process been like for you?

We are running a $10,000 Kiva campaign. Even though we currently have money in the bank, we are growing fast. The Kiva loan provides us with the operating capital to expand our team with a part-time placement specialist. This gives us the bandwidth to do more work, because the work is coming in. So, I decided that a Kiva campaign would be a great idea to pay for the first six months of our placement specialist. And doing the numbers, it worked out perfectly.

The campaign is going really well. Initially, I didn’t know much about it. But, I got educated on it. I started by writing a message to my friends and family—50 of my closest friends and family to ask them to lend during the private lending period. In less than a day, we got our 20 lenders and then went public. I definitely believe that you get what you put in. You get what you put into anything you do.  Working hard on the Kiva and the business is really made for a successful run so far.

What are you most proud of in this business?

I wouldn’t’ say that I’m very prideful. It’s a little uncomfortable for me. What I’m happiest about is when I see the family teams really becoming cohesive and successful and seeing nannies valued for the important and dynamic work they do. It really brings me so much happiness to see that. I can also say that I’m proud that I changed courses so late in life and feel that I’m doing good work and am successful.

What do you feel has been the most challenging aspect of building this business so far?

That’s a hard question for some reason. I think the most challenging thing for me was probably looking back a year or so—working 50 hours a week and trying to build a business. Keeping the energy level up in order to work, make this happen, and not burn out. It was challenging. At times I was just so stressed out.  My body would show it.  I would hurt or ache or not feel good or my back would go out. And, I’d just have to keep going. Pushing through to get to where I am now.

There’s a lot of people who are starting businesses while working a full-time job. What did you do to create a balance that would allow you to push through and keep going with this business?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it was very balanced to be very honest. It was really burning the candle at both ends and knowing that I would come out the other side. One of the things is that I’m a very social person. It feeds my soul to be with friends and go to shows, have dinners out, and connect. I always made time to go shows. I always put a concert or play on my calendar every month and bought tickets. And, I still do. Putting things on my calendar that were social and were fulfilling to me creatively.

What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started with their business?

This is something I learned in Uptima. Don’t look at this as creating a job for yourself. Look at this as creating a business. Those are two totally different things. Creating a business means doing the hard work to lay the foundation and learn what it means to be in business. And, I still don’t have this down, but try your best to understand all the different moving parts of your business and not just the thing you’re naturally good at. I still struggle with that.

How are you looking at the future of Nannies Plus?

In the future, I’d like to start a separate non-profit that will sponsor or help in some way to bring people from other countries into the states to be here and work here legally. I feel very strongly that there are amazing people who do the work of nannies who are not here legally and who are incredibly underpaid, undervalued, and overworked. Because of their status, they are not able to work in a position of respect and value. Even if we could just get one person a year, I would be thrilled. Not sure exactly what this looks like, but it’s more than likely a non-profit affiliated with Nannies Plus.

Also, I’m looking at Nannies Plus not only as a means to create a living for myself and lots of and lots of other people, but, and this is something I learned in Uptima from Thomas Rosenberg, as a means to retire someday. I don’t want to work forever. I definitely want to be philanthropic and do good work in the world, and I don’t necessarily want to always be in the day to day of running the business. I’m looking at this as something that’s going to grow to a place where I can someday extract myself and possibly even sell the business.

If you are a nanny looking for a job or family looking for a nanny, you can contact Nannies Plus by calling Joy Colino at 510-407-0363 (she loves phone calls) or visiting their website. You can bring your kids to meet Joy at the Alameda Community Sing-Along on the 5th Wednesday of the month at the Main Library in Alameda. And, please support Nannies Plus’ Kiva campaign.