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Aiming to be the OpenTable of kids’ activities, Sawyer raises $1.5 million

TechCrunch TechCrunch 5/04/2016 Connie Loizos

Numerous startups now sell class passes for children’s activities, including KidPass, which announced $325,000 in seed funding in January, and Pearachute (it raised $1.2 million last month).

Now, a Brooklyn-based startup named Sawyer is trying to separate itself from the little kid pack.

Its very grown-up ambition: to become an OpenTable-like platform that makes it easier for museums, theaters, sports centers, and kid-focused service providers to sell childen’s classes directly to families.

It’s easy to see why. While Sawyer might not follow its model exactly, OpenTable generates plenty of revenue. It charges restaurants a fee to get set up; its clients then pay a monthly price for access to its software, plus a fee per patron.

In fact, that vision partly explains the $1.5 million that seven-month-old Sawyer was able to raise from investors, including Notation Capital, Collaborative Fund, VC1, and other strategic angel investors. (Part of that money was raised last fall via a convertible note; it converted that funding into equity and closed on some more this past Friday.)

Of course, every new company has to start somewhere. For now, Sawyer, which caters exclusively to Brooklyn families but is moving into Manhattan,  is centered on class passes as its source of revenue, charging a flat monthly fee for access to a mix of venues. Parents and caregivers can pay either $99 per month for access to six classes, or $39 monthly for access to two classes, says CEO Marissa Evans.

The economics are tough, acknowledges Evans, who declines to discuss how much of that monthly subscription fee Sawyer keeps and how much it sends on to the vendors with which it’s working.

The company — which employs just seven people currently and was originally named The Kids Passport — has “obviously been experimenting in recent months,” including with ways to drum up sales affordably. One effective solution to date, says Evans, is turning to “mostly moms who’ve recently left the workforce and aren’t interested in crazy lawyer hours any more.”

Paid on commission, they’ve pulled 80 vendors onto the platform to date.

Sawyer has also decided against offering any kind of unlimited package of monthly deals, which is something with which its direct competitors are currently experimenting.

“We retain some margin” that way, said Evans.

Asked how many clients have signed up for the service so far, Evans declines to say, offering instead that customers have so far booked more than 1,ooo classes through the platform and that it features 4,000 other listings (including across dates and times).

She adds that despite the competition, Sawyer feels less pressure to expand into more cities quickly than to “get it right” in Brooklyn and Manhattan.”We’re more focused right now on innovating than trying to get as many families on the platform as quickly as we can,” says Evans, who was most recently a general manager at Rent The Runway, where she met her cofounder, Stephanie Choi.

“Ultimately,” she says, “the passport will be just one line of business.”

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