Sawyer Raises $11M to Connect Parents and Providers for Educational...

Financing

Sawyer Raises $11M to Connect Parents and Providers for Educational Playtime

By Wade Tyler Millward     May 14, 2019

Sawyer Raises $11M to Connect Parents and Providers for Educational Playtime

Elisa Pupko had a problem when it came to parents scheduling their kids to participate in her Brooklyn-based theater arts program. Most online tools she found allowed parents to only book one event at one time for one price. This proved too restrictive for the birthday parties and multi-day camps Pupko hosted through Treasure Trunk Theatre.

She learned about Sawyer, an online booking platform for organizers of children’s activities, through an online parents forum around 2016. The tool allowed organizers to set different pricing plans—which Pupko needed. In addition to charging parents a fee for reserving spots for their kids in Treasure Trunk Theatre programs, she created a menu for add-on services like $300 face painters and $150 10-inch cakes for Treasure Trunk’s birthday parties.

“When you’re running a program for kids, you need flexibility and options for the parents,” Pupko said.

Pupko isn’t the only person sold on Sawyer. The company just raised $11 million in a Series A-1 funding round in part to add its services to more metropolitan areas. Advance Venture Partners led the round with participation from Notation Capital, Collaborative and v1.vc.

Founded in 2015, Sawyer offers parents a marketplace of out-of-school learning activities from small- to medium-sized businesses, afterschool programs and other providers of children’s educational programs. For program operators, Sawyer’s platform processes payments, provides discounts and payment plans, enrolls children and manages class and camp offerings, among other services.

Sawyer’s marketplace currently features activities aimed at children as young as 3 months up to high school students and subjects that range from science experiments to arts and crafts. Activity providers are vetted by Sawyer and pay the company a share of registration fees. Parents can book one-time classes and ones that last a semester.

“We pride ourselves on being a brand that stands for something bigger,” CEO Marissa Evans Alden says. “We want to get every child to discover a love of learning.”

Sawyer has now raised close to $20 million in venture capital. Alden claims the company’s revenue has grown almost five times since last year. She counts over 100,000 parents on her email list. The tool processed $20 million in payments in 2018. Sawyer has expanded service beyond its Brooklyn headquarters into Los Angeles and Chicago. Come June, the company will open its platform to providers nationwide, allowing users to search for activities by ZIP code.

Sawyer has grown its footprint deliberately, Alden adds, to ensure that each of the metro areas it serves offers an abundance of activities to choose from. Sawyer is now at 33 full-time employees and aims to hit 50 this year. Alden, 35, declined to say whether the company is currently profitable.

Alden’s company isn’t the only early-childhood startup of its kind to interest investors. Tinkergarten, which connects parents with providers of outdoor children’s activities, raised $21 million earlier this year. Last year, Brightwheel and Wonderschool, which operate online marketplaces for preschools and childcare providers, raised $20 million and $21 million, respectively.

That the company has grown nearly five-fold in the past year was among the milestones that helped encourage another investment, says Courtney Robinson, a partner at Advance Venture Partners. AVP is the venture capital arm of the Newhouse family, the family behind Conde Nast-owner Advance Publications. Advance Publications bought Turnitin earlier this year for $1.75 billion.

Robinson has been a Sawyer board member since ABVP first invested in the company in 2017. She met Alden by way of Rent the Runway, an online rental company for womens clothing that is part of Advance’s portfolio and where Alden worked for about two years before co-founding Sawyer.

Sawyer is the only education technology investment for Advance’s venture arm so far, Robinson says. But the way in which Sawyer marries a plethora of administrative operations—scheduling, payment processing, discount management—for providers into a single service wooed her interest.

“This is a product that needs to exist,” Robinson says. “An investor needs to see if entrepreneurs can do what they say they’re going to do. This team always hits their numbers.”

Alden credits the company’s growth to millennial parents who grew up with the internet and are used to organizing their lives and making payments digitally. “We are the generation that grew up with Facebook. We expect everything to be seamless,” she says. “We want to be the all-in-one booking experience for those parents.”

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