In this episode of From the Source, you’ll meet Priya Amin, co-creator of the child care company Flexable. Priya talks about where the idea for Flexable came from and why it was so needed, the decision to close the company and what she knows for sure about the possibilities for innovation and child care in the future.
Jourdan: Priya felt like a completely different person on the other side of parenthood.
Priya: You know, prior to being a parent, you’re kind of like, I can handle this, it’s going to be exactly the same. Once this child comes out, it’s fine. And no, I mean, I felt like I completely transformed.
Jourdan: After she had her kids, her priorities shifted. Priya left her corporate America job at Nestlé in St. Louis and moved with her family to Pittsburgh in 2012.
Priya: Society doesn’t really value parenthood, as it may value other things, especially from a professional perspective. And it was a hard lesson because once I realized that, hey, you know, good being a stay at home mom, I’m ready to go back to work now like, like I’m done with this. It was extremely hard to get back into the workplace. This was back in 2014.
Jourdan: And so what Priya realized was that she needed to start her own company, and she did just that. It’s called Flexable or was called Flexable. It was an innovative backup virtual child care service that engaged and entertained children from three years old to 10 years old. For parents who needed their time for them. Can you remember what childcare looked like back in December 2020? Everybody at home, kids at home, their questions at home on computers, laundry, dinner, stress illness all day around the clock, not knowing what’s going to happen next? Yeah. But Priya and her co-creator of Flexable, they pivoted. They pivoted, and they failed. Priya says what she knows to be true, for sure, is that control is an illusion and that everything has its own life cycle. This is episode four. I’m Jourdan Hicks. This is Priya.
Priya: I think I have had a few months to process, but I think the thing that I come here with, like the knowledge of, is the universal nature, the world’s life continuously teaches us that nothing is in our control. And that we need to be comfortable in discomfort, or just be ok with discomfort. And so that’s kind of the big lesson that I’ve been sitting with and trying to be okay with.
Jourdan: So take me back to before Flexable launched, what was your intention with the service? Where did the idea come from? What was your ultimate goal for how you wanted to show up and deliver this support system in the city and at events?
Priya: So interestingly, I think this is probably true with a lot of successful businesses, or just businesses in general, and that a lot of the best ideas happen by accident, where they come out of necessity, things that you’re like, Oh, how do I solve this, that I don’t have something to solve it right now? I remember going to a wine mixer and having my four-year-old like, I’m holding his hand and I have like a glass of wine in the other hand, I’m like, Hey, what’s up? And we were like, umm, and he’s just, he’s going with it. I’m like, here buddy have some cheese. Mommy’s going to talk with this nice person. And I didn’t care. I was like, Listen, if you have a problem with it, sorry, but I have no other way of being here to talk with you because I cannot. I don’t have someone to watch my child. And so that’s where the first nuggets for Flexable were born. I kind of realized, how the heck am I supposed to blend work and life together? How am I supposed to blend my kids and my livelihood with the work that I want to do and build my company? And so I first started tinkering around with the idea of creating a co-working space, the drop in childcare. But at the exact same time, my Flexable co-founder Jess Strong, who I didn’t know at the time, was doing exactly the same thing, which was like the universe, just speaking beautiful language. She started a co-working space, the drop in childcare. I was like kindred spirits. Let’s get together. And that’s how Flexable started. The two of us met and we were like, Oh my God, we’re doing the same thing. Why don’t we join forces and figure out how to take over the world together? The first iteration of Flexable was actually an app. We thought, How can we make it easier for parents to find childcare at the last minute by essentially working with accredited daycares and allowing for these parents to just drop their children off on the fly when there’s openings at daycares? Interestingly, though, when we went to speak with them, they were like, Yeah, heck, no, that’s not happening. They were like we follow state regulations. We can’t just have random people dropping in, like that’s not happening. So we pivoted to this onsite pop up, drop in alternative, and that was back in 2017. And for two years we successfully provided child care and over one hundred and fifty locations across Pittsburgh to make an impact and change the conversation around gender equity in the workplace and around why it’s important to support working parents. And then the pandemic hit, so we pivoted once again to virtual childcare, which sounded really weird, even when we were conceptualizing it. We’re like, Is this really going to fly? And what the whole value proposition was, was let’s give mom and dad a little bit more time back because there is a safe alternative to childcare in these small 30 to 60 minute blocks. And it worked.
Mr. Dave from Flexible: Hello, my name is Mr. Dave, and I am a host with Flexable. This is my cat Stache. Sometimes he helps me. We host a show called Clean Creature Capers, where we make we’re all little creatures like that. The kids have clay at home.
Caitlyn from Flexable: Hi everyone, this is Mrs.Caitlin. I’m coming on to share some holiday games you can play this holiday season if you are at home with your family and looking for something to do. All you’re going to need for these two games that I’m going to share with you, are a regular old deck of cards. Okay?. All right. So the first game is going to share with you.
Priya: There were lots and lots of parents that absolutely relied on us. There was a father whose wife contracted COVID and she was the primary caregiver. When he had to take time off of work. He was like, I don’t know how to, you know, I can’t juggle all of this. And so they ended up booking 40 hours of care with us, over the course of two weeks. And it felt so satisfying to be able to say, we supported working parents. We helped them through, you know, potentially a mental health crisis and through, you know, through work crises. But at what cost? And that’s where I think that the ultimate lesson came, which was I burned out. I was homeschooling two kids. I was working nonstop and it stunk. We were, we were growing and we were doing well. But what it came down to was, we had a finite amount of dollars in the bank, and we had one of two choices. We either could go gangbusters and raise some money and keep moving, or we would have to figure out how to move past this company. And it was a really hard reality too. To feel like you’re giving up, right? But one of the things that I’ve learned that I think is actually a really wonderful way of thinking of others and this is, you know, from therapy, from speaking with mentors and coaches is: Flexable as a company went through a life cycle, and that’s just it, right, every life cycle has a birth, has a growth and has a death.
Jourdan: At what point were you able to identify like this is kind of, for lack of a better phrase, and let me know this is offensive to you at all. When were you able to identify like, Oh, this is like ego, like me wanting to keep it going? Me wanting to live up to these standards that people have set for us, wanting to show up for people. Me wanting to keep doing this amazing thing vs., oh my body, my internal clock, my judgment, my spirit is telling me no. Was it a long time between? You were able to kind of differentiate the two and make the decision that was best for you? Or was it like, Oh, I hear it. I got to make this change now?
Priya: That is such a great point. My ego was kind of getting in the front seat, you know, like, I mean, sometime between when the pandemic started and when I started burning out, I was like, OK, you know what? I can do this. I can do this. Let’s ,let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. And I remember the moment when I finally stuffed my ego away and allowed everything to kind of bubble up inside of my body. It was a call that I had with my financial adviser and with my C.O.O. They just have to be like Priya. What’s wrong with shutting this down? And it was finally like my ego was like, because I’m going to be giving up because we have worked so hard to battle the status quo that this is women’s work and women need to take care of children, and child care doesn’t really need to be paid for. And it just all came bursting out and I just sobbed and sobbed about feeling like if I didn’t keep going, I was going to give in to the status quo. But what I’ve realized is it’s not. I’m tapping out. I’m definitely tapping out. But it’s because I want to preserve my sanity and I want to preserve my integrity and my dignity, in order to hopefully maybe step back in. I don’t know when that will possibly be. But there’s so much more that can be done and should be done.
Jourdan: Earlier, you were saying something about, there’s a lack of value for parenthood in the workforce. And specifically for you, that showed up in not having to bring your child to different work functions and trying to navigate that space. Or were there other examples of that for you after you became a parent? That parenthood really wasn’t a value outside of the home?
Priya: Yeah. And I think there’s starting to be, like kind of a shift in the tide now Jourdan. But you know, back when I was trying to get back in the workforce, having a gap on your resume for taking care of your kids, like that’s not going to fly. That was like, Oh, you chose to leave the workforce, not you stepped back because a you couldn’t afford child care or b you didn’t have a support system, or c you didn’t have the mental health resources just to handle everything. None of that was discussed, right? And that’s why, you know, the motherhood penalty affects women. Just having children affects women disproportionately to men, right? Women take flexibility time more. They take parental leave for longer, right? And so there is definitely a larger effect on their immediate jobs and overall career trajectory as well. And yet, to your point, this data that shows that the daycare industry that’s billions, hundreds of billions of dollars, that is the backbone of our society is not worth investing in on a federal level, on a state level to an extent. And that’s unfortunately why we’re in the situation we’re in where the child care industry is crumbling and we’re at a point where families can’t afford it. It’s hard to find folks to step in. It’s really hard for the daycares to stay open. It’s just a lot of work that needs to be done and it’s all infrastructure. And I’m glad that that’s finally being used as a universal term. The way that I used to put it, whereas child care is an economic issue. This is before the pandemic, it was nearly 60 billion dollars that were lost in productivity every year because of childcare breakdowns. That’s it. So things like schools closed or there’s a doctor’s visit or somebody breaks their leg or whatever it may be, $60 billion across the country. The pandemic kind of blew that wide open, and there are things being done. It’s just, there’s so much that that can be done.
Jourdan: And this can be an issue that affects you, no matter your socio-economic status, where you live. Obviously, having a village around you to help in terms of child care and rearing a young child is helpful, but not everybody has access to the families. Maybe you live somewhere that’s not in the same city as your family, maybe you took a job somewhere so you’re starting over. There’s so many different things that can change for you that alter how you’re able to have that safe net of child care villagers around you to help you raise your kids, support your kids, support you while you’re doing what you can do to support the kid. All of that. You said that things are changing and that you feel like people are now looking at this more as an economic issue. What are some other things that still need to change? I’m always like, what are the easy fixes that we can just cross off that we can just, I don’t want to simplify it, but are there things that are simple that we should be past, that we’re not past, when it comes to supporting healthy and safe child care for families?
Priya: It’s such a complex, but fantastic question. Jourdan I don’t know if there’s a simple way. I feel like there’s simple answers, but there’s always nuance. I mean the low-hanging fruit in my mind. Is that there are so many folks within organizations that get this. Oh my gosh, no brainer. We absolutely should support working parents. There are so many different benefits or flexibility, telecommuting, whatever it may be, but there is oftentimes a disconnect between those folks who we call nodes and the folks with budgetary oversight. It’s such a much larger conversation and debate when you’re talking about everybody else. Shift workers, folks that are single parents that don’t have resources to help on a daily basis, just so many other folks that fall outside of that corporate America, whatever thing, right? For me personally, like the hardest thing to wrap my head around is, during World War Two, we had passed the Lanham Act, which essentially provided high quality universal child care at pennies to the dollar access to all families across the country. But that was all dismantled after World War Two, and it’s never come back. But I think what we’re going to see is a massive revolution in the workplace and that I think hopefully will very much include working parents and hopefully hopefully erase some of the inequities that have just come to the surface during the pandemic, especially against women. So that’s, that’s what I know, to be sure, is this workforce transformation is happening.
Jourdan: This episode of From the Source podcast was produced by Jourdan Hicks and Andy Kubis, then edited by Halle Stockton. If you’re curious to learn how you can share your story with us or appear on an episode From the Source, you can get in touch with me by sending an email to Jourdan@ Publicsource.org. PublicSource is an independent nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And you can find all of our reporting in storytelling at Publicsource. org. I’m Jourdan Hicks. Stay safe and be well.
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