Kerri Couillard’s Babierge, a company that taps into the new economy with online rentals of baby equipment, might be the most accidental startup.
With her own two children 19 months apart, Couillard remembers that when they were no longer toddlers in 2011, her husband pleaded with her to get rid of the unused high chairs, strollers, step stools and cribs cluttering the family garage.
“My husband wanted me to get rid of our own baby equipment,” she said. “We couldn’t park in the garage.”
Instead, she put an ad on Craigslist itemizing the gear and offering it for rent. “Within three days I had $300 in orders for things I already owned,” she said.
That one-time experience with online sales five years ago was the unofficial start of what has evolved into Babierge, a website that uses partnership agreements in a dozen cities to rent, deliver and set up baby gear for traveling families as well as grandparents and relatives who host those with young children.
With organic growth now behind her, Couillard said she is moving into the next phase of development with the hiring of an experienced chief executive officer, Fran Maier, a Santa Fe native and Stanford University business graduate who helped launch Match.com.
Babierge is operating in Santa Fe; Rio Rancho; Albuquerque; San Francisco; Los Angeles; San Antonio, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Chicago; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Half its business comes from grandparents who don’t own baby and toddler equipment but are expecting family visits. Others are traveling parents who, in an age of baggage restrictions and crowded airplane flights, opt not to bring bulky baby gear with them on vacation.
In Santa Fe, Couillard herself provides the equipment, which is stored in a warehouse off Second Street, but she is moving away from providing direct services as she focuses on longer-term goals for the company.
Visitors can pick and choose equipment from the Babierge website, and Couillard brings it to hotels, homes or vacation rentals. She often sizes things such as car seats according to a child’s needs. Babierge also offers extras such as toys, stools and humidifiers to help children sleep in the drier air of Santa Fe’s high desert.
She also notes that most parents don’t consider the child car seats offered by rental car agencies as a good fit because they can sometimes be cracked or dirty.
If children are happy on vacation and sleep better, that means a better experience for the whole family, said Couillard, whose sons are age 6 and 7.
“Two guys with hoodies were not going to come up with this idea,” said Couillard. “It takes a mom.”
Maier, her new chief executive, agrees.
Born Fran Allocca, Maier is a Santa Fe native who graduated from Santa Fe High in 1980. At Stanford University, she studied public policy and then stayed in Palo Alto, Calif., where she earned a master’s in business administration at a school that prides itself on training entrepreneurs.
She has experience with various startups, including as a co-founder of Match.com. She has recently been with TRUSTe, a privacy solutions company, and in 2015 was named one of the 100 Most Influential Woman in Tech by Hot Topics, a publication aimed at tech executives.
Maier comes and goes from her hometown and is an Airbnb “super-host” in both Santa Fe and San Francisco, and has mentored businesses owned by women and startups.
It was in that role that she met Couillard, who was invited to the Women’s Startup Lab in February 2016 in Silicon Valley, where Maier has been an adviser since 2013.
Maier concedes it was the Santa Fe link that nudged her to listen more closely to Couillard’s idea and spend more time with her at the accelerator program, which hones new business ideas and offers a venture capital network.
“I knew right away I was going to give her a little bit more attention because of the Santa Fe connection,” Maier said.
But also being a mom with two grown children, Maier said she got the idea — and offered to become the CEO of Babierge soon after meeting Couillard.
Maier said the business model meshes exactly with where the economy is heading. Babierge itself has developed the intellectual software that makes it easy to rent and share baby equipment. It plans to have employees here in Santa Fe managing that operation, which includes billing, marketing and development, but each individual who signs up to be a so-called “trusted partner” is an independent contractor, like an Uber driver or an Airbnb host.
They own and operate their own businesses and will rise or fall with the online rating system that customers are invited to engage with about their Babierge experience.
The partners in Phoenix are a retired couple who want to help their friends when grandchildren come to visit. In both Chicago and Los Angeles, the partners are women who came to Santa Fe and used the service here. One of the Albuquerque partners owns a consignment shop with a well-stocked supply of child gear already.
Part of the goal is to have enough equipment so customers can use pretty much the same stroller or baby cribs they have at home, but Couillard leaves those decisions to each partner to service specific needs in their communities.
Couillard retains 20 percent of the rental fees. The average order currently is about $100.
In larger markets, Couillard does not foresee limiting the number of partners, as each can have their own niche — with some servicing downtown hotels and others making trips to homes or the airport.
“It becomes like an Airbnb host; there’s a natural competition between trusted partners,” she said.
The company seeks to raise raise $1 million to $2 million to expand its partnerships and marketing reach. It also needs to tackle many issues that are common with other startups such as Uber and Lyft — developing umbrella liability coverage for all its operations and moving ahead with background screenings for contractors.
But Maier sees as many as 4,000 partnerships in five years, including relationships with hotels, rental car companies, even vacation-rental and travel websites that can link to the Babierge services nearby.
Couillard, who has experience as a programmer and web developer, said she is starting to build a database of the most popular equipment in each city, and what brands and types are the most popular with vacationers.
Maier said the business is not the first to offer such a service, and it will not be the last. But it does aim to scale up quickly and show it can be the best in the market, Maier said. And of those competitors, “We expect many to be our partners,” she said.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web
For more information go to www.babierge.com