on-demand

Houston-area early childhood education startup launches app to find at-home educators

A Houston startup is using technology to provide on-demand educators. Educational First Steps/Facebook

A Houston-area early childhood care and education startup and MassChallenge Texas in Austin 2020 participant, recently launched its 24/7 on-demand, two-sided marketplace platform that provides benefits for both parents and guardians or child care operators who need qualified educators quickly.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many parents are still juggling a full-time job and childcare at the same time. The launch of a marketplace platform app like OpenStaff aims to solve that problem, providing temporary or permanent childcare and teacher personnel to families and childcare operators across the Houston area, until children are able to safely go back to their daycare centers or classrooms.

"OpenStaff's Educational Mentors provide a structure that allows your child and family to retain some much-needed normalcy," says Jose Rodriguez, CEO and founder. "Our fully certified early childhood teachers and practitioners use their knowledge and experience to further a child's education while providing a safe, fun, and caring learning experience at home."

The app was launched on iOS platforms and is actively being user tested while they continue to build their database of qualified early childhood educators and substitute teachers for families and centers. All their educators comply with child care licensing regulations, completing a rigorous vetting process before they are allowed to join the platform.

"When you hire someone through our platform," says Rodriguez, "you have the peace of mind and our assurance that this teacher has been qualified, certified, background checked, and licensed in order to become a member of the OpenStaff educator community."

The early-stage startup came about from Rodriguez's first business, a childcare center that he took over six years ago with his wife. For them, the biggest challenge in this industry was staff management, dealing with unplanned absences would change plans drastically, sometimes changing teaching plans or restructuring classes.

"Even though we have an amazing team, sometimes life happens and they are not available to come into work that morning," says Rodriguez. "It was very stressful for office managers and owners as well as the rest of the team and if we were unable to find anyone to cover, even my wife or I would end up in the classroom."

That's when he started using staffing agencies for unplanned temporary workers but those, he says, are time-consuming and overpriced.

"We wanted to offer a different option that really works for everyone, not just parents during this crisis but also daycare centers," says Rodriguez. "Our app provides an open marketplace where centers can post a job by simply using their phone and receive applicants in minutes."

OpenStaff is currently focused on taking its service to the market, using the data and feedback as a way to make their offering better to then accelerate and scale, as many childcare centers continue to struggle to operate or find a sense of normalcy amid the social distancing measures that are the new normal.

"Many childcare centers have been hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic," says Rodriguez. "Many are struggling, closing their business, or operating with limited staff and children. With our app, we can, in the short term, help Houston families by providing quality education for their children."

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Building Houston

 
 

During a crisis, it's easy for startup leaders to panic and make things worse. Here, we'll discuss how staying grounded will get you through a crisis. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

The great pandemic of 2020 has brought to the surface the issue of crisis management. Especially with nationwide business shut downs in the last eight months, many companies are on a rocky road of uncertainty. Entrepreneurs are unsure of what the future holds after seeing revenues slow or halt in some cases. Layoffs, RIFs, budget cuts, departmental downsizing; all inevitable.

Way too many startup founders aren't equipped or experienced when it comes to crisis management. "In order to keep your startup going, you have to know how to identify a crisis before it spreads like a cancer and how to make big changes and big decisions fast and often," says Gael O'Brien, the ethics coach for Entrepreneur.com.

"Any time in which the world stops functioning in a way we're used to, a deviation from the norm, that might be the biggest early sign of a crisis about to rear its head," she continued.

Admitting you have a problem

O'Brien stresses that a leader should create an easy process whereby one can identify a crisis in its infancy. The key here, she says, is to make sure to recognize a crisis before it starts to consume your company. You'll have to learn how to contain the crisis by leading the charge in rapid decision making. Many entrepreneurs simply refuse to admit there's a problem at hand. Many times, admitting there's a crisis means admitting one was wrong. It also means they may have been wrong for years.

These entrepreneurs that refuse admitting there's a crisis often do so with common refrains like "I didn't want to scare anyone" or "if I admit I was wrong this whole time I'll lose respect."

"Great leaders aren't afraid to put their company first, even if it means a blow to the ego. These leaders are not afraid to inform everyone that might be affected know there is a crisis," O'Brien explained.

"They contain the problem and prevent it from becoming unmanageable. Good leaders don't opt for a temporary Band-Aid-like fix either. They aim for a permanent solution."

Casting for a crisis management team

There are two common mistakes startup leaders make when it comes to crisis management. The first is that they can miscast a crisis management team. Meaning, they put the wrong people in decision-making roles. You want people on your crisis management team who are not going to feel they will be blamed for a crisis or for controversial decisions.

When one is afraid of being blamed for something, they are more likely to obstruct and lie so that the team's focus is diverted. "These are people that will omit objective and relevant information if it means saving their own reputation or job. You want people that put the team first," said O'Brien.

Communication during a crisis

The second common mistake startup leaders make during a crisis is that they tend to under-communicate. It becomes habitual to keep things close to the chest. To become secretive during a crisis. Managers might feel that the less people know, the less chance there is of panic. However, doing this opens your company up to wild speculation among employees. Assumptions. And these assumptions are never good.

"You have to be forthright. It's not just that people have a right to know what's going on in their own company. It's also that if you leave yourself up to speculation, people will grow frustrated and worse, scared. Scared people make crises worse," said O'Brien.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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