Solomon Liou, WG’10
Co-founder and CEO, KidPass
Solomon Liou, WG’10, co-founded KidPass to make finding kids’ activities easier for parents like him and his wife. He used his Wharton education and network to help create, fund and build the business!
Tell me about KidPass.
KidPass.com is a leading marketplace for kids’ activities. Parents use KidPass to discover and book all types of kids’ activities across 17 categories. They include sports, music, arts and crafts, swimming, dance, indoor play spaces, and even weekend family activities like visiting the Statue of Liberty.
Since our launch in 2016, we’ve grown to 2,000 children’s activity providers in New York, with over 10,000 members. This year, we started expanding nationally and launched in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
At KidPass, you can find thousands of kids’ activities and family experiences. We have more reviews and ratings on local kids’ activities and instructors than Yelp or any other website. Over 100,000 parents subscribe to our newsletters that highlight the best activities all over the city.
How does it work?
Parents sign up for monthly membership plans that start at $49 a month and allow them to book various activities on KidPass.com. When parents book through KidPass, we automatically send registration details and pay the kids’ activity provider, so all they have to do is show up.
Take, for example, a swimming instructor we work with. We obtain his class schedule every semester and upload it into our system to make it bookable on the KidPass website. Whenever a parent books a class, we automatically pay the instructor.
Why did your team create KidPass?
Three years ago, my wife became pregnant with our daughter, and we went from knowing nothing about parenting to needing to find kids’ activities and resources around us as we prepared. We were doing the same thing as everyone else in looking for kids’ activities, which mostly meant asking friends for recommendations and searching on Google. It was time-consuming, and the information about programs was limited.
Learning that children’s activities encompass a $70 billion industry, we thought there was an opportunity to make the process of discovering and booking those activities simpler and easier. It had already been done for restaurants and taxis, so why couldn’t we do it? We thought we could help parents, who already have such a challenge, as well as children, to help them unlock their creativity and curiosity through discovering amazing activities.
So, what did you do to start KidPass?
I went door-to-door, block by block, around my neighborhood, which was in downtown Manhattan, to find kids’ activity providers. I asked, “How did parents find out about your classes?” I talked to over 100 businesses. I remember a couple of entrepreneurship classes at Wharton that emphasized the importance of talking to customers to deeply understand the problems they were facing.
I quickly learned that businesses and parents were missing each other. Businesses did not have an effective way to reach parents, and many were still advertising in local newspapers, receiving very few responses.
Then I also called friends and friends of friends, to ask them how they went about organizing things to do for their families. I surveyed over 1,000 people. The survey confirmed what my friends had told me — that there wasn’t a resource like KidPass yet, and there was huge demand for us to build it.
Survey questions included where they lived, ages of their children, activities they did with their kids, how they learned about these activities and how they signed up for those activities. We found that most parents knew only a limited subset of activities that they heard about informally, and they were still signing up for programs through paper and pencil.
What were your next steps?
Because I had a tech background working at companies like Yahoo!, I was able to start building designs and prototypes of the initial website. My co-founder and CTO, Chhay Chhun, was a close friend from undergrad and had also previously worked as an engineer at Time Out, which runs a popular parenting and kids’ event magazine. Chhay instantly understood the kids’ activity industry, and this problem that parents and businesses were having.
We envisioned building an online marketplace connecting families with the best kids’ activity providers. We both quit our jobs to pursue this dream, and in July 2015, we raised seed funding, hired additional team members and launched the service in January 2016.
What do your customers value?
We serve children from 0 to over 17 years old, and we even have classes for expectant parents, like prenatal yoga and baby preparation classes.
The top three reasons why parents love KidPass are the discovery, variety and convenience it provides. They are blown away when they discover the breadth of activities that are available.
How did Wharton influence your creating KidPass?
Wharton played a major role in developing my approach to entrepreneurship and building a company. My thinking was shaped by classes, instructors and extracurricular activities, but also a lot of my education just came from bouncing ideas around with incredibly smart classmates from diverse backgrounds in a wide range of industries.
Everyone values the Wharton network, but specifically for this company, my network from school also happened to include a lot of friends who were in a similar life stage and had recently become parents. As a result, I was able to get a lot of invaluable feedback on the product and customer pain points, in addition to a wealth of advice on areas like marketing, finance, sales, operations and recruiting, among others. Many classmates became users and evangelists, and several even became early investors.
What’s your immigrant perspective?
My parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and I was born in New York City. My parents uprooted themselves and came to the U.S. without much, but in search of better opportunities and the hope that they could create a better life here. They worked hard and were entrepreneurs as well, starting a dozen different businesses through the years.
I inherited a lot of their traits and values — an entrepreneurial mindset being the most obvious one, given my career path. I was fortunate in that they didn’t necessarily emphasize the need to take traditional paths, but instilled fundamental principles of looking for new opportunities, taking risks, having ambitious goals, working hard and pursuing work with meaning.
With KidPass, I’ve been fortunate to have found alignment in building a product that the world needs and that I’m deeply passionate about. We’ve been able to attract an incredible team of employees, investors and partners who also share our passion and believe in this mission of transforming and enriching the lives of children everywhere. We’re still in the early stages of transforming this industry, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. But there’s also a lot to be grateful for in getting to this point.