WATCH NOW: 5 Tips for Building and Growing a Business through Hyper Customisation by Anagha

An important part of parenting is making decisions on which after school activities to enroll children in, how to keep children constructively engaged, choosing educators who offer real value in what they do. Enter Playydate. If you are a parent or an educator, chances are you have found yourself on Playydate’s unique platform either booking classes or listing classes. Since its inception in 2019, more than 350+ educators and 25,000+ parents pan India have on boarded the platform and are actively using it – no small feat. The company was co-founded by siblings Anagha & Aditya, who from fighting over TV remotes to running a business together have come a long way. Anagha Rajadhyaksha speaks to Samira Pillai on Playydate’s journey and how they create an experience for their customers.

Playydate has grown from strength to strength. How would you sum up your journey so far?

Two words come to mind: collaboration and agility. Over the last few months we have worked very closely with educators as well as with parents and that has helped us gain significant traction. We have created a toolkit and dashboard to make the system efficient for educators based on what they need and want. I am on a lot of phone calls with a lot of people every single day, just trying to understand their needs and need gaps. People have been so open to sharing feedback and ideas and telling me how to make this better. This is why you see the product moving in a certain direction – it is what the community wants. I joke with them that the Playydate dashboard is literally the intern they never hired.

And agility for sure! Because look at the times we are in (the coronavirus pandemic). We were prepping for a really good summer with summer camps and events, but had to literally pivot six weeks ago. We worked very closely with a lot of educators, from telling them how Zoom works, to helping them with what kind of workshops and lessons and classes will work online! One has to go beyond the brief and beyond being just a platform to actually getting the ecosystem together, like saying “Ok now we all have to quickly move online”. We are literally living agility right now and it will always be a part of Playydate’s journey.

Do you see Playydate more as an online community or more as a partner to educators and parents?

Definitely a partner. Partners bring tangible value. With two sets of people using the Playydate platform, the experience has to be different for both. Most educators are single individuals, without large teams supporting them. They look at us as partners for everything from streamlined registrations, database management to communication and promotions and ease of receiving payments while they focus on their class plans. Every time an educator comes and says, “Oh man it was so cool to download the excel sheet from the dashboard and just have all the information in 30 seconds” – that for me is far more critical than getting a hundred likes on a post.

Parents look at us as a one-stop-shop where they can find the activities they need for their children on a daily basis, book them and schedule them. We started as a Facebook group, then added an Instagram handle and then created area-specific WhatsApp groups. That hyper-local experience is what made a lot of moms adapt to Playydate a lot more because suddenly they felt that we were “not only giving us the information but also filtering the information based on the location we are in, the age group we are looking for in the way we like it”. In that sense, we are platform agnostic.

Of course, the community and engagement are at the heart of Playydate. Without the community, the product would be nothing. The aim is to always better the product and the experience people have on our platform. We are creating efficient systems with a realistic perspective. Once people have a great experience, the product will just be part of their daily habits.

We understand that you tested the hypothesis step by step and that helped you build on the idea of Playydate. Please elaborate on how things evolved.

While working on India Food Network, I noticed that each time we put up something related to children, the engagement went up through the roof. Moms on the Internet are another community altogether. And that intrigued me as an entrepreneur. I knew that my next business had to be in the parenting space because I love how this community thinks and interacts on the Internet. I began validating the idea. Without sharing the idea of Playydate, I ran a few questions by 300 to 400 parents – would they want more information on clothes or deals and discounts or the activities in the neighbourhood? ‘Activities in the neighbourhood’ was the clear winner across all my questionnaires. This was two months before I even started the Facebook group.

With teachers, I wanted to understand their process of getting registrations. For everybody it was just word of mouth. Before even spending a dime on technology, we created a Facebook group. I just wanted to see if moms will join, if teachers will join, whether they will talk with each other. My only rule was that they could only post about activities – no nannies, no holidays. Within a month, we were upwards of 200 – 250 posts a day. As soon as we saw engagement, I said cool, we are onto something. Now we could justify the investment into the making of a platform.

What are some of the key challenges you faced while creating the platform and how did you address them?

Aditya Rajadhyaksha, Co-Founder, Playydate

Nothing happens alone. While I am the front-end, handling strategy and communication, my brother and co-founder, Aditya has completely taken on the tech aspects of the product. It’s just us and the tech team. There are possibly a hundred things we want from the platform but we need to prioritise and introduce them in phases. It ties back to agility.

There are tons of challenges because tech itself is not very simple, so we have had our shares of bugs and systems going down. We also ensure that all the educators using our platform get visibility across all our pages. We have created the Playydate weekly planner where teachers know exactly when they need to send out their course so that they get featured. We send our educators Playydate videos on how to use a dashboard or the features available so that in time it becomes a self-serve model.

How do you utilize the online and social media platforms to interact with your customers?

Social media and building a brand on a digital platform isn’t easy given the amount of content that is available. Hence, our focus has always been to stick to our core: provide relevant and timely information on classes/activities for kids. We haven’t deviated from that! This helps parents identify with us for one thing and one thing only and we’ve been very particular about it. What’s worked is the fact that we’re across every platform/touch point for a parent. All our WhatsApp groups are admin only, so I prioritise who needs to be promoted based on what the parents are asking for. If the parents are asking for story-telling and music, it will be ridiculous on my part to promote a different educator. What has also worked is a really good response time to queries, posts etc. We like to keep the social media tonality personal and fun as well – nothing too formal.

Also, while sitting behind a WhatsApp number and catering to hundreds of parents and educators every day is extremely exhausting, I look at it as insight. You start seeing trends and you start seeing patterns in what parents are saying and educators are saying and you know that’s where you know your business has to move. If we immediately just said, “Hey, this is Playydate and these are the tools we have created and you have to use it”, we would have been nowhere. Learning and unlearning and skilling is part of the process – you need to go to your consumer and you need to solve their problem and you need to then find a way to plug in your product. We’ve grown organically, which is a slow and steady process and can often be challenging. It isn’t about going “viral” overnight, but about building a brand.

How did previous experiences in your career and education set the stage for creating Playydate?

My first entrepreneurial venture in 2011, PING network was at age 26. At that time, no one was doing digital. But it is now one of the largest digital networks on YouTube. The most critical aspect for me was to keep the belief going and continue reskilling myself for digital – coming from a TV background, digital was very different. At that point, I also got into the habit of checking analytics, data, metrics – what consumers are saying, which videos they were liking, which videos were receiving negative comments and why. It is a habit I have continued into Playydate.

The second important experience was the executive management program I did at Columbia Business School prior to venturing into Playydate. It helped me think about my business plan differently. A huge part of the curriculum was also about tying the business values to my values as a person. The takeaway for me was that I did not have to be a different person when running a business.

Would you say that these experiences made the process easier for you?

I don’t think it made it easy. I think it enhanced my experience. I have never done an MBA in my life before my first business. I finished my BA at Xavier’s College and I did one year in PGDSCM at Sophia College. And then I started working. So my educational background beyond the point did not really determine what I would be as an entrepreneur. But of course, I think the seven, eight years of being in a startup, in a business and all the highs and lows coupled with a more formal structure that Columbia gave has enhanced my experience at Playydate. My ability to think differently happened because of Columbia for sure. I’m still in touch with my cohort and they all worked on Playydate as our business planners. They all love the idea and I still have them in a group and I still update them on things that are happening. It’s nice to have that sounding board from people who have nothing to do with India or parenting, and that helps.    

What’s next on the horizon for Playydate?

I definitely don’t see online going away! We are seeing numbers really shoot up, which is a good sign. Getting more teachers to do more interesting classes, going online, curating interesting classes is next for us. Many new features on the dashboard are also in the pipeline. We’re going to be enabling teachers to communicate on the dashboard as well send messages to parents; everything would be centralised. There are a lot of things that we’re doing from the tech perspective to make the experience easier for the teacher and then, of course, for the community. We’ve started doing virtual play dates, birthdays and customizing classes for parents. That’s something we’ve just rolled out. So we want to see that through properly over the next couple of months.