Otter: Families Caring for Families

By Jess Lee and Alfred Lin on behalf of Team Sequoia

“There are just some people that you would hire on the spot, no matter the job. People that are unstoppable. That’s Helen.” — Dr. David Lawlor, surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and Helen Mayer’s mentor in high school and college

When we first met Otter founder Helen Mayer last fall, she shared her vision of reinventing childcare via an ambitious strategy document. Just six months later, when we caught up again, that idea had leapt from paper to reality. A team of one, Helen had single-handedly matched 7000 families and enabled 3,500 stay-at-home parents to earn over $20M. That was our first glimpse of her unstoppable nature.

Childcare in America is broken. Fifty percent of families can’t afford it, or live in what’s known as a child care desert — an area with only one or fewer daycare slots for every three kids in need. Many parents are forced to leave the workforce to care for their kids, and at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Helen was one of them. A mom to twin boys, she had to turn down a dream job offer because she couldn’t find suitable childcare. But at that moment, Helen’s unstoppable nature reared its head. She dedicated herself to finding a solution — not just for herself, but for hundreds of fellow parents.

After weeks of interviewing families to understand their parenting styles and needs, Helen began to manually match them into caregiving pods where they could swap childcare hours with one another. Initially, most of the families were still struggling, but Helen noticed some promising exceptions: the stay-at-home parents who had opened their homes to other families were thriving, happy to get paid to care for additional kids — and the working parents who had matched with them were equally happy with their new arrangements. A lightbulb went off, and Otter was born.

Otter constitutes an entirely new approach to childcare. Otter is families caring for families — opening their homes to create safe, nurturing and supportive places for kids to learn and grow. Stay-at-home parents support other families and are compensated for their work. Working parents get reliable, affordable care in an environment that feels like home.

No longer a team of one, Helen has now assembled a group of true believers to join her for the next chapter — including COO and CLO Steve Siger, a former general counsel at Thumbtack, and Head of Trust and Safety Dave Willner, a founding member of Airbnb’s Trust team, along with angels such as Lever co-founder Sarah Nahm, Trusted Childcare co-founder Anand Iyer, and Interact founder Maran Nelson. (Maran is also the person who originally introduced us to Helen — thank you!). We at Sequoia are thrilled to be part of this crew, partnering with Helen to lead Otter’s $23M Series A fundraise.

If you’re interested in joining, Otter is hiring for roles across Product, Engineering, Design and Ops. There are countless families in need of better childcare options, and we’re excited to help build them the solution they deserve.

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From idea to IPO and beyond, Sequoia helps the daring build legendary companies.

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