On a normal working day afternoon, an old couple in Bihar obsessively stares at a smartphone screen. What is on it is neither new, nor very interesting. Yet, they religiously watch it everyday.
The tiny screen of the phone is streaming their grandson, peacefully sleeping at his day care center, far away from them, in Delhi.
This is exactly what Purvesh Sharma, Raj Singhal, and Ashish Aggarwal hoped they would achieve when they started Footprints Childcare, a day care center and pre-school chain in and around Delhi.
They wanted to combine technology with a proven curriculum to provide children a holistic, world-class care experience.
“We have CCTVs in every classroom, and stream videos live to parents through a mobile app. We noticed that parents watched their kids all the time for the first few months till they established a sort of confidence in us, but grandparents continued to watch everyday, all the time,” said Purvesh, Co-founder and COO, Footprints Childcare.
These three friends, all undergraduate students then, first met at IIT-Delhi in the mid-90s. Each one went on to do their own thing later. Purvesh and Raj next met when they worked together (as founding team) at a product development startup, BrickRed Technologies, for a few years after 2009.
Purvesh was always smitten with the idea of being an entrepreneur. Over a decade, he successfully started two ventures before Footprints: one, an e-learning company and the second, a software development company.
His first child, Kabir, was born sometime in between both these ventures. Everything changed for him after that.
He compared the day care centers in the US and UK with the ones in India, and he was not happy with what was available here.
“The initial five or six-odd years are the most important for children, as a large part of brain development happens then. I noticed that the pre-schools here didn’t care about these things,” he said.
To make things right for other parents in the country, Purvesh, along with his friends, decided to build a day care center that would aim at the rounded development of a child.
They inaugurated the first Footprints Childcare Center in Gurgaon in July 2012.
These childcare centers, situated in five different locations in Gurgaon and Noida, are open to children between the ages of three months and four years. Every center has both teachers, who teach from a specially designed curriculum, and caretakers, who take care of the children.
“We wanted the center to be a place where children could enjoy the company of other kids as well as learn fundamental and essential life skills through qualified teachers and caregivers,” said Purvesh.
The curriculum that Footprints follows is the HighScope research-based early childhood curriculum that emphasizes on adult-child interaction. It is a carefully designed learning environment that strengthens initiative and self-reliance in children and young people.
“You might think ‘What can a three-month-old infant understand about education?’ but you will be surprised. Kids take in the most information, through sights, smells and sounds in their first few months in the world. They start to recognize faces, and respond to voices then. What could be a better time to start inducing brain development?” asks Purvesh.
Footprints also makes sure that the children enrolled have wholesome balanced diets during their time there. Parents can also opt to give their children meals specially designed and prepared in-house.
“Parents usually just modify what they cook to suit their children, but we have a specialized menu for the meals for our [Footprints] kids. We make sure they get a nutritious and balanced diet, by introducing them to thirty to forty different fruits and vegetables over the year,” added Purvesh.
Apart from the fact that they have CCTVs that stream classroom videos live, parents also receive real-time SMS updates about what their children are doing, be it eating, sleeping or some other activity.
Compared to daycare centers in the US or UK, Footprints offers Indian parents an array of services at quite an affordable price. It costs about 1.3 lakhs (approximately 11,000 per month) excluding meals, and about 1.5 lakhs (12,500 per month) including meals.
According to a report on K-12 education, India has over 300 million kids in schools, which means there is immense scope for daycare players like these to flourish in the market.
“India has a rapidly growing economy with a fast growing middle class population that is willing to spend significantly on education and childcare. Thus, the market for early childhood daycare and education is going to grow rapidly in the coming years,” said Raj Singhal, CEO, Footprints.
There are a few other similar ventures across India. Some are Klay Schools (across India), We Care (in Bengaluru), and Mothers’ Pride (across India).
Since its launch in 2012, Footprints, which has revenues of approximately INR 6 crores, has admitted around 700 children across its five facilities. They currently have about 400 children onboard.
The company has strong venture-capitalist backing, and has raised over INR 7 crores in three angel rounds over the last couple of years.
“We will be opening up 40 more childcare centers in Delhi, NCR, and then hit all the metros over the next few months,” said Purvesh, who added that Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad. and Chennai will soon “have Footprints” too.