With 80 daycare centres in 6 years, Priya Krishnan’s Founding Years has grown from strength to strengthSharika Nair
Priya Krishnan’s daycare has established a successful chain of preschools and centres under two brand names KLAY (B2C model) and The Little Company (B2B model)
Most urban working couples live in nuclear family setups and therefore are dependent on daycare facilities for their children’s safety and also to ensure that the child is intellectually stimulated and physically active. Priya Krishnan established her first daycare centre at Whitefield, Bengaluru, in 2011 on these principles.
Today, Founding Years Learning Solutions, the parent company of KLAY Schools and The Little Company, operates 80 centres from across seven cities in India.
Priya, 43, started her career with Anderson Consulting and moved on to Bangalore Labs and MphasiS first in India and then in locations like Singapore, New York and London. Being a mother of two boys, Priya had experienced firsthand the difficulty in getting quality childcare. She wanted to start a daycare chain that would help mothers get back to work without dealing with stress and guilt.
Priya says, “While starting off with our first centre, our focus was to build a community connect and to provide parents, especially those returning from abroad and the expat community, with the high-quality childcare system that although prevalent in the West, was largely missing in India. During these initial stages, we quickly realised that local communities were also seeking a premium childcare service of world class standards.”
Scaling up while sticking to core values
The biggest test for the brand in the beginning was to ensure that as it expanded across regions, consistency in quality and operations was maintained so that a child gets the same environment at KLAY regardless of the city in which he or she resides. For this, it was critical to set up an easily replicable training module for teachers and align the leadership team with their collective mission.
Since we recently acquired WeCare, we have greatly strengthened our community and corporate connect. In the five years since our inception, our top line has more than doubled each year, with an overall CAGR of 182 percent. Our centre footprint has also nearly doubled each year.
While KLAY follows a business-to-consumer (B2C) model, The Little Company (acquired by the KLAY team in 2014) follows a business-to-business (B2B) model. The B2B model further works in two different ways—onsite and offsite. The onsite model requires a centre to be set up at the office premises of the corporate client. In case of unavailability of space at the client premises, an offsite centre is set up nearby so as to cater to multiple corporate clients.
As of now, KLAY and The Little Company operates 80 centres across seven cities in India and its corporate clients include the likes of Airtel, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal, and Infosys.
The business story
Priya says, “I like to be involved in all details of the day-to-day workings, not with the intent to keep a tight ship but to have the team always aligned with one goal, to keep a consistent company culture and most of all, to ensure that everyone, ie a teacher, a centre director, a regional head and I are equally accountable for all issues pertaining to any parent. I believe in imparting a sense of closeness to the parents which defies the scale at which the company operates and is the key differentiator between a franchise unit and KLAY.”
The KLAY team today has more than 1,000 employees. They have also launched in Pune which is a new market for them. Priya plans to take the number of centres to 200 in the coming years and also expand their footprint in Dubai and Singapore in the near future.
KLAY was initially seed funded by VBHC. The team raised $6 million in Series A funding by Kaizen Private Equity in 2013. Last year, it raised $16 in Series B funding by Peepul Capital.
Research by CRISIL estimates that the pre-school market will grow at a CAGR of 20 percent to reach Rs 16,500 crore in 2017-18, up from Rs 8,000 crore in 2013-14. The challenge for KLAY and other leading players like Kidzee, Eurokids and Shemrock has been to make inroads into the fragmented and unregulated pre-school/daycare sector.
Safety, safety and safety
Since safety is the operative element in the sector, Priya lays emphasis on three factors across her organisation—training the staff well, putting the right infrastructure in place, and consistent monitoring. Priya says, “Unlike most players in the market where the same team is involved in all aspects of safety, we have over the years developed specific teams to look into each of these aspects. From child-proof classrooms and common spaces to live CCTV streaming access given to parents, safety is one of the paramount features of our industry and we aim to be ahead of the curve on all safety and security related aspects.”
Since Priya’s husband Sanjay Krishnan is also an entrepreneur, her children understand the demands of their parents’ jobs and their need to travel for work. However, whenever possible, she tries to spend quality time with her family and weekends often see her spending time outdoors with her children.