Like many singers and actors hoping to make it in New York City, Kristina Wilson juggled temporary jobs to pay the rent.

She finally landed a full-time job, working as an executive assistant at Morgan Stanley. Lucky to have a boss that let her attend auditions and rehearsals during the work day, she tried to achieve a balance. But the stress of leading a double life was getting to her. “Sometimes, I was rehearsing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but always checking in with the office,” Wilson recalled.
During a rehearsal break, her light-bulb moment struck. “I decided to start the company that I wished I worked for,” she said. “I wanted people to have completely flexible schedules and create a community of artists to support each other.”

That company is Sitters Studio. Today, Sitters Studio has offices in Union Square and Chicago. Wilson’s “artisitters” are all college-educated artists, musicians and actors with extensive childcare experience. Sitters Studio provides 24-hour service to families, hotels, corporate meeting planners and can even accompany families on vacation. Sitters submit their schedules online and Wilson’s team of four full-timers match them up with babysitting jobs.

“This is a great pairing,” she said. “I know parents need good sitters. All the executives I worked for were always complaining about how hard it was to find a good babysitter.”
Determined to succeed despite her lack of business experience, Wilson asked her former boss to review her business plan. She also brainstormed with marketing executives at the brokerage. “Key players at the company would ask me really tough questions.”

In April 2006, Wilson built a website and started looking for sitters. “I went to all my friends who were babysitting and said ‘I have this hairbrained idea. If it works can I call you?”
Soon after Wilson launched the website, UrbanBaby.com posted a story about Sitters Studio. “One morning, I logged on and we had 800 visitors,” Wilson recalled. “By the end of the day, there were thousands of visitors.”

Business increased enough for her to quit her day job in April 2007. Today, about 100 artists and actors work for Sitters Studio, which she said will post revenues of about $1 million this year.

The company streamlines the process by booking jobs online or over the phone. Clients pay via credit card. “The majority of our residential customers are repeat users who use us about twice a month,” said Wilson. Luxury hotels including the Ritz Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental also call on Sitter Studio sitters for guests traveling with kids.
Rates vary depending on the job, but most sitters earn about $18 an hour in Chicago and $22 an hour in NYC. They also rely on tips. If they pass various tests on learning and development, they can make more per hour, Wilson said.

If clients balk at the price, she explains that Sitter Studio is “very different than finding a local high school kid” to babysit. “We are an agency,” she said. “We are insured. We do background checks and require sitters to have a college degree.” Sitters Studio sitters are also trained in CPR.

Voice teacher Siobhan Kolker is an actor and singer who teaches voice at the college level. During the school year, she works on Saturday nights, but during the summer, she is more available to babysit. “They (Sitters Studio) give us a lot of benefits, including a discounted membership at a gym,” said Kolker.

“I love to work with children and it’s a fun way for me to earn some extra money,” said Kolker who had five assignments the week we spoke.

“It’s so flexible. If I want to, I can go on vacation with a family,” said Kolker, who sings to her charges and helps them write songs, usually about themselves. She said she loves Wilson’s vision for the business. “I’m impressed by how they’ve been growing this small business,” she said. “There is a real mission to encourage (creative) play time. Kids are doing something creative.”

By Jane Applegate President & CEO
The Applegate Group Inc., The Great Ideas Network

July 25th, 2011

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