Venture Stories

Transforming Struggle Into Success: Empowering Moms in Business

02/14/2024

Key Learnings

  • Rapid testing is necessary when beginning a venture.
  • When something isn’t working, reiterate and pivot.
  • User testing is crucial to finding your venture’s direction.
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Dell dela Torre, co-founder of Inna Circle

Moon Venture Inna Circle is an online child care matching service created by Grace Aldas and Dell dela Torre, two women who faced struggles as new mothers in the Philippines. Looking for a community to help address common struggles that come up when raising a child, Grace and Dell created Inna Circle to help themselves and others throughout new parenthood in the Philippines and across South East Asia.

Being a modern mother today can truly be challenging. Balancing a full-time job and managing a household is no easy feat. New mothers Grace and Dell did not want to have to choose between their careers and ensuring their children received proper care. As full-time employees of Mitsui, they found themselves in this predicament during the COVID-19 pandemic. Attending regular work meetings, juggling daily tasks, and having to homeschool kids – all while trying to find time to work on Inna Circle – was an overwhelming daily routine for both of them. To help Grace and Dell achieve their vision for Inna Circle during this challenging time, I joined their team when they started incubation at Moon. 

Their original idea was to develop a product or service that could support working mothers, providing them with some peace of mind while reducing the stress of juggling child care and work. Our initial focus was to address the most pressing issues many mothers face: finding a peaceful balance between focusing on work and the duty of taking care of their kids.

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The Inna Circle team

Adapting to Challenges

Both joining Moon Creative Lab and building a product from the ground up were unique and challenging experiences for Grace and Dell. They had to quickly adapt to changes in mindset, working style, and business environment that were quite different from their regular day jobs. We also felt the challenge of managing our time wisely as we stretched across different time zones, putting pressure on when we could meet on Zoom calls and work together as a team.

Another challenge the team faced was during the product-definition phase. We initially had a concept to provide child care sessions to help mothers gain more personal free-time. We tested this by running a three-day child care pop-up in Manila and followed these sessions with user interviews to help us better understand expectations. We soon learned that this concept would be difficult to scale because building a space takes a lot of time and resources, especially when compared to building something digitally

This led the team to reevaluate our approach and focus on the core problem mothers faced: the desire to work on their personal endeavors while ensuring their children were well taken care of.
 

Becoming Our Own Customers

With these results, the team regrouped and came up with a new product idea: a digital platform for booking caretakers, or “childminders,” whenever needed. However, this idea presented its own challenge of differentiating itself from existing child care services in the Philippines. Through interviews, we discovered that many interviewees had already hired caregivers at home but were dissatisfied with their quality, leading to trust issues. Mothers felt that many caregivers lacked proper education and qualifications, and were given the position out of necessity.

This revelation provided valuable insight on how to position Inna Circle services and win the market: by offering high-quality childminders who could benefit both mothers and children.

Before committing fully to this new product direction, Grace and Dell tested the service by becoming their own customers and also acting as childminders for other mothers. The results were highly positive, with mothers expressing satisfaction and the ability to focus on other important tasks.
 

International Growth Challenges

Another significant challenge, perhaps the most substantial one, was that Inna Circle marked Moon's first venture outside of Japan with real customers ready to pay for the service. However, the team ran into some complex legal barriers regarding international payment business models when they officially launched.

After extensive effort and communication, Grace and Dell managed to navigate these financial barriers and were finally ready to launch Inna Circle in Manila. The entire process was arduous, but it provided valuable lessons in dealing with business licenses internationally and how to support global ventures in the future.

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Grace Aldas and Dell dela Torre, founders of Inna Circle

Lessons Learned

The experience of rapid testing, quick decision-making, and agile pivoting became valuable lessons for Grace, Dell, and the entire team. As a designer, I learned the significance of user testing and encouraged the team to change direction when necessary.

Grace and Dell also learned the importance of directly engaging with users, adopting a human-centered approach, and embracing the concept of rapid iteration and pivoting when something isn’t working. They pushed themselves outside of their comfort zones to connect with the startup industry in the Philippines and engage with potential business partners – experiences that were entirely new to them.

On a personal level, building a business alongside Grace and Dell has been an incredibly valuable learning experience. From directly interacting with customers (mothers and childminders) and experimenting scrappily with limited resources, we truly ran like a startup. And it all resulted in us achieving our goals and learning the most from our users. Our process involved continuous learning, testing, pivoting, building quickly, and validating our market. It was crucial to remain honest about what is working, what isn't, identifying obstacles, and not being afraid to ask for help.

Inna Circle serves as an ideal role venture model that others can learn from. The service already boasts at least 120 bookings per month, a number that is still increasing to this day. The team launched a new landing page at the end of August with improved access to the booking platform, resulting in an increase in the number of users and childminders in the service pool.
 

What’s Next

Inna Circle is still in the process of growing its business in the Philippines. The next big step is pursuing B2B collaborations with large companies (over 2,000 employees) in the Philippines.

Learn more about Inna Circle at theinnacircle.com and stay connected through their Facebook and Instagram

 

Yo Yeh, Senior Designer

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