Growing up, Jacky Martin’s family vacationed with cousins and friends at their favourite BC ski resorts, such as Big White, Silver Star, Sun Peaks and Whistler. By day, the kids snow-plowed alongside parents under the sun. By late afternoon and evening, they played board games by the fire while their mittens dried and parents took turns hanging back from an adult ski run or dinner at the lodge.
So, when she found herself living at Big White Ski Resort as an adult and had an opportunity to buy Big White Sitters, she knew what a difference the service could make for families.
“I want to reinvent how families do the family vacation. I think all parents should get to have just as much fun as the kids,” says Martin, founder and CEO of what is now called Jetsitters. The company now has a small army of sitters across BC and Alberta who take care of children while holidaying parents do just that—have their own fun.
In 2015, the business was new and had just 20 sitters serving families at the popular Kelowna-area resort. Martin and her partner had been living there for just a year after leaving their big city corporate jobs to try life at a ski hill.
“We thought, let’s create a life by design. Instead of focusing on where to live for a career, let’s focus on where to life for lifestyle. Then the question became, where can we live where we can have our favourite mountain adventures out the back door? If we do it that way, where do we end up?”
They ended up at one of the resorts of her childhood, and, months later, Big White Sitters seemed to have found her. With her background in senior human resources roles with national retailers, Martin immediately recognized opportunities to automate many manual processes, attract great sitters, comply with regulations, meet the needs of parents and create safe, fun experiences for families and sitters alike.
“I draw on that experience all the time and it’s been critical to where I’ve got to today and it’s informed how I’ve set up systems and processes from the beginning.”
“As I design our systems and automations, I have two goals: first, for our parents to be surprised at how easy and convenient our service is; and two, to be delighted by the top quality of our caregivers and feel confident their children are in good hands. We are caring for their most precious loved ones, and with this in mind, I’ve set up a tight system of sitter controls.”
For example, Martin has worked hard to attract ideal sitters by building pre-screening pipelines that ask important questions and qualify candidates with behavioural interviewing, making selections only after checking references, qualifications and government records. Successful candidates then participate in an onboarding system to learn important best practices, codes of conduct and protocols before sitting for their first family.
For the safety of the sitter, sitters are geo-located from the time they leave for their booking until the end with an app-based locator service, and even take geo-tracked selfies on arrival and departure so Jetsitters knows the right sitter arrived at the right location on time. After making their online booking, parents receive a sitter profile to introduce them to their Jetsitter before they arrive.
Many of Martin’s sitters are twenty or thirty-something professionals with relevant experience, such as in teaching, nursing, social work and child care, and they are doing what Martin first set out to do—lead a slightly unconventional life visiting Canadian ski resorts to enjoy the recreation activities they’re so passionate about.
“I think parents are surprised by the quality of our caregivers and this is definitely what sets us apart from other sitter services out there.”
This ski season, the Jetsitter team expanded exponentially—to nearly 250 people and counting—as the company moves into Whistler, Sun Peaks, Silver Star and Banff. Martin says she was able to take those steps in part because of the support and guidance she has received from Ken MacLeod, Export Advisor with Export Navigator, the program that helps small businesses reach new markets.
“He has really helped me see how to enter a market without a lot of risk and really set the business up for success. That was foundational in helping me cross that threshold into going big. When you have a small business, you don’t always know what should be next or you have ideas but you’re not sure how to go from A to B.”
“The work with Export Navigator helped me streamline some of the things I wanted to do that were critical in helping me get into marketplaces and get some initial traction, and do it with an eye to getting across the border and then into other countries.”
Jacky…has worked diligently to advance her business model, setting and achieving lofty goals along each stage of her business development and I have no doubt that Jetsitters will continue to grow across North America.Ken MacLeod, Export Advisor, Export Navigator
MacLeod, who began working with Martin in July says, “Jacky is a dynamic entrepreneur. She’s formalizing, automating and adding legitimacy to the world of babysitting at ski resorts and she’s seeing a lot of success as she is filling a void by enhancing the customers’ holiday experience,” says MacLeod, adding the Jetsitters app, like the business, is forward-thinking and designed with parents’ needs in mind.
The web app allows the client to view services, book and pay online, and provides peace of mind to parents by offering well-trained, vetted staff while also providing working holiday employment opportunities for sitters at the various resorts.
“It has been a pleasure to support Jacky through the Export Navigator program. She has worked diligently to advance her business model, setting and achieving lofty goals along each stage of her business development and I have no doubt that Jetsitters will continue to grow across North America.”
Are you thinking about how your business could succeed beyond the Thompson-Okanagan? Learn more about Export Navigator and how we can help you reach your goals!
Export Navigator is a partnership, with support provided by the Province of B.C., the Government of Canada, Small Business BC, Community Futures organizations, and Women’s Enterprise Centre
(feature image courtesy Victoria Borodinova via Pexels).