In the early 2000s, Gustavo Rodriguez was on top of the world. The Colombian investment banker was advising top international M&A deals, doing stints with J.P. Morgan in New York and Merryl Lynch in London. In his work, Rodriguez was always the one with the knowledge. But while in London, he became a father – and Rodriguez quickly realized that he was out of his depths.
“I am and have always been a science and numbers guy,” he told Refresh Miami. So it was natural for Rodriguez to jump into problem-solving mode. “I started digging into numbers and research and trying to get smart about parenting.”
He quickly learned about the impact a baby’s first few years have on their life. For instance, more than 90% of our brain’s development happens before age six. That gave Rodriguez an even more voracious appetite for information about parenting.
However, Rodriguez was disappointed by what he found. “There was a lot of one-size-fits-all information,” he said. There was a need for information that was uniquely tailored to the needs of each and every parent at every stage of their child’s development.
From 2013-2016, as Rodriguez worked as an independent M&A advisor, he started toying around with creating a platform for high-quality, individualized parenting information. In 2016, alongside co-founder Juan Pablo Mejia, Rodriguez started working full-time on BabySparks, a platform that bills itself to parents as “a development expert in your pocket.”
The bet has paid off. BabySparks now has 25 employees and has been used by nearly 8 million parents across 180 countries. The startup’s core product is a bilingual English-Spanish app aimed at parents with children 0-3 years old. Through the parents’ interactions on the platform, the app is able to learn each child’s development profile and specific needs. It then serves proprietary content to fit the user’s needs.
During the pandemic, BabySparks launched a second product: a marketplace connecting parents with children and teenagers to parenting experts. Through a series of on-demand, group, and private classes, parents can learn about a wide range of topics, from baby massage and tantrums to bullying and substance abuse.
A subscription of $20 a month or $120 a year gives users unlimited access to the on-demand content and group sessions. Users pay for private classes a la carte. Rodriguez, who is BabySparks’ co-founder and CEO, reports that there are already 300 different classes on the platform – a figure that’s growing by 20% per month. He said that their sales have been growing 40% month on month.
In March 2019, BabySparks closed a seed round led by locally based Ocean Azul Partners and including Miami Angels. The decision to take on external capital was not an easy one for Rodriguez and team. “We realized that if we wanted to scale in a serious way, we were going to need to be able to burn some capital to expand faster,” Rodriguez said.
“The decision wasn’t as much about doing the right thing for the business as it was making sure that we could get what we believe is a wonderful tool to as many parents around the world as possible.” Now BabySparks has a Series A fundraise in its sights, with plans to close the round by this summer.
The startup, which is currently based in Plantation but has done stints around Miami-Dade County as well, is now laser focused on further building out the online marketplace. “It’s still early,” said Rodriguez. “We have big plans for developing our community because we believe that community is an unbelievable power that we need to unleash much more.”
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