If half term was hard work, Max Jennings’ Hoop app is here to help before the next set of holidays get underway
For many parents it’s back to work this week after the half-term break. And as a result some parents will be dreading the next school holiday – six weeks of summer when the kids need to be entertained, ideally at as little expense as possible.
Enter Max Jennings, boss of Hoop.
A few years ago he and some fellow dads were discussing how they tried to be top dads but were so often thwarted by the lack of activities. Or often Max found a suitable activity after trawling online forums and boards, traipsed his daughters across town to it, only to find it was for a different age group entirely.
And that was the lightbulb moment. They set about creating Hoop, a family activity app that makes the ambitious claim of bringing together everything happening for kids across the UK into one place. Then parents can search by location and age and pick from over 100,000 activities listed every month.
Created by parents the firm was set up to be as family friendly as the app.
Max told workingdads about the idea, the company and why sleep gives you superpowers.
Why is the app called Hoop?
Why not! We want a name that is fun and evokes fun. We like the visual of a Hoop, and it also represents the family circle. Richard Knerr, the guy that invented the Hula Hoop was also a bit of a legend when it comes to family fun. He also invented the frisbee!
How did it grow?
We initially launched in Islington, and started to acquire customers by hitting the streets with leaflets for parents and balloons for kids, and we threw a party. We got a selection of the top entertainers to come and showcase their activities and were delighted to have queues out the door to get in.
Word of mouth has always been incredibly powerful for us at Hoop, it wasn’t long before we had a few thousand parents using Hoop, which gave us the confidence that we were solving a bigger problem for all parents and that it wasn’t a problem that we were facing alone. In 2018 we got some funding and were able to grow the Hoop team. Fast forward three years to today and we now cover the whole of the UK and are used by over a million parents – something we’re incredibly proud of.
How has setting up Hoop impacted your work life balance?
When I became a dad my priorities changed, this was before Hoop at my previous company VoucherCodes. Becoming a dad forced me to question everything, I refer to it as life 2.0! I thought about the kind of dad I wanted to be and where I wanted my children to grow up. My wife and I are a team, we share the school drop offs, are present for all school performances and parent evenings and when the weekend comes I like to take the kids out on a Saturday morning as my wife does one extra school pick up. It’s what works for us.
How do you accommodate parents as an employer?
When we launched Hoop we launched it with a flexible working mindset, and thought about the kind of company and culture we wanted to build and be a part of. At Hoop we encourage flexible working hours, and understand that people have lives outside of work (not just families) that are important to the team.
Hoop itself is populated by our remote team, a lot of whom are parents working flexibly around their children. We have also hired team members on less than the five day working week – it’s about getting the right talent and building a team of people that you wake up and look forward to working with.
What are the benefits to employers of accommodating parents?
So many companies get it wrong. Offering parents flexibility retains and attracts talent. The idea of a 9 to 5, 5 days per working week is outdated and to lose great people based on such rigid principles seems strange.
Why are days out with the family important?
It’s about spending quality time together as a family, getting out of the house and having new experiences together. As a parent, especially in the early days getting out of the house was vital for myself and my wife, we found it helpful getting out and speaking to other parents, and getting away from being confined to the house. Family days out – whatever shape and size your family may be – are a time to get away from screens and from the house routine, and to explore new places, learn new things and have fun together.
Recent research suggested men spend more on their kids in half term because they are less organised. Is that your experience?
Preparation is key when it comes to school holidays. Being a parent is expensive, and it can be all too easy to overspend through desperation when looking for entertainment for your kids last minute. 1 in 5 of all activities that we list on Hoop are free – there’s so much out there, what’s key is to plan ahead and do some research to be able to get the most out of the holidays.
Best day out you’ve ever taken your kids on?
That’s a tough question! A recent highlight was the Bubble Man show at the Southbank. Perfectly pitched for parents and kids we were all left wowed by his bubble antics and comedy. My kids love arts and crafts activities and the Royal Academy runs incredible free arts workshops for the whole family once a month. These always fun and we never leave without feeling inspired.
There’s an irony/tension about Hoop isn’t there – that you need to download the app and look at your phone in order to then organise a day out so the kids are sitting in front of a screen!
We like to think Hoop is a good example of tech for good, the app is designed to help you to get out of the house together as a family. The activities get kids together, interacting with each other and developing new skills – as well as being a fun way to spend the day!
An app was crucial for launch because we know that parents have such little time and are often looking for last minute help finding activities. We also knew we needed our service to be location based – another thing that’s super important to parents today.
Top tips for men going back to work after half term who want a better work-life balance?
Got to bed a lot earlier!
Sleep gives you superpowers. Better concentration, more energy, improved mood – you’re simply more productive when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Becoming a parent radically impacts your ability to get regular sleep, so to combat this you’ve simply got to go to bed earlier.
Invest more time in prioritising your workload. Focus on the things that will make the biggest contribution to your team or impact your business. With children, the length of working day becomes a lot more defined, so you’re forced to get better at prioritising. You’ll also realise that a lot of tasks in your job you thought were essential, really weren’t making a difference when you focus on the big things.
Remember that your partner needs work life balance too. Speak to each other and make sure that you’re both not becoming overwhelmed. Juggling parenting and work can be tough at times, but it doesn’t mean you both need to struggle alone. Be ready to support one another.