In the Spring of 2020, as the pandemic set in, Ready Set Go partner, Mark Silver, recognized that the Summer to come would be like no other, including the unprecedented closure of summer camps across Ontario; his children's included.
With deep experience in media and technology, Mark started to think about how he could leverage his background to see if Ready Set Go could help parents scrambling to figure out what to do with their kids over the summer.
With that, Backyard Camp's seeds were sown.
Mark started with ConvertKit, which Ready Set Go uses as a cost-effective solution for client's email list management and user journeys. Converkit was connected to Zapier, which provides the inter-connection between No-Code SaaS applications. Starting with a scalable suite of services with tiered pricing was key for Backyard Camp since it was impossible to predict how many families would register.
"When you're buying journey software, everyone thinks 'oh, I've got to buy Salesforce to do that,'" Mark says." We proved you could do it much simpler, faster and cheaper. Connecting SaaS applications through Zapier also allowed us to trigger all kinds of events. We went from using the basics of ConvertKit to something akin to an entire marketing automation platform overnight."
With the platform decisions made, Mark shifted his focus toward turning Backyard Camp into a reality. He started by creating a simple 1-page website with an overview of the camp and registration for parents who are interested in a daily newsletter filled with activities to do with their kids at home. After setting up a few social accounts, Backyard Camp was born!
By late last Spring of 2020, Mark recruited a small group of volunteer parents and was up and running in a matter of days, with a multi-stage welcome email journey ready to be sent to newly registered parents and caregivers.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions and the cancellation of most children's summer programs in 2020, the problem Mark hoped to solve with Backyard Camp couldn't have been more in demand. At the time, others were starting to offer a range of services, including paid child services, where kids could go on video platforms, such as Zoom and engage in activities online. Yet, by late Spring, parents and kids had already grown weary of virtual activities while stuck indoors, constantly communicating through screens.
"Then there was us. In our model, we send you the activities which are different every day, and you decide if you need our help that day. We're proactive - that was our unique value proposition," Mark says.
From the start, Mark viewed Backyard Camp as a public service. With the help of his friend and former colleague from his TSN days, Greg McIsaac, Backyard Camp sent a press release to media contacts about the launch of the service. Soon after, several outlets picked up the story, namely Bell Media, who blasted the camp's mission across their CP24 channel and CTVNews.ca.
As Mental health became its own crisis within the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell, with their own Let's Talk initiative, got onboard quickly to support Backyard Camp with a weekly TV segment on CP24 Breakfast.
Within two weeks, Backyard Camp grew from 50 to 5,000 sign-ups.
As Popularity Grows, The Model is Refined
"Again, while you would typically build a complex component from scratch, because of Webflow's vast developer ecosystem, we could find a search plugin to quickly solve the problem," according to Mark.
Mark crowdsourced the creation of kid-friendly activities through friends, family and the broader community. He also partnered with amazing people and like-minded kids programs who embraced the concept of coming together to build a one-stop experience for parents looking for much needed assistance.
"The goal was to reach and help the most people, regardless of their needs. It wasn't about financial means, just about parents helping parents, using a free newsletter and website with corporate partners getting behind it. That was the best way to have the biggest impact."
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