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Why two entrepreneurs are on a “mission” to change global parenting with edtech app My First Five Years

My First Five Years founders

Two entrepreneurs detail how a “eureka” moment led them to launch a new edtech app, My First Five Years, to “marvel in the moments not just the milestones” and reduce parental anxiety.

The co-founders behind the app, Jennie Johnson and Alistair Bryce-Clegg, had a vision to slot into a “gap in the early years education market” in the midst of the pandemic.

The app, My First Five Years, is designed to support and guide parents through their child’s development journey in their formative years.

The pair are “on a mission” with their new venture to shape the future of global parenting to become a “challenger brand” in an established sector.

“The reach of the app goes so much more beyond what anything that the two of us could do as individuals so we’re on a big mission,” Jennie Johnson told Prolific North.

Jennie Johnson, who was awarded an MBE in 2016 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in recognition of her services to business, is a renowned figure in Greater Manchester.

As the founder of nursery group Kids Allowed, which evolved into one of the region’s success stories in the childcare sector, she sold the business in 2020 to Kids Planet after almost 20 years at the helm.

Winding down after a successful career, she initially decided to retire in 2020 – but it didn’t last long. 

“The thing with ideas is you have no control when they come to you,” Jennie said.

“Retirement is not going anywhere,” she laughed, as the app recently secured £1.4m in funding after previously raising £200,000 seed funding within just 12 months of its inception.

“When Jennie announced she was retiring, everybody who knew her openly went – ‘well that will last all of five mins’ – and sure enough no one was surprised when she said, ‘oh I’m back’,” Alistair teased.

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My First Five Years app
My First Five Years app.

Hailed as an “international early years superstar” by Jennie, Alistair is an established author, early years consultant and former head teacher with a career spanning decades in the childcare sector.

Amid his accolades, he appeared as an Early Years specialist on Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds which showcased the positive impact children can have on older generations.

The duo initially met when the youngest of Jennie’s three children was aged two. 

With their combined industry experience in the childcare sector boosted by an “opportune” moment, it paved the way for the pair to join forces on the new digital venture.

The “eureka” moment behind the app and joining forces

Stumbling upon a video online of a child “doing something really impressive” forged the “eureka moment” behind the app, Jennie explained.

Through the eyes of an expert with early years experience, she noticed how the video revealed a key insight into the child’s development that the parent may not have been aware of.

It prompted her to contact the child’s mother, who was “blown away” to learn how her child was developing and learning new skills that she hadn’t realised.

It sparked a “eureka moment” as most parents are “not trained” to look for specific indicators particularly with limited social contact during the pandemic, she said.

Waking up at 6am the next morning with the idea behind the app swirling around her mind, she said, “I must’ve dreamed about it all night”, adding, “if all parents could see what we see it would be so much more comforting”. 

The belief in the potential impact the app could have on the lives of both children and parents is what fuelled her to take action on the idea. 

“You’d really see momentum in children’s learning, there’s so much more to celebrate, it removes some of the anxiety of being a parent,” she explained.

Just two hours later, she called Alistair and the pair “literally got going” on the idea.

The moment was “opportune” for the duo to collaborate – with Alistair’s diary typically booked up to 12 months in advance prior to the Coronavirus pandemic.

”Had Covid not happened, maybe we would never have rang that mum, had that conversation and had that reaction,” she explained.

Moving full steam ahead with the idea, the duo then approached Manchester-based Apadmi to partner on building the app into what it is today.

Skills in My First Five Years app.
Skills demonstrated within the app.

Beyond ages and stages

While many existing parent-child apps are often referred to as “ages and stages development” that examine what a child “should” be doing at a certain age, My First Five Years positions itself as something entirely different. 

“We use unique child development,” Alistair explained.

The app centres around six streams of learning which covers core topics such as cognitive and language development.

A parent can either start from the very beginning of the child’s learning and development journey from birth or at any age within the child’s first five years. 

“Development isn’t linear, it’s more of a smorgasbord of skills,” he said.

From the stages it takes a child, ranging from how they transition from trying to sit, crawl or walk – “children don’t get there in exactly the same way or the same time”.

My First Five Years app
The My First Five Years app.

The plethora of apps and conflicting information available can often be “anxiety-inducing” for parents who are left comparing their child’s development to others of the same age.

“A lot of these apps create anxiety so instead of helping they are actually creating issues of their own,” she said.

Whereas My First Five Years champions “joy and celebration and recognition of their achievements”. 

With a supportive thread running through the app to alleviate the fears facing many parents, the app offers parents a shorthand explanation of a particular skill.

If parents want to know more about the skill, they are able to click through to a more in-depth academically referenced explanatory piece which supports the development of that skill.

“What we’re trying to do for parents is we know they’re time-poor so everything we say is backed by science and research – none of it is about myth and legend,” he said.

My First Five Years app.
Articles, podcasts, blogs and information on the app.

Building up the foundations of the company, the pair established a content team equipped with solid experience in early years education who have created the academically referenced content on the app.

The app also has a secondary feature which allows parents to “scrapbook moments and achievements and milestones” with online video, picture and commentary.

The mission is global for My First Five Years

Currently located at Department Bonded Warehouse in Enterprise City in Manchester, My First Five Years is part of Exchange, a start-up support programme for digital and tech companies.

The pair are now working with universities in the UK to delve into child development further by analysing anonymised user data produced by the app.

“We really think that we might be challenging some of the current thinking. 

“The science and research [in the app] will be enhanced by these research projects that we do at the universities,” Jennie said.

“They will be able to say whether the common or commonly understood familiar path of development is actually represented by real children in real time who use our app.”

The pair revealed they are “excited” to be working on a joint venture with Manchester Metropolitan University to implement artificial intelligence into a child’s journey with the aim of correlating patterns of behaviour.

“It will get even better at predicting what’s likely to be next for each child,” Jennie explained.

Developing skills through the My First Five Years app.
Developing skills through the My First Five Years app.

“Our utopia is that parents will stop this peer comparison and start to really trust that what they’re doing is the right thing,” she said.

The duo are passionate about the app and are planning to further develop the content and its features with the recent boost in funding.

“We are wanting to change global parenting so we are launching in the UK but we will be expanding outside of the UK and taking the message far and wide,” Alistair said.

“We are really passionate about it, it’s what we have spent our lives doing. It is almost like a culmination of a career, a second career, so we are absolutely loving it,” he added.

The app is now available to download on the Apple Store and is under development for Android.

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