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Susan Chaityn Lebovits | People

Tapping Web of caregivers

Email|Print| Text size + By Susan Chaityn Lebovits
December 9, 2007

Looking for a dog walker in Dover? Help with aging parents in Plainville? A baby sitter in Baltimore, or a math tutor in Minneapolis? Thanks to Sheila Lirio Marcelo, care providers across the nation can be found with the click of a mouse.

The 37-year-old mother of two - with an MBA and law degree from Harvard - opened the virtual doors of Care.com in May in 20 cities; since then it has grown to cover 50 metropolitan markets and doubled its staff. The Web-based clearinghouse, based in Waltham, connects caregivers with employers.

"We're providing the tools and resources to make it an efficient marketplace for families and caregivers to find each other," said Marcelo, who lives in Weston.

She came up with the business plan for her company while working as entrepreneur- in-residence at Matrix Partners, a venture capital firm with offices in Waltham and India. It has invested $3.5 million in Care.com.

"We are big fans of Sheila," said Nick Beim, a general partner at Matrix. "We were also impressed with how much the Internet could help families with the problem of finding reliable care services, particularly through an online marketplace that emphasized quality and safety and provided deep search capabilities."

Marcelo said she was inspired to start a business that addressed the needs of families out of her own frustration while finding a nanny for her two sons. Pet sitters and academic tutors were other needs that Marcelo had.

There was also the year that Marcelo's parents lived with her family while her father was recuperating from quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

"I really should have arranged respite care for my mom so she would have felt more comfortable being alone with my father," said Marcelo. "At the time, I was working 30 minutes away and my cellphone would ring whenever she became nervous."

All of these experiences contributed to the platform for Care.com. But so did Marcelo's childhood, where her family's home in the Philippines was an epicenter of entrepreneurialism. Marcelo is the second youngest of six siblings. A list of her parents' businesses would include coconut mills, mango and banana plantations, a trucking operation, chicken and pig farms, and coal production. Marcelo first lived in the United States between the ages of 6 and 9, when her parents opened an Asian restaurant in Houston. "They didn't speak much English, but I did, so they used to have me answer the telephone," said Marcelo.

Marcelo's family then moved back to the Philippines and at age 11 she enrolled at the Brent International School, an American boarding school in Manila. Marcelo said she learned how to be very independent, as the school was more than 10 hours from her family's home.

After high school, Marcelo returned to the United States to attend Mount Holyoke College. She finished with a degree in economics, a certificate in international relations, and a 1-year-old son, to whom she gave birth during her junior year. She met her husband, Ron Marcelo, at a Filipino function at Yale University.

Marcelo worked as a consultant in litigation and telecommunications before earning her degrees in law and business at Harvard.

She also had stints at UPromise, a college savings network for parents, and TheLadders.com, a corporate online job resource company in New York; for that job, with her husband in agreement, she lived in a Manhattan apartment during the week and saw her family in Weston on weekends.

The day Marcelo, worn out by the commute, gave her notice in New York, Matrix Partners, an investor in TheLadders.com, invited her to put her entrepreneurial instincts to work for them.

"They were interested in my pursuing opportunities in the family space, given my background at UPromise," said Marcelo. Her job included looking at potential companies to purchase, assessing deals, and writing business plans like the one for Care.com.

To sign up with her company, potential providers submit information on the services they can offer, along with their credentials, where they're located, and their fee. After passing a background check done through LexisNexis (which searches sex-offender registries, criminal records, and validates identity by Social Security number and address), they are added to the Care.com database.

The company charges a subscription fee to customers looking to hire caregivers. The fee is $25 a month, or an annual fee that works out to be $10 a month. For rural areas with a shortage of care providers, Marcelo says, she offers the service for free.

Employers are encouraged to send in performance reviews of their experiences - a platform modeled after the auction service eBay, where buyers and sellers are rated on their reliability.

While Marcelo has subscribers all over the country, she would not disclose financial figures.

The operations manager at Care.com, Donna Levin, met Marcelo as a colleague at UPromise. Levin said she remembers their first group meeting about information tracing and data exchange.

"Sheila went to the board, distilled all of the conversation down to three points, and mapped out the entire project based on the discussions.

"I remember thinking that she was probably one of the smartest people that I'd ever met."

For more on Marcelo's company, visit care.com.

To suggest a subject for the People column, e-mail Lebovits@globe.com.

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