A simple, stark equation pushed Amanda Munday out of the workforce.

The numbers stopped making sense quickly after Munday had her second child — shortly after returning to work — following  the birth of her first baby and subsequent maternity leave.

“Not only did I find it so hard to navigate in and out of work, but also the cost of childcare,” Amanda Munday, mom of two, shared during and interview with Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk TV.

“So prohibitive,” Amanda continues. “I was only making — it was still a good salary 65 or $70,000. But childcare for my two kids was $50,000. So do some quick math on that and it no longer made sense for me to stay in the workforce.”

Amanda Munday used her harsh, new normal as fuel. She decided to take her marketing background working for a tech company, added it to previous experience with startups and stirred in her knowledge of early childcare settings. The result? Munday started up The Workaround in 2018. Its mission? To actively address the very challenge she herself was experiencing as a working parent with young children staring down exorbitant childcare costs.

“I thought so what are we doing here? We’re saying that only households with two high-income earners can access childcare and early education. Everybody else does what,” Munday asks.

The Workaround, a 13,000-square foot space on the Danforth in Toronto is a co-working space with on-site child-care.

“This company started because I was annoyed that there were so few options,” continues Munday, whose children are now six and four years old. “But the idea was never just to solve my problem. It was to say, if I have a problem with something so universal as childcare, then surely there are others. And I’ve always had a willingness to let any element of the business shift as the community needs it,” she says.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Amanda Munday has weathered seismic shifts — both as a mom and and business owner.

Along the way, her resolve to address the national childcare chasm in Canada — deeper and wider because of the pandemic — has only grown more fervent.

Watch the full video interview with Amanda Munday, founder and CEO of The Workaround.


Click for video transcription

Hello, and welcome to Where Parents Talk TV. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a mom of two, an author, and she’s also the founder of The Workaround, a company that provides space for working parents to work, while also offering childcare on the premises. We’re delighted to welcome Amanda Monday. Hi, Amanda.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Thanks for being here. Now, I wanted to ask you, you know, most entrepreneurs will tell you that they start their business because they see a gap. And they’re looking for solutions in a certain area. How did your business get started?

Exactly that. I am a working parent of two kids. And so my, the gap or the problem I was trying to solve is really how inaccessible childcare is in Toronto where The Workaround is based. So prior to starting this company, I was working in tech in a marketing role. And I had one child and took a year off, and then went back to work found the return to work harder than any other part of parenthood, just trying to navigate the guilt and the childcare drop off and the cost and the shuffling. And then I had another child somewhat unexpectedly, quickly after I was only back to work about six months. So, I ended up with two kids under two, working for a tech company that had very few other parents, which meant there wasn’t a lot of institutional support for me taking time off for my role for what was happening when I came back. And not only did I find it so hard to navigate in and out of work, but also the cost of childcare. So prohibitive, you know, I was only making only it was still good salary 65 or $70,000. But childcare for my two kids was $50,000. So do some quick math on that it no longer made sense for me to stay in the workforce. And so, you know, it really came down to looking at the investment I was going to be making into childcare and thinking, can I take that financial investment and put it towards a startup? Can I just find a space where I can work, maybe we can do a nanny share some type of shared childcare, and I can work with other freelancers to have similar needs. And together we can work and have our children somehow cared for that was really the concept for the workaround, it then bloomed into 13,000 square foot commercial space with three registered early childhood educators and separate childcare. But the initial concept was really, I can’t afford to work and take care of my kids and put them in care. And there has to be something else.

It’s such a huge leap as you describe it. And for most entrepreneurs, I’m wondering what kind of experience Did you have running a business thinking about going into business for yourself? And what kind of preparation did you undertake, with two young children in tow, before you opened up this business?

That’s a funny question. Because you think I would say, Oh, this experience no. I, I always said I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I like working for startups and small companies. And I always said, I want to focus on one thing. And I don’t want to be responsible for ops and HR funding and all the things that are related to running a company.
So I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, where I got lucky is really twofold. One because I had worked for startups, I worked out of co-working spaces all over the city. So I observed how they functioned what was good about them what was not so good about them. And I at a high level understood the business model around you pay for a desk, there’s some sort of lease, we have to recoup the cost of lease with with some sort of membership. So at a baseline, I could sort of do that math. And the other lucky benefit I had was the tech startups that I worked for were in early education. So I’d always worked in education. But the last startup I was in was an app for daycare providers to send messages to parents, just like any parents who have kids in school probably are doing lots of chatting with their teachers. Recently, I worked for one of those companies. So I had been actively involved in understanding the importance of early childhood education in zero to five years of age childhood development, why early education is so important. And you know what that did was both helped me to understand the market and fuel my anger that childcare as important as it is and as early childhood education is so good, critical and was so inaccessible, I thought. So what are we doing here? We’re saying that only households with two high income earners can access childcare and early education. Everybody else does what? In the subsidies where there are government subsidies in Toronto, are not necessarily accessible to all families, you know, the cliff is, is not very high given the cost of living in the city. So, no, I didn’t want to do it. But I have a level of stubborn theory that says, You know, I think I’m capable of trying something else. And I am a living, breathing proof of how efficient and productive parents are. You know, there’s the number one, I guess, piece of evidence I had for why I knew I could do this was that well, how hard can running a business be? I’ve already managed to, you know, sleep and going back and forth to work and like, what’s the worst that happens here? I lose some money? Well, let’s have some perspective on that. You know, I don’t come from any I didn’t have a financial safety net. But I thought, it’s better than doing nothing. And I know how to manage stress. So let’s try.

So it’s interesting, the first two to three years, they say of any business are pivotal to its long term, or even short term, medium term survival. You’re now in year three of the workaround, having founded it in 2018. What would you say has enabled you to come through these first two and a half to three years as you have?

Well, let me just start by saying I’m not even sure we’re through. Right. So if we, you know, we were talking now in March of 2021. And The WorkAround was only 18 months old when we went into the first pandemic shutdown, right. So I I’m surviving on government subsidies, and, you know, reduced expenses as much as possible.
But I think that will survive and the business is here. And part of why I think that we’re still here is that we’ve been in service to a larger community and a greater need, right? This is this company started because I was annoyed that there were so few options. But the idea was never just to solve my problem. It was to say, if I have a problem with something so universal is childcare, then surely there are others. And I’ve always had a willingness to let any element of the business shift as the community needs it. So where, you know, we originally said full day passes, there was a lot of early feedback that parents only needed a half day, they’d only like to come in from mornings, but they don’t need afternoon, they want to go home and put their child down for a nap and then maybe do some work at that time. Okay, how do we make the business model work for that?

You know, other things like, what about the community who just wants to use a space that’s in their neighborhood, but they don’t need childcare? Or maybe they don’t need childcare every day, we quickly learned that I had one vision for what this would look like. But the community and paying members have shifted what we offer and can’t really get too precious about that. have to be willing to just say, Yep, that makes sense. We’re willing to try it. I’m willing to fail. I’m willing to shift models and and try not to hold too much judgment around what I thought it should be.

What would you say has been your single biggest challenge as a parent and an entrepreneur, and how did you go about overcoming that challenge or that obstacle?

You know, I want to say cash flow but I don’t even think cash flow has caused me as much anxiety as as rest you know, as a so I’m a I’m a parent of two young kids I’m, I’m single so I am solo. And between my children there needs the business my staff needs,
figuring out how to prioritize and put out fires and all of that. What most often comes last is me.
And what often comes last is sleep and healthy meal and a day off.
And I’m really seeing the negative impacts of that I see it on my health. I’ve had more hospital visits in the last three years than I ever did as an employee. Thankfully, nothing serious but always some weird body just screaming shutdown thing that happens to me because I ignore all of the signals to slow down
And it’s not because I don’t value rest, or I don’t want a day off. It’s because everything else is louder. My kids are really good at getting my attention. The business is really good at seeming very urgent. There are things that come across as, you know, essential and unmovable. And so I say, okay, that’s okay, I’ll take I’ll take a day off next week or, okay, you know, I’ll come in, even though it’s Friday night, and I don’t want to whatever it is.
It’s really, I would say, my single biggest challenge and also barrier to growth is just managing my own and energy, what I’m capable of what I’m willing to take on.

And obviously a huge difference from before the pandemic and what you do to during the pandemic, where we are right now, let me ask you, just listening to you though, it seems like the reward the satisfaction that you are deriving from the service you’re providing, and the feedback that you’re getting, supersedes the obstacles that you are experiencing. Is that fair?

Yeah, that’s fair. You know, I’m free. And it’s one of the things that motivated me to keep going when it was hard. And also seeing the way that I’ve unlocked freedom for other working parents, especially marginalized parents, especially women, and non binary people.
We can be just so locked into societal expectations into jobs, we don’t want to stay in into relationships that are not healthy. Because of all of the systemic barriers that women face, especially marginalized women. And, you know, I’m grateful that I found a path. It’s not a financially successful one. But it’s a path that lets me say, How am I going to choose my day? You know, how am I going to move through all of the things that need to happen? My children go into lockdown because of causative COVID cases, it’s happened so many times, I can’t even want to talk about it. But okay, I don’t have a threat of being fired, because I have to lock down at home. Okay, I don’t think it’s safe to reopen in what Toronto is in a gray lockdown state right now. Doesn’t seem like we can really entertain shared office space and shared washrooms and shared kitchens. I, I’m not doing it, we’re not opening, right. I’m free to make those decisions. And I’m free to put my values first. And that for me, outweighs how hard it is to manage it all. Because at least I have control over my life. And I hope that I model that for and I’ve seen that I’ve modeled it over the people who come through the workaround when when they did come through.

You are so early into your business on so many levels. But I’m wondering, is there anything that you would have done differently? Looking back on just how you started adopt? And you know, the first certainly few months and year?

Oh, yeah, there’s so many things I would do differently.
I did not have a good understanding of brick and mortar costs. And now that I’m friends with a lot of businesses on Main Street, that’s a pretty common refrain.
The assumption is, okay, well, how much is rent? Great. So, you know, we tend to be a bit more overly optimistic with revenue and here’s how much is rent cost. Okay, how much your staff that sounds like, yeah, that math works out. Yeah, no, it’s it’s so you know, I should have added 5020 to 50% additional expenses than what I anticipated. Hydros so much more expensive than my home, personal hydro. A window breaks. Well, this is double pane commercial glass. It’s $900. Sometimes it breaks because of somebody doing something sometimes weather breaks it. snow removal, you know, I have 13,000 square feet on an intersection a corner means I have two sidewalks. So either I’m getting up in the middle of the mall early early morning with my two kids and coming and shoveling or I’m hiring someone to do it.

I just totally underestimated how expensive it is and how fixed those costs are. So when you go into something like a pandemic, I can’t turn those costs down. It is what it is.
And if I was going to do that differently, I would start with the lowest possible expenses. I can get you know, I, I sort of thought, sure 13,000 square feet, that just means I need that much more people. Well, that’s doable. There’s lots of parents. But in fact, what I should have done was get the cheapest possible rent in the smallest possible space to open, and then grow and scale from that, versus let’s start with a massive space and be confident that we can fill it without anticipating that a massive space comes with massive additional costs. Or that a pandemic would freeze like that as we know it. Or that a pandemic shuts it down. And now I’m forced to maintain 30,000 square feet by myself.
Amanda, let me ask you, what advice, if any, would you have to offer other parents who are contemplating becoming entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs who are contemplating becoming parents in terms of how to manage both of those key roles in their lives?

So in terms of how advice for parents who are thinking about being entrepreneurs, this might be a bit controversial, but I would say, proceed with real caution about taking partners on here’s why.
There’s so much intertwined between your family’s needs, and your business’s needs, and the reason why you started it. And I think what happens is we quickly get to,
I can’t do it alone, I need to find a co-founder, I need to find a partner, I should get investors, I should hire somebody who doesn’t have kids who can help me out.
That creates a lot of tension. I know this from personal experience. And that’s not to say I think being a solo founder is the answer. But when I look at businesses, especially brick, and mortars, who have partners versus ones who are running solo, the ones who are running solo, have the ability to shift and make decisions quickly. And sort of take the failures on for themselves without having to worry about the pressures of partner. I really think there’s, especially in the early days, there’s a lot of things move quickly.
Your family needs shift. Sometimes you need to put everything you’ve got into work. And sometimes you have to pull out completely to deal with your kids. And that can create real friction with partners. So be very careful with co founders, with bringing on partners because you think you can’t do it, you can do it. You raise children, you can do it. You got this, you’re doing it because you want that freedom. So you know, that’s not like hire, help hire colleagues, hire employees to help you. But be very careful with taking on business partners.
Unless there’s just a true alignment, and don’t partner with your friends. It’s just terrible idea. It’s gonna blow up.

That’s certainly sage advice. Let me ask you, we’ve talked sort of in general terms about what the workaround is, but I’m just wondering if you could paint a picture for people as to what, what they will experience when they come into this space.

Yeah, so The Workaround is Toronto’s first commercial co-working space with childcare. And so it is a massive office space, three levels of desks and music and coffee and boardrooms. We have eight different boardrooms, whether it’s single, you know, I call it a Zoom Room now, versus an eight-person, boardroom, all kinds of different workspaces. And it’s quiet. The assumption is, well, if there’s co working with childcare, there’s kids running around. Of course not. We understand that we have a separate childcare space. And it’s a full-fledged daycare, nap room, lunch room, early learning stations, outdoor space, and three early childhood educators on site to carry out a routine for your children, who will make friends who will develop their early learning abilities. And you can do it in a day. The whole idea is to take the model of full time Monday to Friday nine to five childcare and flip it into by the days you need. Come when works for you. Bring your children if that’s what you need, or just show up and grab a coffee and a desk and work because parents don’t need the friction.
For sure, let me ask you. What is your thought as we sit here in this pandemic, about the discourse going on with respect to childcare and childcare accessibility for parents across this country.

As a result of the pandemic it would appear that it is now being discussed more, but somebody. For someone who works in this space, who is living it every day, do you feel that the discussion is loud enough and that it will be sustained beyond the pandemic?
Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, I’m hopeful that what we’re seeing now is a moment that certainly in in my time as a parent, and even before that, I didn’t hear about the urgency to which we need government and policy support for childcare programs. And so I am hopeful that it just No, no political party, and certainly not constituents will allow us not to solve childcare as a as a true infrastructure issue. I also think it’s not going to happen as quickly as people hope that well, you know, we need childcare yesterday, the pandemic showed just how urgent The issue is, it’s not a future state problem. It’s a today problem. And so from my lens, the fastest way to get childcare to more people is to take a multi-pronged solution. Yes, we need to push for universal childcare carried out by the by the province or a federal government to make sure that there’s the greatest number of access, and we need employer driven childcare. That’s not co working and office space, I’m talking about Canada’s largest employers need to think about on site care, separate from a universal childcare programs. And I think it’s a mistake for Canada’s employers to say, Well, you know, the Liberal government is going to release a childcare program. So we don’t have to, you know, it won’t be all encompassing, it won’t be accessible quickly. So get something up now for your employees so that we don’t have women out of the workforce for too long. We’ve already seen the impacts of the pandemic, we need you to solve it immediately. And then allow the government to roll out a program in a way that’s fair and accessible to them to most Canadians.

In closing, Amanda, is there anything else that you would like to add about being a mom running a business and doing those two things at the same time?

You know, there’s just because you haven’t doesn’t mean you can’t. You know, there’s lots of lots of resistance in that, oh, maybe later, maybe when my kids are older.
I always wanted to, but now my life is is XYZ, you can, and you will, because you have skills as a parent that have unlocked so much potential for you. And there are networks of other parents who want to help you succeed.

So I would say, you know, you have everything you need, could probably use more funding at a national level. And I’ll continue to push for that, especially for women entrepreneurs, but in terms of productivity, ingenuity, efficiency. You’ve got it you can do it.

Related links:

TheWorkaround.ca

Blog: Money Well Spent

Video: Tips for Choosing Childcare or a Daycare

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