Cathie Anderson

ActivityJungle.org links Sacramento parents to activities for kids

Two Sac State grads help parents find activities for kids

Husband-and-wife team John Meidinger and Clarisse Baca created a one-stop website called activity jungle.org
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Husband-and-wife team John Meidinger and Clarisse Baca created a one-stop website called activity jungle.org

Tennis coach Clarisse Baca likes to say that the startup business she launched in May with husband John Meidinger was born on the courts at Rio Del Oro Racquet Club, where she was trying to figure out a way to promote her summer camps in 2015.

“I really wanted to have an impact on more kids and grow numbers, so I went online and looked for a one-stop destination where I could advertise my summer camps,” Baca said. “I didn’t find any spot that I could really advertise and get kids in my programs. On the other side, I had parents coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, Clarisse, it was really challenging finding your services.’ 

Baca and Meidinger thought busy Sacramento parents could use one website where they could find businesses that offered activities, classes and training for children. The couple pitched that concept last November at the Elk Grove edition of Startup Weekend. At these rigorous events, held all around the nation, entrepreneurs learn how to form teams, get the opportunity to test and validate their concepts, and receive coaching from seasoned venture capitalists and inventors.

“You come in with a 30-second elevator pitch on Friday, and there’s about 30 or 40 people pitching ideas,” Meidinger said. “And people in the audience ... vote on the idea they thought was best. We just really wanted to test the waters, and our idea was picked on Friday. Fantastic!

“So, the way it works is you form a team and start developing a business model, and on Sunday, you give a final five-minute pitch to various judges in the startup community here in Sacramento. We didn’t win, but we didn’t really expect to. But I can’t tell you how many parents came up to us afterward and said, ‘You guys are fantastic. I need this for myself and my family. Keep working on it.’ 

They invested thousands of dollars of their own money to develop a website, activityjungle.org, where parents can search for activities in the areas of performing arts, visual arts, education, sports and fitness. Right now, Meidinger said, they have programmers finding and inputting data, but at some point in the future, activity providers will be able to own and update their information.

“One of the main concerns for parents is that they go online, they go to Google, and they type in summer camps, and there are a bunch of different links, unreliable information. They don’t get the most accurate and updated information they were looking for. ... We did a lot of screening of activity providers and collected all that information. We put it in our comprehensive database. Now parents can search activities by location, ... age, level and category.”

Baca and Meidinger haven’t yet started monetizing the site, they said, because they want to build up usage by both activity providers and parents ...

Pet resort eyes Sacramento market: New Jersey-based franchiser K-9 Resorts is looking for individuals to open up its brand of luxury pet hotels in the Sacramento region, because local residents’ spending on their pets is growing faster than the national average, company president Jason Parker told me.

The capital area already has franchises such as Wag Hotels and Camp Bow Wow, plus a number of homegrown favorites like Animal Den Pet Resort & Spa and Folsom Dog Resort, but Parker believes his K-9 hotels will stand out from the pack.

“We launched the franchise in 2011, spent the next five years growing regionally on the East Coast, the northeast, sold eight franchises,” Parker said. “All the locations are successful, and in 2016, five years after we launched, we completed a private-equity transaction and brought on a group to become minority partners in our franchise.”

That group made a multimillion-dollar investment to fund an expansion. Parker and his brother, Steven Parker, have been in the pet-care industry for 15 years, starting as children taking care of their neighbors’ dogs in 2001. They were making six figures the next year. They discovered the lucrative world of luxury pet hotels after a client told them he was boarding his dog at a kennel for the first week of his vacation and asked whether they could pick him up and care for him the second week.

When they picked up the dog, Parker said, they were blown away by the “kennel.” It was a full-fledged resort that was so much in demand that the owner was booked solid for the summer and couldn’t accommodate their client’s dog for more than one week. The two brothers decided to pivot and go into the pet resort business.

One of the K-9 Resort franchises will cost $916,000 to $1.3 million to buy and build, depending on size and location. Want to learn more? Check out www.k9resorts.com/.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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