Filling Google's gaps: Ottawa entrepreneur’s platform simplifies, aggregates kids’ activities

Fadi Ghaby

As a parent searching for activities and lessons for his five-year-old son, Fadi Ghaby would use his local park as a search engine. The Ottawa business owner was frustrated when Google would miss small business owners offering services nearby, so he would ask parents in his Westboro neighbourhood if they knew, for example, a good local piano teacher.

Finding fulfilling activities for his son, dipping downtown and back for drop-off and pick-up, and organizing his schedule with the rest of the family’s started to overwhelm him.

“I think it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done,” says Ghaby, a past Forty Under 40 award recipient who has owned three stores and currently runs his own digital marketing agency, Skyfall Blue.

As advanced a tool as modern search engines are, they often miss the individual teachers and providers in a community.

“You go to Google, you see the biggest players: City of Ottawa, Dovercourt … But for the small business owners, they don’t know how the market themselves. You can’t find them,” Ghaby says. There must be a way, he figured, to bring those smaller providers out of the woodwork in the same way Airbnb allowed homeowners to display their own rental properties.

Conversations with other parents led the entrepreneur to his next idea: Gogabo, a platform that aggregates small businesses and children’s activity providers and simplifies the transaction for parents.

Still in its beta phase, parents can search for activities organized by topics, time of the week and proximity to their neighbourhood. So, a parent of two logging onto the site may book Taekwondo classes for Regan on Tuesday night, and find a nearby piano lesson for Peter around the corner. Both activities are loaded into one cart, booked and paid for with a single transaction.

“The goal is actually for parents to go on one website, type one word, pick your location and find everything for your kid, whatever age he or she is,” Ghaby says.

Gogabo is currently being incubated as a side project inside Skyfall Blue. It’s been self-funded to date, though Ghaby has been looking for seed funding.

All transactions made through the site go directly from purchaser to provider, without Gogabo ever touching a dollar. Ghaby says the startup will eventually collect commission, but the goal right now is to add as many businesses and providers to the site and earn the trust of the Ottawa community.

That’s easier said than done. Parents are, rightly so, hesitant to put their money and child’s activities into an untested business. Ghaby says “it requires more one-on-one” to convince Ottawa business owners that it’s worth posting on Gogabo. If he could land, say, a Dovercourt-like community association, that would go a long way to proving its credibility.

Ghaby adds that there’s a lot of room for improvement in the way traditional businesses process their payments and bookings. He recalls waiting two hours in line to pay in cash to register his son to play soccer – that’s a time waster and organizational burden that he wants to eliminate.

Eventually, Ghaby wants to export this model to other cities, but he says he’s not in a rush. He wants feedback from his local community’s providers to ensure his solution is the right one before scaling it up.

At the heart of Gogabo is Ghaby’s son, Gabriel, who his parents nicknamed “Gabo.” The energetic, curly-haired youngster is the model for the startup’s logo, and eagerly poses for the company’s Instagram posts.

Ghaby says including his son in this project makes the hard work feel worth it.

“That’s what makes it fun,” he says.