Mom concierge services are springing up on college campuses

Read the full article as published on NPR by Kai Ryssdal and Sarah Leeson on October 12, 2023

Being a college student is hard. Being a parent to a college student is also hard, but for different reasons. So what if there was a caring, trusted, local adult that you knew was there for them on campus?

That’s basically the pitch behind MindyKNOWS. It’s a business where, for $49 per month, students at Washington University in St. Louis, Hartford University, Northwestern University, and Skidmore College have access to what is essentially a mom concierge service.

Mindy Horwitz is the founder of MindyKNOWS and she joined “Marketplace’s” Kai Ryssdal to talk about where the business idea came from and how it all works. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Kai Ryssdal: I have to tell you, this is a completely novel concept to me. So I want you to tell me exactly what it is what service it is that you offer.

Mindy Horwitz: So my oldest son is now 23 and he went to school in our hometown in St. Louis, Missouri. When he was in his first year, I immediately joined the parent page on Facebook for WashU parents and I would see all the things that the out-of-town families would need. And I realized quite quickly that, as a local parent, I could help with some of the things that the families needed for their students.

Ryssdal: OK, so let’s say it’s mid-semester on a Tuesday. We’re not in finals week yet, it might be midterms, I don’t know. And you wake up and what does your day look like?

Horwitz: I don’t know yet.

Ryssdal: Give me a for instance.

Horwitz: On a Tuesday, I wake up, I listen to some NPR — no, just kidding.

Ryssdal: Don’t kid about that. That’s very serious.

Horwitz: I’m sorry, I’m not kidding. I love it. It really varies. I go pick up my cupcakes. I help give parents an idea about restaurants for family weekend, or the best urgent care for a toe issue. The challenges, 99% of the time, they’re just things that we all come across as parents in our communities. And that’s what works so well in this business is that it’s very natural for us here in our local towns to help. And it feels so foreign as a parent not knowing that town.

Ryssdal: How do you set your prices? Because it’s it’s all a little bit, you know, bespoke right?

Horwitz: Setting the pricing is the hardest thing. I just always hated the idea of someone calling me and saying, “Hey, my student is sick. Can you bring them some chicken soup?” And I never wanted to say, “Sure! For $125 I’d be happy to do it.” It doesn’t feel right. But what I realized is that many people stay on. They join for the first month, and then they realize that they like it and they continue so that when things happen, and they really need significant help, they already know me and they are comfortable to ask for whatever it is that I can help with.

Ryssdal: Yeah, and also just on the on the people looking for your services thing, they are probably more comfortable with paying you and getting the expectation of a service instead of having it be kind of a favor thing because that’s always just really awkward.

Horwitz: One hundred percent. That’s exactly right. In fact, when my son was in his first year, we were at a family weekend with his roommate’s mom. And his roommate was from New Jersey. And I realized that his roommate had hurt his knee and he had been hobbling around. And I said to the mom, “I don’t know why you didn’t call me. I would have helped you.” And she said, “I didn’t really know you and I didn’t really want to bother you.” And I realized that sometimes you just want to pay for help. You don’t want to owe someone a favor.

Ryssdal: You know, I get the helping parents out thing, right? Because, you know, parents have certain responsibilities to their kids. And it’s a different city or what have you. There are going to be those listening to this interview, though, thinking about the college kids in question and saying to themselves, “These kids have gone away to college, and part of the reason they’ve gone away to college is to learn how to be a grown-up and an adult. And they don’t really need somebody bringing them cupcakes.” What do you say to that?

Horwitz: Well, we do bring them cupcakes on their birthdays. But our students learn to become independent adults, and they solve most of their own problems. We just provide the support to parents by giving them the access that they need to our local resources. And we all know that, as parents, there’s no hard stop on parenting when our kids leave for college. And we just help reduce the stress that comes along with that.