Cecilia Robinson, originally from Sweden, came to New Zealand for six-months to work and travel. On her first night in Auckland, she was introduced to James, her future husband and business partner. At just 21, with James by her side, Cecilia started Au Pair Link in the spare bedroom of their apartment. Cecilia had always been interested in the field of home based childcare and youth work and travel, having been an au pair herself in the USA. Fast forward five years and the company has grown from a part time hobby to the biggest agency in Australasia, employing 35 dedicated full time team members across New Zealand. As well as this, Cecilia recently won the HER Business Woman of the Year award.
Tell us about Au Pair Link and how it all started?
When I was 19 I travelled from Sweden to the USA to be an Au Pair (I’m originally from Sweden). After my year as an Au Pair I decided to continue to New Zealand and when I arrived in New Zealand I not only fell in-love with the gorgeous country but I also met my future husband. About a year after settling into New Zealand I was ‘home-sick’ for the children that I used to care for as an Au Pair – and I realised that if I felt so strongly about my Host Family and the children I cared for – that there was an opportunity to start an Au Pair agency in New Zealand. Au Pair Link really was a labour of love which started as a hobby from my husbands and my tiny 2 bedroom apartment in Auckland city – to now employing over 35 staff and being in the top 5% of Au Pair agencies in the world.
So what's the difference between a nanny and an au pair?
The difference between an Au Pair and a Nanny is that an Au Pair often comes from overseas. The other key difference is that an Au Pair always lives in the family home. An Au Pair is also cheaper than a nanny – this is simply driven by the fact that they live-in with the family and therefore part of their wage is offset against room and board. People have a perception that an Au Pair is less qualified than a nanny – but this is simply not true. On average our Au Pairs have 1400 hours of documented childcare experience!
Where do you see Au Pair Link going in the future?
Au Pair Link is already on track to being one of the largest Au Pair agencies in the world but our vision is for Au Pair Link to become the largest Au Pair company in the world. This means competing with agencies that have been around for 50 years and are considered ‘dinosaurs’ in the industry. We also want to become New Zealand’s largest Home Based Early Childhood Education provider (currently 5th).
What have been your three proudest career moments to date?
In 2009 Au Pair Link was the first Au Pair agency in the world to become approved by our local Ministry of Education as an Early Childhood Education provider. As we were the first agency to achieve this - it was a long and arduous process for us where we were thoroughly scrutinized. At the time, I was 24 years old and while I had been running Au Pair Link since 2007 I had never been exposed to the New Zealand Early Childhood Education curriculum and suddenly I was writing all of our policies and procedures from scratch. Over 100 pages and 6 months later we were finally approved and I knew at that point that Au Pair Link would forever change – and it did.
In 2012 Au Pair Link turned 5. This was a big milestone for us and gave us the excuse to throw a huge party. We hosted the party at our new office space in Parnell (which was and still is our dream office space). We were surrounded by our team as well as family and friends. It was a wonderful evening to reflect on how far we had come and celebrate the amazing people who have supported us along the way. Au Pair Link is made up by a bunch of amazing people and I am so incredibly privileged to work with them every day.
Recently, I won the ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ award. While the award recognises the ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ – to me this is really a reflection of our entire team and in particular my husband who has supported me and been pivotal in Au Pair Links success. Receiving this award recognised the hard work that we have all put in over the years and served as a reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to work together – doing something which we love.
If you could give some advice to a budding entrepreneur, what would that be?
First of all – you need to BELIEVE that you can do it! To be successful you have to take risk – but successful entrepreneurs generally take measured risks. There is nothing worse than sitting there in 20 years times and wishing you lived your life differently. I would also tell them that persistence will beat resistance every time and if you get a ‘no’ then continue working until someone says ‘yes’ – because someone will say yes! Also, you need to remember to plan and have a strategy in place from the instance that you start your business. If you fail to plan – you plan to fail. I was very lucky to have a husband who balanced my entrepreneurial spirit with real process, strategic planning and financial acumen – without his ability and skillset Au Pair Link would only be a fraction of what it is today. Therefore surrounding yourself with people with different skillset from you is pivotal to success. And at the end of the day, remember it never comes easy. In the early days of Au Pair Link I was working a full-time job, studying full-time and trying to settle into a new culture and country. It’s never easy!
Share with us your most embarrassing business moment to date
Recently I was asked to pick-up the award statue for the ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ award. And while I introduced myself to the person who had the package she looked me up and down and said ‘I expected Cecilia to pick this up herself’. I was dumbfounded and my husband again explained to the woman that I in fact was Cecilia. I think she was shocked by my age or possibly the size of my stomach as I was 35 weeks pregnant at the time.
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