Mompreneur Of The Month
MEET THE MOMPRENEUR® OF THE MONTH
Meet the Mompreneurs of the Month:
Sherry Lombardi, Co-Founder & President
Kerry Bowblis, Co-Founder & Executive Vice President
Our Business Name:
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey—a small coastal town just south of NYC
Sherry: Jordan (girl) – 9 and in third grade; and Jake (boy) – 7 and in first grade
Kerry: Jude (boy) – 8 and in second grade; and Zosia (girl) – 6 and in first grade
Launched May, 2010
What inspired our great idea:
We started Hulafrog because we desperately needed a better way to stay on top of the thousands of activities and resources for kids in our local area. We have four very active youngins’ between the two of us and were always looking for fun things to do and the best places for enrichment programs, sports lessons, birthday venues, etc.
There was no single website that brought all that information together. We wanted an easy way to find out about all the latest things to do and places to go in our community. We also wanted to hear what other moms had to say about them.
Sherry’s background is in internet marketing and web development, including partner & general manager of one of the largest global internet agencies at the time. Kerry is from the print and online publishing world, including editor-in-chief of the country’s top financial technology publications. We’ve both done start-ups before. So starting Hulafrog was a very obvious venture for us. We launched our first Hulafrog website out of need—but always with the plan of turning it into a national business if our first site met all of its growth objectives.
What’s in a name?
We came up with Hulafrog because we wanted something a little quirky and memorable that we could build a brand on. (Not to mention the URL had to be available!) Also, as a Web business. you want to avoid words that
are particularly common because it will make it harder for you to rise to the top in
search engine rankings. Our actual frogs were created for us by an amazing mixed media artist out of Pennsylvania (a working mom with 3 kids.) They are actually acrylic paintings with antique newspaper used for special trim and clothing.
How we got the business off the ground:
We launched our first website in the Spring/Summer of 2010 and within 12 months it had reached 59% of the households with kids under the age of 12 in our coverage area. (Each suburban Hulafrog site typically covers about a 15-mile radius or a 20-30 minute drive). We had done very little in marketing, maybe spent a few hundred dollars in postcards. So we knew we were on to something.
In the summer and fall of 2011, we built out our technology platform to accommodate hundreds of new Hulafrog sites and created “Hulafrog University” – our go-to-market strategy and 14-week training program. Each local Hulafrog guide is run by a mom who trains with us to build, launch and promote the site and then becomes the Publisher, and part of our Hulafrog team, once it’s live. She earns commissions on all local revenues. It’s sort of like a mashup of the franchise and direct-sales business models.
Why parenting makes us better at our business:
There’s no one better at prioritizing, multi-tasking and getting things done on a deadline than a mom. There’s so much we do as the “CEOs” of our households and families that is applicable to running a good business.
And, more specifically, for us at Hulafrog, our business is about helping parents find and do fun things with their kids. So we ARE the consumer, and that is very powerful—making us much better entrepreneurs and decision makers. We believe anytime you have the opportunity to launch a business around something you, personally, need, you have a much greater chance of succeeding.
Our biggest mistake:
It’s important for entrepreneurs to embrace mistakes, and learn quickly from them, when launching a business. We’re big fans of starting with a “minimal viable product” and following short “build-launch-learn” cycles in order to move the business forward quickly, but intelligently.
Our biggest mistake was trying to get too many things perfect when we first launched. Many of the bells and whistles could have been added later after we had been out in the market talking to customers and collecting feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Now, it is far more effective to test new business ideas by building a feature at its most basic level, launching it quickly, measuring its success and then improving or pivoting based on that learning.
What makes for a good business partnership:
There are countless experts who say the ideal scenario to start a business is with two co-founders. Why? As a solo founder, it’s very hard to slug through the trials and tribulations of launching a venture by yourself and not much fun when you have no one to bounce ideas off of or share successes with. And founding teams of 3 or more can lead to difficulties with decision making and often slow down progress.
As co-founders, we were extremely fortunate to find each other. We have backgrounds and experiences that are complementary, which allows us to successfully divide and conquer. But we have very similar values and priorities, and are always in sync when it comes to setting priorities for the business. Further, being accountable to a co-founder keeps us on track with our deliverables and milestones. For us, 1+1=3.
Our advice to anyone starting out: if you don’t have a partner, find one. That partnership, if you find the right person, is worth its weight in gold to the business.
Our proudest accomplishment:
That’s easy. Being surrounded by the most talented and brightest group of women we’ve ever had the good fortune to work with. It is a mission of ours to create the “best part-time gig going” for moms who want to do something challenging and rewarding at work, but family and flexibility come first. The number of highly-skilled and educated women that fit this profile is remarkable.
A 2010 study found that 69% of women who exit the workforce would have stayed in their job if only there were flexible hours that would allow them to better balance work and family. The level of talent that is currently sitting on the sidelines of the workforce is truly amazing – and the spoils will go to every business that finds a way to tap into this pool of women. We plan to, and we hope more businesses do.
How we get the word out:
Hulafrog spreads virally—moms telling other moms through word of mouth and social media, or moms forwarding the events, businesses or reviews they find on Hulafrog to their friends.
The bottom line, as we all know, is that moms have way too much to do and not enough time to do it—so mobile phones, social media, texting, etc. all make it easier to manage our lives, coordinate schedules and stay in touch with friends and family. Hulafrog is another great digital and social tool that falls into that “make-my-life-easier” category.
We also launch into new markets largely through referrals to friends. The amazing moms who are running Hulafrog guides in their communities now are our best source for bringing in even more talented women.
Why we enjoy the life of a Mompreneur®:
We both have worked for large organizations and been entrepreneurs before. So at this point we consider ourselves completely unemployable. We really can’t imagine ever having a “job” again. There’s nothing more rewarding than building something from scratch and helping it grow and succeed. Much like raising kids. (Yet another reason why moms are natural entrepreneurs.)
It’s also very much about freedom of place and time. As moms, we all strive to find that perfect “work/life/family” balance. But the truth is, it’s very hard to get there. A major step in that direction is having the power to be in control of your destiny and schedule—to not have to worry about missing a meeting to go to the school play, staying home with a sick child or leaving work early to pick up after school. We whole-heartedly embrace that combination of “mommy-hood” and business in our own lives, as well as for the entire Hulafrog team.
We’re growing even faster with each passing month. However, our objective is always to balance growth with the quality of that growth. We will be adding features to make sure our local community guides are the best tools available to connect parents to the resources and businesses in their local communities, as well as to each other. And we are always evolving our processes and tools to make being a Hulafrog publisher a more turnkey and rewarding experience.
We have focused on growing our network of sites to ensure our expansion model is sustainable and to discover innovative ways to improve it. We’ll be in over 30 markets by the end of 2012. We’ll also be reviewing hundreds of applications for our next Hulafrog University class.