There are 50 million children 12 and under in the U.S., and Renee Levine of Scarsdale, NY. – the mother of two of them – sees the parents of many of those kids as the crowdsourcing future of her new website ParentNation. Levine and her husband Josh launched their hyperlocal-zoned site in September in the New York City suburbs of Westchester County, N.Y., Fairfield County in Connecticut and North Jersey.
There is already a lot of activity in the parenting space. Events and activities-focused Hulafrog, which was founded six years ago in Red Bank, N.J., is now in over 100 markets covering 2,200 communities in 28 states. There are also a number of on-demand apps to help parents find specific services like transportation, babysitters and tutors.
Where Hulafrog’s sub-sites are run by a managing editor who writes and collects most of the content, ParentNation, apart from its business profiles, is entirely crowdsourced – Yelp-like – from parent contributors in each communities it serves. The staff is the Levines, who run the operation out of their Scarsdale home or “wherever we happen to be.”
In this Q & A with Street Fight, CEO Renee Levine, who has a marketing-branding background, talks about the birth of ParentNation and why she and her husband, who is COO, built their content strategy around crowdsourcing:
You started ParentNation from an unsuccessful experience you and your husband had in finding a party venue for one of your daughters at the last minute? Why couldn’t you just Google for suggestions?
My family was leaving for an extended overseas trip and I had to find a party location before we left. Too late to call friends, I turned to the internet and started Googling. This resulted in many suggestions — from the businesses themselves, to mommy blogs and local sites offering “guides” to parties — but they were really just lists of places near me. I thought, of course the businesses themselves think they are great, but where is the subjective, experienced feedback from parents? How do I know which one is right for us? And finally, why isn’t there a site focused on kids’ businesses for parents, like there is “TripAdvisor” for travelers? Enter ParentNation.
How do you assemble information that parents need – sometimes, like you, at the last minute?
ParentNation is a platform that enables parents to connect, collaborate and communicate with one another. The content is user-generated, so parents who have experienced a particular kid-related business can enter the business and rate and review it. Reviews accumulate, and parents are then able to search on any number of categories (camps, classes and activities, parties, recreation, etc.) and then sort results based on various criteria (highest rated, distance, most viewed, etc.) to help them make the best decisions for their kids.
The site enables parents to interact with each other, whether through “Virtual Playdates” (instant messaging to clarify a review), locating and “friending” parents like you in your area so that you can see their reviews, or within the community forums that tackle topics from breastfeeding to teen behavior. Basically, we’ve built a platform that empowers parents to help each other and themselves. And they’re detailed and passionate about what they recommend – as these two examples of their contributions (here and here) clearly show.
What’s been the response from parent-children-related services so far?
The response has been really positive since we launched ParentNation in mid-September. We did a lot of testing to ensure that we created the most simple, intuitive, user-friendly site, and members and businesses that have joined are telling us that has been their experience. Conceptually, as soon as parents see the site, they “get it” and appreciate the purpose it serves — to collect, store and make easily accessible other parents’ experiences with local businesses for their kids—and have been eager to add their own. Local businesses up against the internet giants have been especially responsive to ParentNation, which serves to highlight their unique benefits and differentiators, and positions them as the local experts within their community.
Do you do any research on business profiles you publish to ensure they’re credible?
We try hard to avoid “garbage in/garbage out” data issues and so unlike some other sites, there is a submission process for businesses (as well as reviews). All businesses are thoroughly vetted to ensure they are legitimate before being added to the site. Reviews are also checked for appropriateness before being published on the site.
Are you looking at partnerships with local news sites? Any reaction from them so far?
Our goal is to partner with other sites and organizations that have a common goal of supporting parents within local communities, and we would consider opportunities to do so a win-win for everyone. We are currently discussing a number of opportunities with various entities but it is a bit too early to discuss the details.
You have basic and premium business profiles. What’s in each?
Businesses can build their brand and increase traffic and sales by establishing a profile page and connecting with parents locally and cost effectively. Basic business membership is free and allows for a basic business profile (name, address, phone number, logo, URL). Pro business membership, which is fee-based, offers an enhanced profile, the ability to build interest with special offers, and a customized dashboard complete with analytics.
Personalized URLs help improve the business’s search engine ranking, and the ability to communicate with members who write reviews allows them to strengthen relationships with customers. Finally, when a business posts an offer on their page, any member who has selected their business as a “favorite” (clicked on the heart on their profile page) will receive an email to alert them of the offer.
As an incentive to join early, the monthly PRO business membership fee of $9.95 is being waived for the lifetime of the membership for businesses that sign up before Dec. 31, 2016.
What are your other revenue sources?
Advertising, and, after site development, other sources that we have in mind.
You’ve started in the New York, Connecticut and New Jersey suburbs of New York City. Where will you be expanding to next?
Our plans are to focus initially on Westchester and the surrounding areas (Fairfield County in Connecticut, Northern New Jersey), and then expand our reach to adjacent areas from there.
Do you have any external investment?
To date, the site has been privately funded, but we may consider bringing in venture capital or outside investors as necessary.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.