Hulafrog Pins Focus on Hyperlocal for Kids

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Community news is any kind of information people want or need to know about. Or would be pleased to discover. The robbery at the shopping-center bank, the school board decision on its budget, and the Eagle Scout honor won by the disabled 14-year-old boy are all no brainers as news. But what about the “Seussical Jr.” musical that’s scheduled for tomorrow morning at the local middle school theater? Wouldn’t your 5-year-old girl, who just finished “The Cat in the Hat,” love going to that?

It’s discoveries like this that inspired two New Jersey mothers to create and expand Hulafrog (“Local things for kids to do”) to 28 communities, and get financing to add 100 more sites.

I spoke with co-founder Sherry Lombardi to get the Hulafrog story.

How did you and your partner Kerry Bowbliss come up with the idea for Hulafrog?
Kerry and I both have backgrounds in the internet/media/publishing space and have done other start-ups, so this was a natural problem for us to solve once we had kids.  We started Hulafrog because we needed it in our community.

Why is child-related news and information so desired?
There are over 38 million moms with kids 17-and-under at home in the U.S. alone. Our primary target is parents with kids 12 & under which is estimated to be about 30 million. There’s vast long-term potential with this market.  Keep in mind this is also the highly coveted demographic that makes 85% of household purchasing decisions.  So there is a tremendous amount of opportunity in serving this audience.

Also, parents are increasingly involved in managing a busy schedule for their kids from baby through high school – so they are always looking to find out about the best activities and resources for their kids.

What are the most popular type of events for children, based on user feedback?
Events that are free and cater to multiple age ranges — so that parents that have a baby and a school age child can go out with the entire family. Some great examples of that would be fairs, festivals and other community events.

In addition to events, what else do parents really want to know about that you provide or are planning to provide content about?
They say when you have kids 90% of your life takes place within 5 miles of your front door. So if anyone needs great local content, it’s a parent. But what interests us most as parents is really not news about what’s happened in the community.  It’s what’s going to happen: today, tomorrow, this weekend.

Hulafrog’s focus is to connect parents to the events, businesses and promotions in their local communities that cater to families. So everything from parades and puppet shows to kid friendly restaurants and karate studios. Somewhat like a Yelp for parents with a focus on activities.

We enable the local businesses and organizations that produce the events to post the content themselves. We then enable the parents in the community to rate and review everything – sort of a crowd curation strategy with the goal of surfacing the best based on what other parents think.

So we really don’t do much in the way editorial content. Our philosophy is that the recipes, parenting tips, and articles on child development are best left to the experts that are already doing it well.

What are your content sources by rank – 1) staff, including curation, 2) aggregation and 3) user contributions?
1) User contribution, 2) staff curation and  3) aggregation (business listings).

We do not have any editors or writers. Each individual market is run by a “publisher” – a local mom (or dad) who lives in the community. The job is primarily sales and marketing so they are 100% commission-based. It’s a great a win-win.  It’s a smart operating model for the business and an great career alternative for women who want to work part-time from home while raising their family.

How’s advertising going?
We’ve had a good amount of success in bringing on advertisers. Because of our niche focus, ads on Hulafrog are contextually relevant (parents often find them as useful as the content). Our advertisers say they have more success than campaigns in general media – online or offline. 82% of our subscribers say they have contacted a business after finding it on Hulafrog.

So far, the focus has been on local advertisers. We’ve done a few regional advertising campaigns, but we are on the verge of being large enough to make those more substantive. We expect to sell more regional and national programs as our footprint grows.

Our biggest advertisers by category are schools/childcare, children’s classes/camps, gyms/play centers and pediatricians/pediatric dentists. We tend to have success with major franchises. Once we have shown results in one market, it is easy for the other Hulafrog publishers to sell a similar ad plan to that franchise in their own local market.

How are you doing in getting local businesses to participate in your deals, when there are the Groupons of the world doing the same thing and with massive reach?
We are only running deals in select markets currently. We do not intend to compete with Groupon or other similar companies. But our audience loves deals and coupons so it is an important growth area for us. Because we offer such a focused niche of local parents, we are able to get great results for the businesses who target them.

What are your growth targets, near and long term?
Hulafrog is currently in 28 markets across the US. We are in the process of closing our seed financing and are beginning our expansion plans for the fall. We plan to add another 100+ markets next year. Potentially more – but our focus is on quality before quantity.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.