Sherry Lombardi heard that when you have young kids, 90 percent of your life happens within 5 miles of your home. It was a no brainer, for her, then that parents need great local content. But she noticed that local news in her community covered what had already happened, rather than what was ahead. So she and co-founder Kerry Bowbliss built Hulafrog -- an online community that connects parents to local family-oriented events, businesses and promotions. “Sort of like a Yelp for parents with a focus on events,” Lombardi says.
Hulafrog is now in 28 local communities (with populations of about 200,000+) with plans to roll out to another 100+ markets over the next 12 months. The operating model is a hybrid of franchising and direct sales: The digital community guides are run by “Local Publishers” who do local marketing and ad sales and get a commission of what they sell. We spoke to Sherry about the opportunities she’s creating for these parents.
Parents can apply to start a Hulafrog close to home. Tell me about them, and what kind of criteria is involved in choosing them?
We recruit parents of all kinds – [those] who are currently working full time, working part time and staying at home. But the majority of our publishers tend to be women who are looking to get back into a career after having taken time off to be home with their kids. And these are super smart and experienced women. One hundred percent of our publishers have bachelor’s degrees. Over one-third have graduate degrees. And they have about 12 years of professional experience on average.
For us the publisher is the key to a successful community. So we look for amazing people first. We actually have a very thorough vetting process internally. Women can apply online and if we think they might be a good fit they begin the interview process. The vast majority of our publishers have backgrounds in marketing and sales because those are the key requirements for the job. But we also have some rock stars who are former teachers and artists. So it’s really about finding the right person.
It varies, and it takes awhile to grow the business from scratch. But a publisher can make $15K to 25K in a year once the market is built up. And it’s a part-time job, working from home with flexible hours. Our mission is to continue to increase the earning potential, while maintaining or decreasing the time it takes to do the job.
Local providers sell ads -- will this really work in a such a competitive programmatic-ad-buying environment? Do you already have traction here, and what makes you confident it will work?
Yes, our publishers sell advertising directly to the local businesses with great success. The difference with Hulafrog is our niche and the concept of contextual relevance, which is key to getting results. Our subscribers are using Hulafrog as a decision tool. They are specifically looking to do something, buy something, go somewhere, with/for their family. So if you are a local business targeting families with young kids, we are typically the best way to reach them.
Programmatic ad buying is more of an issue for us when we get to national scale and advertising vs. selling to independent dance studios and ice cream parlors.
What kind of response do you get from local publishers and parents generally about Hulafrog, from a business/money-making perspective?
Huge. This is an important subset of the job market (women who have or are looking to “opt out” temporarily) that is untapped and a great opportunity for any business that figures out how to cater to it. If you look at this survey we did, 59 percent of women would take a pay cut in exchange for a more flexible schedule. Fifty-seven percent of women who have already opted out would have continued to work, if just allowed to work from home some of the time.
We have had hundreds of conversations with women around the country who are all in the same boat. They are not looking to be given special treatment in the workforce – just options. And they’re willing to make financial concessions in trade for those options, which really is a huge advantage to the companies that figure out how to do that.