NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups businesses and openings in New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith and stepping out to the launch pod we have Mike Rothman, the Co-founder of Fatherly. And Fatherly is a website not surprisingly geared to fathers welcome to the podcast, Mike.
Mike: Thanks, Hal really happy to be here.
NYLP: So what is Fatherly exactly?
Mike: Well, as a correction to your definition, I would say it is a digital destination for young parents, not just dads. Obviously, the name would suggest that it’s just for dads, but what we found is that over the last 14 years there really hasn’t been any innovation in the parenting media space. You have magazines. You have websites which are geared almost exclusively towards moms or this idealized version of mom as parent. And what’s happened certainly for this next generation of parents, young Gen Xers, Millennials, what have you is that parenting ideas, attitudes and behaviors around parenting have shifted. It’s now more of a 50/50 responsibility. So my background is one of the first employees of Thrillist, an online style guide for young single guys, and I’ve been there for seven years. Funny thing happens after marketing to young single guys for seven years, namely that audience is no longer single or as young and neither is the founding team that was marketing to that audience. And we noticed that there a real gaping hole in the marketplace for what happens to that consumer once he becomes a parent. And Fatherly exists to fill that hole to provide serviceable recommendations that are also specific to the age of your kid.
NYLP: So what were people doing before your parenting destination?
Mike: Well, there’s plenty of parenting sites out there. There’s plenty of blogs. You have Baby Center which reaches probably 78% of all moms across the country. These are again sites that again were started maybe 15 years ago. And rely on evergreen content, the user experience, the design. The content isn’t necessarily optimized for a consumer today who gets most of their content on mobile, gets most of their content on social. And so we wanted to design a parenting site from the ground up that applies best practices for marketing to young men, or even to young women, best in I would call a lifestyle publishing and blending that with a more straightforward, just the facts, service-oriented journalism that’s required in the parenting space when you have millions of people in arguably the most inquisitive and acquisitive phase of their life.
NYLP: So you mentioned that it’s not just a site for fathers but parents. What’s the gender breakdown?
Mike: Well, right now it is mostly men. It’s probably 75% male, female. And the thinking is that if you are developing a site for moms, you’re not going to necessary be able to attract men. But if you created a site that’s geared towards men as parents…and the content that we have on the site, again, you can take a look at it, it’s not particularly gendered, but by getting men you would also get women. And women are still the primary source of content discovery for guys, and so we, in reaching men, we necessarily have to also market to their significant others as well.
NYLP: I have taken a look at a site. It’s wonderful.
NYLP: Once you launched the site how did you try to attract that audience? How did you get noticed on the vast web of the Internet?
Mike: Well, we had a beta that we had developed for about nine months. It was a weekly newsletter that initially started as a group of maybe 300 people. It was the product of an early partnership of the 92nd Street Y, the oldest parenting organization in the country based here in New York. They operate a whole bunch of new parenting workshops. We approached them, my partner Simon Isaacs and I, with this idea that “Hey, we wanted to fill this hole in the market for the more contemporary parenting site geared a bit more particularly to dads.” And they told us “Hey, we’ve actually seen a surge in enrollment of men taking place these new parenting workshops that we host, and it’s been an internal priority for us to market to men and continue this education beyond the eight to 12 week workshops that we host. So we’d actually be delighted to give you access to the database that we have.”
So initially we just created a very basic registration page capturing email address, the age of the child. We were fortunate to get an email to that 92 Y database, and we are getting a yield of like I said, 200, 300 subscribers of guys who had taken these workshops. So we were testing the concept of Fatherly as a curated weekly newsletter. We’ve had 300 people over the course of a couple of weeks turn into a couple of thousand people. And when we launched, we probably had about 10,000 people who were getting the email regularly including some folks in media, not just in New York but LA, San Francisco who would often read posts, some of the pieces that we would publish.
And it started with pure curation. So we weren’t writing anything other than headlines and maybe some description text under the assumption that there’s plenty of parenting content out there. It’s just very disaggregated, and it wasn’t really tailored, packaged in a way that most men would feel comfortable consuming a lot of this information. And we realized fairly quickly that “Hey, we actually should be writing this ourselves.” There were ideas and concepts out there that aren’t being written and so Fatherly was born from that. So we launched with this beta list. We were very fortunate to get a lot terrific press. Fortune Magazine, Business Insider, the New York Times has written us up three times in our first four months of existence. We were on the Today Show as parenting experts around Father’s Day offering the four minutes of fun gifts that women can get their husbands, husbands can get their dads. So that press has been really effective for us.
We also have produced what I consider thought leadery pieces. So we were the first to introduce this list of the 50 Best Places To Work For New Dads. Original content, thoroughly researched. We partnered with Wharton specifically they have a program like the Work Life Balance Institute guys Stew Friedman, Professor Stew Friedman who runs it, helped us with the study. It ended up getting national news USA Today, Fast Company so a lot of really great earned media on the back of a lot of terrific original reporting. And I think, again, it’s the fact we are filling a hole in the market that hasn’t been addressed. I think a lot of the press that we’ve receive has been “Oh, about time.” And that’s been a really terrific validation for us. That we’ve timed this right, we are not five years ahead of where the culture is at the moment.
NYLP: So you started with an email list of 300 people. Did it grow simply by referrals?
Mike: Yeah, we were pretty diligent about putting together benchmarks about what success actually looked like and one of the metrics was open rate. Are people actually opening this? We also wanted to do this for a period of call it 10 weeks, to make sure that this initial beta group didn’t feel like they were under the microscope and otherwise obligated to open or take positive actions. So we gave ourselves 10 weeks to give this audience enough time to naturally lose interest, and we had benchmarks on open rates, click through rates, organic growth. And very quickly we exceeded those goals and…
NYLP: What were your benchmarks?
Mike: Open rates, we were looking for 40% or better. Organic growth, we’re looking for probably about the same. We had 40% or better each week and, again, we are dealing with small numbers initially so we were able to wildly exceed that, but still that was enough validation for us that we weren’t engaging in wishful thinking. That we had real data to support the fact that “Hey, guys really want this and even, yeah, their spouses want this.” And we’ve continued to take a very metrics driven approach month over month, week after week, to make sure that, again, we are not fooling ourselves and that there’s a real audience for what we’re creating.
NYLP: How large is your audience now?
Mike: So last month, three months in, we eclipsed a million uniques. We also have partnerships with some of the largest sites out there. Huffington Post, Business Insider, Time.com, and that gives us access to probably another 3 million uniques per month through these regular referral partners who regularly meet in multiple times per week will take up our content and syndicate it to their audiences. We also have about 125,000 daily email subscribers which is, frankly, where we thought we would be probably 14, 15 months in, not three months in.
NYLP: How did you develop those partnerships with the large sites?
Mike: These are relationships that either I’ve had or are one degree removed. We recognized that a lot of the content we were creating was original. As an example, part of our modus operandi is finding ridiculously over-qualified people to give incredibly practical parenting advice. So we found the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to give tips on how to hack the Pre-K admissions process in your neighborhood, or a navy seal on how to dominate in hide and go seek with your kids, or Malala and her father about how to raise a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Content that is, frankly, of general interest whether you have kids or not, and we noticed this type of content didn’t necessary exist anywhere else on the web. These other partners recognized that as well and thought there’d be interest among their readers. And have found that we are a regular source of this type of content and that’s allowed us to facilitate these wonderful relationships.
NYLP: Is it expensive to develop that type of content?
Mike: That’s a good question. I think we have a really talented editorial director who has been with us from nearly from the beginning, who has 20 years of experience. He also has very direct, empirical experience as a new father, which clearly for what we’re doing, is important. And it really depends on the type of content that you are creating. There are a lot of sites that will rely on interns creating a lot of listicles and that might work if you’re just really focusing on traffic, but we’re really focused on building a meaningful brand that has real credibility, that establishes real trust with an audience. There’s no more high-stakes topic than someone’s child, and we don’t take that lightly, and we want to make sure that we’re finding…we may not be individually be the very best people to be giving parenting advice, but I think the thought is we’ll find the best people, and we’ll sit them down and we’ll ask them questions that you would want to ask if you were sitting next to them at a dinner party.
NYLP: How did you get Arne Duncan for example?
Mike: My partner, Simon Isaacs, worked with the White House previously. He had done development work with the Clinton Foundation and so through that universe, was able to get access to Arne and his team. We also just did an interview with Megan Smith, who’s the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. I had a fantastic interview with her where she gave advice about how to get kids into math and science. Looks like we also have some other folks of that caliber coming up as well.
But we also should mention we have a platform called the Fatherly Forum that invites perspectives from ordinary readers. Everyone from…actually a mentee of mine, a guy who’s imprisoned for seven years, who raised his child behind prison bars for the first seven years of his child’s life, who wrote a really phenomenal first-person perspective on what’s that like. We also had Sallie Krawcheck who was one of the first female CEOs at a major financial services institution, I think it’s Merrill Lynch, gave a first-person perspective on why you want to work like your kids are watching. And this range is important to us because it’s not just Arne Duncan’s opinion that matters. It’s a guy who’s been through really trying personal experience who also might be able to offer some really thoughtful nuggets. And I think what we’ve realized is that, when it comes to parenting, everyone is an expert at their own experience. And we want to invite as many of those experiences onto the platform.
NYLP: And so when you’re looking at those various experiences or various types of content, what do you think is important in terms of parenting advice? What theme do you look for?
Mike: Making sure that it’s evidence-based. While there are a lot of opinions, a lot of those opinions are right for different people. Someone could be a free range parent or a helicopter parent or libertarian parent. There’s no right or wrong answer. So what we strive to do is provide experts who can simply offer perspectives based on data, irrefutable data. And it’s really up to the audience to make what they will of it.
NYLP: How often is new content generated?
NYLP: How much content do you generate in each day?
Mike: That will change. We’re ramping up right now so we produce probably six new articles per day at the moment.
NYLP: What’s your target audience?
Mike: Target audience someone who can…call it like adults 25 to 55 who are on their first or second kid. Just because there’s such a large number of parents, there are so many different topics that are relevant to parents with kids of different ages. We wanted to get out of the gate and really just focus on pregnancy to age two to the extent that we would focus on topics that are very age specific. So, as an example, if it’s week 28 during pregnancy and the milestone is that your kid can hear sound for the first time, rather than giving you eight paragraphs about what’s going on gestationally, which you could find in a million other destinations, we talk to C.J. Ramone from the Ramones to riff on the topic. What should be the first music that your kid hears in the world? And taking these developmental milestones and couching it in language and in stories that are, frankly, a bit more conversational, better wired for the social web and then mapping that with content that’s of general interest with other kind with the Arne Duncan piece or the Navy Seal piece, etc.
NYLP: Do you have any geographic skews?
Mike: Right now the audience seems to be coming from your top 15 DMAs broken down into order of size, New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, etc.
NYLP: DMAs meaning cities?
Mike: Cities, yeah, metro areas.
NYLP: How many people do you have working for you?
Mike: So we have six full-time people. We have several part-time folks. We have a couple of different vendors that we work with fairly regularly. We’re looking to fill four slots right now. Looking to add to the editorial team, looking for a full-time associate editor, five years-ish of experience. We’re looking for a social media strategist. We are looking for a head of sales. We are looking for an audience development director, lead front end engineer. I guess it’s five positions.
NYLP: So you’re hiring a lot of people.
Mike: Hiring a lot of people. We’ve seen that what we’re doing is working and we want to start doubling down.
NYLP: How are you getting the resources for that?
Mike: We raised the seed round in April, and in addition to that, we are now starting to monetize albeit slowly. But between what we raised in the seed and the revenue that we are generating from our first brand partnerships, that’ll allow us to staff the team.
NYLP: What are the brands partnerships like?
Mike: We just wrapped the campaign with Spotify. So Spotify recognized that parents are actually an incredibly attractive marketing segment for them because parents tend to use Spotify like noise channels to soothe their kids and put them to sleep, or they just use Spotify to get their kids to dance, get their kids to calm down during bath time. And that represents a tremendous upsell opportunity for Spotify because parents don’t want to interrupt those experiences with ads. So they want to communicate that they are a terrific tool for parents, and so what we did is we talked to five major musicians everyone from Ben Harper to this big EDM DJ, Laidback Luke, who’s got 2 million plus followers, who are also dads to talk about how music influences their day to day as parents. We got them to also offer up a really amazing fantastically, curated playlist of what they play to their own kids.
NYLP: And how large was your seed round?
Mike: So it’s public. You look at me somewhat conspiratorially. It was 2 million bucks.
NYLP: And what did you do with that money?
Mike: We threw it up in the air, and we danced underneath it and then we…
NYLP: That sounds very fatherly.
Mike: Right, and then effectively a lot of guys do with their disposable income when they have kids. We used it to bring our editorial director on full-time to start staffing up in terms of the business side of the business, the editorial side of the business, to bring on a technology partner.
NYLP: So aside from marketing to single men for seven years, what else helped prompt this idea?
Mike: So I’ve been a big brother for 15 years, Big Brother Big Sisters program. Started when I was a freshman at Brown University in Providence, and had a fantastic experience with Big Brothers. And there were also some tumultuous moments. I had a little who was incarcerated who was already involved with the law for their juvenile justice program. And as a result of that, I ended up creating a scholarship for my little brother’s biological little brother with whom I had spent a lot of time, who as a result of couple different factors of the incarceration of his brother, the re-incarceration of mother, dad was already incarcerated, he was being threatened with foster care. And so with another friend from school, we decided to create a scholarship to benefit my little’s little to put him into a boarding school, a parochial school. Something other than the New York foster care system. Very long story short, we ended up biking from New York to Los Angeles. Had people pledge to pay per mile. I had Big Brothers match what we raised and ended up creating a scholarship to benefit not just my little’s little, but rising eighth graders each year from the Big Brothers program.
As a result all of that work, I became interested in what all of the adult males, the mentors, the fathers for a lot of these kids were doing that these kids had to be in this program in the first place. Where the hell are these guys? It turns out a lot of them are in jail, suffering from substance abuse, suffering from poverty. And I found this organization called Career Gear, which is like a Dress for Success for guys in prison, poverty, substance abuse that looks to A) offer a suit, hence the gear part, as a symbol for these guys. Their re-entry into a normal civilian life and offers mentoring services to get them back involved with their families, their communities.
And I had a really terrific experience with a whole bunch of adult mentees in the program to the extent that I then became involved at a board level, and now I co-chair the board at Career Gear. So between the professional experience of marketing to young, affluent single men and the nonprofessional experience of working with folks who weren’t as lucky, I realized that “You know what? Kind of all these signs point in one direction and that’s helping men succeed.” And as I look down the barrel of the next 10 years of my life, I realize that this idea of parenthood is something that’s probably going to be a little bit less than abstract sooner rather than later. And what’s more important than raising healthy, smart, well-adjusted kids? Hence, Fatherly.
NYLP: And how did you see an opportunity in the market?
Mike: Initially, it seemed almost too obvious. It seemed like all my friends are having kids, spending a ton of time and attention and disposable income on these kids and life stage based decision whether it’s getting a car, or getting a 529 insurance program, buying a house for the first time, outfitting the home, a nursery. And where are they getting this information? What’s guiding them? And it seemed to be a lot of questions over beers with friends. Their spouses, their wives were absorbing a ton of information online or these guys were frantically googling from a mobile device.
And I thought there probably had to be some kind of better solution than that, but I was also a bit concerned, I think, we looked at the space and it seems so obvious that it was either a white space or it was a graveyard. And it turns out there was a lot of corpses, a lot of big media companies that tried to reach the second generation of parents, but they were generally looking to do that as a print magazine, which falls short for a lot of reasons because you can’t just speak to everybody in one voice. The guy with a five-year-old has very, very different needs than someone who is in the second trimester or has a two-month-old. And you necessarily have to use technology to segment users based on where they are in the parenting life cycle. So after sussing that out, talking to marketing partners, putting together this initial test with the 92nd Street Y, we realized, “Hey, there’s a real there, there and decided to pursue this full bore.
NYLP: I love the name. I’m really impressed that you got it on the Internet when there are so many sites already available.
Mike: It’s hard to have a solid one-word domain these days, and we are lucky actually to know the owner of that domain, and we still have a very good relationship with him.
NYLP: So once you had this test email newsletter that grew, how long until you developed your full-fledged site?
Mike: After a couple of months, we ended up putting together a very quick dirty WordPress site almost as a repository for all this content that we are developing ourselves. And actually before that, we built a Tumblr that houses information. I’m not technical. My co-founder, Simon, isn’t technical. So we had to rely on just out of the box tools and, fortunately, part of the reason why there are so many start-ups today is because everything like technology in many ways has become commodified. It’s never been easier to create content. It’s obviously harder with so much content to get to the right people, but we ended up using a Tumblr, graduating to a WordPress, and now we’re using what we consider a desk and cloud solution in RebelMouse, which is a CMS built by Paul Berry, who is the CTO of the Huffington Post, who built such a phenomenal CMS with Huffington Post that he decided to effectively turn that into a SAAS product that he can offer to brands, to publishers so they can focus on what they do best, which is creating content that connects with a valuable audience.
NYLP: Is it weird not being a father and giving fatherly advice or having a website based on fathers?
Mike: No, I get this question a lot. I have a co-founder, Simon, who is a new dad. He’s the one who talks on the Today Show because he knows of fatherhood. Micah, our editorial director, also is a father. He’s the one looking at every piece of content that goes out. My experience is understanding this consumer. Again, I’ve talking to the same guy the entire time. Perhaps not being a father allows me to be a bit more neutral or disinterested. Perhaps that can be helpful. There was someone though who reminded me she used to be the president of a major network. When this question came up, she told me I should say, “Nickelodeon isn’t run by [bleep] children.” So that’s my response.
NYLP: What type of fathers or what type of parents do you think our generation will be? Because you think about our parent’s generation and no one could have expected that they would be different parents than the previous generation. Based on the advice that you are giving, what type of parent do you think our generation will be?
Mike: Who the hell knows is the right answer. I think one way to look at it is we look at Matt Weiner’s representation of parents in the Mad Men era and some of the behaviors that they exhibited in front of their kids or some of their parenting methods seemed so outlandish that it’s funny these days. Smoking in front of your kids, drinking in front of your kids, getting kids to smoke when they are 10, 12 years old. Who knows how this generation in all of our knowledge, in all of our studies and best practices, in all of our diligence will be perceived in 20 years by some future generation with that much more information parodying us and our silly ways.
NYLP: So on your website in the description you state it’s for men who understand that embracing what they’ve become doesn’t mean giving up who they are. What does that mean?
Mike: It means that just because you have a child doesn’t mean that you’re a completely different person the next day. You’re still the same guy. You still have the same general interests, same sense humor albeit it with a lot less time and a lot less sleep.
NYLP: So what does that mean for your website?
Mike: It means we have to be a bit more to the point. It means whereas…let’s say Thrillist was a bit more irreverent. A guy who has kids maybe has a little bit less time for irreverence so you have to be a bit more wry. Maybe it’s a bit more like a wink and a nod than humor that takes its time. These are guys who come to us because they know they’re going to get practical, sound parenting advice. They’re still the same guy that they were deep down at age like 15, 16 just, again, with a lot more responsibility on their shoulders.
NYLP: How do you keep people coming back to your site?
Mike: Well, building an email list from the outset is one way to do that. Because this is an audience that has less time, what to want to do is get them to raise their hand and say, “I trust you. A lot content from you, make it easy for me.” So being able to sign up for a newsletter allows us to not have to remarket to the same consumer again and again like you would if you were just relying on Facebook or just relying on finding web traffic through other means.
NYLP: Would you ever focus on grandfathers, grandparents?
Mike: We do get the occasional write-in from grandparents, so maybe we should go out and buy grandparently.com if it’s still available.
Mike: Grandfatherly, grandmotherly.
NYLP: What are your expansion plans?
Mike: From a product perspective, we plan on developing more content products, tools that are focused more on guys or parents probably with kids that are older than age five. Right now, as I mentioned, most of the core age specific editorial focus has been expecting to five by the end of this year. We’ll also be developing a commerce product. Right now we have affiliate commerce throughout the site. We plan on using the data that we get from our affiliate commerce partners to figure out what types of products most popular, what price point, what manufacturers resonate best to inform our ultimate go to market commerce strategy.
NYLP: Would you ever consider doing a Fatherly podcast aside from this one?
Mike: If it’s anything like this, we’ll probably do multiple podcasts.
NYLP: Mike, you spoke about some great things. I love the Fatherly website. I can’t wait to be a father. I can’t wait to be able to use the Fatherly website regularly. And sometimes I sneak onto it even though I’m not a father. Thank you for sharing your time with us.
Mike: Well, make sure your girlfriend doesn’t see your web history. You might want to manage the impressions that you’re giving her. But, anyway, I appreciate being on here. This is terrific. Loved the previous podcasts.
NYLP: If you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can follow us on social media @nylaunchpod or visit nylaunchpod.com.SHARE THIS: