Feature Story

“Mompreneurs”: Using the Internet for Fun and Profit

by Julie Pitta

How women are using social media and the Web to build businesses that offer innovative products and services that make life easier.

Never has it been easier to become an entrepreneur. With the rise of the Internet, the barrier to starting a new company and releasing a new product - especially those of the digital variety - is a mere fraction of what it would have been for an earlier generation of entrepreneurs.

Ellen Pack is a serial entrepreneur and former vice-president for Elance, an online marketplace for independent professionals and small business owners.

The Internet, Pack says, has spawned a new generation of entrepreneurs who are using accessible Web tools and techniques like blog authoring programs, search engine optimization and social networking to create, launch and build new businesses.

Disqus: What social media services or products would make your workplace more productive and efficient?

"With the Internet you can launch and test ideas very inexpensively," Pack says. "Prototyping, market testing and making revisions can be done so quickly. And, advertising used to be a very expensive proposition. Now, it takes three seconds to place an ad online, and that ad will cost a lot less then it would had you purchased it to appear in traditional media."

All this means it is far easier for those who left the workplace either by choice or as collateral damage from a lackluster economy to re-enter the workforce.

Consider today's modern mother. Whether she works or stays at home, the Web has become her mother's helper. She uses it to buy clothing and gear, to manage her kid's sports teams and to schedule play dates, car pools and teacher conferences. These same moms are using finely-honed online skills to start and operate their own businesses.

So-called mompreneurs represent the fastest growing segments in an otherwise sluggish economy. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, there are 10.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating about $2.5 trillion in revenue. And women are continuing to set out on their own; they start businesses at nearly twice the rate of men, according to the center's most recent data.

Some become entrepreneurs in the hope of striking a better balance between work and family, others, out of financial necessity. What the most successful of them have in common is the central role the Web plays in their businesses.

Nurturing family and startup

Sari Crevin spent a small fortune on sippy cups when her first-born was a toddler. The plastic cups, cleverly designed with straw-like attachments on their lids, have one serious flaw: they easily slip through a tot's tiny hands. "We'd go on walks and this $5 sippy cup would be gone in a matter of minutes." Crevin, a former Microsoft human relations manager, devised a simple solution: a cord to connect the cup to her child's clothing. Four years later, Crevin's company Booginhead (a nonsense name her family uses in lieu of "bad boy") sells five children's products through its website and dozens of children's boutiques as well as chains like Target and Babies R Us. She expects to make her first $1 million this year.

Crevin uses social networking to recruit "parent-inventors" whose products she sells or hopes to sell. Booginhead is not just me, it represents a whole community of people who are creative and entrepreneurial like me," she says.

Sophia Chiang, a San Francisco mother of two, started Qlubb.com in 2008. Her idea: to create an easy-to-use Web service for parent-led groups like the PTA to recruit volunteers.

When Chiang's children began attending a public elementary school, she quickly became frustrated by the school's splintered Web presence. School administrators had neither the time nor money to create a website that would catalog all volunteering opportunities for any given month.

Chiang created a Web service that time- and budget-constrained organizations can adopt free-of-charge. It includes a central event calendar, sign-up sheets, member rosters and bulletin boards where members can trade comments and share pictures. A task reminder pokes members who are scheduled for volunteering stints. Qlubb.com boasts 75,000 members and earns its revenue from a combination of advertising and premium subscription fees.

MBAs and computer scientists need not apply

Ellen Pack recently left her post at Elance to start appSmitten, an online review of iPhone, iPad and Android applications; reviews are delivered via email. In three months and for less than $15,000, Pack launched the service in September. AppSmitten plans to generate revenue from advertising.

Her beta list: the busy and technologically-savvy mothers at her 10-year-old daughter's private school. "It's women like these that are early adopters of Web technology," she says. "They're busy and they'll use services like appSmitten to make their lives easier."

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