Winnie – like so many tech innovations – started out as an attempt by its two co-founders to solve their own problems. And Winnie’s co-founders were something of a unique dynamic duo in Silicon Valley terms. Like many of their fellows, they were young, entrepreneurial and technology-minded. They also had resumes that included stints at a veritable catalog of tech headliners, including Twitter, Google, YouTube, Quora and Postmates (to name a few).
But Sara Mauskopf and Anne Halsall were also different. They are a two-female founder team, still something of an anomaly in the Valley, where young men in their 20s still manage to snap up the lion’s share of the funding. And both Mauskopf and Halsall were also new moms, who suddenly found themselves with a problem they had not anticipated.
And so began their firm, Winnie, as a directory of kid-friendly places for new parents to peruse from the comfort of their mobile phones. Today, it has grown up into a much larger, more concerted platform for parents across the board.
And it's a platform that is, incidentally, attracting investor interest. As of last week, Winnie had raised $4 million in new seed funding, on top of $2.5 million raised in late 2016. The latest round was led by Reach Capital with Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital and BBG Ventures also taking part.
A Better Solution Than Google
Before Winnie, Mauskopf noted, digital parenting was something of a patchwork effort, particularly for moms. A little Google, a little Yelp, some social media here and there to fill in the gaps – it gets the job done eventually, but parents who find themselves balancing a few thousand different tasks at any given time don’t have the luxury of waiting to figure out where the best local museums are, or which grocery stores have the best kid-friendly features.
What Winnie does is crowdsource – and from the collected wisdom of its members, it provides participants with detailed reviews, ratings and a whole host of parent-pertinent details that would be tough to find elsewhere.
And parents are responding: As of today, Winnie is in 10,000 cities across the U.S. and has enrolled over a million members.
“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do … and this has grown to over two million places across the United States,” noted Mauskopf in a report. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community.”
Although Winnie is building a burgeoning reputation for being something akin to “Yelp for moms and dads," the ambition is broader when it comes to serving the rapidly expanding community of Winnie parents.
The first iteration of that expansion, which has been rolling out over the last few months, has been a series of online communities where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.
“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yielding a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie."
And these data feeds, Mauskopf noted, are available across all access points – on the web and on mobile through its native apps. The hope is that business will begin to follow the parents to Winnie, claiming their pages as new points of interaction with potential customers.
And what about transactions? We asked Mauskopf if Winnie has plans to make its platform shoppable, so that parents looking to visit a museum, for example, could also book their tickets or pay through the Winnie app.
Mauskopf had neither a yes or no answer, noting only that they believe bringing businesses and other third parties on board would be important to the platform's future, though how those connections might play out remains up in the air.
The bigger goal, she said, is to find ways to leverage the platform to “create really tailored experiences for our users – and [a platform] that grows up with a family as their children are growing up.”
As for the nearer future – and their immediate use for their newly raised funds – the goal now, according to Mauskopf, is to hire more engineers as they look to scale-up their platform.