Your Name and Age:
Janis Curry, 35
Tell us about your family:
I’m a mum of two very boisterous little ones: Madeleine has just turned 3, is outgoing and loves to chatter away to anyone who will listen. Elliot is 19 months old and enjoys climbing or eating anything that can be climbed or eaten. My husband Geoff holds it all together, is always home in time for bath time, and is forever tidying up after the three of us.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
I studied Chemistry, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics, and spent the first part of my career in the lab doing basic research. Frustrated by the short term contracts and low salaries I gradually moved into roles combining scientific research with administration and management, and very quickly discovered that I was much better at managing researchers than actually doing the research myself! My last job was as Divisional Manager of Surgery at UCL, managing a substantial budget and resources affecting 400 surgeons, researchers and students. I was made redundant in July 2009 as a result of widespread budget cuts in the public sector.
Going from a very high profile and demanding job with a massive employer to working in the spare room on my own was a difficult transition in some ways, but felt quite natural in others. Because of my seniority, my job at the university was quite a solitary one, and because I worked with so many different hospitals, I wasn’t really tied to one particular office.
In terms of budgeting, there is nothing leaner than a university budget during a recession, and we were always required to trim costs every year; as a result I know the importance of counting every penny, ensuring value for money, and of constantly looking for ways in which to improve efficiency. These are essential skills in running a business. I found I had a lot of other “transferable skills” which have served me very well.
The big shock was in how much I had to learn; I had gradually developed my research, analytical and managerial skills experience over 15 years, and I had become the person that everyone else came to for advice, guidance or training. Suddenly with a new business, in a new sector, I realised I knew next to nothing. While varied, my job was mainly strategic and was confined to a segment of society (scientists, doctors and surgeons), and never involved any sales or marketing, or interaction with an online community. With my web business I made a lot of mistakes at first simply because I didn’t understand my audience (my customers) or my suppliers (advertisers). I also realised that in order to get the word out about the business or to make any money from it, I would need to learn basic sales and marketing. The learning curve has been incredibly steep – scary, but I love it!!
When did you launch?
We launched the Beta version of the website in spring 2009 and, after listening to user feedback and doing more market research, are launching the ‘proper’ site in late Spring / early summer 2010. Follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/kidfriendly_uk) or join the Facebook page (http://bit.ly/facebookrkf) to be the first to hear about the launch!
When I had my daughter Madeleine, I took a year off work. I don’t cope very well being cooped up in the house, was new to the neighbourhood, and didn’t know many people in London at the time. So, I made the effort to meet people around the neighbourhood, and arranged regular outings with local mums, and as such spent a long time researching baby friendly places.
I soon realised how many places called themselves child friendly, but were actually a nightmare with babies or toddlers. Conversely there were some truly hidden gems that could only be found through word of mouth from other mums. I recognised that if I could find a way to capture those word of mouth recommendations, it would become an invaluable resource to parents with young children.
By the time Elliot came along in August 2008, I had written a comprehensive functional specification for the website and was working with a team of developers and designers to create the website.
What research did you do before launching?
Not enough!! But we’re learning from being out there every day connecting with our target audience, and are gradually re-shaping the website to suit their needs.
How have you funded the business?
The start up costs were covered by personal funds raised between myself and the other directors.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best?
We use a combination of Google adwords, partnerships with other websites, Facebook, Twitter, and printed media like postcards on local bulletin boards. I have also been fortunate enough to feature in local press and to have been asked to write the Family Dates section for a beautiful new parenting glossy, Baby London.
By far Google and Twitter have been the most successful ways of driving traffic to the website. Google is great for reaching an audience actively searching for something to do or somewhere to go, if we select the right combination of keywords. Twitter is much more time consuming but allows me to connect with other parents, and to handpick and publicise specific content on the site to suit the audience.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
When you create your own product, you want it to be just perfect, but creating the perfect product requires an investment of either time or money or both. As a busy parent without a traditional paid job, neither are readily available. In the online world it’s also difficult to keep up with the changes in technology, design trends and so on – everything moves very quickly!
I believe that passion and instinct play a vital role in whether a business ends up being successful or not, as does the ability to recognise which goals are realistic, achievable and necessary to the business’ stability and growth.
I do my best to look at what I need to do and what I want to do as objectively as possible, usually with the help of friends in that industry and an old-fashioned list of pros and cons. I factor in how much time I’m willing and able to spend, whether I feel the benefits of upgrading the technology will outweigh the costs, and so on.
I also make good use of the government’s Graduate Talent Pool – offering short internships for research and administration is very affordable, and means I have a bit more time to focus on developing the other aspects of the business.
How do you fit in work with the family?
I work on the business Wednesday to Friday while the kids are at nursery, and work some evenings and weekends when necessary. I also make the most of scheduling tools in Hootsuite and Blogger.
If you have a flexible working business opportunity, please explain briefly what you offer and how people find out more.
I am currently looking for parents and carers who would be interested in helping keep the content of the website current, interesting, relevant and welcoming. This can be something as simple as writing regular reviews of places they’ve been with their children, adding details of child friendly gems and events / activities, or even managing a regional homepage.
I also welcome contributions from people in ‘specialist’ areas related to spending time with babies and children, e.g. postnatal fitness, parent-baby yoga, learning sign language through action songs, cooking / baking with kids, arts and crafts ideas for families, reviews of great books or CDs to enjoy with your children, and so forth.
In exchange I am happy to give credit the content and links back to the contributors’ websites, include a bio of each contributor and their business, and am offering free advertising for appropriate businesses.