What do you get when you put together a lawyer-turned-singer, a former management consultant and a banker? The Mommy Network, a group of 5,000 moms in the Mumbai area which isn’t just your average a neighbourhood moms’ chat group on Facebook but a group of moms being primed to serve as a test market for assorted baby businesses.
“Our vision is to grow targetted, curated mommy groups across the country with new chapters in different cities,” says Tejal Bajla the former banker amongst the three founders.
She points to two revenue streams fuelling the network as of now. Events where startups pay to exhibit products at kiosks with fees that range from Rs 18,000 to Rs 1 lakh and then by charging for posts on their Facebook page in much the same way advertisers pay for space. Companies that have emerged from the platform include Bengaluru-based toymaker Shumee, Me Dulce An'ya, a Kolkata-based clothing manufacturer for children, clothing and accessory maker Forty Red Bangles from Jodhpur, and Little Kokoro, a London-based maker of kids’ clothes.
Loyalty cards for members, a Mompreneur fund and a web store are on the drawing board. So is the Mommy network restricted to just mothers? Kiran Amlani, a former singer who was also a lawyer once, says that it’s largely geared around women who have children but anyone who fits their member profile and has a business that caters to mothers has a fair shot of making it in. She goes on to add that surprisingly there's a tonne of requests from men who want to join but counts that out for now.
With just 5,000 members, The Mommy Network is much smaller than similar mother's networks on Facebook like MUMO (Mumbai Mothers) that boast of headcounts as high as 50,000 with 10,000-strong WhatsApp groups. The key for the The Mommy Network, says Shreya Lamba, is to build an ecosystem of ladies who “think the same way”. What that means is the demographics lean towards qualified professional women who’ve typically had work experience. The chatter centres around common queries that parents have on how to solve everyday problems, share ideas and experience on just about anything to do with children. The plan for the next year is to add at least 5,000 “educated and influential” members each in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and Pune. “You won't see conversations on The Mommy Network revolve around putting lucky charm magnets under kids pillows to ward off evil spirits,” adds Bajla.
Bajla, Amlani and Lamba started The Mommy Network in 2014 as a personal resource network meant for some thirty-odd friends. But as it started to grow, they decided there would be no pricey membership fee. The broad requirements are that Mommy Networkers to be educated, have some work experience, and preferably known to a few existing members. Better known mothers part of the platform include Nisa Godrej, executive chairperson of Godrej Consumer Products, actress Tara Sharma, and film producer Deepshikha Deshmukh.
But is the Network really everything it’s purporting to be? As one corporate lawyer who's also a mom of a 10-year old says, “Given how competitive everyone is do you actually think anyone would share the name and number of their kids’ math tutor with 4,999 other moms, if asked?” Her point is that it’s a good resource for those starting businesses and sharing businesses. “We are toying with introducing a curated online store and we want to create a concrete baby market addressing categories from food and apparel to skincare, recreation,” says Bajla.
Their events generate sales for vendor members and businesses but it just about throws up enough cash--like Rs 30-40 lakh--to keep the company afloat. The popup this year will be spread across 20,000 square feet at 18.99 Latitude in Lower Parel, Mumbai and is targetted at thousands of mothers. “This is more than just an exhibition, it's a platform for showcasing businesses with investor interest potential,” adds Amlani. She’s not wrong. Bala Deshpande, a venture capitalist who runs New Enterprise Associates in India, and has funded FirstCry, an online store for children says: “In India, where target audiences are fragmented, Online networks can congregate common interests and for a newbie mom, the need to connect and know is intense which makes a mommy community a powerful idea.”