When the entire market focuses on one niche, and you choose another, you're either a bold innovator, or a failure. Henry Ford's quote about building cars for people wanting 'faster horses' comes to mind. Last week I stopped by the BlogHer conference in New York, a highly popular national event which was full of energy, women bloggers and large consumer brands trying to reach those women. Many of the attendees are often characterized (rightly or wrongly) as 'Mom bloggers.' But in the crowd I ran into a woman I've met in NYC several times, and who zigs where others have zagged. Instead of tapping into the power of the mom market, she's discovered her own niche – 'PANKS' or 'Professional Aunt No KidS.'
Former print beauty editor and marketing communications executive Melanie Notkin is an aunt herself, and was frustrated by the lack of information sources for women who cared about kids, but weren't their primary caregivers. She started Savvy Auntie in 2008 and has created her own establishment - with a pretty large demographic to back her up.
Howard Greenstein: How did you identify the need for your company?
Melanie Notkin: Savvy Auntie is a multi-platform lifestyle company for the nearly 50% of American women who are not moms but love a child in their life. At first, the desire to create this company came from my own experience realizing that my nephew and nieces were the most important and happiest aspects of my life and yet I had no resources designed for me. And anything out there was cheesy or old and 'auntique-y.' Even as a pretty savvy New York City beauty executive, I felt pretty unsavvy about the important things I need to know about the lives of these children, from changing diapers to who the heck Dora the Explorer was.
As a marketer, I saw the potential of the market when I simply looked at US fertility data. 45.1 percent of American women through age 44 do not have children (there's no data on women 45 plus). 14 percent of those who are mothers have their first child age 35 or over. So there's a pretty long lifespan for women as aunts without kids of their own even for women who eventually become moms. And that trending is growing and growing, year after year. Plus these women have discretionary income and time relative to moms. So marketers jump at the chance to connect with them. Until Savvy Auntie there was no way to reach them directly. I dubbed this powerful segment: PANKs™.
HG: Did you test the market before starting? How?
MN: A couple of weeks after I decided to start this company, I gathered a number of women in my apartment to learn attitudes about aunthood. A week or two later, I discovered Twitter and began asking women all over America for their thoughts as @SavvyAuntie. Wow – talk about being able to test in Peoria for no cost! While I was able to plug some of that feedback into the development of the brand, I took my 15 plus years of marketing expertise at the time and jumped in. It's tough to test a market before it self-identifies. I needed to showcase that PANKs were nearly 50% of American women before this segment realized how much they contribute to the American Family Village and the economy.
HG: How did you get your initial funding ?
MN: I am completely self-funded and was profitable in my first full year (2008). My late mother left me some inheritance when she passed away 20 years prior. Back then, even as a teenager, I had the foresight to wait for my dream to leverage it. Investing my life savings in me would have made my mother proud.
HG: What's been the biggest challenge in starting up a company?
MN: Starting a company. I remember the day I woke up an ‘auntrepreneur.' It was June 12, 2007. That morning I went to a seminar on business plans. Then I invested in business cards. While I didn't yet have a name for my company, I felt it was important to invest in identifying my intention. Then I joined other classes and groups. I did everything I could within reason to begin the investment in this dream so I would not back out. I never looked back.
HG: How did you find a lawyer, accountant, developer and others to help you create the company?
MN: I networked with people I trusted for referrals. My developer, for example, was a recommendation from a former colleague.
HG: What tells you your company is on the right path?
MN: I learned I was on the right path rather quickly. Twenty three minutes after I launched SavvyAuntie.com I received an email from the digital media buying agency for PlaySkool. Two hours after I launched, I received and email from Sephora. The next day, Disney's agency sent me an email. And so on. Two years later, the company and its audience to continue to grow.
HG: What's your growth plan?
MN: In the two years since launching SavvyAuntie.com, I've also introduced Auntie's Day™ and The Savvy Auntie Coolest Toy Awards. I've appeared on national television and have a book coming out on March 22, 2011 with William Morrow/HarperCollins called: The Savvy Auntie Guide to Life – The Ultimate Source for Cool Aunts, Great Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids. Next up is more TV, products and who knows, maybe a movie. There's no stopping this brand or the sixty million women it potentially serves.
HG: What keeps you up at night?
MN: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon or a good book. Thankfully, by living my life to my potential, I go to bed every night knowing I'm doing the best I can.