While pregnant with her first child, Allyson Downey recalls being completely overwhelmed in a Babies ‘R’ Us. Not knowing which products to buy, she emailed friends with babies for advice. But wasn’t there a better way for new or expectant parents to sort through the confusion?
The proverbial light bulb went off. The shopping excursion, while frustrating, became the inspiration for weeSpring, Downey’s online peer review site for baby tools and toys alike.
“If you’re looking at a stroller, you can see that your college roommate loved this one, and your cousin wished she’d never bought that one,” she says. “I saw a real opportunity to make it easier for parents to…crowdsource knowledge and information from people who were raising kids and doing fine even though they, too, had felt the same way.”
Related: Meet 10 Young Women to Watch in 2014
Downey, an alumna of the publishing, politics and Wall Street worlds, employed a lean startup mentality – “We have to test, test, test to disprove our assumptions” – and won a spot last year in TechStars, the high-profile New York accelerator. The experience, she says, helped her evolve as an entrepreneur alongside her business.
And evolve it did; weeSpring has grown roughly 25 percent from month to month and is now collecting reviews on some top-selling products at triple the rate of Amazon.com. Not bad for “a scrappy start-up that’s hardly spent any money on marketing,” Downeys says. About 30 percent of users actively review products at an average of 10 items each. Her business plan also won Crain’s Perfect Pitch contest last year and was a finalist in NYU’s Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, among other accolades.
But despite growing, planning, and receiving help from co-founders Melissa Post and husband Jack Downey, the road has not always been smooth. Securing funding from a male-dominated community of investors is one issue Downey faced.
“I’ve probably talked to five female investors in all of the meetings I’ve done, and [men] just don’t grasp the market in the same way,” she says.
Friends and family investors helped significantly in the beginning. And last fall, weeSpring raised approximately $500,000 from angel investors. Downey used that cash infusion to develop weeSpring’s iOS app — due to launch soon — and to forge partnerships with retailers such as Giggle, a store specializing in high-end baby products.
She also touched upon the emotional and mental difficulties inherent in being an entrepreneur – hurdles that don’t altogether disappear with time.
“[Entrepreneurship] feels pretty isolated and really lonely,” she said. “We have to put on a brave face, motivate our teams, convince investors, and it doesn’t leave very much space for honesty on how tough it is.”
At present, weeSpring is pre-revenue, but Downey has high hopes of growing weeSpring into a profitable, trusted resource for all types of consumers.
“It’s not just about moms and motherhood; the fact is, there’s a big divide where people are having conversations organically and where they are making purchasing decisions,” says Downey, who was expecting her second child at the time of this interview. “There’s passion and real engagement behind weeSpring and an audience that loves to share and support and help each other.”
Why do you deserve to be on our Young Women to Watch list?
“weeSpring is closing the gap between where people share and where they shop, and we’re fundamentally changing the way parents make purchases. Baby is just the beginning – we’re growing with the users on weeSpring and moving into the categories they care about. We’re also exploring other upstream high-stakes life moments (like having a baby) when consumers rely on their friends’ advice more than any other source.”