On Wednesday July 9, Melanie Notkin launched SavvyAuntie.com, the first online community for aunts. While moms and women have dominated the online world, Notkin has found a niche untapped: the non-mom. In her first interview since the site launched, the founder and CEO of SavvyAuntie.com spoke with me about her new site, entrepreneurship, and what it means to be a PANK, an ABR and an ABC...
Eric Kuhn: First, what is SavvyAuntie.com?
Melanie Notkin: SavvyAuntie.com is the first online community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids. It's like a parenting community for non-parents, where Aunties can get: expert information and advice; find local or everywhere activities for kids; discover the perfect gifts for her nieces and nephews; and share it all with the Savvy Auntie Community.
Of course, SavvyAuntie.com is also my dream come true; a culmination of my professional experience and skills, and my love and adoration for my favorite children in the world.
EK: Tell me about your nieces and nephew? Were they your inspiration?
MN: My nephew and nieces are the loves of my life. They are a confection of love and deliciousness. Of course, every Auntie, whether she's an Auntie by Relation (ABR) or Auntie by Choice (ABC), thinks this way about the children in her life.
When I discovered I wasn't the only one to fall in love with a niece or nephew with life changing enormity the minute it was born, I realized that there was a need for a community and resource for women like me. We are savvy in everything we do in our lives... but when it comes to kids, for those of us who have never had kids, we're honestly not so savvy. Grown women have never changed a diaper. Angst-ridden teens come to us with questions that can blindside us. Our nieces introduce us to trends like Dora the Explorer and Jonas Brothers, while our nephews are into the Backyardigans and -- hey did you know Star Wars is big again? And what exactly are the words to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"? And what's the difference between a Wii and a Guitar Hero?
And then there are more important issues like the role Aunties play when they have nieces and nephews with special needs. In general, Aunties have to navigate through parents, grandparents, siblings and uncles and these relationships can be rocky at times. Perhaps Auntie's single and struggling against the clock as her sister gets pregnant with her third. Perhaps she's watching her brother going through a divorce and she's already losing time with her beloved nieces and nephews. For many Aunties, life isn't always "Hokey Pokey." When it is, she needs a community that will celebrate along with her. When it's not, she needs a community that will understand.
So sure, my nephew and nieces were my inspiration at first, but so are the tens of millions of women, just like me, with ups and downs just like mine. They are the ones that drop everything they are doing to babysit in a crunch. They are the ones that stand in line for hours to have Hannah Montana autograph a CD for a niece. They are the ones who the kids confide in when they can't talk to Mom or Dad. Aunties are the unsung family heroes. And they are my inspiration.
EK: This is the first site that is totally devoted to aunts. Why do you think that niche has not been tapped previously?
MN: The problem is that, until now, marketers were carrying on the decades-old tradition of focusing on Mom. But the conventional image of the American woman as married with 2.1 kids is radically changing. Since the advent of feminism in the 1960s, women have progressively been getting married later and later, and have been having children toward the end of their child bearing years, if ever.
So now it's 2008 and "we've come a long way, baby." It's estimated that today, childless women represent about 50% of the adult female population. There are at least just as many non-moms are there are moms in America!
And whether or not these women are childless by choice, they do not live a so-called "barren" lifestyle. Children are often front-and-center in their lives, as they play devoted Auntie to relatives' and friends' children. These relationships are a fundamental part of their lives.
But we've been myopic on the traditional role of women as Mom. Take a step back, look at the statistics, and you'll see it's not just moms buying homes, cars and electronics. Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway point out in their book, What Women Really Want, that "single women are the fastest growing segment of new home buyers, second home buyers, car purchasers, travelers, new investors and more." I can't give you stats specifically on what non-moms do because no one has bothered to look. Until now. Savvy Auntie is concerned with a segment I have dubbed PANKs.
EK: What are PANKs?!
MN: PANK stands for: Professional Aunts, No Kids. PANK is the new PINK -- and the new, fast-growing segment of women that marketers should be focusing on.
And it's a huge segment. Here is the important data on PANKs that anyone who markets to women needs to know: 45% of women up to the age of 44 do not have children. This US Census fertility data does not include women over 45 whose fertility is greatly diminished. We surmise, therefore, that the total number of childless women is well over 50%. And childlessness is growing quickly. In 2001, 43% of women did not have kids. 44% in 2003, and the last report is the 45% stat from 2004.
Part of the reason why women are having children later is life is because they are getting married later in life, if ever. The median age for marriage for women rose to 26 in 2005, from 21 back in 1980. And 26% of women have never been married. Finally, marriage doesn't mean the couple will have children together. Fully 43% of married couples do not have kids.
So while marketers have been focusing on Mom, a more lucrative segment has been waiting in the wings, and is finally making her debut at SavvyAuntie.com.
EK: Tell us more about the site. It will have four different components. Explain?
MN: Savvy Aunties are busy, just like moms, only we're busy with different things. That's why we've kept the site simple. Beyond the Homepage and About Us section, the site is divided into four main areas: Expertise, Activities, Gifts and Community.
Expertise includes more than two dozen experts in areas such as children's health and nutrition, and financial planning for Aunts who want to make their nieces and nephews their beneficiaries. It also includes a "Dear Savvy Auntie" advice column and an Auntiepedia -- a Wiki-type environment where aunties can share their expertise with other members.
Activities are divided into ideas for kids anywhere and everywhere, and local activities, powered by Nickelodeon's goCityKids (soon to be renamed PC Local).
There are hundreds of gift ideas that can be filtered beyond the obvious age, price, etc., but also by the child's favorite color, his or her favorite pop culture character, and his or her personality. It can also be filtered by Auntie's personality as Aunts love to influence kids through their gifts. Because we respect parents, the Gift engine includes an option to Ask A Parent before purchase.
Finally, there is the Community where Aunties have their own Profile, Blog, Media Box, and more. And the entire Community shares in the groups they form, Forums and, my favorite part, the Aunthology. Aunthology is a collection of stories on aunt-hood, from various members' points of view.
EK: If I am not an aunt (but maybe an uncle, mom, dad, or even a niece or nephew), should I visit this site? Can I gain anything from SavvyAunite.com?
MN: Practically speaking, anyone can use the gift engine to find the perfect gift for a child, grandchild, or if you are a Savvy Uncle, a gift for your niece of nephew. Nieces and nephews have an option to look at the site without joining in order to "suggest" a gift for their Auntie to purchase for them. Plus, little nieces and nephews will soon be able to create an art project for Auntie and add it to her Savvy Auntie Fridge Door for all her Savvy Auntie friends to see. That will be available soon.
But to gain the most from the site, we suggest aunts and all women who love kids join the Community. Membership is free. And this way, aunts can submit content, rate and comment on articles and blogs, as well as increase their community of aunts for advice, support and to boast about having the best nieces and nephews, ever.
And I want to be clear: Mommy Aunties are more than welcome in the Savvy Auntie Community. Mommy Aunties have a vantage point that is incredibly valuable for non-moms. It's just that with a plethora of mommy sites out there, we want to make sure this Community is focused on aunts.
EK: You have had a very successful career in interactive marketing and publishing at companies like New York Times Digital, American Express, and most recently, developing and heading up L'Oreal USA's Internal and Interactive Communications department. What made you decide to give up that career and try to build a web site?
MN: Actually, I don't think I gave up the career in interactive marketing and publishing when I began Savvy Auntie. I just gave up corporate life. At NYTD, I learned about the interactive world and how to reach and drive people online. At Amex, I learned about the value of membership. Finally, at L'Oréal, I learned about what women want. So my corporate experience has really been an amazing training ground to start my own company.
Plus, I've always been entrepreneurial. Now, I'm the first Auntrepreneur. Move over Mompreneurs and make room for the new girl in Entrepreneur town. We're not starting out on our own because we have kids, but rather because we don't. If we didn't risk it all now, when would we?
You have spent a year getting your site up and running. Now that it has launched, what do you wish you had known about entrepreneurship in the beginning of the process?
I came up with the idea to create an online resource for Aunts on June 12, 2007. You can read all about my journey from day one on my business blog.
Obviously, I have learned a lot of the logistical things, like setting up a corporation and negotiating contracts. But the most important thing I have learned about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs are the most fabulously generous people I have ever come to know. They realize better than anyone that no one is skilled in all areas of starting a business. They know that building a strong network is either like building a strong foundation for your business, or a net to fall back on if you don't succeed. Fellow entrepreneurs celebrate your highs, get you through the challenging times and sincerely wish you the best. I honestly had no idea how welcoming the community of entrepreneurship would be. If I had known this, I might have become one sooner.
I also know that the hardest part about starting a business is starting a business. So, through my own experiences, I recently wrote Twenty Tips for the New Entrepreneur for those embarking. The thing about entrepreneurs is, we learn, then we share.
EK: You are on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But how else have you marketed this new web site in a new world of marketing?
MN: The difference between marketing the old way and marketing the new way is that the modern business owner can reach more people in a personal way through online networks, blogs and other social media platforms. An ad doesn't let me talk to you, listen to your needs, find solutions and respond. But through social media, I can. And my participation online has helped me create thousands of new connections, even before I officially launched.
Beyond Twitter and Facebook, one of the most far reaching ways I do this is through my business blog. It's a behind-the-scenes look at me as the founder of my company, from the day I started to the present. This company is my life story.
People believe in me and root for me and my company because the woman they find online is the same woman who started this company -- authenticity and transparency go a long way in this business. And so, fortunately for me, these same people help promote my company to their networks. Some of these people have networks in the millions. Some just tell their sister. Either way, it's an authentic way of getting the word out. It's 100% free -- and 100% me. And that's a great lesson for any bootstrapper.
EK: Finally, you just launched the site. Where would you like to see Savvy Auntie 5 or 10 years down the road go?
MN: It almost sounds cliché at this point, but Savvy Auntie is a lifestyle brand. The brand will extend beyond the website into more traditional areas of media like print and broadcast. Of course, we'll also continue to take advantage of all appropriate new media as it comes along. Our goal is to give Savvy Aunties (and one day, Savvy Uncles) all the tools, support and recognition they need to succeed as Aunts and as women. With the launch of Savvy Auntie, the recognition of this new, modern segment of women was born. And our life as Savvy Aunties is just beginning.
EK: Thanks for talking and good luck with your new site!