Allyson Downey '10: Making New Parent Choices Easy
Joy, excitement, and unfathomable love towards your new bundle of joy. Those are new-parent emotions you may be prepared for. Paralyzing trauma, stress, and a total sense of inadequacy over which baby carrier to purchase? Not so much. But it was after a particularly emotional visit, like many new parents, to a Babies R Us that Allyson Downey ’10 had an epiphany.
Read how Allyson took a need she had as a new mom and turned it into a business opportunity that potentially saves millions of new parents valued time and their sanity.
Tell us about weespring.com.
WeeSpring started as a passion project for me -- a crazy passion project, because I was a parent to a new baby and had just embarked on a new job at a non-profit. I tell the story often of how, when I was pregnant, I walked into my first Babies R Us and promptly burst into tears. I looked out at this football field-sized maze of expensive products that I knew virtually nothing about, and saw a metaphor for how unprepared I felt to raise a child.
I spent a lot of time scouring the internet, reading Amazon.com reviews and Consumer Reports, but I felt as overwhelmed as I was in that big box store. I started relentlessly polling my friends on what was indispensable and what was not needed. Many of them sent back these underground “baby product bibles” that they'd compiled themselves -- extensive Excel spreadsheets and 11-page Word documents -- because they'd been asked these questions so often. It was like an epiphany: they'd already figured this stuff out!
I wanted a way to collect, organize, and act on this great advice... so I started building it. My husband and I, who had met working together on a political campaign, spent late nights after the baby had gone to sleep drafting page layouts and talking to prospective designers and engineers on conference calls that started at 9pm. I knew that new parents loved sharing what they'd learned about baby products, but that instinct wasn't enough. So we sent a survey to our friends, asking "What three baby products do you recommend most often?" The actual answers didn't matter all that much to us: we just wanted to see if they'd answer at all. Within a week, we had thousands of products recommendations, because half of our respondents couldn't stop at three suggestions.
So we started building weeSpring as a platform where new and expecting parents can get honest advice from their friends about what they need for their baby. You can rate products "love" or "regret," so there's no ambiguity about whether something is worthwhile -- or you can list items as "have" (things that do their job) or "want." You can also browse a trusted friend's favorites, so you can, at a glance, see my college roommate's must-haves. That's the kind of simplicity I was desperate for as an expecting mom.
We beta-released in December, and today, we have nearly 14,000 product ratings. Our goal is to be the destination for new and expecting parents, and the first site you think of when you need to make a purchase for your baby.
How have the classes you attended at Columbia Business School shaped your business/management approach?
I’ve been surprised by how often I'm calling on the "soft skills" I developed in business school; I had this expectation going in, as someone with a liberal arts background, that I was getting my MBA so I'd know how to read a balance sheet. I initially resisted the idea of classes like Professor Wadhwa's Personal Leadership and Success, but it is - hands down! - the class I think about most often. I loved that it was grounded in neuroscience, and it really pushed me to reflect on my own personal values, and how those values could and should influence my professional life.
Another key tenet that has stuck with me, and this one from Top Management Process, taught by the late Ralph Biggadike, is "discuss the un-discussable." Professor Biggadike drilled into us that, as leaders, we had to put the below-surface issues and challenges on the table. If we didn't do it, no one would -- and without acknowledging those tensions or problems, our teams would never overcome them.
The Columbia Alumni Connection: How have you used it?
The Columbia network has been absolutely invaluable to me. Just a couple weeks ago, I had breakfast with Anne Laraway '10 to talk about how Happy Baby launched and built their brand; it's a company that was started in the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse program by Shazi Visram ’04 . Michael Diamant, the CEO of Skip Hop, spent an hour talking about what kind of data and tools would be valuable to baby companies.
What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
I had this enormous fear, when I first started talking about weeSpring, that someone would steal the concept and I'd miss out on the chance to build this thing I really believed in. A friend, and successful entrepreneur, advised early on, “Ideas are a dime a dozen, and someone has already thought up everything you could imagine. Execution is what matters.” He was right.