By John Burton
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – It’s surely an age-old question: What to do with the kids today? It’s a question Sherry Lombardi and Kerry Bowbliss, two young mothers with young children, found themselves asking.
When they didn’t find an easy and available answer, they felt they weren’t alone and started a company that would meet that need.
“We started it because we needed it,” Lombardi said, explaining how their company, Hulafrog, came to be.
“The problem is there is so many things to do in the community,” Lombardi said, “but there is no central place to get that information.”
The company got its unusual name because its founders wanted something fun, memorable and short that would convey the idea of children and their activities.
The women, who both live in Atlantic Highlands, started their company in 2010, with a website focusing on the Red Bank area. Since launching the initial site and building their technology platform, Hulafrog has grown to 25 sites around the country. Its founders hope to be in 250 markets by the end of 2013, creating a truly national network of local sites.
They are also hoping to garner the interest of national advertisers, Lombardi and Bowbliss said.
The site lays out events, classes, activities, shopping and services geared for children, allowing the user to easily search and find specific things or just to get an idea.
On the site for Monday, Sept. 17, among the items listed on the Red Bank site, under the “Top Rated Events Today,” were story time at the Red Bank Public Library for both the morning and afternoon sessions; and a baby-and-mom story time at the Monmouth County Public Library, Eastern Branch, in Shrewsbury Borough.
The site also features “Our Picks” where those running the sites (publishers, as Lombardi and Bowbliss call them) highlight some events or activities. On the Red Bank site they emphasized the Monmouth Day Care’s Touch-a-Truck event, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Red Bank Middle School.
“Anybody can go on the site and find hundreds of events,” Lombardi said.
Along with those listings, site visitors can find listings of related businesses and profiles of some advertisers.
The sites generate revenue through advertising and about 82 percent of visitors have contacted a business that advertised on the sites. The Red Bank site sees about 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a month, the women said.
Both women have backgrounds in Internet industries. Lombardi previously co-founded a web analytics firm; Bowbliss was involved in the publishing end of the financial services industry.
Both left the corporate grind as they started families. Lombardi has an 8-year-old daughter and a son, 6; Bowbliss’ kids are a son, 8, and a 6-year-old daughter. After staying home with their young ones, the two felt it was time to re-enter the workforce, but maybe not at their previous go-go pace.
They feel theirs is not a unique story as they meet women with similar backgrounds who express a similar interest in getting involved in the venture. “Maybe they don’t have 60 hours to work, but maybe they have 30,” Lombardi said.
The 25 Hulafrog sites’ publishers are currently all women, who have similar backgrounds – college educated, having worked in marketing or related fields.
The operation is ”kind of Yelp for parents meets Avon,” was how Lombardi explained it, referencing the online guide and the iconic cosmetic company made up of legions of independent distributors. Like Avon, “being able to work at home has been a big part of it,” in attracting publishers, Lombardi said.
“For the women who are running these sites, it’s challenging and rewarding,” she said. “It’s a job they can sink their teeth in.” The position allows them to get out in the community and relate to others in a peer-to-peer way.
The publishers are paid on a commission basis, like Avon, Lombardi said.
They believe the future looks promising because, as long as there are kids, parents are going to be looking for ways to entertain, educate and occupy.
“Remember, there’s always something going on,” Bowbliss said.