Take it from someone who’s best friend is a new mom – when a baby comes along in all its screaming, howling, and pooping glory, no one is ever quite ready for what hits them. Between the new parent’s cries for everything from sleep, to an extra pair of hands (and throw in a brand new back, too), a mute button or even perhaps a rewind button, as a friend, I felt everything from desperation to despair, as I helplessly looked on. Even time-tested solutions from nanis and chachis failed on occasion. Most medical websites were intimidating and offered complex theories and cures, but sometimes, all she needed was wise words from peers, and fellow mums who learnt the ropes in their own ingenious way that offered her the most reassurance – telling her she was not alone. Aditi Jussawalla’s MotherHen built a platform, nay – community, that offered both kinds of solutions.
“For a young mom, when her child wails through the night inconsolably, it is a crisis situation. I’ve been in that place, when I’ve been up all night, frantically reading up on how to calm my baby. Whom does one run to at 2 am for advice, moreover, how would you leave your child?”
City of Joy to City of Chaos
Aditi Jussawalla had never pictured herself scurrying for answers even a step beyond her bedroom. Born and raised in the City of Joy, Kolkata to a Marwari joint family, she had never seen her parents stress about raising them thanks to constant family support to take over any household chores, babysitting needs, and parenting advice. Aditi had lived independently in Australia, while studying for her Bachelor’s degree in commerce and IT, and after a short stint in the corporate, she returned to Kolkata, before getting married and moving to Mumbai, where she first tasted struggle, upon giving birth to her first child.
“As a new parent in a city like Mumbai, the initial motherhood phase was overwhelming. There were many nagging parenting issues on my mind, for which I would want to talk to the best child experts in the city; however, long queues in doctors’ clinics and traveling distances for any kind of consultancy made the whole experience inconvenient. I wanted expert advice at my fingertips at any time of the day without any hassles. Another gnawing desire was to meet and interact with other mommies to share experiences on motherhood without being judged,” recalls Aditi.
She also resorted to several online media to get peer-to-peer advice on the nuances of parenting. But they seemed too disorganised and informal.
No more staying Mum
Lessons from her corporate past resurfaced in her mind, when she was seeking out a solution. “I worked with a few IT startups in Kolkata itself, with me having to directly report to the owners and multi-task on several occasions when the need arose. The startup bug already had bitten me.”
And while she missed the joys of a cracking a professional challenge, she didn’t miss the biases that accompanied a woman’s professional journey. “I remember interviewing for one of the major IT companies in Kolkata, and they asked me questions like ‘How will you travel on work?’, ‘How will you manage to work in this situation?’, basically hinting at my gender. I never got that job because they never thought I was fit for the role.
What’s more, both she and her husband had harboured a shared dream of starting a business someday, and even did so by setting up ‘Oyyum’, a digital agency specialising in web design and development, where Aditi led on the marketing front. Partnership was hence, a tried and tested formula for success.
All these ideas brought about the inception of MotherHen, a consolidated source of authentic information for new-age moms available to them at their fingertips. “I conveyed this idea to my husband, and he backed me up totally and we bootstrapped the entire venture with our personal savings.”
MotherHen is a ‘mobile-only community for moms only’, allowing them to connect with each other to share their experiences on motherhood, and seek invaluable advice from doctors and other experts whenever they need to. “Post a question to fellow mommies on the network, or ask an expert a question to get authentic advice anytime of the day or night – like the Indian mother in the UK who reached out to MotherHen when her four-year-old was having bowel trouble and running a high temperature at wee hours in the morning. She couldn’t connect with doctors locally, and tried our chat module instead. She got responses from other moms to calm her down. She also reached out to our pediatric expert and got a telephonic consultation to solve her issue,” she explains.
The platform also enlists up-to-date local information on kids’ activities, events and deals. “From looking for the best preschools close to you, to finding the best available deal on diapers or the right activity class to enroll your five-year-old in, browsing the app can answer most questions,” says Aditi.
This is a judgement free zone
As this is a moms-only community, the MotherHen team ensures that all members are mothers or mothers-to-be. “We want to provide them with a platform where they can feel safe and comfortable to discuss and share their issues. Today in India, a lot of couples are living in nuclear setups and a lot of moms are getting back to work after maternity leave, and are trying their best, juggling many roles, being the perfect mother, wife and daughter-in-law at the same time. The dilemma for them is not having enough time for their children while striving to find a balance at work without feeling guilty. The other issue that young moms face is conflicting ideologies with the older generation on aspects of parenting, trying to convince them of their point of view on matters of parenting in changing times.”
The main apprehension while launching the app was whether the product would be accepted or not. Aditi and the team did a test run with only 200 moms from the more affluent parts of Mumbai to gain some feedback on the app. To their delight, they realised that there was a market for their community even among moms from other backgrounds and parts of the city, so they expanded their marketing efforts when they saw that their app was being readily accepted. That was an encouraging find and helped them tweak their marketing plans to cater to other large and Tier II cities as well.
Mum’s the word
Since going live in October 2015, they have helped over 4,000 moms connect with each other and make informed parenting decisions. “It took us a bit of time and a few revisions to our app to get the ball rolling; however, since the past couple of months, we have been seeing an organic growth of 100 per cent month on month.” She has several revenue models which will kick start once they have a sizable community – it will be a combination of paid listings, sponsored content, e-commerce and affiliate commissions.
The irony of life is such, that even as she is on a mission to make life easier for other mums, it has meant making some sacrifices as a mother. “Like any mother, my weakness has always been my two-year-old toddler. Maintain a work-life balance hasn’t come easy. Saying goodbye to my son when he says ‘Mamma don’t leave me…’ still breaks my heart. But my family has been my backbone. In the end, though the mom-preneurial journey has been challenging, the taste of its success is far sweeter than any of the fat pay cheques an MNC can provide you. Most importantly, to me, success is being a good human being, contributing to society, and being passionate about what you believe in and loving whatever you are doing. Other material benefits will fall into place if these mantras are kept in mind.”