This month we announced our Women of 2020 – 11 women and women-led businesses and initiatives who are doing bold and innovative work to change the way the world thinks, to connect the overlooked or to build positive female communities.
We chatted to many of our Women of 2020 to find out what drives them. First up are the duo behind Wolf+Friends – a social app for mothers of children with disabilities.
Gena and Carissa had worked together in the past, before launching Wolf & Friends.
Carissa Tozzi had worked with Gena Mann in the editorial world, but when she was brainstorming for what is now the Wolf+Friends app, she knew Gena was just the person to bring on board. Carissa’s vision was to create a shopping and content destination for inclusive, informative and stylish products for children with special needs. Gena, a former photo editor, was the perfect fit for partnering – not only did she share the enthusiasm for styling, but her son has autism, so she knew first hand how lonely that can be for mothers.
Today the duo’s app is a vital tool – helping moms find a mentor, or become a mentor, connecting both locally and digitally. There is a directory of specialists, whether it’s paediatricians, therapists, psychologists, nutritionalists, camps or schools. And parents can browse content and shop toys and lifestyle items curated with children with special needs in mind, without compromising on style.
When you started out, how convinced were you of the opportunity? Were you afraid?
We initially created this platform for all the moms we knew whose children were experiencing various developmental diagnoses and delays. Motherhood can be isolating, and when you add a special needs child into the mix it becomes even more isolating and overwhelming.
The life-changing challenges of raising a child with special needs often disconnect these moms from friends and family, ‘typical’/mainstream schools, classes, mommy groups, childcare, family activities, hotels, shops and more don’t provide suitable support or options for kids with special needs. Parents require vetted, specialized providers to address the special needs of their children, and special needs children need developmentally appropriate toys, tools, furniture, clothing and more.
We discovered a white space in the market as nobody was addressing these problems in an inspiring way. So we went for it (we were more excited and determined than scared) and decided to design a modern, inspiring, and informative shopping, community and resource app for the moms we know and the 60M+ moms worldwide who are raising children with special needs.
Picture by Eileen Lamb, @theautismcafe.
How long was it until you went full-time on Wolf+Friends?
We worked on it for 4-6 months before going all in.
How did you get your first customers?
We started Instagram and Facebook accounts very early on so moms could get an idea of our vibe. We started inviting friends to follow and asked our special needs mom friends to share our social media accounts with their friends and communities.
What does the team look like today?
We work full time on Wolf+Friends. We have freelance help for advertising and brand partnerships, editorial and with our SPECIAList Directory. By the way, our team is all moms, most of whom have children with special needs!
Tell me about your community – it seems integral to what you do?
Our business really is our community. There are 100M+ children worldwide with special needs including autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, developmental delays, behavioural challenges, mental health issues and sensory processing disorder.
We are capturing these moms who want to know other moms who are experiencing parenting like they are. Our goal is to super serve these moms with inspiring, helpful content and access to vetted specialists in their communities.
A sneak peak of the app, available in the App Store and on Google Play.
How do you balance parenting and running your own biz?
It’s crazy as it is for all working moms! Fortunately, all of our kids are in school so we get a lot done during the school day and then finish things up in the evenings after bedtime.
Are you able to tell me a little about your business model?
Our revenue model is driven by various business strategies including a freemium model for subscribers, a marketplace of vetted providers, affiliate marketing revenue, branded and advertising partnerships, events, and a B2B partnership with payers.
The Amazon Influencer Program has been amazing for us because we can set up dedicated shops on their site. For example we have: 10 Toys For Late Talkers, Gift Ideas For Children With Autism, The Best Games, Books + More For Social Skills development, and Cool Active Seating Solutions For Kids.
What’s your roll-out plan with other regions?
We are currently raising capital and plan to perfect our digital platform in the US before rolling out to other regions. We get requests for the app from all over the world and can’t wait to be able to help special needs families everywhere!
Is there anything you wish you’d learned earlier/faster?
How to build a financial model!!!! We didn’t go to business school but this is a very handy skill to have when starting a business. 🙂
What content works best for your audience?
Our best performing content is the funny parenting posts on Instagram! We have found that special needs moms really need a good laugh…
Many brands are still experimenting with Pinterest, but it’s something you adopted early. What do you like about that platform?
We are both very visual people with backgrounds in magazines. We both personally loved Pinterest even before starting Wolf+Friends and it seemed like a natural place to find and share ideas and content.
"Starting a business takes a lot of time and tenacity!" says Gena Mann, co-founder of Wolf+Friends
Why do you use Linktree?
Linktree is so important for a business like ours because we have so many different facets – it is the easiest way for our Instagram followers to access them. We love the fact that with one click, an Instagram follower can download the app or connect to our Amazon shop or visit our site.
Any advice for entrepreneurial mothers considering making the leap?
Starting a business takes a lot of time and tenacity!! Start small, get a partner if you can (it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of and who has a different skill set than yours), and know that nothing happens overnight.
Wolf+Friends on Linktree
Wolf+Friends keep their Linktree short and sweet – their audience of busy moms doesn’t need to be overwhelmed with options! The big driver is to download the app, giving visitors the option to do so that best suits them, and thus growing the community.
Using the social icons means the team can get eyeballs on important content, such as their Amazon store, or to answer visitor questions through direct email. Go check them out!