Name: Vanessa Van Petten, 25
Company Name: RadicalParenting.com, Lakewood Systems, Inc., 2007
Business: A parenting advice brand created by teens from parent-submitted questions.
Location: Los Angeles
Growing up, Vanessa Van Petten got into trouble so often that her mother and father began buying parenting advice books and guides. During one of her frequent groundings, Van Petten glanced through several of those books and spotted what she considered two major problems. First, the books provided bogus advice. More importantly, they were written by adults with no input from teenagers.
That’s when Van Petten decided to take matters into her own hands. At age 16, she wrote a book for parents from the teenage perspective: You’re Grounded: How to Stop Fighting and Make the Teenage Years Easier (iUniverse Inc., 2007). By age 21, she decided to expand the premise of the book by creating RadicalParenting.com, an online community for parents and teens. With two full-time employees, Van Petten currently manages a stable of 120 contributors aged 12 to 20 who are blogging and answering parent-submitted questions.
There are three primary ways the site generates revenue. Advertisers can buy display ads on the site (for up to $3,500 per week) as well as sponsored links that appear at the bottom of a post on a related topic and direct readers back to the sponsor’s site. Or sponsors can pay between $500 and $3,000 for a sponsored review of their product or service.
Launching RadicalParenting.com didn’t come without its obstacles. Here, Van Petten shares her top three startup challenges and how she overcame them.
Challenge No. 1: Getting business people to take me seriously.
I was a senior at Emory University in Atlanta when I decided to use my babysitting money to incorporate. Everyone said I was too young to start a company. Without a background in business, I ended up learning how to trademark, incorporate and do my taxes from one of the “For Dummies” books.
Solution: I knew I could learn to do just about anything because there are so many resources for young entrepreneurs online. I used guide books, attended conferences and mentor programs like SCORE, an organization that offers free small-business advice. My parents are both lawyers, so they helped me with some of the forms for incorporating. For branding advice, I went to author, speaker and youth market research analyst Jane Buckingham. For help with self-publishing, blogging and speaking, I picked the brain of Stacey Kannenberg, author of the Lets Get Started series of children’s books and founder and CEO of Cedar Valley Publishing.
Challenge No. 2: Carving a niche in a saturated parenting advice market.
Not only is doing something different hard to explain to new users, it is also difficult to find where you belong. The challenge was getting users to understand how our approach to parenting was different from what existing websites were doing.
Solution: We tested different versions of our “about” page and videos, and spread the word to parenting audiences that having teens offer advice to parents was a necessary new perspective in the space. We delivered keynote addresses at conferences, offered free teleseminars that were led by some of the teen writers and wrote guest contributions for other blogs. We also partnered with traditional parenting blogs to demonstrate that while we are a different kind of resource, we are also open to collaboration.
Challenge No. 3: Tapping social media to reach new audiences.
Social media is a great way to reach new users, but it took a while to figure out how to use it effectively. What’s more, parents are not necessarily as tech-savvy as their children. Reaching parents virtually was difficult.
Solution: We decided to market the brand on a number of platforms, including sites for moms like Cafemom and iVillage. We also did search engine optimization on our articles by tagging them with relevant keywords that were being searched for by our target user. We made videos with correct SEO tags and personally emailed them to big users in each community to gain exposure. The site currently averages 200,000 monthly unique visitors and roughly 600,000 page views.
Most importantly, we offered advice that actually works. Parents increasingly began spreading our quirky and sometimes controversial articles by word-of-mouth. We want to build a brand that is not only interesting, but also life-changing.