Cool Mom Tech: a conversation with Kristen Chase

Tech dollars flow where the market leads. So, unsurprisingly, at CES this year, there was a parenting and baby section, as more and more parents require tech-savvy parent-focused life hacks. Kristen Chase, CEO of “Cool Mom Tech”, part of the “Cool Mom Picks” network, sent a reporter to the Las Vegas-based tech show. I caught up with Kristen later, via phone, in Philadelphia, to learn more about the mother-of-four who discovered a niche that’s now helping moms (friends and other family members) demystify the latest gadgets, apps and devices.

First question: how did “Cool Mom Picks” start?

Before I had kids I was a college professor, starting a bachelor’s program for music therapy, and teaching college classes full time. My (now ex) husband was in the military so, when he got reassigned, eventually landing in Atlanta, I left that career and needed to find something else to do. In 2006 I stumbled upon web publishing as the power of communicating via the Internet and set up “Cool Mom Picks” with my business partner and Editor-in-Chief, Liz Gumbinner — we haven’t looked back. We love being entrepreneurs.

Kristen Chase (L), Liz Gumbinner (R)

In 2010, you branched out and created “Cool Mom Tech” — you’re probably the only site I’ve seen that reviews breast pumps next to articles on protecting online identity theft.

Both incredibly useful subjects (laughs). “Cool Mom Tech” started due to demand. There was, and still is, a dearth of content and/or community for parents around technology. It also comes out of my own yearning for knowledge, especially for apps that kids are using, how to negotiate and set screen time, and manage their digital behavior. For instance, my 12 year old started using Instagram private messaging as her main form of communication. As someone who doesn’t consume the app in that way (like most parents, probably), I needed to up my game and find out what that was. This is an ever-changing medium and it’s hard to keep up — even for someone who runs a tech site. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that “Cool Mom Tech” wants to tackle. Plus, in 2010, we were drowning in app pitches. It was non-stop. We needed a place to talk about consuming technology for people who didn’t necessarily identify as “techies”. Suddenly everyone had a smartphone, and then the advertising followed, so it made business sense.

Talking of business — can you share your stats?

Our network now has 1mm monthly visitors as well as 500,000 Twitter followers, 120,000 Facebook fans, over 150,000 Pinterest followers and Parents Magazine called us: “the online arbiter of cool for the swingset crowd”.

What did “Cool Mom Tech” find at CES that made the grade?

There were twelve products that we really liked: sentient cots and travel pods for tots that keep a watchful eye on your sleeping baby, self-installing car seats, portable sterilisers, telehealth for late night ear infection diagnosis and — you mentioned this already — a tech-enhanced breast pump, using water, not air, as the suction mechanism, for a smoother, less painful, experience while expressing milk.

What’s your testing process? Got a lab next to your kitchen?

Ha! (laughs). No. To be honest, it’s completely informal — it comes down to what we, as parents, this is awesome and will make our lives easier and better. And hey, more stylish helps too (laughs). There are other sites that do all sorts of super in-depth testing on everything that comes out on the market. We’re never going to be that, nor are we trying to be that. We are trying to appeal to the parent that uses tech every single day but it’s a means to an end. Being a parent is hard — so adopting a new gadget especially for this audience is challenging — we don’t have time to read an instruction manual. They want to spend more quality time with their kids; carve out time for themselves when they can.

Is it hard to find consensus about tech you like when you live almost 100 miles away from your Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief?

It’s great because Liz and I have differing points of view: I live in the burbs of Philly, she’s in Brooklyn Heights, and we have a very natural process of communication. If I find something through self-discovery, and think it’s amazing, I’ll call her up, or Skype, and say, “You won’t believe what this does!”. Then we go back and forth, always keeping in mind we don’t talk down to parents about tech, and it has to be tech that makes our lives better. We’re about recommendations, rather than reviewing everything on the market. And we do call it out — we’re not afraid of saying, “This app has a really silly name, but if you can get around it, it’s worth it, trust us.” That’s the key: we are our audience, we are moms, and so we want to be a partner they can trust.

Final question: in terms of tech for parents, what’s coming out this spring that you’re eager to try?

At “Cool Mom Tech” we really love Moonlite, a projector which fits onto your mobile phone so you can do follow along interactive shadowplay as you read bedtime stories.

Natalie Rebot, Founder/CEO of Moonlite, worked at Google for seven years — wonder if they’ll end up buying her company and she’ll work for them again. Would you give up being an entrepreneur if pressurized by investors?

Well, firstly, we’re self-funded — and profitable — so I don’t have to worry about that (laughs). To be honest, I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I couldn’t imagine going back to working for someone else. It feels new every day. Some days I’m more focused on my roles as Co-Publisher and CEO, communicating with our 15 contractors across the country who are our editors, ad sales and sponsorship directors. Then there are other days where I’m fixing code in a post — it’s exciting but exhausting. We’re a mom-run company and we’ve grown enormously through word of mouth. Moms found us, loved us, and told their friends about us. That’s how we flourished, through our audience connecting with one another, and with us.