Illustration by Alli Berry

Why Parent Co.?

Thomas O'Leary

I’m a father of four, a teacher and a coach. I’ve also spent the last couple decades at places like Tesla Motors, eBay and building vertical-specific software companies and have long-envisioned starting something that brought my personal and professional passions together. So last summer I started Parent Co.

I now lead an amazing team at Parent Co., and our mission is to build better technology for parents, an underserved but massive market. Fittingly, the name Parent Co., was a gift from my parents. It was at my kitchen table and it went down like this:

Me: “OK guys, I’m glad you’re here because I’ve got this business problem I thought you could help me with. See, my partners and I are forming a company that will build technology — basically apps for your phone or computer — for parents and we’re launching with a product that two of the partners created called Notabli. It’s awesome and it’s only the beginning. Long story short…. Dad, you’ve run your own ad agency and you’re a branding wizard, and well, we need a name for the company.”

Mom: “Oh, how about Parent Company?”

Me: “Yes Mom, just like that, the holding company for products we build.”

Mom: “Right, Parent Company.”

Me: “Right Mom. Now Dad, what should we call it?”

Dad: “What she said.” (Points at mom, light bulb moment occurs)

Amazingly, the domain was available for a few hundred bucks. (Which pretty much speaks to the state of parents on the web, don’t you think?)

For most parents, their chosen role of parent means everything to them, and they probably don’t take too much time to stop and think of all the ways they’re underserved by technology — they’re far too busy for all that. Most parent problems are simply time problems. Therefore, technology can and should do more to fit their specific needs.

I believe the smartphone is the most amazing and powerful tool ever made, and I know I’m not alone. Yet when I looked at my phone I found plenty of apps for my kids: games, some educational tools… Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these apps are truly amazing, but I couldn’t find even one app that was designed specifically for my need to be a better parent given limited time. I mean they must exist, right? Maybe I wasn’t navigating the app store well enough…

I started asking people. Long pauses, blank stares, a few promising tips, but nothing on the level of: “Hey, this is it!”. A little more digging and it became pretty clear that, at best, this part of the market was in its infancy with no standout performers. What’s worse, it seems parents are marketed to in the short term; as consumers of junk their kid’s will outgrow and lose interest in. There is little that’s offered to them to use and be supported by in the long term.

We’re not big on the word “solutions” because it feels overzealous. Technology can’t solve something as intimate as being a good parent. But like in every other aspect of our life, technology should be helping to make things easier. For most parents I’ve talked to, they unfortunately see technology as more of a problem than a solution.

That being said, technology isn’t the great evil. Sure, we’re worried about online privacy and the dark corners of the internet — how could we not be? Screen time is a definite concern, and yes, it contributes to a sense of loss of power in parenting. But we’re not really looking for control, we’re looking for balance.

So how can we do that? Well here’s our hypothesis: parents know the internet connects their kids to the entire world of information and social interaction — good and bad — and they’d just like to see ways they can be empowered to guide that experience. They’d prefer private and safe experiences for their kids, and they’d prefer a less commercialized approach.

Right now we have two ways of testing this.

The first was to acquire Notabli and give it the backing to expand from iOS to the web. Notabli was an easy choice for our first product. It’s private; it’s ad free; it’s a time saver. Plus it has all the familiar elements of social media. It’s networked; you invite people; you share things, heart moments, comment, so it doesn’t require any real behavior change. But the end result is so different because parents have built this amazing archive of their kids best moments.

All these moments we save have basically become the currency of the social web. It’s what connected people trade. The problem for parents is that all the sharing going on today doesn’t always feel safe or targeted at the right people, in the right amounts. But most of all, it doesn’t leave them with a finished product. Notabli does.

The second way to test our hypothesis is to open up a two-way conversation with parents through an online community at Parent.Co. We have a staff that posts original content, curates parent articles from the web and listens to feedback from our parent community. Our goal is to be useful, and sometimes the most useful thing is a good laugh. The last thing any parent or any company needs to do is take themselves too seriously.

Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear from you at Parent.Co.

    Thomas O'Leary

    Written by

    Founder of Vermont Athletic Academy. Co-founder of Formerly of, Tesla Motors, eBay. Political scientist and supporter of Liverpool FC.

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