The Ipswich mum doing the hard yards to make parenting easier
Anne-Marie Walton on her journey from being the mum every kid wants to play with, to becoming a startup founder developing her own unique parenting app.
When Ipswich mother of two Anne-Marie Walton spotted an advertisement in the local paper in late 2015 for the opening of a new innovation hub, Fire Station 101, years of planning finally clicked into place.
Ipswich City Council were converting the old Ipswich Fire Station into an innovation hub to drive entrepreneurship in the community, and were running a pitch contest offering a six month membership at Fire Station 101 that included mentoring, connections and office space to the winner.
Anne-Marie decided to dust off a ten-year old business plan and enter the advertised pitch contest, despite not having a technical background or really knowing what a startup was.
She had two weeks to revise her idea for a unique parenting tool and turn it into an app that would impress the judges, who included local business leaders and successful entrepreneurs.
With the pitch date looming Anne-Marie did a couple of free online courses around mobile app development, made a wireframe prototype of her app with some non-coding free software, did some quick user testing and watched episodes of the television show Shark Tank for inspiration. Somewhere in there she also managed to find some time to write and practice her pitch.
The night of the pitch, Anne-Marie said she showed up and didn’t recognise anyone in the room. She got flustered, and says all of her plans went out of the window.
The judges however uncovered Anne-Marie’s longstanding passion for her idea during the question and answer session. They saw potential and offered her six months at Fire Station 101, from its opening in March 2016, to grow and develop her startup.
Since then Anne-Marie has continued as a member at Fire Station 101, making the most of the introductions, training and advice offered, and has gone ahead leaps and bounds.
“I’ve done two prototypes, a closed beta version and I’ve now released my MVP (minimum viable product), to the open market” says Anne-Marie.
Anne-Marie launched her app Wantu earlier this year, previously called Express2Fun, which offers an opportunity for a parent to find curated and customised activities to do with their children.
Anne-Marie says that she identified the problem a long time ago, when her two boys were young. She noticed that many parents struggled to find captivating activities to do with their children.
“I realised it was a big issue. I had children myself and I was always wanting to do different things with them and make sure they were exposed to different things and diverse interest,” she says.
“I wasn’t seeing that this was happening with a lot of other parents,” says Anne-Marie.
“It was a big effort on my part, I had to do research and curate lot of information. As I spoke to other parents they had the same problem,” says Anne-Marie.
Taking this embryo of an idea, she put together a business plan but reluctantly shelved the idea as at the time it would have needed to be a physical product, which would have required a large investment and have limited return.
Over the next ten years technology evolved, and suddenly it was feasible to make her idea into an app.
To give back to others budding startups, as well as to support funding Wantu, Anne-Marie now works as the Operations Manager of Fire Station 101.
She also spends one day a week as a Project Officer for the USQ WiRE program, helping to develop a program to provide women in rural regional and remote Queensland with entrepreneurial skills and tools to pursue their own ideas and businesses.
Anne-Marie plays an active role in the Ipswich’s innovation community, providing a positive role model.
“I have been able to develop my skills in the startup arena. I’ve got a story to tell and I’m happy to go out and share it,” Anne-Marie explains.
Anne-Marie met Ingrid Rodriguez from Eikonic at a local event earlier in the year. Ingrid is one of the high calibre startups on the Advance Queensland Hot DesQ program. Igrid was attracted to Brisbane from Melbourne. Ingrid and Anne-Marie hit it off at their first meeting, and Anne-Marie asked Ingrid if she would be interested providing regular mentoring.
“I realised Ingrid had some great skills, I found out a bit more about her, about Hot DesQ, and I said I’d love to spend some time with you and learn more from you,” says Anne-Marie.
Ingrid was happy to provide mentorship and they have been holding regular mentoring meetings this year.
Hot DesQ entrepreneurs are all encouraged to mentor local startups, either through events or directly with local entrepreneurs — like Ingrid and Anne-Marie.
Anne-Marie says that Ingrid’s mentoring has greatly helped develop her confidence, an area that she really struggled with.
“She has helped me with my resilience and my confidence, particularly when it comes to articulating what I am doing and being forthright in taking opportunities,” says Anne-Marie.
“She has also helped keep me accountable, which makes such a difference,” she says.
Anne-Marie is focussing on the next stages of her startup, testing her business model on how to monetise the Wantu app and getting feedback on her MVP.
“I am readying for early investment and cementing the best way to monetise the app. While I do want to make a difference in the world I still want to do that in a profitable way so I can move faster and grow faster,” she says.
“The top priority for me right now though is getting users, getting downloads, getting the message out there to download it, have some fun together and give us feedback,” says Anne-Marie.
She explains it is not the final version, but it still offers some great benefits.
“I want to have 5,000 people using it for free, getting the benefits and communicating with me about what they’d like to see in our final product,” she says.
Anne-Marie is excited about the future, she’d love to see Wantu make a positive difference to thousands of families on a global basis.
“I would like to see Wantu in the hands of hundreds of thousands of families globally, with a massive community of Wantu kids, of Wantu families,” says Anne-Marie.
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