BusinessRx: Activity Web site needs help moving beyond local area

March 4, 2012
The entrepreneurs

Lisa Friedlander was frustrated. The Bethesda mom had spent hours online searching for an activity to fill a Tuesday time block for her 3-year-old, to no avail. She commiserated with friend and fellow mom, Ilene Miller, who at the time was comparing travel options on Expedia for a trip her family was planning. The light bulb went off and the two came up with an idea for a one-stop Web site to search for local activities similar to Expedia that would connect parents, children and activity vendors. They launched their site, www. activityrocket.com , in fall 2011.

The pitch

Friedlander

“Activity Rocket is a first-of-its-kind searchable Web site that helps parents find and compare children’s extracurricular activities and specialty camps. Our site currently includes more than 12,000 unique activities and camps searchable by type, location, price and schedule. The site also includes expert blogs, parent ratings and reviews, calendaring and planning tools, easy activity sharing, and coupons and discounts. The site has activities from large and small providers, including local agencies like Montgomery County Recreation, nonprofits like Glen Echo, and national and local franchises like The Little Gym and Karate Kicks.”

Miller

“Parents can search and find the specific activity whether its drama, scuba, Chinese or DJ-ing. They can share classes with their circle of friends in a social media network and make decisions about sign-ups and carpools. Busy parents avoid double booking and save valuable time as they upload classes to their personal calendars without having to type in each activity one by one. Activity providers love the volume of direct registrations that come from the Rocket. Businesses represented on the site have doubled since launching in 2011 and we are getting inbound interest daily. This online marketing tool more effectively connects parents with activities in real time than traditional print and other forms of advertising.

“Moreover, we just expanded the platform to include activities for children through age 18, and we foresee the addition of the adult and senior activity market as we expand nationally. Like Open Table, the ability to search by activity type, schedule, cost and location is part of the Web site’s special sauce.”

Friedlander

“We’ve proven our platform by initially focusing on Montgomery County, but we are expanding to Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., then nationally. In Montgomery County, getting parents on the site has exploded virally using a combination of events, list-serve outreach, social media, press and advertising.

“Our question: As we take this hyper-local site to other counties nationwide, what are the strategic marketing tactics that will ensure quick adoption by new local communities? We want to make sure we get users on the site in the most efficient way.”

The advice

Elana Fine, associate director, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“A lot of companies that have moms as their target market have been extremely successful with grassroots and viral marketing but you can’t do that on a national scale.

“For your initial rollout in this region, I would look to work with semi-local chains that may have multiple locations in the D.C. area and beyond the region. Target companies and organizations that are looking to reach the same market your users fall into. Also think about partnerships with companies that support a cause or mission that aligns with your offerings — for example, a company that supports first lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign for healthy kids.

“Offer your partners exclusive benefits, such as access to your user lists or advertising benefits on the site. In turn, your partners can help you roll out to new markets and spread the word on Activity Rocket to their existing customers.

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