Interview: Rachel Pitzel, Co-Founder, Club MomMe

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Learn how Rachel Pitzel co-founded Club MomMe, a social and educational community for moms and moms-to-be.  From dividing co-founder responsibilities to building an in-person and online community, and monetizing their business; Rachel shares business development tips on the most effective way to work with brands.

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Rachel Olsen: Hi. I’m Rachel Olsen, Founder of Best Mom Products, where mompreneurs share their adventures in business. Today I’m talking with Rachel Pitzel, one of the co-founders of Club MomMe. Club MomMe launched in January 2012. It’s a social events company for moms, moms-to-be, and families in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas. Their events are social, educational, and wellness themed, in order to help transition “Me” into “MomMe” in a fun, communal setting.
Today we’ll learn how they’ve been profitable from the very beginning, get top speakers like Jessica Alba, and top product lines to sponsor four to eight in-person events monthly. What’s really impressive is how she manages it all with an 18-month old and minimal childcare. Hi, Rachel. I’m excited to have you. Maybe you can tell everyone a little bit about how you decided to start Club MomMe and a little bit about that process, the first things that you did.

Rachel Pitzel: Lane and I were super-fortunate when we were pregnant that we had this amazing group of mom friends that we had through junior league. We were actually at a holiday party in December for the committee that we were both serving on, and we were talking about the new things that were going on with us. I raised my hand and said, “Oh, I’m pregnant,” and about half the hands in the room shot up, and those just became the friends that I went through pregnancy with, and went through the early days of having my son.
We just thought we were so fortunate to have that and to be able to share that and have this community sense, and have people to talk to at 4:00 in the morning about exactly what we were going through. So we thought that we would love to bring that to other women in the broader mom community. So, when our sons were around three months, I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, and I knew that there was really nothing quite what I was looking for in Los Angeles.

So I started just kind of researching, kind of seeing what was out there, what moms wanted. What we wanted to do was create a community that would kind of connect the dots between all of the resources that are currently available, and just kind of put them together in a fun, social, educational, and also wellness themed setting. So that was kind of how we got our start, and we started Club MomMe when they were six months, and it’s just grown from there.

Rachel Olsen: You started in January 2012, and now it’s October 2012, and you and Lane divide the responsibilities. She’s in Chicago. You’re in L.A. Can you tell me a little bit about that? As co-founders, how do you divide the responsibilities?

Rachel Pitzel: We mesh interactionally well together as friends. We just naturally gravitate to do different things. So it almost works out without us even having to ask each other to do things, where I naturally want to take more of a lead on the business development front. For her, she wants to take a little bit more of a lead on something new and creative, anything that’s going to… Let’s say that right now we’re working on our calendars for the ABC Show.
That’s just a natural Lane thing to do. She wants to make it look a certain way. She wants to have it formatted a certain way. That’s what Lane is going to do. Things related to our website, if there’s going to be a major change, often she’ll take the lead. If it’s just language, or if it’s something contractually related, usually I’ll take the lead on that. But it’s very rare that we both want to do something.

I’ll give you a great example. This week, we just started doing our first paid writing assignments, and there were two different topics that we were given, and I naturally said, “I’ll take one.” She’s like, “Good. I wanted the other one.” Part of the reason why I took one was I knew what she would want to do. We just understand each other really well. We thrive really well together working. I’m not going to say that it’s all peaches and roses, because that’s just not practical, and I think you do need to voice frustrations and concerns that you have with a partner.

Because if you don’t, things are just going to fester and become a problem. But even there, we have different kind of takes on things. I’m much more blunt. I just want to get things out and kind of move past them. Lane is a little bit more – when something bothers her, she needs to take a little bit more time. But we just understand each other. We work together. We’re very, very understanding of each other’s lives.

As moms, I think you have to be, because we both have young children who are the same age. So there are just different things that we’ll encounter on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, where I just have an inherent trust in her that if she says she’s going to do something, it will get done. It might not get done exactly when I want it to be done, and the same for her. But we both get our work done. We work really well together because we have that natural trust, and because we also naturally gravitate to do different things.

Rachel Olsen: You wear so many different hats and you started this really as an event person. You do contests and giveaways, and you do so much, and I’m always amazed every time I get an email or I see something on Facebook, and I always feel like you’re an army of like 20 people. Knowing you – and that’s what’s so impressive – it’s two women that are working very part-time. So how did the paid writing gig come about? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Rachel Pitzel: Well, first, as far as working part-time, definitely do not work… I don’t think many women who start business actually do work part-time. We work a lot, but we’re fortunate that we get to schedule our own lives so that I can work at the times that are most convenient for me, and Lane can work at the times that are most convenient for her. For her it tends to be early morning. For me, it tends to be late in the night. The other night I was up until 4:30. It’s just what happens. Yeah. But then it just works well for me.

Rachel Olsen: Right.

Rachel Pitzel: For paid writing, we’ve been writing – that’s actually how we started on our site, was blogging. Lane and I just always had a voice, and we’ve always just written these long emails. When we were expectant it would be these Huggies versus Pampers emails that would just go on for pages and pages. When we started Club MomMe, our kids were eating their first foods and experiencing this whole new world, and we wanted to share that.
We’ve been approached several times now, just by companies that have said, “Listen. You do a good job either locally, or on a broader sense. We’d love to have you share some of this.” We get interviewed a lot or we give quotes for people that are interested in what we do. So this one actually came up from somebody who was interviewing us to get some quotes. It just kind of worked out well where they said, “Hey, I think you’d be great at writing. Would you be interested?” We said, “Yeah.”

Some of the other stuff, we work for, now, a lot of companies that we worked with on events with their products or services. So they’ll say, “Hey, would you like to guest blog once a month, or would you like to let us know if this topic kind of reaches you?” So, yes, we do wear a lot of hats. But I do feel like, right now, in what we do, and in moving to 2013, you do have to be in so many different areas because the world is growing in leaps and bounds, but you never quite know exactly how it’s going to be.

So I feel like it’s good to kind of put a little finger in some different areas because you just don’t know which area is going to take off.

Rachel Olsen: I know Jessica Alba comes and speaks at your events from time to time. She has her own product line that she’s getting out to moms. So is that something that’s easy, to get celebrities who have a product that want to get out there come to your events, being in L.A.? Or how does all of that work?

Rachel Pitzel: Well, it’s so funny, because actually I was reviewing her new products last night. I line them up when they [inaudible 00:07:21] something, and they’ve just been looking at me. So that’s what I was working on last night. But it just kind of depends on what it is. Even though she’s a celebrity, she’s the most real mom. I mean, she’s this absolutely beautiful woman. In person you’re just like, “Wow. Okay.”
But I think we’re so fortunate that we do have so many celebrity moms that do things. There’s Ali Landry, the list goes on and on and on and on here in L.A., and also the women that want to give back, because there’s so many of them. I interviewed Tori Spelling a month and a half ago. Of the people that I interviewed – I mean, she’s been famous since she was a little kid.  She’s been in the limelight forever, and I grew up watching 90210.

Rachel Olsen: Yeah, me too.

Rachel Pitzel: Yeah. I’m interviewing Tori Spelling, and you meet her, and her kids are so sweet and well-behaved. Her husband is super-hot in person. Who knew? Literally, she was two days away from giving birth, and she was so sweet. It was 104 degrees. I interviewed her in Burbank, poor woman. It was so hot out. But she had no air about her, same with Jessica Alba. These women, they’re real moms, and I think if you’re going to be in that world, in that light, so many of them, they just – they do, they want to do something more.

Rachel Olsen: For the person listening, the mom entrepreneur out there – I mean, a lot of people are building online communities. Yours is in-person and online. What advice would you have for them, for somebody who’s not savvy in business development? When you say you just call on a company, you’re trying to, you said, “uncover their needs first, build a long-term relationship”. What are some tips you can give to them?

Rachel Pitzel: I think it’s really important to really think about what you want from them and what they’re going to want in return. So, is it a new company? Are they a more established company? Do they have a new product? Do they have a new service? What can you give to them? You always need to sell yourself and think about what value you have. So many women that are mompreneurs, or businesswomen think, “I don’t have any value. I just started a business.” Well, that’s crazy, and if you don’t think you have a value, then I’m not sure why you’re starting a business.
But you need to kind of think about it, “Okay, I might be new, but these are things that I’m good at,” or, “These are areas that I’m going to grow into. So you always need to kind of think about, number one, selling yourself. Think about how are people going to kind of latch on to you, what value are you going to bring them, and sell yourself. You’re always selling yourself to that company, to that person that you’re talking to. Again, it’s really about establishing a long-term relationship.

So before I reach out to someone, I’m going to research them. What are they up to? What are their new products? What are they interested in? Do they have a more laid back style? Are they more about this or that? Ideally, I will reach out to people and find out, do they have a relationship with them? Is there somebody that might be able to introduce me to them? Is there someone that might have worked with them? That, always, you’ll get a quicker response.

But then sometimes I’ll reach out to these huge, multinational companies and I get an immediate response. So you just never know. The event, actually, I did in L.A. – I did a beauty and style event for expectant parents – I thought it was going to be so easy. It’s L.A., right? The hardest event I’ve ever done. Who would have known? I thought that would be [inaudible 00:10:38]. There’s [inaudible 00:10:39] all this, it’s L.A.

But you just don’t know, so you just need to go and do it, really researching and paying attention, and I think that’s what every female entrepreneur should really pay attention to is the research aspect. Don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t say, “Oh, my God. I have to keep researching. I have to keep doing this.” It’s kind of like the business plan. A business plan is great to have in place, because it gives you the research.

It gives you a foundation. But you need to take on from there and then just kind of go on your own. In the beginning, you’re not really going to know what you’re doing, so you’re kind of like a person walking in the dark. But you’re going to try some different areas and try things, and eventually you’ll find a method, a style that works for you. I have some emails I send out that work generally pretty well.

Sometimes they get a quick response. Sometimes they don’t. But you can never take things personally. That’s the most important thing in business is never, ever, ever take things personally, because you just don’t know. The person you’re reaching out to could have a bad day. Their business could be going through some sort of struggle. They could’ve just lost somebody. Maybe your email went to spam.

So try things in different ways. I always reach out in a few different ways, a few different times if you don’t hear something back. Then at some point, if I reach out to a company two to three times and don’t hear back, I’ll say, “Okay. Maybe it’s just not the right time. Maybe it’s not a good fit,” not take it personally, and almost every time, the relationship has come full circle, where they’ll reach out to me.

Or I’ll meet them and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah. I meant to email you back,” and it just didn’t happen. So never take it personally. On the same hand, you want to make it really personally. So never say – I get pitches all the time, “Dear, Writer,” “Dear, Blogger,” “Dear, Rachel,” formal- like email. No one is going to want to respond to that, or they say, “Oh, I’m reaching out to bloggers, but nobody’s reaching back to me.”

There’s a reason. If you’re doing something and you’re not getting a response, you have to look at what you’re doing and you always have to reassess, what you’re doing, what you’re doing well, and what needs to be improved upon, because we can all always improve. If we’re not improving then we’re probably going downhill a little bit, because the industry is constantly changing.

Then, I don’t always reach out to people for a business purpose. If I see someone, like someone I work with just bought a house, I will talk to them and say, “Congrats.” If it’s their birthday, I’ll say something to them. Because you don’t only want to have a strictly – for me, “Can I have a product? Can I have this? Can I have a giveaway?” That’s not going to do anything for me. I feel like I’m strong in that area because I actually want to have a relationship.

I want to get to know the person. When I get on a call with them – for instance, yesterday was my first call with somebody. I didn’t just go right into business. “Oh, where do you live? Tell me about your kids. Tell me about your family. Oh, I noticed you have an accent. Are you from there? Are you from New York? Tell me about that?” So that way, always, we’ve had a little bit of a relationship and a connection.

Rachel Olsen: Right. I think that’s great advice, building a rapport and how to do it and how to develop business. So thank you for sharing that because I feel like that is critical, and that’s a no-brainer for somebody like you or somebody who’s very sociable. But I think that for other moms who have a really good product idea and they’re more comfortable in different environments, and that’s not maybe one of their strengths.
But it’s important, especially for something that you’re doing. You have to constantly be reaching out to people. You’re putting on in-person events. So I want to ask you something. Why did you decide to do so many in-person events? We’re such an online-driven community now, and I know you have an online community as well. So can you talk about why the in-person events over the online seems to take more precedent?

Rachel Pitzel: Sure. It’s so interesting you’d say that, because I’m always being told – you always read, “Oh, my gosh. Facebook is the downfall of friendships and relationships.” I think the opposite of that. I think that Facebook is so nice, because we’re so busy. We have so much going on. But I can still stay connected with somebody who I might not see or I might not talk to all the time.
When I do talk to them, if it’s once every few months, if they have a new baby, I already know what’s going on, what their nursery looks like. I know all these things, somewhat stalk-ish. But you do, you know a little bit about them. So I think that the virtual – all of that is great. But it’s still not the same as seeing someone in person. No matter how many times I talk to my friends on the phone or Gchat, or Skype with them, it’s still not the same as hanging out with them in person. I’m going to Chicago later today, and I’m going to see all my friends.

Literally, this past week, I’m getting these long emails back from them, that I haven’t seen in a few months, oh, what’s going on with their kids. What are they doing this weekend? But it’s all these little facets of their lives that I would not see from Facebook, or I wouldn’t see from a more long-term relationship in email, or however the format is. So no matter what you do, it doesn’t ever get away from the fact that you need to see people in person.

We always have a different connection. If you’re a new mom, you need to get out of your house and go to the park. You need to go see other moms, because there’s just something that’s a little bit isolating. There’s such a new aspect of life. It’s a little bit harder to open up. It’s a little bit harder to really forge that genuine connection with someone virtually.

Maybe that will change at some point, but I think that that’s just how human nature is. If you can see them, if you can touch them, if you can smell them, it’s just like these kind of primal things that you have in-person. The mom community, it’s always changing and evolving because there are always new moms.

Rachel Olsen: You’re building these communities. I had mentioned in my introduction that you had told me that you had become profitable early on. You charge for some events, some events are free. Can you talk a little bit about your business model?

Rachel Pitzel: Sure. Luckily, because of our business model, because we’re so flexible, we’ve been cash flow positive from day one, which is really fortunate. We both work from home. I have a nanny. Lane doesn’t. My nanny is part-time, but I also have a lot of family help. So could I have done what I have done? No. That’s partially why I moved back to Los Angeles is that I do have so much support, and I have an amazing husband who’s extremely supportive.
So many nights after work, I just hand him the baby. But I think when you start a business, you have to be really lean and just really think about – overtime you can continue to add to it. But for us, we go into venues, and we basically, by doing an event there, we advertise for them. Their name is all over the event. Their name is all over all the advertising, on the flyers. So we try to keep our costs as low as possible and not pay for things that we don’t need to pay for.

So many times, companies will reach out to us and say, “Do you want to have this water? Do you want to do this?” Or we’ll think about, what are things that moms want? What are new products I want to introduce them to? There’s a great water that I love called Activate. It looks just like a little water bottle. You twist the cap and then these vitamins and minerals come down. Genius, and it’s fun. Everybody is interested in that.

So we’ve reached out to them. We have a great relationship with them, and every time I see moms at an event that do it, they do it for the first time, and then they’re bringing [inaudible 00:17:38] about it, because they love it. So that’s a natural relationship. Or a new water that might have a really good message to it, new food, those sorts of things. So we try as much as possible to work with companies, and we stay partnered with them, because we’re going to advertise for you in exchange for hopefully giving us a break, or possibly donating things for us.

We do try to get events sponsored. Not every event is sponsored. Sometimes for just [inaudible 00:18:03] I just don’t have time, or it just might not make sense, or we’ve done something a little bit quicker. Or we know that just might not be the best thing for that particular event. As far as the free events, I view them as kind of relationship, community, and PR building, so when moms can kind of get together, whatever it is, like we’re doing a MomMe wellness day.

Moms in L.A. love wellness. They’re all about it. You don’t want to have to pay for every event. Having a child is expensive. Could we do a $5 or $10 fee? Sure, and sometimes it’s actually better just because it makes you commit to going to an event. But sometimes it’s fun just to go to a free event and to get some SWAG. We can introduce ourselves to a whole new subset, to a whole new community.

So for that, I think it makes a lot of sense. But it just kind of varies based on what that is. But for us, we just kind of look at what do we need to spend money on, and what do we not? What can we be lean on? So do you need to spend money on advertising? The first thing I was told is don’t pay to advertise, because you don’t have to with social media and with different things.

Have we paid to advertise? We’ve done some limited, we’ve done one print ad, and we’ve done on online buy, and that’s with somebody who’s been extremely supportive of us, who’s been so helpful. So it was kind of like – to me, it was almost like giving back to her for helping us out so much, not that that advertising was beneficial. But always kind of look at that. We have our information up on a lot of sites. But sometimes people actually ask us for that, and vice versa.

Or they want to do something. They’re growing. They want to advertise something a certain way. So we’ll send out – for instance, we did a dedicated post for a group, and then in exchange they’ve done a ton for us. So you just never really know. But, again, always do things as partnerships instead of just a straight business relationship or advertising, or this or that. What can I do for them, and what can they do for me? Same with you, even.

Like you just said, you said, “Rachel, these are some great new products,” and in exchange, when we reach out to companies I’ll say, “Oh, you know who you should really talk to is Rachel. You have a great product. You should reach out to her.” So we’re always kind of thinking in the back of our head what can benefit them, and what can benefit us, and kind of how can we push that together?

Rachel Olsen: Are you making money, then, from the products? Are you making money from the events? How are you cash flow positive then?

Rachel Pitzel: We never [inaudible 00:20:29] for products, so that’s always stressed, and I feel like that’s a really important point. [inaudible 00:20:35] products [inaudible 00:20:36] so we don’t take money for that, because I want them to generally be, “This is what we like, and this is what I think is good for you.” That’s not to say that companies might not sponsor an event. That’s different. But I view that in a very different light.
So we have sponsorship set events, and then we make money from the fees to get into an event, and those are generally the two ways that we make money. There’s also some advertising, and some other things that kind of get wrapped up in there. But those are the two main ways. Let’s say we do an event. I always keep our costs as low as possible, and I make sure to keep those in line with what the event is.

So, if we’re going to have X number of people, then I can spend X number of money on food, on this, on that, and that’s kind of how we budget the event. You can always grow it. That’s what’s so nice about what we do is it doesn’t need to be a fixed cost. It doesn’t have to be like, “We have this campaign.” But I think that applies to anyone in business. You can always grow things and add to them. But it’s harder to take things away.

Rachel Olsen: There’s so much change happening. You’re working so much more now on this. You’re doing events and you’re writing. You’re seeing where it’s taking you. I notice you have an entrepreneurship series, and we both were on the Circle of Moms contest. Reaching out and doing all this stuff, what do you hope for in the next year?

Rachel Pitzel: Well, I think you made a great point, really quickly, about the Circle of Moms contest. In that contest, we had eight people that we knew that were on our contest. That one was crazy competitive. Most of the entries were like 200 people, and that one was like thousands. But first, it was really fun. We’re like, “Oh, we’re doing the right thing.” We have all these amazing women that are part of this.
Every day, when we would go and vote for ourselves, and tell other people to vote for us, we’re like, “Vote for all people. Vote for these other seven.” But a really important thing is we’re always working on collaborating, on developing new partnerships, on expanding our reach. We just were presented with a new opportunity and a new way to grow to make our site and our events a little bit more virtual.

But as we do that, I’m also thinking, “How can I help my speakers? How can I help the brands? How can I help all of us grow so that we’re all stronger?” I really think the world is – there are two kinds of people in the world. There’s a fixed pie, like there’s only so much. There’s so much you can do, so much money that goes around. Then there’s the pie that’s always growing. I think the pie is always growing.

Rachel Olsen: I love everything that you said, and you are full of energy and great tips. So I appreciate you coming and doing this interview. You look fantastic. I know you are heading out to the ABC show later and doing all of that. So thank you.

Rachel Pitzel: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It’s been really fun.

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