Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring, a Techstars-backed startup that makes is easy for parents to find the best baby and kids products. Since launching in 2013, they've amassed hundreds of thousands of product ratings, and on top products, they collect more new reviews than Amazon. Allyson is also the author of “HERE'S THE PLAN: Your Practical Tactical Guide to Steering Your Career Through Pregnancy and Parenthood," which will be published by Seal Press in 2016. Allyson lives on Boulder with her husband and two children. We talked to Allyson for our #MotherlyMakers series, featuring the inspiring women remaking our world.
Was there a moment when you realized that you needed to start weeSpring? What clicked for you?
When I was pregnant, my friends started sending me these lists they'd made of all their favorite baby products; they kept them in Excel or Word or even in the drafts folder of their email, because they were asked for advice so often. I thought, “There's got to be a better way to do this," and that was really what sparked weeSpring. Now, parents can go to weeSpring, see a friend's list of everything she loves (here's mine!), or go to a category, like strollers, and see the ones most popular with her friends.
What advice do you have for the new moms overwhelmed by the all of the product options available to her as she embarks parenthood?
Keep it simple! Babies really don't need much. Challenge yourself to get by with as little as possible. Diapers are one thing you undoubtedly will need, so ask whomever is hosting your baby shower to encourage friends and family to give you gift cards that you can use to order diapers and other necessities. (weeSpring's registry has lots of unconventional gift idea options, like gifting toward the cost of a doula or babysitting hours!)
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
I'm the lucky, lucky recipient of tons of great advice from so many people I admire. It's impossible to pick just one thing, but a trend that runs through much of it is to not sweat the small stuff. (And spend some time figuring out what's really the small stuff!) So many things feel so unbearably important when you're in the moment, like which baby carrier to buy, but are totally inconsequential in the long term. A better use of your time during pregnancy is shoring up your professional relationships and broadening your network, so you'll have a strong support network when you return to work.
How has motherhood transformed your career? What's your secret to integrating work and family?
I don't believe in work-life balance, because I think it implies that every day should be perfectly balanced between your professional life and your personal life. I think much longer term, and I look at weeks and months as measures of balance. I don't beat myself up about having three or four weeks in which I'm so heads-down on work I miss bedtime more often than I make it, because when that work sprint is over, I'm going to do a few weeks of hanging out with my daughter until 10am before heading to the office, or ducking out at 3pm to pick my son up from school and have a one-on-one afternoon.
Looking back, what was the one critical thing you did that most contributed to translating weeSpring from “idea" to “success"?
I'm dangerous in that once I get an idea in my head, I don't let it go… and weeSpring was one of those ideas. There's no real secret to our success: it was all hard, hard (often painful) work, and understanding that for every two steps ahead, you'll likely have one backward.
What keeps you inspired and excited every day?
I love having the freedom and flexibility to grab an idea and run with it. That was what held me back most in the corporate world: there were 100 bureaucratic steps to take to get approval. Being able to be creative and innovative is what gets me out of bed every morning.
What are your words of wisdom for other mothers wanting to turn their passion into a business?
Make sure it is a business! That's something we struggled with in the early days: we had stumbled onto this thing that clearly resonated with mothers, and they were hugely engaged, but they weren't paying. We had users, but not customers. The “if you build it, they will come" mantra works for 1 in 1,000 start-ups; the rest either fail or figure it out ploddingly and painfully. (We were in the latter camp.)
What are your big dreams for weeSpring?
We've amassed a ton of information about product preferences, and we want to start to use that data to make smart product suggestions based on what people like you love. Think OKCupid for shopping: you'll have “matches" on weeSpring who share your preferences and personality, and you'll see product recommendations based on their must-haves and don't-buys.
What is the most helpful product that you can't live without yourself?
My can't-live-without products are things I use in my professional life, like Assistant.to and Rapportive. There are tons of baby products I love, but none I couldn't live without—except maybe diapers, and I'm agnostic on brands there.
Who is your #momcrush?
What does “Motherly" mean to you?
Caring. Wise. Patient.