Moms With Apps Reinvent the Co-op

Last Updated Sep 24, 2010 8:22 AM EDT

Birkenstocks bedamned. Co-ops are being reinvented by moms who are banding together to help sell the smart phone apps they are developing for kids and other moms.
Lorraine Akemann started a home-based business selling kids' travel toys after exiting Cisco when she started her family. That was in 2005. The iPhone caught up with her in 2008, when she created My Little Suitcase, a cute app that lets preschoolers pretend they were packing for an upcoming trip. She uploaded it to an app store, along with tens of thousands of other apps, where five downloads a day were cause for celebration.

Social media to the rescue! Akemann soon found other moms with other apps in the same situation. In November 2009 they formed a Google group for trading marketing tips. That quickly evolved into a 170-member co-op, Moms with Apps. (My personal favorite: Let's Bead Friends, the virtual friendship bracelet.)

Every Friday a different developer is spotlighted and her app is available for free. Each of the Moms with Apps members blasts publicity about the free app through her social and business networks. Their combined voices become a megaphone. That's how PocketZoo, "with live animal cams!" snagged 13,000 downloads.

Free. Sigh. Is this any way to build a business, even for resource-stretched mompreneurs? "PocketZoo didn't make revenue that day,but now they have a user base they can market to," Akemann told me in a recent phone interview. "The app store is a huge wide open landscape, it's hard to get noticed. The way to get the word out is to get free."

Sure, the apps are a side business for most of the moms - not that making an extra $5,000 to $10,000 a year is anything to sneeze at: it's one way to cover preschool tuition.

The moms are finding some surprising advantages in their combined strength. Their specialty skills and experience - as educators, designers and parents of children with special needs and interests - help them fine-tune their apps for their niche markets. And now their next growth step is teed up: Their combined dedication to making high-quality content for the littlest users has caught the interest of a major media organization that specializes in children's content.

Image courtesy of Morguefile user nanette.