by Lela Nargi
Laura Deutsch has no sooner entered Heather Ouida’s wood-floored, window-walled apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan than she’s talking about pants. As in: “Do you think I should put on some pants?” It’s a not-often-relevant question for two entrepreneurs who work almost entirely out of their respective homes, and find themselves more often than not organizing events and moderating online discussion groups in the workout gear they’ll wear later in the day to hot yoga.
It was not ever so. The women, who run the mom’s education and resource site, Mommybites, started their careers as teachers—a decidedly pants-wearing profession. Until she gave birth to her now 9-year-old daughter, Ava, Deutsch taught math at the Dwight School on the Upper West Side; Ouida, mom to Chris, age 13, and Nicky, age 9, was a learning specialist at a primary school in London, then briefly at The Dalton School, just a few blocks north of her current apartment. It’s only one of many similarities between Deutsch and Ouida, whom you might mistake for sisters if it weren’t for Deutsch’s slight but telltale Jersey girl accent (Ouida hails from Massachusetts).
Though the two met and began their collaboration in 2009, Mommybites originated in 2006, as Babybites. Explains Deutsch, “My husband and I had our daughter and I found it difficult to meet other moms. There’s an abundance of ways to do this now, but in 2006, there just wasn’t. So, I’d get a private room in a restaurant, hire a speaker to talk about some topic related to parenthood, and the moms would come with their babies to have lunch. I made postcards and I would walk around with Ava in her stroller, handing them out to every mom I saw on the street.” Before long, she was getting requests from moms in other neighborhoods to host events in their own communities, and literally juggling money. “She’d have a waiting line of women paying $50 to have lunch!” marvels Ouida as she explains the beginnings of Babybites’ success.
By the time Ouida and Deutsch met, the children of Babybites’ original participants were starting to age out. “My kids were a little older, too,” says Ouida, “and I emailed Laura and said, have you ever thought of doing this for older kids, for children in kindergarten and up? You could call it Kiddybites.” They met for lunch to discuss a launch. “And she said, tell her what you said,” Ouida commands Deutsch.
“I said, You’re so much prettier than your picture,” obliges Deutsch.
“She said, You look so old in your picture!” laughs Ouida. “Then she said, Is that offensive? And I said, No, I can tell we’re going to be good friends. Since then we’ve spoken almost every day. I remember being at Disney World with my husband and kids, and calling her from the bathroom!”
A year later, both Babybites and Kiddybites were on the verge of obsolescence, and Ouida and Deutsch made the decision to transition to the company as it exists today, to Mommybites. “We had to change the business or we were going to go out of business,” says Ouida. “Laura had started it as an in-person live-event company, but by 2010 it was very hard to fill live events. The market had become oversaturated and moms didn’t have the same need to connect that way anymore.” Ouida says their a-ha moment came at an expert talk Kiddybites was hosting, about protecting children from sexual predators. “The woman was super-smart, and so articulate, and the numbers she was giving us were so high,” recalls Ouida. “It made us frustrated, because we thought, Every single parent should have access to this information, and it should be free.”
With this idea fresh in their minds, they started hosting phone events, with an expert on the line, a handful of moms calling in, and Ouida moderating. “It’s basically an old-fashioned conference call,” says Deutsch. “But it just exploded. More and more people started signing up”—200 to 300 for their most popular topics, some of whom can’t join live but opt to have the playback emailed to them—“and so far we’ve covered over 50 topics.” These are paid for by sponsors like Britax and Lansinoh, who either provide their own experts or are happy to sit back and bask in the association with educational content directed at Mommybites’ ever-grateful target audience. “We’re almost at a point where we can’t keep up with requests from potential sponsors,” says Ouida. “That’s a very good place to be.”
It’s also meant that Ouida and Deutsch have had to bring in some much-needed help. They hired a virtual assistant named Jennifer Rojas, based in Israel, to work the website and edit their blog. And they hired a third partner, Rebecca Dixon, to take over marketing and sponsorships. “We knew we were losing out on lots of potential revenue and that we’d make a lot more if we hired someone to take that on,” says Deutsch. “Rebecca is great at it. She likes to leave her house—unlike us.” But Mommybites is also, appropriately, something of a family affair.
“Heather’s mom, Grandma Karen, writes for us,” says Deutsch.
“She has a Ph.D. in early childhood education, and now she writes a grand-parenting column for us,” says Ouida.
“And my father-in-law does the books,” says Deutsch.
“Big Guy! That’s what we call him,” says Ouida. “And your mom helps with behind-the-scenes.”
“Before I had Heather, my mom was my Heather,” says Deutsch. “We would brainstorm all the time and I would book her: ‘I need you for two hours!’”
“I call her my Om—my ‘Other Mother’,” says Ouida. “I’m not sure we could have done this without either of them.”
Mothers helping mothers: the true and lingering philosophy that lives at the heart of Mommybites.
Photographs by Yumi Miki