More than 100 flying pigs of all variations adorn the walls of Macaroni Kid in Water Mill, a constant reminder to chief executive Joyce Shulman that she beat the odds. "When I first conceived of this business, a guy told me that the business will work when pigs fly," she said.
Now, six years later, Macaroni Kid is a highly localized digital publishing company under a national brand, licensed by 540 different entrepreneurial publishers in 47 states, who produce weekly e-newsletters and websites featuring local events and activities for kids and families. Most of the publishers are mothers.
After earning a law degree from St. John's University, Shulman, 50, worked as a commercial litigation attorney in Manhattan dreaming of ways to stay on Long Island as a mother of two and entrepreneur. She and her husband launched Mangia Media, which placed full-color, glossy advertising on pizza boxes, coffee cups and Chinese food containers.
Macaroni Kid began as another idea Shulman couldn't get out of her head, and was started with scraps of spare time on nights and weekends. When the company earned its wings, they sold Mangia Media to give Macaroni Kid their full attention.
How did you launch?
We beta-tested it here in the Hamptons. We did one round of financing with some angel investors I knew from my last life who have been fantastic partners. Starting a media company from scratch, there's a little bit of a chicken and egg, because until you have significant reach you don't have advertisers. You don't have anything of value to offer to your advertisers, but you do have to keep the lights on. So we just worked really, really hard.
What's your business model?
Each of our local editions is managed by a local publisher mom. They sign an affiliate and licensing agreement as well as our advertorial guidelines and other specs and requirements. That gives them the exclusive right to publish Macaroni Kid in their community. They pay us a monthly hosting fee and sell their own local advertising. All of the publishing is done on our platform, and we provide a huge amount of support and training. We have a private publisher forum that literally buzzes 24 hours a day with people engaging, talking, helping each other. It's a very collaborative community. My husband sells national advertising.
What's most important to keep your business viable?
Our local publishers. It is all about them. I spend a tremendous amount of my time and life working to provide them the tools they need, inspire them, elevate them.
How do you attract national advertisers?
It's our ability to integrate digital media, social media and grassroots, mom-to-mom marketing. So it's about finding the right person at an agency or a company to communicate that we have the ability to do that. Moms are busy -- very, very busy -- and finding a meaningful way to connect with them on their own terms in a way that is impactful is not that easy. And we have the ability.
Which social media channels do you use?
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. We have a fast-growing Instagram presence because Instagram is now aging up into the mom audience. And we are working hard on growing our YouTube presence.
Who is your typical publisher?
The typical publisher mom is someone who worked and stopped working when she had kids. She wants to do something. She wants to contribute to her family. She wants to use her brain. She wants to be creative. She wants all of those things, but she doesn't want to go back to work full-time or she can't. And I always believed if you could design a business to tap into that talent and empower that incredible cohort of women, you were really onto something.
What's your best business advice?
It's not one brilliant idea. It's the thousand small steps.