Jacqui Boland started Red Tricycle in Seattle six years ago when she was pregnant with her son, creating an online city guide for new parents who wanted to discover restaurants, day trips, events and other activities for families.
Today, Red Tricycle boasts nearly 400,000 email subscribers, attracting about a million page views per month to its network of Web sites for parents in Seattle, New York, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and LA.
Boland built the media business on her own, never taking outside capital, riding instead on the coattails of national advertisers like Disney, Old Navy, Microsoft and hundreds of local advertisers who loved the company’s core demographic of mothers. (National advertisers now make up about 45 percent of Red Tricycle’s advertising).
“When I launched Red Tricycle in 2006, I wasn’t sure at the time if I was starting a hobby or a nice little work-from-home-business for myself in Seattle, or whether I was building a business to scale,” says Boland. But that question now appears to have been answered.
Red Tricycle’s bootstrapping days are a thing of the past, and the little trike that could is getting a bit of rocket fuel.
Seattle venture capital firm Maveron is leading a $1.5 million investment in the startup, with angel investors such as MTV founder Bob Pittman; entrepreneur Jason Calacanis; Gmail creator Paul Buchheit and Dave McClure of 500 Startups also participating.
Perhaps even more interesting is that Zulily, the Seattle daily deal service for moms, which just scored its own $85 million venture round earlier this month, joined the deal as well. The two companies also have entered into a commercial marketing agreement that will connect the commerce piece of Zulily with the content piece of Red Tricycle.
That alliance makes a lot of sense, but Boland declined to go into specifics since the particulars are still in the works.
“We are going to be showcasing that in the next couple of months, so you will see Zulily and Red Tricycle working on a plan for content integration and distribution,” said Boland, a former advertising manager for Where Magazine and San Francisco Magazine.
Red Tricycle plans to use the cash to expand to new cities, revamp the Web site and better cater to a growing mobile audience, since Boland notes that about a third of visitors interact with the company’s content offerings on a mobile device. It also plans to experiment by hosting its own events for families.
Catering to busy moms, Red Tricycle is pedaling forward in a market which has seen some notable acquisitions in recent years, namely CNET’s purchase of UrbanBaby in 2006 and Comcast’s acquisition of DailyCandy for $125 million in 2009. (Interestingly, MTV’s Pittman also was a backer of DailyCandy).
With that consolidation wave a few years ago, Boland said she saw “a real opportunity in the marketplace” to better serve the 34 million moms in the U.S. with children under the age of eight. She hired a business partner to help with expansion, quickly launching in San Francisco and other cities.
From January 2010 to September 2011, the company ramped from 18,000 email subscribers to 200,000 subscribers.
“We felt we had enough of a business model to raise some money,” said Boland, adding that a number of investors, including Calacanis, discovered the company first as users of the newsletter or Web site.
The 7-person company (which also has a network of nine sale reps and 50 freelance writers) is no longer based in Seattle, with Boland relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband a few years ago. But given the Zulily partnership and investment from Maveron, Boland notes that she’ll be spending more time in Seattle.
As a result of the financing round, Maveron’s Jason Stofer is joining the Red Tricycle board.
“As an investor and as a father, I believe the company is solving a real problem for busy parents,” said Stofer. “From day one, we’ve heard from parents about how passionate they are about Red Tricycle.”