Andrea Johnson is a lady of many talents. After graduating from Dartmouth College, she went on to earn her MBA from Harvard Business school. Since then, she’s been putting her education to good use as the co-founder of several Internet ventures, while also raising two young children with her husband.
First, she started up Petopia.com, one of the first e-commerce companies to partner with a traditional retailer to leverage purchasing power, warehousing, and customer loyalty programs. And her latest effort is a web-based application that helps families keep their photos and videos organized.
It’s called ThisLife and it’s created for parents, by parents.
What inspired you to start ThisLife?
We were taking great pictures of our family but all the photos were totally disorganized. I worried about losing stuff. I was annoyed (with myself) because I couldn’t find photos when I wanted them. And I began thinking about how our kids would expect to interact with their childhood memories.
Baby books are lovely, but this generation of kids is going to expect their childhood memories to include photos, videos, social comments and whole lot more! So, we built ThisLife to gather and organize your photos and videos for you.
How did you find the time to start a business while raising a family?
It has been really tough. I waited until my middle child started Kindergarten so I only had one preschooler at home. I had 3 under 3. I could not have started a business back then. I could barely tie my shoes back then.
For me, the hardest part is switching gears. It is tough to be in mom-mode while driving car pool, switch to work-mode to make a conference call (while pulling out of the school parking lot), switch back to Mom-mode to make my cameo appearance ‘as the school Library volunteer’ (during what would be my quick lunch break), switch back in to work-mode again while exiting the school parking lot, etc… Exhausting! Just thinking about it is exhausting!
In that way I think it is harder then ever to be a working mom. The expectations of how involved we are in our kids’ school has meaningfully increased. And, the logistics required to manage even a couple of after school activities/play dates per kid have become far more complicated then they use to be.
I don’t have any magic answers here. All I can say is that if you have an idea, something you really want to pursue you have to beg, borrow and steal the time required to get started. Hopefully the project will energize you enough to make the trade-offs worthwhile.
What mom time-savers or tricks do you find the most useful?
In our house it is all about the color-coded calendar. I use iCal on my Mac. iCal lets you look at a series of different calendars on same page. For us, each member of the family has a calendar in their favorite color so I can see what each kid is doing and conflicts are easily recognized. On Sunday nights I print the next week’s calendar and put a copy in my kitchen so our wonderful babysitter and I are always on the same page. It really helps. My other thing is that I communicate regularly via text with my babysitter. So, if questions come up during the day, they are quickly resolved.
How did your own experiences as a mom help you come up with the idea?
I could never have designed ThisLife before I was a mom. ThisLife is all about gathering and organizing photos and videos i it is all about displaying the photos in a way that tells your story – it is all about family! I made a wish list of all the features I wish I had to manage my family memories and then we started building everything on the list. We built facial recognition that actually works for kids.
We built ‘Search’ that lets you instantly find that one special photo of ‘Katie as a baby on the beach’ from among your collection of 50,000 images. We designed all the defaults to be private so you are in control of what you share and whom you share it with. We built the ability to share an account with your spouse so you can pool the photos from both your hard drives, both of your phones, both your cameras, etc.We built text Moments, so you have a place to capture the funny and sweet things your kids say. And, so you can narrate your story.
We built email-forwarding so the cute pics your friends or babysitters share with you can quickly be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. (We’ll strip out the text and the signature and all the other stuff and make sure the photos are safe.) And we built it all in the cloud so if your toddler spills juice on your laptop or if your phone accidentally participates in bath time, all your photos are still totally safe.
I could go on and on but every major feature is the direct result of being a mom and wanting to chronicle this special time in our family’s life.
What was the most challenging obstacle you faced while developing your idea?
I am a marketer. I love marketing. But, I took a few years off work and, in that time, social media blossomed and evolved. Getting up to speed has been both exciting and challenging.
What was the most rewarding moment?
Customer feedback is the best! I l*o*v*e hearing from customers through Twitter, Facebook or via our help desk. We have been super lucky to attract a fantastic group of customers. They make time to share their feedback and I totally appreciate it. They rock!!!!
What advice would you give other moms who have a good idea?
Go for it!
Want to check out ThisLife? The Starter Plan (1,000 pictures or one hour of video) is free! And for more storage, you can upgrade to the Adventure Plan (20,000 photos or ten hours of video) for $8 monthly or $80 yearly, or the Family Plan (50,000 photos or 25 hours of video) for $15 monthly or $150 yearly.