Melissa Bowley on launching the Flourish Fund, the only experience-based baby registry that puts wellness first

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Describe the Flourish Fund in a few words?

The only experience-based baby registry that puts wellness first! Every bundle includes gift cards for the expecting mom to use on experiences like prenatal massage or yoga, meal delivery, postpartum support and more. Her Flourish Fund is flexible based on what she needs, when she needs it. Gift card balances are added to mom’s account, giving her the funds needed to access any provider in the Flourish Fund network. This gives mom the ability to register for experiences while pregnant, but shift those experiences based on her needs after the baby is born. Mom can also create a gift-card-only registry for just support services. Traditional registries focus on what the baby needs; Flourish Fund focuses on what both mom and baby need. We help families thrive from pregnancy to postpartum with support, self-care and the essentials.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

My postpartum experience inspired me to create the Flourish Collective. After my first child was born, I struggled to find support. Everyone focuses on the wellbeing of the baby, but I had just been through the wringer giving birth. I was an emotional wreck and had no idea how to care for this new beautiful baby that we brought home. We didn’t have family nearby, so we were on our own. Even with an extremely supportive husband, I felt overwhelmed. As a mom, you tend to put your own health last, and the medical world put my health last once the baby was born, and I want to change that for mothers with this baby registry.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I am a biomedical engineer by training and have been in R&D and Sales/Marketing at the top 10 medical device companies most of my career. Becoming a mother totally changed my perspective and career when I realized how large the gap was in maternal healthcare.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes, ever since when I can remember. Even when I was 8 years old, I had developed a weed-pulling business called the “Wacky Weeders” and recruited friends in my neighborhood to join the team. No surprise, when we got our first gig, I was the only one who showed up! I’ve always been a problem solver which led me to engineering, but I knew I ultimately wanted to make a difference as an entrepreneur.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Our marketing strategy from the beginning had been mostly word of mouth through the amazing maternal health providers we partnered with. That led to slow but steady growth of our platform, but now with the registry launched, we are looking to really spread the word and realize it needs to be a combination of strategies including social media, paid advertising, PR and bringing awareness to the healthcare community and hospital networks.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I think the hardest lesson I have learned to date is building an online platform. I have invented and launched medical devices but am not an expert in digital platforms or marketplaces. My husband and I built the provider network and back-end marketplace utilizing a framework we had purchased. It was such a long pain-staking effort and finding reliable developers for updates and maintenance has proven to be a real challenge. If I could do it over again, I would have hired a trusted, recommended developer from the start, even if it cost more.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Looking back at what our team has accomplished over the past year, amidst a pandemic, I would say it’s two-fold. I am extremely proud of the collaborative and kick-ass team we have built. Due to this amazing team, we were able to educate 1000’s of mothers virtually during the pandemic when most hospitals and healthcare providers discontinued their childbirth/parenting classes. We brought in speakers from every walk of life from real moms, to nationally recognized OBGYNs and everything in between. We were thrilled to offer these incredible live panels free to all moms and families, and we were recently recognized by the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and we have a pending publication in the Journal of Perinatal Medicine for our innovative new model.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

The most important thing for our team is that everyone we bring on is really passionate about supporting new families and especially mothers. So we usually ask what motivates or inspires them to be a part of this movement to fill the gap in maternal health and wellness. We have heard the most incredible and inspirational stories and experiences from just that one question.

Hiring tip: Realize what you are good at and what you’re not, and hire staff based on that realization. Trust your team to do their jobs, as a good leader enables her team to flourish.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Before COVID-19, my original concept was a marketplace that connected moms to in-person services like doulas, lactation support, prenatal and postnatal yoga, psychiatrists, and more. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped the in-person services that many mothers relied on, leaving them feeling isolated, unsupported, and fearful for their health and their baby’s health.

Knowing that pregnant and postpartum moms needed support through the pandemic, the Flourish Collective mobilized our community of providers, and they stepped up in a big way.

We began hosting free virtual educational events in partnership with Women & Infants Hospital. Nationally recognized panelists such as Authors, Women’s Health Advocates, OBgyns, Midwives, Pediatricians, Doulas, and Baby Experts spoke at the events. Since March 2020, over 1,000 families from across the country have attended the virtual events. Attendees reported that they felt empowered, connected, informed, and hopeful after listening in. Our virtual maternal health educational model was recently recognized by the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

Another key shift in our business after the pandemic began was to offer a way for expecting moms to prioritize their wellness. It’s well-known that women often put themselves last, especially if they have children at home. With the Collective’s new product, the Flourish Fund Baby Registry, pregnant moms can register for wellness experiences and support to make welcoming a new baby more manageable, whether giving birth to their first or second child (and beyond). Think access to birth doulas, lactation counselors, newborn care specialists, yoga and fitness classes, breastfeeding and baby education classes, and more, all of which are offered in-person and virtually now.

Registry users can create a no-stuff registry and include just wellness experiences, pregnancy and birth support, and postpartum support. Or they can register for gift bundles that include essential baby items, postpartum care and breastfeeding products for mom, and gift cards for wellness.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We are just getting started. We truly believe that if we can shift maternal and baby spending to support, self-care and essentials that really matter from pregnancy to postpartum, we will have a significant impact on outcomes including initiation of breastfeeding rates, lower c-section rates, and lower preterm birth rates. We are building an ecosystem around new mothers and families and plan to get involved in anyway we can to see that mission through.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

One word: PIVOT. We have had so many pivots from the initial concept and as the market and dynamics change, you have to be ready to change with it.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

Just not to build the perfect solution right out of the gates. We spent a lot of time and money refining our product when we should have launched multiple versions and learned from our customers to iterate. Also get a good tracking tool for your key performance indicators or else you won’t know what is working and what’s not.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

It’s been a tough year for most, but I am so grateful for my health, family and a business that was able to make a huge impact even prior to launching the baby registry with free accessible real-world education. Focusing on those things and trying to practice what I preach with self-care.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I once heard someone call it work/life integration. It’s not really ever “balanced” per say. Another inspiring mompreneur mentioned this saying and it has stuck with me ever since. You are always juggling a lot of balls, but some are glass and some are rubber. You are going to drop some of the balls but figuring out which of those are rubber that will bounce back is key. The balls that are rubber and glass are constantly shifting in my life so taking a moment to recognize that and making conscious choices everyday. If I am completely honest, this is my biggest struggle and I am still learning myself.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

That I auditioned for The Apprentice right out of college.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

Build the right team around you that you can trust (similar to your motherhood journey actually).

Write down long-term goals and make sure the things you are focused on day to day actually support those goals.

Take care of yourself whatever that means to you—could be a run, reading a good book, a glass of wine at the end of the night in peace.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It’s about women supporting women. It is hard enough with the odds against women entrepreneurs, ie. getting funding for your venture. We need to support one another rather than compete with one another, share the real behind-the-scenes stuff so we can all learn from our mistakes and rise together.

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