How Jill Koziol co-founded Motherly
As a first-generation college student from rural southern Maryland, I took a windy path to both entrepreneurship and Utah. After attending a state university in Maryland and then Georgetown for my master’s degree, I became a strategy consultant working for Fortune 50 defense contractors and national intelligence agencies.
It was motherhood that ultimately sparked entrepreneurial creativity in me. When my first daughter was six months old, I invented, patented and brought to market the HoneyBee Child SwingEase. The SwingEase is a portable device that converts playground swings into baby swings. I scaled the business with my co-founder, getting it placed in every Babies “R” Us around the country and Canada before licensing it to an outdoor adventure company. Two weeks after exiting that company, I found myself starting a new company with a much bigger mission: Motherly.
How Motherly got its start
I co-founded Motherly nearly eight years ago simply because it didn’t exist and women were being significantly underserved by the parenting resources that were available to them. The idea was born from a call with my now co-founder, Liz Tenety, an award-winning journalist and editor. She called to discuss the seedling of an idea she had for a platform that would speak to today’s modern mothers.
Liz was trying to get smart on what it was to market to moms, and I had the experience she needed, having just worked on HoneyBee Child. We were breathless on our first call, finishing each other’s sentences and discovering we had a shared mission to support women as they become mothers. We quickly decided to build a next-generation brand that would redefine motherhood for the modern woman that differentiated as woman-centered, expert-driven and empowering.
I saw the white space immediately, recognizing that millennial women are so incredibly different from previous generations. My consulting experience taught me to look beyond trends to drivers of change. In the parenting space, they were crystal clear: First, millennials are the first generation in history in which women are more educated than men—that means women have careers and are having children later in life.
Second, this is the first digitally native generation to become parents, which meant their expectations for online resources were very different than in the past and they demanded authenticity from brands.
Third, we knew that the millennial generation would raise very diverse families—in 2018, the majority of U.S. births were of minorities.
These drivers of change went deeper than trends and are very long-lasting, continuing with Gen Z and beyond. So we designed Motherly with the future in mind, creating a unique and differentiated digital media platform that is woman-centered, not baby-centered; evidence-based and expert-driven, not built on user-generated content; and empowering, not judgemental.
Today, Motherly is a well-being destination empowering our monthly audience of over 40 million mothers to thrive. We’ve grown to be an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company in America with a workforce of primarily working mothers. Motherly remains incredibly unique in the parenting space, and our growth is driven by organic mom-to-mom sharing of our content.
From articles to videos, podcasts, books and on-demand classes, we meet our audience of modern mothers where they are, innovating by putting their needs at the center of everything we do. Motherly is built for moms, by moms, and we are obsessed with finding new ways to make her life just a bit better every day.
"More than anything, what women need is more free resources and support."
A pandemic pivot and an unplanned move to Utah
When the pandemic hit, my husband Pete and I both had volatile, intense jobs and two young children who couldn’t handle distance learning on their own. With no family or local support in California, I knew we needed our children to be in school full-time, in-person, for me to keep Motherly in business. From my work on our local public school education foundation, I wasn’t confident California schools would be open in 2020. Our family needed another option.
My husband and I had friends hunkered down in Park City, Utah, during the pandemic. They had children the same age as ours. When they shared that they were planning to enroll their kids in school in Utah for the fall semester, we said, “Count us in.”
It was a radical decision, as we’d never been to Utah before. We showed up with our little U-Haul in Park City in mid-August 2020. We were desperate. And from the moment we arrived, I sensed a different feeling in the air—a desire to get to “yes” on staying open and keeping kids in school versus the basis for “no” we experienced in California. It was refreshing and exactly what we needed.
Two days later, we enrolled our girls in public school and rented a little condo. Within a couple of weeks, I realized we were going to remain in Park City the entire school year. From there, the pieces quickly fell into place. I thought, “If we live in Park City for a year, are we going to want to go back to California and move our kids again after they get settled? When we live in this beautiful home, in this beautiful place?” The answer was no.
Shortly after that, we purchased a beautiful new construction home in Park City and made our pandemic pivot permanent. We have been so fortunate to be welcomed to Park City and Utah personally and professionally. I’ve been actively involved in the Park City Education Foundation, helped pass a historic bond to invest in our public school infrastructure, joined the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Park City and became a CASA volunteer.
In September of 2022, Motherly hosted our team Summit in Park City. Our staff from around the country loved hiking, visiting Olympic Park, shopping on Main Street and eating at the delicious restaurants in Park City.
Motherly—fully remote since 2015
Motherly had been purposely fully remote since our founding in 2015. As military spouses, Liz and I understood that so often, military wives had to drop their careers when the military issued new orders to move. For this generation of educated working mothers, we wanted to create something where if you had to move around, you didn’t have to lose your job—and that cut out the commute time.
We built the workplace we needed for ourselves, but since there are not many women—especially mothers—who have founded and led companies, the idea of being fully remote was an anomaly in 2015. We always viewed it as a strength in attracting great talent from all over the country, and in 2020, our trailblazing the future of work was validated as a strength when many companies struggled to convert to remote.
I’ve always wanted Motherly to be not just a next-generation business and brand but also a next-generation employer creating a very flexible, remote-first organization so working parents could thrive. Being a fully-remote workplace has some challenges, but we believe the advantages far outweigh them. Our team is able to live all over the country, save money from commuting, travel to see family during summer and continue working, and remain dedicated and focused employees.
Building our brand with content first
Motherly is not a lifestyle business—it’s a venture-backed, high-growth business, and my strategy from the very beginning was to connect, condition and convert. Because Liz is a genius content strategist, we started with content to build our brand and audience. Then, we began to condition our audience through affiliate and shopping guides that we influence and drive their purchase decisions, all ultimately with the goal of converting our audience to be loyal Motherly consumers and ambassadors.
Scaling a company is a lot of hard work, and luck also plays a role. Without raising capital in late 2019, we would not have survived Covid as a business. That capital enabled us to survive, test, iterate and grow. Still, I was nearly brought to my knees employing a workforce of 85 percent working mothers who were bearing a disproportionate burden as breadwinners and primary caregivers during the pandemic.
It was a personal and career low point in many ways. I remember realizing that what my employees needed—what every working mother needed—was to be paid full-time to work part-time. Frankly, that is what we all needed in the middle of the pandemic. But, as a venture-backed business that was not profitable and designed to hit aggressive growth goals, I couldn’t offer that to my team.
Our staff felt incredibly stressed because they still had goals and KPIs to hit and frequently felt like they were giving support to our audience of mothers but not living what we preached. I think now, if they all were to look back and see what Motherly did provide during that time, they would realize we offered an immense amount of support to our team from flexible work hours to job-protected leaves of absence and increased mental health and medical benefits. But at the end of the day, we were all suffering, and Motherly alone couldn’t solve the complex issues we all faced.
What the future holds for Motherly
We’ve intentionally not raised capital since our Series A raise in 2019. I decided to get off the venture hamster wheel of fundraising. In August of 2021, I right-sized the business to focus on our core business and get on a path to profitability.
We became an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company in 2022, won additional Webby Awards and won an award from parity.org as one of the Best Companies for Women to Advance. We did all that while being very fiscally responsible and conservative to move us toward profitability.
Today, most of Motherly’s audience ranges from mothers trying to conceive to those with elementary-age children, but Motherly is leaning into content for tween and teen years as our audience ages. We have a book, “The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama,” the most inclusive next-generation book guiding mothers through pregnancy and new motherhood. We also have digital education classes and a wealth of content around early motherhood because that is when mothers are the most voracious consumers of information.
We believe that when a mother thrives, families and communities can thrive. That belief is critical to our mission and why we exist. We believe we are changing the world by empowering mothers. Motherly provides information, support and inspiration, and we do that through various channels. With an audience of digital natives, it’s important to meet mom where she is.
We have over 4 million social followers, and our website is our hub. We have a personalized, week-by-week newsletter that guides mothers through every stage of motherhood. We have our physical books, on-demand digital education classes and award-winning podcasts. We are everywhere for her, educating, informing and guiding her on the journey of motherhood.
In late January 2023, we launched the new Motherly, which is about being the most valuable parenting brand by making all of our Classes by Motherly free to all. We’re also launching an innovative article bookmarking feature—how many times have you read an article about a future stage and wanted to save it?
Moms are constantly screenshotting things. For our free registered users, we’re launching a bookmarking feature so users can bookmark Motherly content and save it for the future. We’re also sharing exclusive discounts and offers that are curated for her.
Making all of these resources free for our audience is critical to achieving our mission of empowering mothers to thrive and redefining motherhood with them. We can’t just serve the half of the population who has disposable income when half the children in the U.S. are born on government support programs, WIC and Medicaid. Motherly is an education platform, and education is an important social determinant of health. The better educated a mother is, the better mother she can be. Every child deserves a mother that has access to Motherly’s resources.
I went to my board and advocated to transition our new classes platform—which we had built with the intention of monetizing—to be free for all Motherly registered users. I offered that in a recession when mothers were less likely to spend their disposable income on digital education. More than anything, what women need is more free resources and support.
What we gain from a business perspective is that we are growing our registered user base, which ultimately drives more user engagement and pageviews that we can monetize with our brand partners—our advertisers. Ultimately, our free-education platform for mothers will grow our audience, our impact and our business while driving profitability.
We’ll not only be the most valuable parenting platform to our audience, but the most valuable parenting platform to our advertising partners. Our first-party data will be invaluable to advertisers in a cookieless world as ad targeting changes due to privacy regulations and shifts. We’ll have a lot of first-party data on this coveted consumer demographic in exchange for the free resources and services we provide them.
Looking to the future, Motherly will further extend our audience and engagement through a new ad network and brand extension opportunities such as prenatal vitamins or other books. And through it all, we will remain focused on empowering all mothers to thrive, growing with her from conception to college.