Layla Lisiewski remembers a pivotally challenging time of young motherhood. Her daughter Ella refused to attend her “twos” program at First Presbyterian Nursery School. “She would make me sit outside the classroom so she could see my feet under the doorway,” Layla recalls. (More on this later.) “I had a six-month-old at home. I was so overwhelmed.”
Instead of giving up, Layla leaned in. A multitasker by nature, she began using the time to research activities and resources for young children. “As a kid growing up here it wasn’t something I thought about. But as a new mom, I was always looking for recommendations and for things to do,” she says. The amount of information was staggering and difficult to track. Layla decided to aggregate everything she learned, put it into a single word document, and then share it with the moms in Ella’s class.
That proved so successful, she wanted to broaden her reach and share the information with the entire community. She envisioned a one-stop shop, an easy-to-navigate network of connections and resources all streamed onto one platform. A friend in California put her in touch with a web developer in San Francisco. He designed a template for the new venture, which Layla named Greenwichmoms.com. In the fall of 2015, she created postcards promoting the site and displayed them at CFCF Roastery & Café on Greenwich Avenue. Within days, patrons had scooped up all the cards. “I knew I was onto something,” Layla says.
IF YOU BUILD IT…
When Greenwichmoms.com officially launched in January 2016, the response from users was lightning fast: “The community really jumped on board,” Layla says. The wife of one of her husband’s colleagues asked Layla if she could start a site in Darien. By year’s end New Canaan and Westport had joined the fold. Since then Greenwichmoms.com has morphed into a national brand—The Local Moms Network—which encompasses eighty-two community sites in twenty-two states. Fourteen more sites are in the pipeline. Each is independently managed by a mother or pair of mothers who have the passion and drive to fulfill the network’s mission of “giving moms the gift of time.”
Each site covers the basics, from choosing a doctor and finding a local play space to choosing a school, camp or fitness studio. There is an events calendar, beauty and workout tips, easy-to-prepare recipes, blog posts, sponsored content and profiles (Meet a Mom is among the most popular). Though each site reflects the personality of the mom in charge, they share in common an upbeat, enthusiastic tone—these are clearly people who love their communities and want to impart that feeling to their users.
“It’s so much fun to share all the amazing things happening in Stamford and rewarding to hear from moms and dads that the information I post is useful,” says Stefanie Horn, the manager of Stamfordmoms.com. As the mom of a one-and-a-half-year-old son, Stefanie wears many hats. Previously a producer with the Jerry Springer show, she launched the Stamford site in January of 2018. Last year, she joined TLMN as Team Manager in charge of recruiting, onboarding and supporting all the site managers. “I follow up with them by getting them set up on social media, with their websites, email addresses, and then help them as they begin posting,” she says.
A mother of three and graduate of Greenwich Academy, thirty-five-year-old Layla never imagined owning a business, much less becoming an internet entrepreneur, though she says she has long been inspired by fellow GA alum, Ashley McCormick, the founder of jewelry and lifestyle brand ASHA. Rather, Layla was a standout athlete in high school and went on to play Division 1 lacrosse at Brown. “I come from a family of academics,” she says. “My father is a neurosurgeon at NYU and my sister is a cardiologist. I was a trailblazer. I was the first to play college sports.” When she graduated from Brown with a degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies, she channeled her drive and ambition into a private wealth management job on Wall Street. “I didn’t know much at the beginning,” she recalls. “I had an old-school boss who taught me so much. He taught me when to speak and when to listen.” Those were skills that would come in handy years later when she was starting her business.
Layla married in 2011 and was pregnant with her first child soon after. “I loved growing up in Greenwich,” she says. “The moment I got pregnant I wanted to move back. I have always had an appreciation for this town. It’s been my passion for thirty-five years.” Fortunately, her fiancé, Gary Lisiewski, had strong ties to the area, too, having grown up in Stamford.
They found a house in backcountry Greenwich, which was perfect for their small family. “It had been somebody’s party house,” she says. “It had three big rooms. I felt like I lived in a gigantic playroom.” Now, with three children including a toddler, the couple is building a new house on the property. The best part? “My mom lives five minutes away and Gary’s parents live ten minutes away. It’s very comforting to be surrounded by family.”
Like most good ideas, the genesis of Greenwichmoms.com started organically. Layla didn’t know she was going to change the rules of the game; she just wanted to find a way to make it easier for moms to navigate the parenthood path. “Parenthood can be isolating. We wanted to grow a team of smart, savvy women based on their love for the town they live in.”
With her background in finance and a passion for art—she is a gifted painter who had a couple of exhibits in SoHo—Layla had little hands-on experience with the tech world. “I didn’t even have an Instagram account,” she recalls. But she didn’t let that stand in her way. “I’m intrigued by what I don’t know,” she says, adding that her experience at GA was instrumental in giving her the confidence she needed to move forward. “At Greenwich Academy they breed women who aren’t afraid to fail. I push myself to see what I’m capable of.” But perhaps even more important, Layla wanted to give something back to the community she loved. “It’s true I didn’t understand about web development. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn. It was exciting to me to pull this idea out of thin air and run with it.”
And run she did. In fact, early on when the project was still in its infancy, Layla would often bring in an extra pair of shoes with her to Ella’s school, which she left outside the door of the classroom. That gave her a window of time to grab coffee and wander the Avenue, to reacquaint herself with local shops and discover new ones, as the idea for the digital platform gelled.
With no overhead and virtually no operating budget, Layla came up with clever ideas to promote the site. In addition to learning how to build and maintain a website, she was becoming a social media pro, making good use of Instagram, dedicated emails and blog posts. She recognized early on that to scale up the business, she needed help. In February of 2017, she brought in Jessica Blouin, a Darien resident and former senior business leader at MasterCard, to lead the rebranding effort. Soon after, Layla created a Mother’s Day giveaway on Instagram and Greenwichmoms.com fan Magan Sullivan was the winner. “Layla sent me a note saying she’d left flowers and a gift card in my mailbox,” the Riverside resident and mother of three young boys recalls. “Yes, my actual mailbox.” The two women met in person a couple weeks later and hit it off immediately.
The mother of three boys, Megan had left her job doing marketing for a hedge fund in New York City and had been working from home as a consultant, creating community partnerships. Together she and Layla brainstormed ideas to take the platform to the next level. “I called friends in Boston, Houston and Cincinnati. I said, ‘let’s launch this thing and see if it works.’” It worked. The Local Moms Network launched in September 2017.
FINDING HER TRIBE
No one has been more surprised by the rapid growth than Layla. “Selfishly I started this because I wanted to create a sense of community for myself, but now I am offering something back to my community. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my town.” With growth comes challenges, some of which are unique to a tech startup. “The biggest challenge is keeping up with the technology, which is constantly changing. I have brought together a great team, and that helps us maintain quality control.” To help stay the course, Layla draws on her experience as a student and athlete. “My education instilled confidence,” she says. “Leadership skills, teamwork and agility are the thing I got from playing lacrosse.” In other words, she knows how to delegate. “As an entrepreneur you quickly learn what your strengths and weaknesses are.”
Case in point: Writer and editor Amy Levin-Epstein Weber joined the management team in October of 2018. In her role as editor-in-chief, Amy directs TLMN’s editorial strategy, which includes interviews with high-profile moms (think Karolina Kurkova and Lake Bell) and sponsored branded content, which can run across the entire network or focus on specific locations. The Cos Cob resident and mother of two young boys has years of experience working on magazines—an aesthetic she is bringing to the digital first platform.
“People use their phones all the time, especially moms who are always busy—at pickup and drop-off and games and grocery shopping. Most of us at The Local Moms Network have young kids, so we understand the back and forth and the hustle. It’s all about making it something they can use on the go.”
For Layla and her team, Localmomsnetwork.com is not only the culmination of her original vision, it has had a huge impact in other ways. “It brings a sense of community to women, so moving to the suburbs isn’t as isolating,” says Megan. Equally important, it has provided a way for moms to pursue meaningful work within the communities where they are raising their families. For some that means reentering the job market after a hiatus. For others it may mean learning the skills they need—how to create and manage a website, for example—to carry them into the future. “I had been out of the corporate world for many years,” says Jessica. “But I was itching to get back to work and do something entrepreneurial. It’s a whole new world out there, and my marketing skills were dated given the emergence of social media and new technology offerings.” As far as Layla is concerned, when it comes to TLMN they are just scratching the surface. “We are building communities within the towns we live in while building community on a national level,” says Layla. “We support each other on a daily basis.”
Each site manager has a unique backstory: One was a missionary in Africa; one did marketing for the Cleveland Cavaliers; another was a fulltime lawyer. The Local Moms Network has provided employment for more than ninety women across the country. “We want to expand into the suburbs of every state,” says Megan. To help their moms get started, the company offers a six-week program in web development. To keep the momentum moving forward, Stefanie sends out a weekly “Monday Motivational” email blast that incorporates everything from inspirational quotes to suggestions for content or ways to engage their followers. “We’re a network of websites and a network of moms. When you don’t see the people you work with every day, it’s important to be reminded that you have a support system,” says Stefanie.
As they look to the future—they are raising capital and have plans to hire a Chief Technology Officer—for Layla, the experience has been nothing short of miraculous. “There is no perfect time to start a business,” she says. “This started as a resource to help moms, and then evolved into something bigger and more helpful. I couldn’t have felt worse about myself than when I was sitting outside my daughter’s classroom so she could see my shoes. I’m glad I could create something good and valuable for moms. It gave me a sense of purpose.”