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May 11, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
Business Models

Fatherly wants to build “the leading digital site for parents” — and is counting on mothers to get it there

“For every mom that signs up, they’re gonna sign up their spouse or partner.”

Google “what to do if you drop your baby” and the first result is from a site called Fatherly.

That’s by intention. It’s not that Fatherly aims to perpetuate a stereotype of the “doofy dad” — quite the opposite, stressed cofounder and CEO Mike Rothman. But it’s something hundreds of thousands of people search for every month.

“We’re tackling search terms that previously haven’t been thoughtfully executed,” said Rothman. “These are queries you wouldn’t look for on social, because they don’t reflect very well on you. And we’re surrounding those topics with the best possible content.”

Fatherly, which is two years old and based in Manhattan with a staff of 22, has a seahorse as its logo. “The seahorse is the only creature in which the male gestates the eggs,” Rothman said. “And it conveniently looks like an F.”

Rothman was one of the founding employees at men’s lifestyle site Thrillist. “I spent the better part of 10 years marketing to young, single people. Then a funny thing happened,” he said. “They were no longer as young and single anymore. The founding team had wedding bands on and babies on the way.” Like the founders of Motherly, a similarly named (but unrelated) company I profiled recently, Rothman didn’t like the sites he saw in the parenting space. “They took an overly serious or sentimental perspective, or they took an abjectly caricatured perspective and portrayed the guy as the doofy dad who’s failing his way through parenthood.” Fatherly was designed to reject these stereotypes — a “cut through the middle” approach — and it was also designed “not to discriminate against women.”

In fact, women make up fully half of Fatherly’s readers. “You can create really great, high-quality content for men, and inevitably you’ll be able to capture women’s attention as well,” Rothman said. But men, he said, won’t read women’s sites. (No, it isn’t fair, and it’s become a barely-statistically-supported truism in many forms of media: Most popular kids’ books and movies feature male characters and publishers tend to work from the assumption that girls will read books with male protagonists but boys won’t read books with female protagonists.)

“We were looking to expand the size of the parenting audience by 100 percent,” Rothman said. “The best way to bring men into a parenting conversation is often by targeting women. It’s this remarkable 2-for-1. For every mom that signs up, they’re gonna sign up their spouse or partner.” (While I personally wouldn’t sign my husband up for an email list without asking him, apparently plenty of people will.) Women also love “depictions of good dads,” which Fatherly publishes a lot of: Here’s a professional architect on how to build a pillow fort; here’s “the wokest dad in the animal kingdom.” (Hint: Not the seahorse, actually!) The company also focuses on work-life content — earlier this month, it ranked the 50 best places for new dads to work — and on both breast- and bottle-feeding. And it runs plenty of advice on how men can support their partners through various parenting struggles.

Rothman said that he talked to 120 investors in an effort to raise money for Fatherly, and 110 of them said no. “They’d use themselves as a proxy for the addressable market. Like, ‘Oh, well, I don’t really read parenting content and I’m a guy and I’m your target user.’ For me, that was precisely the point.” Fatherly ended up successfully raising $2 million in angel funding from Lerer Ventures, SoftTech, and others.

The vast majority — 89 percent — of Fatherly’s traffic is on mobile. The company launched with a social-first approach, focusing heavily on Facebook: Its site has 2.5 million monthly uniques but it reaches 75 million people on Facebook each week. “If you’re a publisher that operates in a vertical, it behooves you to think about business first,” Rothman said. “The audience is more defined, and monetization is more of a known quantity, as opposed to horizontal publishers like Mashable that still, 10 years later, haven’t figured out who their target reader is.” Fatherly has gotten 1.4 billion video views from Facebook in the past year, with its average video there getting about a million organic views.

But Fatherly wants to diversify its sources of traffic and revenue. It’s worked to build up its email list — its newsletter goes out daily to 250,000 subscribers. “We think of that as a lifeline in case there’s ever any algorithm changes or weird disintermediation. The email list is still the best way to have a 1:1 connection.” The aforementioned search mid- to long-tail search is another opportunity (“it’s a deliberate slog”). Fatherly has also added a shopping section that links out to retailers’ sites, and it creates a lot of branded content (the ratio of “traditional edit” to ads is 4 or 5 to 1, Rothman said).

Looking forward, Fatherly sees an opportunity in original programming; last year, GMC sponsored a series, “940 Weekends” (there are 940 weekends between the time a child is born and the time they turn 18), covering activities like stargazing, chess, and stick forts. “That’s an activity-based franchise that we think could live as its own TV show,” Rothman said.

More broadly, there’s the simple goal of “being the leading digital brand for parents, full stop.” The “post-Thrillist consumers” need this, Rothman insisted. “They embraced digital and social media for solving their lifestyle inconveniences. What bigger disruption to your life than having kids?”

Photo of a penguin family by Martha de Jong-Lantink used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     May 11, 2017, 8:30 a.m.
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