By Ben Rappaport, Chatham News + Record Staff
It’s summer, the kids are out of school and you want to do something fun with them.
But what do you do when all the parenting anxiety questions start swirling: what if this activity isn’t safe for my child? What if it’s too far? What if we can’t afford the activity?
Chatham neurologist Dr Zachary Potter knows that feeling. This scenario happened time and time again within his family and led him to develop Zuzu For Kids, a free digital platform to help parents find activities for their children.
“You can look on Google, or you can look on Tripadvisor or other websites, but there doesn’t seem to be a website entirely dedicated to all aspects of children’s entertainment,” Potter said.
Potter himself has two boys: a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old with whom they have traveled a lot. The family, however, often struggled to find an easy way to choose safe and fun activities.
When he took matters into his own hands, Potter began by compiling data from local blog sites about kids’ activities in and around North Carolina or near his family’s next vacation destination, in comparing the popularity of different activities. Too tedious, perhaps. But it worked. Potter said that through his process he was able to have better trips with more comprehensive itineraries – then decided that more people should have access to his methodology.
After two and a half years of data collection, the website — zuzuforkids.com — was officially launched at the end of January. Now Zuzu For Kids is growing with approximately 1,000 new users per week. The majority of users, around 60%, are from North Carolina, but as the company acquires more marketing funds to buy ads in other regions, Potter expects to grow it at an accelerated pace.
“Meaningful and Lasting Memories”
Potter said he’s glad the business has taken off as it shows he believes in his idea. He said it was even more important than proving it to yourself to show parents what is possible and what is available.
“My goal is to really help parents find things to do with their kids and create meaningful and lasting memories,” he said. “Giving parents information on how to spend quality time with their children is a truly valuable investment.”
The website has a fairly simple concept. Users enter where they want to find family activities, a radius they are willing to travel outside of that destination, and the age range of their children. The search reveals a list of activities that match these criteria and provides ratings and reviews for parents, all in one place.
The site also includes filters to look at nearby playgrounds, events or specific games. If families are planning a trip, they can also generate a complete itinerary for their trip filled with a mix of all types of activities.
Current data on the website shows that around 25% of users use Zuzu for travel purposes to venture to other cities, while the remaining 75% find activities closer to home. Potter said it was surprising considering the idea came from travel, but he said he thinks the reason was because of Zuzu’s functionality.
“We have filters and radius maps that a lot of other sites don’t have and that makes us a unique experience,” Potter said. “We also show people maps of playgrounds, which aren’t widely available, and events in a very easy way.”
Along with activities and events, Potter said the site has aggregated the locations of more than 120,000 playgrounds across the country on the site.
As Zuzu grows, Potter says it will only get better because user data helps other parents find better activities. If more people try to find things to do within 20 miles of Pittsboro this summer, then the site can generate trending pages to show what people in the area have been doing the most.
Users can also create profiles on the site to share their experiences through written and video reviews of their activity.
“A natural extension”
Potter works as a neurologist at Duke Health. Moving from neurology to web and mobile application development may seem strange, but according to him, the two passions are linked. He considers a lot of his work as a neurologist to help improve family dynamics, so developing an app that does the same was fitting.
“It’s a natural extension,” Potter said. “It gives people a tool they can access with just a click and provides them with a meaningful experience.”
Mandi Biondi helps with product management and marketing for Zuzu. She worked with Potter as a medical assistant for several years before helping him with his startup idea. She said there were several iterations of Zuzu before deciding what it is today, and believes Potter’s unique experience made the final product unique.
“Zach also has a business degree from Duke University, so I think the business perspective is something different from a lot of other doctors who are only in medicine,” Biondi said. “This context has helped [him] realize the spread in the market and apply it.
Biondi said she and Potter both grew up in very close families, which served as inspiration for the app.
One of the ways the website was able to grow was through NC State University’s Andrews Accelerator program. The program provides startups with access to funding, human capital, resources and advice to help them take their startup to the next level. Out of hundreds of applications, Zuzu was one of five startups to be accepted into this year’s cohort.
Both Biondi and Potter said being accepted into the accelerator was a shocking and empowering experience. They also said it helped them grow their business by networking with other entrepreneurs, teaching them marketing tips and giving them better access to capital.
“Right now, we’re focused on building a real user base,” Biondi said. “As we continue to grow, we hope to be the number one website for kids’ activities and family travel.”
She said user feedback and analysis will play a major role in the site’s future developments and help them achieve this great goal. Potter said the way forward seems both inevitably surprising and challenging.
“It’s like being in a cave without a flashlight and you’re trying to feel the walls around you,” Potter said. “You’re just seeing where users take it, instead of us driving the product.”
He said the goal will always be to create fun and meaningful family memories, and that means listening to what families want rather than forcing them in any direction.
“I thought I was just going to have a great idea that everybody just come pouring in, it’s over now it’s like a living thing that changes over time,” Potter said.
For more information about Zuzu For Kids, visit zuzuforkids.com or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
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