By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
What began as an idea for a magazine to help guide people through the various stages of life became a significant resource for new and expectant moms—Babypalooza.
Cecilia Pearson, an entrepreneur and innovator for most of her life, initially called her company Life Stages because she wanted to help people grow in different areas of their lives.
“When I started this [in 2005], I really thought it was going to be just one of many products. I was going to start with the babies because that’s the first major lifestyle change after marriage,” recalled the Babypalooza founder and CEO. “I just wanted to address and give people help and resources through different stages of their lives. … I planned to do things for college, for seniors, but the baby thing kept growing, and I never got beyond it.”
And it’s a good thing she didn’t.
Pearson’s magazine evolved into more of an events-oriented business, marketing products and providing information both online and via high-energy baby expos. From her base in Birmingham, Pearson branched out with events in Huntsville and Mobile and expanded to offer a broad range of services, including online tutorials. Car seat installation, for instance, was added during the pandemic as part of a virtual services directory that parents can turn to for coaching.
Headquartered at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot, the Southeast’s largest tech startup program, Babypalooza has 12 employees, including part-time and contractors. The company’s client base, which reaches into Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida, has become its own community, educating, supporting, and equipping first-time pregnant women and new moms.
“If you’re a first-time pregnant mom who doesn’t know what resources are out there and has no idea where to start, you start with us,” Pearson said. “My whole point was that I wanted to be able to help people find what they needed as they started to grow their families, … to make it easy for people to get the information and resources they needed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic may have halted gatherings of large crowds, but Pearson already had the foresight to reach people without in-person meetings. In 2018, she realized that there were limited weekends and locations, but “we still had a lot of people we could reach, so I went through the process of adding technology.”
Pearson decided to take Babypalooza digital and applied to the Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator, which provides entrepreneurs with hands-on instruction in how to grow and scale their businesses with $50,000 and 13 weeks of mentoring.
“I’ve been working on the digital platform ever since,” she said.
Fortunately, the latest version of the Babypalooza app launched right before the COVID-19 quarantine began, meaning the company can keep its moms engaged—and there has been a huge increase in online traffic. Additionally, expos planned for March through October have been rescheduled, so many of the businesses that would have exhibited at those events now have listings on the Babypalooza website and app, where they can post videos, provide coupons, and deliver other information to give moms continued access to services and products at a central location.
“We found that our moms are just as engaged through the platform as they are in [person], so we’re able to make it feel like a live event,” Pearson said. “They’re able to get the same amount of information, and they’re able to interact with the exhibitors as well as with each other. … This may be giving us an answer we didn’t know we needed because we’ll be able to do more events in more cities without having to get in a van and travel to those cities.”
The company has also expanded its offerings to include Babypalooza U—“An online academy with courses for moms that [provides] all the things we would teach live at Babypalooza,” Pearson said—and a monthly subscription box program called The Pregnancy and Newborn Subscription, which will be $35 per month.
“[Prior to the pandemic], moms would go to these events, get samples, and test products, … but they can’t do that right now. Via our platform, each mom can sign up and enter either her due date or when her baby was born, which will be the trigger for us to provide very personalized information along the way,” said Pearson, explaining that, if a woman is in her first trimester and morning sickness hits, for instance, “she will get a subscription box with all sorts of morning sickness remedies to try.”
“The mom can get a box from us with things right when she needs them, so she can try them without worrying about going to the store,” Pearson added. “She doesn’t have to worry about what to order, because she’ll get several samples based on where she is in her journey.”
The Babypalooza website and app also provide information for moms about navigating their families through COVID-19, such as tips for working from home and using grocery delivery services. Moms also can find and follow friends, join private groups, and even engage in challenges for points and prizes.
Since the launch of the app, Babypalooza has seen a 249 percent increase in traffic and connections.
“We’re glad we knew there was a need for our moms to have more than a one-day event with us and started creating the app last year through Velocity Accelerator,” said Pearson. “Now, we look forward to seeing the virtual community grow so we can help our moms and they can help each other.”
Pearson believes she can weather the challenges of COVID-19 because she successfully guided her business through the economic recession of 2008.
“Being lean [was] something I kept doing,” she said. “The way I handle things is by doing what I know to do and not worrying about anything else. I wake up and work as hard as I can. I feel like you reap what you sow, and eventually something’s going to come up out of the ground.”
Birmingham-native Pearson completed a double major in marketing and computer science at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. She then went on to earn master’s degree in counseling from the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama. After holding positions in marketing, publishing, and event management, she decided to start a magazine called Birmingham Baby.
“I wanted the magazine to come to life,” she said of the publication she launched in 2005. “I wanted people to be able to actually meet doctors and [get] all these resources. … It’s hard to do things when you’re pregnant and when you have kids with you, so I wanted to make it easy for parents to be able to interview child-care centers and do that all in one day and in one place.”
To bring everything together so people could access the information provided in the magazine, Pearson expanded her efforts to include an expo one year after the magazine’s debut.
“We wanted to make it fun,” she said, “That’s why the Babypalooza name came up. … I want [parents] to think fun.”
Pearson’s events started at Birmingham’s Brookwood Village shopping mall. As the expo became more popular and more people started attending, she eventually moved from malls to civic centers—and “that’s what we focused on,” she recalled.
People were driving from Huntsville, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa.
“We would see 45,000 people a year at these events,” Pearson said. “I have pictures of people lined up around the block at the [Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC)] to get into these free events. … They were huge.”
Pearson handles her personal and professional lives in the same manner—creatively. During the recent lockdown, she hosted social distance parties, virtual bingo games, and movie nights with her neighbors. She has built a backyard beach at her Hoover home, complete with sand, a blow-up pool, and a lawn chair. She also has created a fairy garden in her backyard with little hills, houses, tables and more.
“I’ve just been finding things that were interesting to do that didn’t involve me getting around people,” she said—except her family members.
Pearson, a W.A. Berry (now Hoover High School) graduate who is single and doesn’t have children, lives about five miles away from her mother and five miles away from one of her two older sisters, so she has been including her mother in her creative COVID-19 activities.
“We’re all really close,” she said about her family, whom she credits with helping her succeed as a business owner.
“My mom, [Francine Pearson], is my number-one fan and has funded so many of my crazy entrepreneur ideas. [The Babypalooza show] has a section called ‘Ask Fran!’—and, yes, she’s going virtual too.”
Pearson’s mom has been “ride or die,” the entrepreneur said.
“I had this business in the recession of 2008, and I was doing events in Dothan and places like that, not making any money. My mother would pay for the hotel and the food so I could keep doing these baby expos all over the place. … I think that’s pretty significant,” said Pearson, adding that her business is a “family affair.”
She’s gotten support from her sisters, LaTanya Bayles and Annaliese Tinker, and her father, Cecil Pearson, who she is named for.
“My dad took me to my first coding class when I was 12,” she said. “[He and I] would get up and spend our Saturdays at [the University of Alabama at Birmingham]. He’s delivered magazines and even directed traffic at the events.
“Every member of my family has, at some point in time, contributed to Babypalooza. They all have been there from day one. They are why I’m still here,” said Pearson.
To learn more about Babypalooza, visit Babypalooza.com.