From the cute and comedic to the whimsical and wise, every parent can pinpoint a Little Hoots moment that relates to their personal adventure in child-rearing, said Lacey Ellis, founder and CEO of the Kansas City-birthed mobile app that recently turned heads at MIT.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a hoot is worth a million,” Ellis said of her growing company that recently joined the elite club of high-growth startups chosen to participate this fall in the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Analytics Lab (A-Lab). The program enables entrepreneurial growth by employing teams of MBA students to create a project that uses analytics, machine learning, and other analysis methods to diagnose, enable, and uncover solutions to real-world entrepreneurial problems faced by participating companies.
“We were selected because our dataset is the largest collection of quotes, conversations, and stories from children on the planet,” Ellis explained.
Within the Little Hoots app — a product that previously landed Ellis guest spots on daytime TV shows and saw her company prominently featured in national publications — parents are given a space to creatively capture everyday exchanges between themselves and their kids. Transforming their gut-busting and thought-provoking words into shareable, short-form digital content –– in the vein of Instagram memes, she said.
Click here to download the Little Hoots app for iOS.
“We bring a high level of creativity that essentially allows someone to design something on the fly that’s not a designer,” she said. “You’re taking this content and photographs and using it in a way that’s digitally scrapbooked.”
“It was the most incredible place,” Ellis said reminiscing about the moment she pitched Little Hoots to a room full of people who could help her further propel the company that’s become her lifeblood.
At the head of a large MIT classroom that overlooked the Charles River, as the Boston skyline danced in the distance, Ellis questioned the audience in the opening moments of her pitch, she recalled.
“What is the power of pint-sized perspective?” she asked the room as she journeyed down a path that would secure Little Hoots a spot as one of 12 companies in the highly competitive, fall 2018 A-Lab.
“The experience was amazing!” she said.
Ellis beamed Little Hoots onto the iOS mobile marketplace in 2013. An effort enabled by her win at KC Startup Weekend, and the mentoring and resources provided by the Digital Sandbox program, she said with gratitude.
“People step in and help even if they aren’t working for you they’re championing for you,” she said. “From the MECA challenges to all the events, Kansas City is the very best place to build [a company] because of that collaboration.”
It was collaborative efforts that saved Little Hoots from exiting Kansas City in late 2015, Ellis said. Angel investments from the Bernstein Family, of Bernstein-Rein, Diane Sonnenstein, founder of Portland-based Lemon Drop Gifts, and Byron Clymer, CIO of Freightquote, injected $450,000 into the company and allowed Ellis to rebuild the platform for wider launch and internal growth, she explained.
Little Hoots has since become available on Android devices and launched its own Shopify store, she said.
Ellis and the Little Hoots team will catch a return flight to Boston in December when the MBA students assigned to their project present their findings.