Little Ashby Star Reporter: A New App Created by Nancy O'Dell of Entertainment Tonight

Nancy O’Dell, Entertainment Tonight host, launched a new kid-friendly app that focus on education and morals through the advtentures of her star reporter, Little Ashby. We spoke with Nancy about developing the app and being a working Mom. See what she has to say about Little Ashby (and why her daughter loves her) below.

Nancy, you’re quite a busy lady. How did you come up with the concept for Little Ashby and find the time to develop an innovative and educational app for kids?

Well, I have long thought about doing a series of stories about a little reporter who goes on assignments all over the world, while she learns so much in the process. One of the things I love most about my job as a reporter is how much I learn by meeting interesting people and going to so many different places. So, I thought how fun it would be for little kids to do that too! Obviously, they can’t travel the world in reality by themselves, but they can via an animated App.  So that’s the inspiration for “Little Ashby: Star Reporter”. Every storybook is a magical adventure as Ashby and her FUNtastic crew go on their assignment and the app is super-interactive. And what better first assignment for a little reporter to cover than Santa’s Big Premiere as he heads out on Christmas Eve! As far as finding the time to do it, my daughter and I spent wonderful time together coming up with things. (She was the one who told me Ashby and her crew should get to the North Pole by flying on Blitzen) I was also writing on set and looking at character drawings in between takes!


How much influence did your daughter have in the creative process and what does she think about Little Ashby and her sidekicks? What does your daughter think about you being a “star reporter” just like Little Ashby?


My daughter had a lot of influence. Obviously, the cute characters were easy to come up with as they are what a reporter needs to cover a story….a boom microphone(the character, Boomer), a light(the character, Shine), a cameraman(Arty), a camera(Cam), a reporter tablet(Padi), and a handheld microphone(Mike). But my daughter is the one who helped me choose the actual people who voiced them over. She loves my actual audio guy’s voice at Entertainment Tonight, so I appropriately asked him to voice Boomer! My daughter doesn’t voice Little Ashby as she is too young, but when I asked her what I should name the little reporter, of course, she said her name! And my daughter is the one who said I should have real-life video of some animals(she LOVES animals), so video of actual Arctic animals is interjected throughout, along with facts about them. Kids tap on a little icon within the app and real videos come up.


What upcoming adventures can we expect to see from Little Ashby? Will she go international in her reporting?


Oh yes! She goes to the North Pole in the first story and she will even go to the moon! Think of how educational that adventure is going to be as the kids learn about man’s first landing there when Little Ashby interviews an astronaut!


How toddler friendly is your app? Can a toddler navigate through the app on their own, or will they need parental assistance? What is the age range for the app?


The age range for the app is about 3-8 years old. A toddler would enjoy it, yes. The story is for a little older age, but there is so much to do on the app. Everything you tap does something or makes some kind of noise. It is super-interactive! And a toddler would love the real-life Arctic animal videos. Plus, it is about Santa Claus! 


What skills does the app focus on developing?


The kids definitely learn about geography from the app as we explain where places are and Padi, the tablet character, brings up a simple map to show where Little Ashby and her crew are going. The crew is playing a card game on the airplane to Alsaka in the story, so kids can pull up an actual matching memory game. Also, there is a letter-writing game at the end and a spelling game with various words used in the story such as “Santa” or “Snow”. And even more…the ability to use virtual crayons to color Little Ashby, her crew, and the places their assignment takes them.


How does Little Ashby reinforce morals and good behavior to children?


In the story, there is a Narwhal who tries to see Santa’s premiere. A Narwhal is actually a whale which exists in the Arctic with this really long and twisted tooth. He tells Little Ashby he can’t see Santa because people are blocking him and snickering at him because of the way he looks. Little Ashby is a sweet girl with a good heart and she moves over to let him see. Narwhal winds up saving the premiere in the end and then Santa delivers the message of how we are supposed to be kind to everyone all year long. Ashby takes that information back home and files her report about what the Holiday spirit is all about!


What advice do you have for Mompreneurs trying to pursue their dream of developing a product or brand? How so you balance being a star reporter, mom, and entrepreneur?


My biggest advice would be to not let anyone tell you no. Then do a ton of research and be persistent…that is key! As far as balancing, I think one should do things that accomplish more than one thing. For example, one reason this app is a project of love for me is because it is something my daughter is having a lot of fun with and we are spending so much time on it working together!  And to watch her play with the app while smiling the whole time and then repeat the facts she learned, what a great feeling!!
You can download Little Ashby Star Reporter from the iTunes store by clicking here.

An Interview with Storksak and Babymel's Founders Melanie Marshall and Suzi Bergman

Club MomMe absolutely loves Storksak and Babymel diaper bag lines!  Carrying a Storksak Diaper Bag has made my life so much easier as a mom in that I am organized and everything has a place (no more losing my keys give times a day!), the bag is stylish and sophisticated and yet easy to clean, and seamlessly transitions from days at the park to mom’s nights out.  

Storksak was started by two moms who wanted a better diaper bag.  They are not just moms and entrepreneurs, they are mompreneurs, and their story should inspire any woman who wants to start her own business or do their own thing after having a baby.  Melanie Marshall and Suzi Bergman are just like so many of us, who just so happen to make two incrediblely beautiful lines of diaper bags. So let’s dive right in:

What inspired you to create a line of diaper bags?

(melanie marshall) I was inspired to design diaper bags after having a child of my own. After my husband and I had our first son, I found that there were no changing bags available that met my requirements. Having worked as a fashion designer for many years, and knowing that there was a need for good quality, stylish and functional baby bags, I realized there was a great opportunity to fill the gap in the market.

What is your approach to designing diaper bags?  Does form follow function or how do you go about designing a new bag?

(melanie marshall) Storksak designs are often inspired by contemporary fashion, but we don’t follow it slavishly – our customers generally want to invest in a more classic, enduring style. By bringing that design vision together with durability, which has always been demanded in this category, we aim to give our customers a product which survives the rough ride metered out by modern parents. Storksak provides great fashionable baby changing bags for parents that want a high quality product without having to sacrifice any functionality. We've found that modern parents are willing to spend a bit more on our bags as they know that they are investing in something that will last beyond the baby-stage and become a stylish accessory for years to come.

How do you decide what features to include in each bag?

(melanie marshall) All of our range includes features we believe are most important – wipe clean linings, lots of compartments, a padded changing mat and an insulated bottle holder or insulated bottle pocket. We have designed other bags with additional features to suit certain parents’ needs, such as built-in stroller straps on the Tania and Nina and a pop-out organizer on the Helena.

How is the Babymel line of Diaper Bags different from Storksak?

(suzi bergman) After the success of Storksak, we decided to launch a fashion conscious 'sister' brand that was positioned below Storksak in the market and targeted a younger, more modern parent. Babymel bags include most of the functional features seen in Storksak bags, but are a more affordable alternative. All Babymel bags come with signature built-in strollerstraps, are extremely lightweight, and many feature our original prints, which we design in-house.

How did you two decide to work together, and what is it like having a partner in business?

(melanie marshall) Suzi and I became friends when I was working as a designer in a fashion company and Suzi was a law professor. We met outside our kid’s school, and realized we had a great idea, and thought our combined skills were ideal for launching a business together.  We both had a strong desire to create stylish, functional solutions for modern parents and, at the same time, wanted to determine our own schedules, so we could be available for our families.  Flexibility was and still is paramount to us.

(suzi bergman) Having a partner in business is so important, especially if you have different skills. Because Melanie and I had different professional backgrounds but were in similar positions as parents when we met, we knew that we could support each other while balancing our work life with our family life. We both work the same amount of hours, and make sure we leave on time so that we can spend as much time as possible with our families.

What steps did you take that you think best set you up for success?

(suzi bergman) We refused to take no for an answer! You have to be confident and extremely determined in order to successful. We have also reacted to the needs of different markets.  Several seasons ago, we were given feedback that some of our bags were too big for a certain territory, we designed a smaller, more lightweight bag the next season to respond to their needs. For example, the Jools was designed specifically for the Asian market. Funnily enough, it then became very popular in the US! You have to be willing to take feedback on board.

What advice do you have for other aspiring mompreneurs?

(suzi bergman) Market research is crucial in order to find a gap in the market and stand out from your competition. Make sure you really believe in your product too and feel passionate about it.

(melanie marshall) Also, it is critical to have a good business plan and a great quality product. Big retailers are always looking for new, innovative and exciting products. Don’t be afraid to approach them from the beginning.

If you could go back and give yourself advice from when you were just starting Storksak, what would it be?

(suzi bergman) I would encourage myself to talk to as many other people in business as possible and get as much advice as I could before starting out.


Chatting with Pregnancy Awareness Founders Anna Getty and Alisa Donner

Today we are speaking with Anna Getty and Alisa Donner, Founds of Pregnancy Awareness Month.  PAM was established in 2008 to empower, inspire, and build a community of support for expectant women and their families. 

Celebrating their fifth year this year, PAM kicks off with a huge event in Los Angeles on May 6, 2012 at the Skirball Cultural Center featuring Abby Epstein from the Business of Being Born, Dr. Alan Greene, a renown pediatrician and author, Christopher Gavigan, Founder/Chief Product Officer of the Honest Company and former CEO/Executive Director of Healthy Child, Healthy World and several others.  The Los Angeles event will feature a performance by Lisa Loeb, and hosted by Anna Getty, Catherine McCord, Lisa Loeb and Josie Maran. 

The appeal of Pregnancy Awareness spread organically throughout the country, and there are licensed PAM events throughout the month of May from San Diego to New York City, including two Club MomMe events in Los Angeles!

What inspired you to create Pregnancy Awareness Month®?  Inspiring women to make conscious, conscientious, holistic, and educated decisions; moving into motherhood gracefully, powerfully and also confidently.

How has the concept changed from the way it was first envisioned? The concept hasn’t changed, but how we deliver the message has.  Social Media moved us into a new world of connecting and communicating. It has been incredibly fun to meet women on Facebook and Twitter and connect on the topic of pregnancy and being a mom.  It is a wonderful way for moms to inspire and support each other.

Tell us about the marquee event on May 6th.  The PAM 2012 event is the 5th Anniversary celebration of Pregnancy Awareness Month.  This year there will be an emphasis on informative roundtable discussions with a variety of acclaimed experts such as Abbey Epstein Producer of "More Business of Being Born," Dr. Alan Greene Pediatrician and Author of "Feeding Baby Green" and Ken Cook President and Founder of the Environmental Working Group among many others.  We will also have a "mommy spa" with facials, pregnancy message and lot's of pampering.  Pregnancy style maven Amy Tara Koch will be hosting Viacord's Bump It Up Style lounge with one on one fashion make-overs and tips.  For entertainment Lisa Loeb will be performing some songs from her kids book and CD "SILLY SING-ALONG The Disappointing Pancake and Other Zany Songs."  For the kids, Ladybug Jane and her eco-friendly kids activities and of course, many product booths to discover all the amazing resources out there for pregnant mothers and newborns!

When did you start offering licensed PAM events in various locations throughout the United States?  Our first licensed PAM events were three years ago, and we had three licensed events.  This year there will be over 20 events! How do the licensed events they help serve the message of PAM? Besides spreading the message of Pregnancy Awareness Month® thru events and gatherings, PAM aims to help create community.  The licensed events help to bring the message to people in their own communities with their own twist.  It is a grassroots effort that is both effective and fun.  It is exciting to see women all over the country being inspired to do this, to find something meaningful to them and want to share it.  It’s a reminder that the idea of motherhood, pregnancy, and birthing lies within each and every woman.  It is helping to revive that knowingness.

How is it working together?  We chose to work together because we did before and enjoyed it.  We bring different strengths to the table.  It is ever evolving.  We organically move thru challenges and have the foundation of a strong friendship at its core.  We share the same vision.

What advice do you have to other moms who want to start their own business?  The current economy is very different than when we started.   Look at partnering with people that are established and see what you can offer them.  We connected to each other, and then reached out to our network of contacts. Take the time to think it your business strategy out and create the community in your business first before you launch. Trust and believe in the power of the social network community, but understand it, and think of how what you do can benefit others not only how their work can benefit yours.

How do you balance work, your family and your relationships?  We don’t.  We think about it, we strive for it, and we forgive ourselves.  We don’t sacrifice in a significant way, but when we get balanced, we will let you know.

What is your favorite part of being a mom?  What about being pregnant?  One of Anna’s favorite things is seeing the world through her children’s eyes.  It is amazing to share the joy as they experience the world. For Alisa being a mom and being pregnant were all about connection, connecting to her strength as a woman, to the power of the creation of life, and now the connection to her daughter and creating the structure of a family.


An Interview with Krista from Classic Kids Photography Santa Monica/Pasadena (Chief Monkey Wrangler)

Today we are speaking with Krista, the head photographer at Classic Kids Photography in Santa Monica and Pasadena, California.  Krista is a sweet, savvy and very talented photographer who looks like she was born in Los Angeles rather than her native Minnesota.  Club MomMe is so thrilled to be hosting events at Classic Kids Photography and featuring their mini-shoots at many of our events like our upcoming MomMe and Me Tea.

Krista, what inspired you to become a photographer?

I have always had a passion for art and the creative process; photography was something that came naturally to me and I really enjoyed growing up. I received my first camera in elementary school (a Polaroid which I was absolutely obsessed with) and became hooked. I first started taking pictures of flowers in our front yard and after mastering the art of working with still subjects, moved on to snapping photos of my small cousins.

Did you study photography in college?

I actually studied Communications with a minor in Photography, hoping to one day become a photojournalist. Little did I know that my true calling was to be a children’s photographer! Shortly after college I moved to Minneapolis and worked as a data analyst by day and waitress by night to make ends meet.  As one would expect, I soon became restless and yearned for a more creative way to make a living. That’s when I came across a job ad looking for a “Monkey Wrangler” for Classic Kids in San Francisco. I replied immediately with the subject line, “PERFECT!” and the rest is really history!

It seems like you were destined to be a Classic Kids Photographer/Monkey Wrangler!  How long now have you been working at Classic Kids Photography?

Almost five years! My first year with the company was spent assisting and training in our San Francisco studio, after which I relocated to Los Angeles to run Classic Kids Santa Monica. Since that time, I have had the privilege of getting to capture cherished memories for so many families and have also had the chance to see my small subjects grow and change before my eyes. We also recently opened a second LA area studio in Pasadena, which I shoot in a couple of days a week.

What age groups do you like to photograph? Making subjects smile…Newborn…etc

To tell you the truth, I really enjoy working with all age groups! My job is really a combination of photography and psychology, as I’ve really had to discover how to bring the best personality out in age groups from baby all the way to grandparent. There is a certain challenge to each photo shoot that I look forward to. With babies (2 months to a year), you really have to engage with them a bit to figure out what excites them. Some babies are more sensitive than others and prefer just to be spoken to quietly. Other babies get a kick out of loud Peek-A-Boo’s and singing.  It’s really a matter of paying attention from the second a client walks in the door to know what techniques will get the best results in the photos.

Tell us about photographing newborns.

We love to have newborns in the studio at around 5-12 days of age. At this stage, babies will sleep almost the entire shoot and we can really mold them into some amazing positions to showcase how small they are. We always keep the studio very warm and toasty and have plenty of fuzzy blankets on hand so baby is comfy-cozy. We also allow for up to 4 hours for a newborn shoot so that we have plenty of time if baby should need a feeding break or extra time to fall asleep.

How does that differ from photographing toddlers?

With toddlers, having an assistant on hand is always key. Sometimes my assistant will have to pick up the child, wipe drool off their face, set them on the backdrop paper and immediately run behind me to do a “monkey show.” It takes a lot of energy and persistence, but is always worth the hard work when the proofs come in and you get series of amazing shots where the child is truly laughing and engaging with us.

And what about shooting children?

For ages between four and ten years old, I really love to just ask questions to invoke a conversation, as kids tend to be very expressive when talking about things they like. Asking them what they want to be when they grow up is a great starter. I always tend to throw in a couple of silly suggestions for them to get a laugh while they are contemplating their answer.  For some reason the answer “Crocodile dentist” as an option always gets a good chuckle. Or sometimes I tell kids that when I was little I wanted to be a giraffe when I grew up. That answer still makes me laugh, too!

Is it different shooting parents with their kids?

Sometimes our hardest subjects can be the parents, as they don’t always come into the studio feeling confident about being in pictures. The key to this is to have fun with both the kids and the parents. I’m really unafraid of making a fool out of myself to get a natural, happy expression. We never tell our clients to “sit and smile.” We want them to be having fun along with us so that we can get the most natural shots possible.

Lastly, tell us about your favorite moments in a photoshoot.

I have a wonderful client who comes in every year with her young daughter for updated shots and holiday cards. This last year her daughter (who was 7 at the time) requested that Mom leave during the shoot so that we could have our “playdate” together alone. After Mom promptly agreed and went next door to grab a coffee, my sweet little subject said, “I have a secret to tell you.” She made me kneel down and whispered in my ear, “You are my best friend.” My heart absolutely melted and we had so much fun for the rest of the “playdate” as we giggled over girl talk, had a dancing contest and chatted about princesses. Needless to say, the photographs really showed how much fun we had together!