This story was originally published in the Somerville Journal.
Somerville resident Jess Petersen met her business partner Sharon Kan almost a year ago.
As mothers with two children each, the women recognized how hard it was to balance professional, personal and home life.
A lot of career services available for moms, said Petersen, focus on part-time positions.
“We were thinking that could be kind of unsatisfying,” she said. “In that capacity, you can’t really advance (in the workplace).”
So the two started thinking—what if they could make a marketplace where women could both offer and buy services, where women could decide their own hours?
“We could create our own marketplace so we don’t have to rely on this corporate workforce to supply the work,” said Petersen. “We had a feeling that there were a lot of women out there that had a lot of creative services to offer, but didn’t have a platform to do so.”
That’s when the pair, after recruiting their third partner Margaret McKenna, founded Pepperlane.
Pepperlane was launched in recent months and is an online service for mothers to offer their services, whether it be organizational skills, housekeeping tips, tutoring, etc., and buy said services as needed.
The company is service-oriented and women can decide what they want to provide. Some are offering meal preparation while others plan children’s birthday parties or offer writing services.
“It’s been kind of cool to see what people come up with,” said Petersen, the product vice president. “It’s really up to the women who are joining to decide what kind of services they want to offer.”
Currently, signup for the site is free, though the women expect to charge a service fee as the business grows.
“Anyone who supports our mission of helping moms start their own businesses should join us and hire a mom,” said Petersen. “Membership is not just for moms.”
Moms, said Peterson, are always putting their needs behind the needs of others, but they deserve to follow their passions. Finding a creative outlet, she continued, helps women transition into motherhood.
There are so many transition points in motherhood, said Petersen, such as when children go to school, women can go back to work. It can be hard to figure out what path to follow.
“Women are trying things out, like ‘What is my new thing going to be?’” she said. “We want Pepperlane to be that place.”
When Petersen had her first child, she was working at Hopper, a travel app. She continued working and remembered thinking, “How can I make this work?”
“You become a mom and your work life does change in some way, for better or for worse,” said Petersen. “I went back to Hopper for quite a while after my first child, but I was feeling that work-life balance problem and I didn’t have it figured out.”
After a while she left Hopper and started working as a consultant, where she met Kan, who resides in Lexington. When Petersen was six months pregnant with her second child, Kan asked her to start Pepperlane. Though Petersen was shocked, she was happy to be involved.
To start, said Petersen, members can test their service idea on the website rather than making their own platform. From there they can test whether or not their idea will succeed, with the help of the staff. They can also speak with other members on a forum to get feedback and offer promotions for their services.
In the future, said Petersen, Pepperlane is looking to host local events to try and get more community members involved. Though Pepperlane isn’t hyperlocal, most current members are in Massachusetts area.
“We started super small in Lexington and we’re working on town-by-town expansion,” she said. “We actually work with ambassadors in each town to help us get the word out and get people to the platform. It’s much more effective to bring a bunch of people together from the same local area.”
Pepperlane just started recruiting in Cambridge and Somerville, she continued, and the company is excited to see activity in those areas increase. Living in Davis Square, Petersen added, she sees lots of mothers every day who might be able to benefit from the startup.
As of now the company is receiving positive feedback from users, according to Petersen. With an estimated 300 members, 100 of them offering services, she said there is a budding community, complete with a support system, for entrepreneurs.
“It’s safe to try a new idea and get feedback from a really supportive community and then launch it from there,” said Petersen.