Meet Monica Banks, founder and CEO of Gugu Guru, an online shopping tool for parents that makes free, unbiased and highly personalized product recommendations based on a fun lifestyle and personal style assessment quiz. Monica is the subject of our latest installment of the Inner Circle Q&A!

Melissa Campanelli: Please tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your professional background?
Monica Banks: My background is in marketing and branding. I’ve worked for several tech and software companies, and right before going out on my own, I worked for a branding agency as a vice president on the account services side. In that role I had the opportunity to work with global brands such as Gillette, Pampers, Similac and Bayer, among others. In my fourth year at the agency, I became pregnant with my son and decided it was time to forge my own career path so I could have more flexibility. After my maternity leave, I resigned from the agency and started my own consulting business. My very first client happened to be a maternity skincare brand, and from there my niche became the mom and baby space.

Monica Banks, Founder and CEO, Gugu Guru

MC: Tell us about your company, Gugu Guru. Why did you start the company? What was the white space you saw that you felt needed to be filled?
MB: In my role as a consultant to mostly new and emerging mom and baby brands, as well as being a new mom myself, I identified three key challenges making up the white space in the industry :

  1. First-time parents are completely overwhelmed with the amount of selection. Choosing products for your baby is research intensive and intimidating enough as it is. When you factor in that the category is exploding and there are new products and brands entering the market daily at a seemingly endless pace, it becomes extremely overwhelming very quickly. All this is happening at a sensitive time when new and expectant families should be trying to cut extra stress out of their lives.
  2. For brands, especially new brands, it’s very difficult to break through the noise and get in front of the right parent that needs the product.
  3. Lastly, for retailers, personalized experiences are now an expectation of millennials (who make up approximately 90 percent of new parents today). With the glut of products in the baby and parenting category, it was becoming almost impossible for retailers to personalize these experiences in a way that scales effectively.

Gugu Guru solves this by matching brands with the parents who need their products the most. Through our fun quiz, Gugu Guru collects data about each user’s individual personal style, lifestyle and parenting preferences. The site’s patent-pending algorithm delivers free, unbiased and highly personalized product recommendations based on their answers. The rich data we collect allows us and our brand partners to offer parents targeted recommendations in ways that were previously unavailable. Because of this, Gugu Guru has the ability to create marketing campaigns designed to reach the most receptive parent audience possible.

MC: How do you promote and market your company? For example, do you work with influencers or use any other social media tactics?
MB: Currently we rely mostly on word-of-mouth and social media. Word-of-mouth is driven not only by the parents we help, but also through unique partnerships (like our work with Domino’s on a pizza baby registry launched in 2017). We currently don’t do any paid advertising of any kind. Gugu Guru does work with a lot of celebrities and influencers, but they come to us for help — we don’t pay them. And because these relationships are organic, when those celebrity and influencer parents share their experiences with Gugu Guru, it shows as authentic and we always see a surge in sign-ups on the site.

MC: What was the biggest challenge you had when starting Gugu Guru, and how did you solve it?
MB: It’s really hard to pinpoint one challenge. Like most startups, especially a tech startup, we’ve had our fair share of uphill battles. One thing that has been an ongoing struggle for me from the get-go has been the fact that I’m a solo founder. The way that I’ve tried to solve that is by hiring the best team possible to help me build Gugu Guru. While it’s still a challenge some days to be a “solopreneur,” I have to say that I wake up every single morning and thank my lucky stars that I have the team of people working with me that I do.

MC: What advice would you give to women thinking about starting their own businesses, or at least side hustles?
MB: Simplicity is so key to success. Figure out exactly what your offering is going to be and perfect that one thing even if it’s just with one or two customers. Make it your singular focus. So many entrepreneurs — female or not — start seeing a little traction and then begin adding on way too soon. I’ve found out firsthand that introducing features or services prematurely can completely derail any success that you’ve had. For women, who often wear many hats, focusing on your core offering and filtering out those other distractions is especially important.

MC: What’s next for Gugu Guru? What are your goals for 2019 and beyond?
MB: We’ve collected so much data about our users. Our main goal for 2019 is providing our community of parents with the most highly personalized product recommendations and customer service possible. To do this, we’re putting a lot of effort behind additional data collection, list segmentation, personalized content creation and targeted emails. The ultimate goal is, and has always been, to provide personalized product recommendations for families throughout multiple life stages.