Tech journalist and Pando founder Sarah Lacy raises $1.4 million to launch a new startup for working mums

  • Chairman Mum is a new site for working mums created by PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy. It aims to provide mothers with a network of support on a judgment-free platform.
  • The site offers an ad-free platform that costs users $US5 a month to join.
  • Chairman Mum’s revenue model is intended to shut down trolling and promote positive online behaviour.

In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, there’s been a growing debate surrounding the role of social media giants. How do social networks ensure user privacy? How do they promote good behaviour online? How do they keep problematic ads from surfacing on their sites?

One brand-new site might have the answer, and it’s offering a solution to an often overlooked segment of the population: working mums.

The site is Chairman Mum, the brainchild of journalist and PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy, who is creating an online community focused on connecting mums with a network of support where they can chat about their daily challenges on a pointedly judgment-free platform.

“What we’re launching is a subscription-based platform to rebrand working motherhood,” Lacy said in an interview with Business Insider. “Before I became a mum, I always heard about the guilt that working mums felt and the stigmas they faced. I had friends who would say things to me like, ‘Get ready to feel like a failure all of the time.'”

Lacy says the extreme pressure mothers face within the workforce is manifested not only in the office place, but in online interactions as well. “There’s so many mother-focused Facebook groups where it turns into tribalism and mummy wars and horrible threads that end with someone calling someone else a bad mother,” said Lacy.

At Chairman Mum, Lacy aims to check these tribalistic, antagonistic behaviours at the door. “There’s no such thing as being a s—-y mother,” said Lacy. “We’re changing the stigma of women feeling like shit for doing something great for their families.”

Chairman Mum
A screenshot from Chairman Mum. Chairman Mum

Trolling and bullying are problems that have long troubled the online landscape, but Lacy says the key to maintaining good behaviour online resides in how a site is built, rather than the people that populate it.

For Lacy, creating a judgment-free platform meant rethinking the site’s revenue model from the ground up.

To join Chairman Mum, users are charged a flat fee of $US5 a month, and the site is a deliberately ad-free zone. That’s because Lacy’s fundamental agreement with the people who use her platform differs radically from that of most other mainstream social media sites.”Our users are the customer and not the product,” said Lacy. “We won’t obsessively track you, and we aren’t trying to repackage you to sell to Procter and Gamble.”

“There’s so many little things that are done within social media sites that promote fighting and drama because fighting and drama make you come back to the site again and again,” said Lacy.

With a subscription-based platform devoid of ads, there’s no residual lure in attracting visitors to the site to gain revenue. A flat monthly fee not only incentivizes good behaviour online, but it ensures that the people participating have some financial stake in the site itself. “You need a sense of barrier to create a trusted community online,” said Lacy. “Five dollars a month isn’t very much, but it’s enough of a barrier to promote good behaviour.”

And while a subscription-based platform might promote good behaviour online, Lacy says Chairman Mum is firm on moderating users as well. Users can flag content for removal, and if an item is flagged three times, it’s automatically pulled from the site.

Lacy’s values for Chairman Mum reflect the unflinching critical insight she’s levied on tech giants like Uber and Facebook during the years she spent working as a tech reporter in Silicon Valley. Lacy has long believed that social networks like Twitter and Facebook don’t do enough to shut down trolling and abuse on their platforms. “These are wide open unenforced social networks that don’t take these problems seriously,” she said. “I’ve always had the point of view that if a tech company tells you that something like moderating commenters is hard, what they mean is that they don’t care about it.”

While Lacy believes that Chairman Mum is targeting a large segment of the population, she’s realistic about the platform’s limitations. For instance, she doesn’t expect Chairman Mum to entirely negate the use of Facebook in the coming years for working mums.

“I don’t for a second think that there will be billions of people uninstalling Facebook,” said Lacy. “What you’re going to see is a shift in how people spend their time on Facebook. People are going to be using Facebook less, and we are carving a way out of Facebook in terms of what is a part of life.”

Chairman Mum
Chairman Mum presents a place for working mums to network on a judgment-free platform. Chairman Mum

While Chairman Mum’s exclusive focus on working mothers might at first seem a niche market, the platform has caught the eye of several prominent investors. Its $US1.4 million in seed funding was led by Floodgate Ventures and included prominent firms like Greylock Discovery and Precursor Ventures.

Lacy describes Chairman Mum’s market as a massive opportunity. “This is not a small or niche product,” she said. “It’s going to grow in a sustainable way. If this is our number one focus, it’s not that hard to pull off. There are a bunch of tech companies that pull off way harder things than not having a troll-based environment.”