Selling Apple to babies

What happens when your doctor turns into Steve Jobs?

A couple years ago when my husband and I were staring new parenthood dead in the face at 3:45 a.m., we resolved not to read any baby books, so as to not go crazy with conflicting advice.

But countless people told us, “If you only read one book, you should really read Happiest Baby on the Block.”

At its core, the idea behind Happiest Baby is that humans are born too early - three months too early, to be exact. Really, pregnancy should be four trimesters long, but human heads are built extra-large, to accommodate our brains. As a result, if the baby grows too large, there’s a danger that the head won’t fit through the birth canal during labor. This is why nature designed babies to come out early.

And when they come out early (or rather, on time, because God knows I definitely would not want to be pregnant for ANOTHER THREE MONTHS), they are super under-developed and super unhappy. To fix this, it makes sense to try to replicate the conditions the baby knows in the womb: constant movement (I.e. the mom walking around), white noise (the sound of mom’s heart and the fluids in the placenta), and the feeling of being snuggled in, aka swaddled. If you do all of these things, and a couple more, in combination, babies will soothe themselves and sleep better through the fourth trimester. These actions, in Happiest Baby parlance, are known as “The 5 Ses.”

We ended up skipping the book and watching the video, and it was truly a game changer. (Back in those days, Happiest Baby on the Block was available for free on YouTube, instead of “streaming for $8.99”. ) Happiest Baby REALLY works. (On most babies).

In the videos and adjacent TV appearances around the Happiest Baby philosophy when it first came out, Dr. Harvey Karp, the man behind Happiest Baby, explains calmly what to do if your baby is screaming non-stop.

This is what Dr. Harvey Karp, as I discovered him four years ago used to look like: benign, calm, maybe a little disheveled, but a positive, down-to-earth resource for crazy, sleep-deprived parents:

And here’s what the Happiest Baby website used to look like in 2014, when we were expecting our first: a little like Dr. Karp himself, cheery, disheveled, and comforting.

But, somewhere between our last baby and this one, someone at the Happiest Baby Company decided that making parents happy was not really Maximizing Revenue Streams, and the company pivoted in a big way.

Happiest Baby got VC funding.

Happiest Baby, Inc., the parenting solutions company, has announced it has raised $23 Million in its Series B funding. The round was led by Greycroft Partners with participation from Sallfort Bank and GV.

Instead of just peddling books and videos, the company took it to the next level with THE SNOO, a hyper-intelligent bassinet:

SNOO adds hours to a baby's sleep with the constant, womb-like rhythms (rumbly sound and gentle rocking) babies enjoy before birth. When SNOO "hears" fussing, it automatically responds with gradually higher levels of motion and sound, often calming the baby in under a minute (unless the baby is hungry or uncomfortable). SNOO naturally sleep trains babies over the first few months of life. And, SNOO's special swaddle secures babies safely on the back – for all naps, all night – making it the only bed to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep advice that babies only sleep on the back for the first 6 months.

Basically, THE SNOO is an automated, slicked-up version of the “5 Ses”, complete with Silicon Valley aesthetics (it looks like Scandinavian furniture! it’s easy to put together!), a Silicon Valley price tag (Retailing for $1300, although now, people who don’t want to buy a thing that shakes your baby to sleep can rent one by the month!), and the requisite Silicon Valley biometric data collection.

Of course, no product launch is complete without an image upgrade.

This is the Happiest Baby website now, unrecognizable from its former, gentle, pediatrician’s office aesthetic. Instead of comfortable competence, it now, in its thirstiness to target high-income families who want a crib that costs about the same as a mid-range MacBook, broadcasts sleek chic.

And, of course, you can’t have a brand upgrade without a personality upgrade.

This is Dr. Harvey Karp today:

Look at this man! Does he look like a pediatrician with twenty to thirty years of experience in calming babies, or like someone who is going to fix your Redshift instance and then tell you about his Blue Bottle coffee subscription?

Silicon Valley, what have you done to my Dr. Harvey Karp?

Even the New York Times is angry:

Harvey Karp, the pediatrician, parenting expert and inventor-slash-entrepreneur, cuts an unimposing figure. Lean and agile, with wispy dark hair, blue-rimmed glasses and a bounce in his step, Karp hugs like the Angeleno he has become and deadpans like the New Yorker he once was. Gray has infiltrated his beard and his eyes are a little hooded, but he still makes for a young 66. He used to dress only in blue button-up shirts with matching sweater vests and bulbous ties in a seemingly self-conscious take on the Nutty Professor, but he has graduated to a darker navy, with slim-fitting jeans, an occasional blazer and a pair of Converse or laceless Vans: his transformation into a hip West Coast chief executive — Prius included — complete.

Of course, all of this is entirely understandable. These days, every company wants to be Apple (except for Apple, who, apparently, wants to be a crappy laptop maker.)

And the way to signal that is to go for the Apple aesthetic, regardless of whether it matches your company’s ethos, or not.

How successful is the new Happiest Baby? They’ve raised two rounds of funding at $30 million each so far. People who have the Snoo swear by it (I personally have heard great things.)

And, the Happiest Baby brand marches on.

But in spite of all of that, I find myself missing the old Dr. Karp, and also wishing that maybe less people wanted to be Apple, and more people wanted to be themselves.

Art: The Holy Family, Giorgione, 1500

What I’m reading lately:

  1. Love me a good newsletter on data products

  2. I’m not trying to start something here, but:

  3. How data science works in the consulting space. If there’s enough interest, I can write a post about it from my own perspective.

  4. A very normcore take on neural nets


About the Author and Newsletter

I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. This newsletter is about tech and everything around tech. Most of my free time is spent kid-wrangling, reading, and writing bad tweets. I also have longer opinions on things. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.

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