Zoe Desmond on Frolo: An app for single parents in Ireland and the UK

6 Sep 2019

Frolo founder Zoe Desmond. Image: Matt Lorenz/Frolo

Zoe Desmond discusses the community she’s building for her start-up Frolo – a subscription-based app for single parents that will be launched later this month.

Later this month, a new app aimed at single parents in Ireland and the UK will be launched.

It’s called Frolo (a portmanteau of the words ‘friend’ and ‘solo’, which is also what the app users call themselves) and it was conceived by Zoe Desmond, daughter of Irish businessman and financier Dermot Desmond.

Using the entrepreneurial spirit inherited from her father – who has investment holdings in Celtic FC and once owned London City Airport – Desmond’s new app aims to make the best of what can often be a difficult situation.

Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Desmond explained that the early days of her life as a single parent were quite lonely. This changed when she realised an acquaintance in her area was also a single parent, long after they had built a rapport as neighbours.

Frolo’s Instagram community

Although she’s now well aware that there are plenty of single parents around, thanks to a community she has already built with Frolo on Instagram, Desmond had previously stumbled across very few women raising kids alone in south London, where the Irish entrepreneur now lives.

“Just through the Frolo community on Instagram alone, I now have about 10 ‘frolos’ in my area who I am connected to and meet up with. We do little Frolo supper clubs, we do playdates and my frolos are even coming over to my house this Saturday for a BBQ,” she said. “It’s just so amazing and the app hasn’t even launched yet.”

The 4,000 single parents in the Frolo Instagram community even had access to a special camping area at this year’s Camp Bestival, which illustrates the kind of activities users can expect to have offered to them on the app when it is released in full later this month.

A mother and child cuddle each other on the front step of a house with a teal door. The mother is wearing a red t-shirt and blue jeans with brown boots, and the child is wearing a grey t-shirt, jeans and yellow Crocs.

Zoe Desmond and her son Billy. Image: Matt Lorenz/Frolo

What makes Frolo stand out?

Desmond noted that there are many online communities for parents (single and otherwise) on sites like Facebook.

One example is the massive community of Irish women, known as ‘Mas on a Mission’, which has nearly 90,000 members on Facebook and a number of spin-off groups. However, a significant portion of these users aren’t parents – they’re just there for the memes, advice and, of course, the drama.

Then, there are communities on the likes of Mumsnet in the UK, which have been the subject of major controversies.

What makes Frolo different to these communities? And has Desmond prepared for the possibility that people who aren’t single parents may want to join in?

“There are tons of single parent groups and forums, and tons on Facebook. I find a lot of them really grim,” she said.

“They can be very judgemental or people can use them to do things like bash their ex. Any time I’ve joined one, I’ve almost immediately taken myself back out.

“I don’t want to be in that kind of negative energy. It doesn’t feel safe. It doesn’t feel empowering. You don’t know who these people are. They’re just people on Facebook, so you have no idea who you’re talking to or what you’re dealing with.”

Desmond believes that Frolo’s safety features will be a unique selling point to potential users.

“In terms of safety, there’s a bank-like technology, a two-tiered authentication process where you have to take a live photo when you’re signing up for your account. You can’t do it through Facebook or anything like that. That’s a deterrent, anyway.”

The app was designed and developed by London-based Studio Graphene. This studio has previously designed the London Sock Company’s website and an app called StopMyCraving, which provides users with alternatives to foods that they are craving.

A woman with blonde hair and small gold hoop earrings wearing a black jumper hugs her son in a playroom. He has red hair and is wearing a denim shirt.

Zoe Desmond and her son Billy. Image: Matt Lorenz/Frolo

Desmond said that, initially, the plan was for the app to only be open to younger parents with young kids. “Because my son was only one when I came up with the idea, it had always been in my mind that this was an app for people with younger kids.”

However, after a recent interview with Ryan Tubridy, Frolo’s founder received an email from an older woman living in rural Ireland.

“She told me her kids have left the nest but she’s a single parent, she has no support and she does feel quite isolated, especially in her community in rural Ireland. She still doesn’t feel completely accepted in her situation and thought it would be lovely to connect with other parents,” Desmond said.

“That really opened my mind up to that. Those older parents are absolutely welcomed on Frolo.”

Subscription service

Frolo will be a subscription-based app that costs £5 per month. Desmond said that the majority of beta testers were happy to pay for the service.

“The community actually wanted a barrier to entry because they would feel safer. This is what they felt was right and £5 per month is what felt like a comfortable price point to them.”

However, she also acknowledged that there are many parents out there who can’t spare an extra fiver each month, or up to £60 per year, for an app to chat with other single parents.

“That’s something I’m also looking into to see if there’s some kind of way for subsidising the app for those who can’t afford £5 per month,” she added.“That’s just the standard subscription and there’ll be a premium offering that’s additional to that.”

‘There are so many feeling exactly this way and this support system for single parents has not been there, and the community aspect has not been there’

The premium offering, which she plans to launch next year, consists of features for dating, arranging holidays with other parents and kids, access to lawyers and legal support, as well as information on therapists.

“Any need you have as a single parent, you will be able to tap into that through the Frolo premium offering next year.”

Desmond said it was initially scary to put herself out there and open up about her experiences as a single parent. Ultimately, however, she believes it was worth it.

“There are so many feeling exactly this way and this support system for single parents has not been there, and the community aspect has not been there. What’s surprising for me is that it’s only happening now. I don’t know why it hasn’t been created before.”

While the release date of Frolo hasn’t been set in stone yet, it’s expected to launch later this month.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic