Need a Playground Stat? There’s An App For That! (AND GIVEAWAY!)

I had the amazing opportunity to interview Mistie Lucht, founder of Playground Pointers, the searchable Chicagoland playground database. She is an energetic, motivated and positive mom of three daughters (all of whom have names that I would totally steal for my own…LOVE THEM! Seriously, I won’t tell you what they are because they are just that adorable).

Playground Pointers Founder Mistie Lucht

 I met Mistie at a meeting of the group called the Founding Moms’ Exchange- a networking group for entrepreneurial moms where you can (GET THIS) bring your kids! Mistie and I were the only two at this particular Meetup to bring our little ones. She balanced her baby while I chased little b around as he weaved through the other networkers’ legs.

Mistie left her full time job to raise her girls AND follow her entrepreneurial dreams…something many of us obsess about on a regular basis (ahem…this girl right here!). She has incorporated her daughters into the process as well, toting them to around 80 parks in the name of research (not such a bad break for them!).

Make sure to read the interview below, especially if you are an entrepreneur and not sure where to start. Also, her app is a steal for Chicagoland parents at only 99 cents! Check it out here

I am gifting this app through iTunes to one reader- all you have to do is leave a comment with your name under this blog post or on the related alldressedupwithnothingtodrink Facebook page post. Winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, November 6th!

Playground Pointers screen shot

What was your inspiration for the concept? Was there one aha! moment, or a gradual building of the idea?

A little bit of both.  I left my job in May 2010 and had no idea where to take my girls to play (at the time they were almost 1 and 3.)  I would talk to other moms, make notes in my iPhone about playgrounds I would hear about, but knew nothing about until I got there, and just tried to explore on my own.  All summer long I thought about how these playgrounds could be shared with others…and, as I went to make notes once again in my iPhone it struck me – the very tool I was using to make notes could become the tool everyone used to search for playgrounds via an App.

Of all the playgrounds you researched, which is your favorite? What makes it worthy of that honor?

This is a tough one to answer because it all depends on my needs for the day – it is hot?  I want a water playground or a playground with a water sprayer.  Are we meeting others?  Let’s find a playground that has space and many play options for different ages. 

I have lists of my top playgrounds for best water features, best hidden gems, best surprises (think unique structures), best urban feel, best rural feel, and overall favorites.

But, I will give you a few of my faves thus far:  Mary Bartleme, 31st and Lakeshore, Walsh, Pulaski, Commercial Club, Lane George, John P.Wilson and Adams.

How did you and Chris connect/collaborate in order to produce the app?

When I came up the idea for Playground Pointers, I didn’t know what to do and how to proceed.  I started reading about entrepreneurship via articles I found on-line.  One struck me – when you think you have a great idea, tell everyone!  Shout it from your rooftop!  It is very unlikely someone will jump to steal your idea, and you will never know what you will learn by engaging others in a discussion about it. 

So that’s what I did – I talked to anyone who would listen about my idea, and it wasn’t long until I struck gold.  I was telling a family friend and he loved the idea, knew Chris and thought collaboration would be perfect.  He asked me to complete a 1-page write up so he could send it to Chris and gauge his interest.  Chris is a dad of 4, and he jumped at the chance to work on it.

2 years later, we have been working hard in any spare time we have, reading, learning, and talking via our weekly Thursday 9pm conference calls after the kids are in bed.  It has been a labor of love, and we are finally seeing it come alive, trying to get the word out about it and be used by caregivers in Chicago.

What features are you looking forward to adding to the app in the future?

Playground Pointers is already an amazing resource, but we want to make it even better!

  • Make it completely searchable (i.e. if a user wants to search for baby swings, all playgrounds within their search criteria will populate on the map)
  • Any playground that contains a water feature would have a blue pin instead of a green pin, making it easy to find them on the map during hot summer days.
  • Add information for users:  Links to relevant play articles, trending playgrounds and a featured weekly playground
  • Be able to set up playdates via the app
  • Enable users to download their own content (i.e. photos and notes that they can share with friends but not for all users to view.  We want to keep the app strictly factual at this time)
  • I would love to create “running routes” between a few playgrounds.  Envision a few moms meeting at a playground, kids play for an hour, all load up and run to the next playground for more playtime…
  • My BIG dream:  Make it social media savvy – when you arrive to a playground, the app “checks you in” – it is then posted on the social media outlets of your choice.  For example, a Facebook post would alert others where you are, it would tweet that you arrived at the playground, and/or you could be checked into Foursquare.  Friends included in a playdate you’ve already set up would be texted about your arrival, and a photo of the playground would be placed on Pinterest.  
  • For an added bonus, a coupon offer for a local restaurant, museum or other family friendly outlet would be texted to you phone, allowing you to visit a local establishment after outdoor playtime is over.

What is the toughest part of being a mompreneur? How have you dealt with it?

Actually finding time to work on it.  There is a proverb:  “A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.”  – Lao Tzu.  In my case, my journey began and moves forward in inches.

Although the workload seemed overwhelming, I broke it down into smaller chunks and literally inched forward.  I would carve out as little as 15 minutes to get 1 thing done instead of doing nothing at all.  I set achievable weekly goals, with a stretch goal, and never waivered (well, mostly never.  Sometimes all I wanted to do was sit on the couch with wine and decompress after dealing with 3 kids all day.)

It was my idea to create or abandon, and I didn’t want to regret never going for it.

Can you expand a bit on the Perfect Playground Day Feature? I am a sucker for planning out the best things to do in an area.

As I spent time exploring the city, I was amazed at all of the beautiful, different neighborhoods and shocked at how little I knew about so many.  That was the genesis of this idea – beyond just playing at a playground, how can you take your kids into the neighborhood (when safe and appropriate) and explore?

This feature creates more of an engaging family opportunity than just playground playtime – it informs the caregiver of local museums, beaches, libraries, other sites (fountains, sculptures, etc.) and, perhaps in the future, partnerships with restaurants to create a full day’s experience.  If a family were traveling to a new neighborhood to find a new playground, I would love to assist them in truly immersing themselves within that neighborhood.

More information will be added to this section as the app grows, but it already contains a wealth of knowledge for many playgrounds.

Check out some of Mistie’s favorite playgrounds!

Mary Bartleme Playground 
Address:  115 S. Sangamon St., West Loop
Why?  The MOST unique structures you can find in Chicago!

31st and Lakeshore Playground 
Address:  31st and Lakeshore.  Paid parking is to the north between Lakeshore drive and the lake front path
Why?  A brand new playground on the lakefront with unique structures.  Check out the climbing wall with different difficulty options for different ages!

Walsh Playground
Address:  1722 N. Ashland Ave., Wicker Park
Why?  A large, sunny playground with options for all ages and an adjacent grassy field for unstructured playtime

Pulaski Water Playground and Pool
Address:  1419 W. Blackhawk St., West Town/ Wicker Park
Why?  With both a zero-entry water playground and a pool with a 3ft shallow end that even young children can feel comfortable swimming in, it’s the perfect destination for a hot day.

Commercial Club Playground
Address:  1845 W. Rice St., West Town
Why?  Amazing climbing structures as well as a “serpent” that weaves his way through the play area. 

Lane George Playground
Address:  5915 N. Sheridan Rd., Edgewater
Why?  A new playground, located next to a gorgeous, sandy beach.  What’s not to love?
John P.Wilson Playground  Address:  1122 W. 34th Place, Bridgeport
Why? Amazing, unique climbing structures with all-age fun down to the last detail, a water sprayer, gorgeous landscaping and a small adjacent field.

Adams Playground
Address:  1919 North Seminary Avenue, Lincoln Park
Why?  A solid standby with all options – play structures for different ages, a sandbox and a water playground, as well as bathrooms on site.