On a typical Friday evening at The Wonder in downtown Manhattan, you’ll probably see a mother ordering a glass of rosé while her kids play nearby.
You also might spot a family making a pit stop at a stroller detailing station, where an attendant uses a Dyson vacuum to suck up Cheerios from an Uppababy or oils its wheels. You could even catch fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff leading a game of charades.
That’s the experience new startup The Wonder promises to deliver at its airy 8,000-square-foot center that’s more of a high-end exclusive club than a playspace for kids.
The center opens in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood on Sunday, Mother’s Day, and aims to give families who can afford it a community and a place to go, where they’ll see familiar faces, keep kids entertained and enjoy the space themselves. The concept comes as some companies, such as WeWork and The Wing, sell a sense of belonging as part of their business models.
The Wonder recently raised $2 million in seed funding from investors, including former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, designer Minkoff and the Female Founders Fund, an early-stage investor firm focused on funding businesses founded by women. It hopes to open more spaces in the New York City area and expand across the United States.
Co-founder and CEO Sarah Robinson, who worked in marketing at MAC Cosmetics for nearly eight years, came up with the the concept after repeatedly taking her child to “lackluster” playspaces.
“There was no place to sit but the floor, and I would have paid someone $100 for a cup of coffee,” she told CNN Business. “As a parent, it’s so polarizing: you could either do something for your children and your own brain is turned off, or you could take your kid to a restaurant and be stressed out the whole time. Someone is always disappointed.”
The Wonder has a series of play areas, from a library and arts-and-crafts section to a space-themed playroom with rocket-shaped slide. The playroom’s theme will change each season, and it features stadium seating so parents have somewhere to sit.
Kids can rest on benches reminiscent of Jeff Koons’ balloon art, or play Connect Four on the tables in the cafe, where parents can order freshly-made meals, coffee and alcoholic drinks or visit the nearby Wi-Fi lounge to make calls. The Wonder will host a series of workshops, led both by professionals and kids, who might give a BeyBlades lesson or teach peers how to make slime.
“We were so sick of circle time, ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ and places renaming classes to make it seem cooler. At the end of the day, it’s still a class about shapes, and that’s not engaging to the parent,” Robinson said. “We wanted to [bring in] theater and pop culture, and get designers involved, led by friends of ours in this design community.”
Robinson convinced longtime friend and former Lucky Magazine editor Noria Morales to leave her role as head of designer collaborations and influencer marketing at Target to launch the startup.
Morales, now co-founder and chief marketing officer of The Wonder, said she was immediately struck by the concept, noting “parenting can be isolating.”
“Working parents might only have a few hours with a kid at night – and forget seeing friends,” Morales said. “We wanted to balance all of these things and imagine a place where we could all come together. It’s striking a chord with a lot of people.”
Robinson said when The Wonder started pursuing capital, “a lot of angel investors came on quickly because they wanted something like this to exist.”
Mayer, who invested an undisclosed sum, reportedly had a nursery installed near her Yahoo office for her infant son – a move that sparked backlash as she also barred employees the flexibility from working from home.
Although The Wonder’s concept aims to make socialization and community easier for parents, the price isn’t accessible for everyone: Memberships cost $450 a month for the entire family and a caretaker, and annual contracts are required. The Wonder, which is adding interested members to a wait list, caps the space between 200 and 300 families.
It’s not the only community-focused startup with kids on its mind. The Wing, a network of women-focused clubs and coworking communities, recently announced on-site babysitting and a children’s program for members. Members can drop off children for two-hour babysitting sessions or group kids’ classes, including art and music courses, when they stop by for a meeting, to work or for an event. The babysitting option will be available at one location in New York and another in Los Angeles.
Parents who want to spend quality time with kids, get work done and stay social all at once might be able to have it all – for a price.