For Michele Gehrmann, a simple bike ride with her daughter turned into a global community.
In 2017, Gehrmann left her job of 15 years at Progressive Insurance to spend more time with her children. Though it was a big shift, Gehrmann knew it was the right move. “We were both in really demanding careers on the online side of things,” says Gehrmann, whose husband currently works at Progressive. “We have two young kids, and it was getting to the point where we weren’t seeing them a lot.”
That changed when Gehrmann shifted gears to become a stay-at-home mom and her time was spent “finding new hobbies, romping all over Cleveland, and exploring places we’d wanted to see but never had the time.”
But Gehrmann wasn’t bargaining on what would happen when she and her then 6-year-old daughter took a bike ride and came across a painted rock.
Her daughter promptly “dumped her bike, ran over to it, and got so excited,” shares Gerhmann. “She explained to me that, in the same way this painted rock made us so happy, we were supposed to take it somewhere and hide it ‘like hide and seek’ so that someone else can smile. It was beautiful to see my 6-year-old embracing the idea of kindness.”
Gehrmann drove her daughter to Moreland Elementary, where they left the rock on the “buddy bench” for kids who don’t have someone to play with during recess. The experience inspired them to start painting more rocks, and soon the family found themselves with a brand-new hobby on their hands.
“The more we started doing it, the more we realized that not only were people in Northeast Ohio doing this, but people all over the world,” says Gehrmann.
Gehrmann, who missed her technology-oriented job, says her wheels started turning when they joined various hyperlocal Facebook groups comprised of people who help each other spot painted rocks in public.
Dan and Michele Gehrmann with son Henry and daughter Mila “Every time we found a new rock that belonged to one of these groups, we’d go on Facebook trying to find the name of the group,” says Gehrmann. “It was kind of tedious, but we did it because we were painting our own rocks and we knew how exciting it was to see rocks posted.”
The “tedious” part sparked a bright idea: what if Gehrmann could create a membership website where people could track painted rocks? Gehrman pitched her husband on a road trip down to Columbus, and by the time they arrived, she’d created a wireframe for the website on a piece of junk mail. By the time they got back, she’d enlisted a Cleveland-based agency, Stream 9, to build the site.
The result? GoRock.com, a free site that painted rock enthusiasts can use to track their creations. Each rock gets a unique ID, and once found and entered, users can track the rock on a map. Designed to be user-friendly, GoRock is a mobile-optimized website rather than an app, as Gehrmann didn’t want users to have the “barrier of having to download an app and create an account.”
The site soft-launched in March 2018 and went live last May, so it’s currently celebrating its one-year anniversary. In just one year, the site has amassed just under 10,000 subscribers, and Gehrmann says about 50 new members join each day. To date, GoRock has members in all 50 states, as well as Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
“There are hundreds of thousands of rock painters all over the world doing this as random acts of kindness, but many of them are locked in private regional Facebook groups, where I would hear people say things like, “I’d love to know if my rock was ever found and where it ended up traveling,’” says Gehrmann. “We’ve created a tech solution that solves that problem.”
And the stories are fascinating—one rock started in Solon, made its way to Wisconsin, and ended up in the United Kingdom, traveling a total of 4,226 miles. Another rock went from Pepper Pike to Austin, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida. People write comments such as "My mom passed away unexpectedly earlier this year and it would have been her birthday on Friday. This rock made me smile!” or “Was walking to see a pregnancy specialist and walked by this yet it caught my eye. So I re-crossed the street to check it out. I really needed the positivity!"
Gehrmann says that GoRock is more effective at tracking rocks than the Facebook groups due to its wider geographic reach. She says 30 to 40 percent of rocks are logged as found, as opposed to what she estimates is 10 percent with Facebook groups.
In the spirit of spreading kindness, the site also has a philanthropic aspect. For every 500 rocks added on the site, GoRock makes a donation to a charity of the community's choice as part of its new "Rock It Forward" program. Currently, the recipient is Oceana.
Gehrmann is proud of the progress the site has made since launching one year ago, but more than anything, she's happy to be furthering a movement that spreads kindness in the world.
"The simple idea of painting rocks brings people together doing a wholesome idea that is inclusive," says Gehrmann. "We're able to offer a solution that makes people feel connected through their painted rocks."