Hi! I’m Jess. I’m CEO and cofounder of Amara and those who know me best probably know my parents too. My parents are both entrepreneurs and were always working with that balance between your company and your family. That’s why here at Amara, we decided to dig a little closer and bring you a mini series of interviews with moms that are running fantastic companies, while raising little ones. Because let’s be serious, #momboss is akin to superhero in our book.
I’m here today to talk about when “entrepreneur” meets the word “parent”. Growing Amara has allowed me to meet the most amazing moms and dads that every day, bend over backwards to make the impossible possible for their kids. Through social media, I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to know a few of you, and to admire even more of you from a far.
I started interviewing “mom-preneurs” because sometimes starting something seems like a big goal, sometimes starting something feels like something “other people” do. At Amara, we interview founders of these companies so you can see that Mia from Snuggle me, Mushie from Mushie Co and all of these mamas that started their amazing companies are just people. Just like you and me.
You didn’t get a manual when you became a parent, and you don’t get a manual when you’re running a company – so, we’re here to show you - whatever you are dreaming of doing, whether it’s the next million-dollar business or starting the blog you’ve always dreamed of - it’s possible.
Meet, Stacey, the founder of Bannor Toys. Stacey was doing wooden toys before wooden toys became “a thing”. In fact, Stacey even admits she almost started by accident. I dove in with Stacey to hear a bit more about how she started Bannor Toys and the highs (and lows) of starting a company and running a family.
Tell me a bit more about the early days and how you started Bannor Toys:
It was almost by accident, I had an at home daycare and my husband, Jesse, was in a corporate job. At my daycare, I had this bin of all these plastic toys that were either broken, stickers peeling off, or the batteries went out. Then, one day my husband said – no more buying plastic toys – I’ll make them for you.
At that point, we had only been married two years, had two young kids and had just bought our first house. We literally had no money but my husband was miserable at corporate America and I had a bin full of broken plastic toys.
The first toy he made was a truck – and it all spiraled from there.
What were the early days like?
It was your typical startup, crazy hours, I hand painted the wooden block sets and cars after doing my day job (running the daycare). My husband would work on making the toys and I did most of the computer stuff. We just did the work whenever we could – I would see each and every toy before it leaves the building.
My husband quit his corporate job in February 2012 and I kept the daycare open until June 2014.
How did you know how to go from running a day care business to running a products business?
We didn’t. I didn’t go to school for business, I actually went to school for English literature! There are so many ins and outs of running a business that I didn’t know. I mean, the regulation around baby toys, the business reports, it’s endless. Sometimes I think it’s better that I didn’t know what was ahead!
Where do you sell Bannor Toys?
Our very first show was a church bazaar that was around the holidays at some point. Then we sold in the local farmers markets and then started on Etsy. Now we have a shop in Illinois and we sell on our website too.
I always ask founders this but, was there a moment that you realized “this is going to work”?
I don’t know if there was a specific moment because we always just found a way to make it work. For example, in February 2014 we had moved from our basement to our 2 car garage and I was pregnant with Eli. At this point, we were still cutting toys on our machine one by one.
Aden and Anais approached us about doing 15,000 teethers… which was huge for us at the time. We said yes and knew we just had to find a way to make it work.
Actually, our CNC machine for the orders got delivered the same day Eli was born… talk about a fun birth story!
That’s amazing! Did you ever have a moment where you didn’t think it was going to work?
No, we just don’t think like that. We just make it work or change our approach or the direction to make it work.
What’s it like working with your cofounder and husband, Jesse?
Well, when you work with someone and they are your husband, best friend, your kid’s dad, your roommate and everything – there are times that it’s hard. In the beginning we did everything together but now we separated out the roles a bit more. I do everything that is shipping and marketing and he is in charge of the shop and production. It’s easier that way.
What was your team when you got started, what’s it like now?
When we started it was just Jesse and I, and then we had a friend that would sometimes come by and help us sand the toys.
Now, we have 7 in house employees and tons of photographers and graphic designers that we contract with nationwide.
So you’re a mom and an entrepreneur, tell me what your typical day looks like?
I get up and drop the kids off at school, our work building is actually right in front of the elementary school so the kids just walk over after school and hang out in the break room. Now a days I work from 8:30 to 4 and Friday’s I don’t come in unless it’s a holiday or we have a sale.
It’s nothing like those 18 hour days when we started!
So, do you find balance between “parent life” and “startup life”?
There is no such thing as balance in the day to day. When we’re in holiday time, I know my family gets the short end of the stick but in slower times they get more of me. In the end, all you can do is take care of the most important things and give 100% to what needs attention at the time. In the end, it all balances out.
Thanks so much for sharing your story Stacey – last question for you: what’s your recommendation for moms that are looking to start something?
Ask for help. Recognize when you’re drowning and be able to ask for help. Know that it’s ok to not ship packages the same day, it’s ok to hire an assistant, it’s okay to not do it all. I think if I realized that sooner it would have been a lot less stressful.
So mamas, a lot of times starting a business can seem like a far out dream, but Stacey is just one example of the supermoms we admire. The first step is starting, and like Stacey said, the second step is asking for help. You can’t always do it all mama and that’s OK.
For all you parents out there trying to make the impossible, possible – we know that homemade baby food is often times more of a dream than a reality, right? For those times, Amara is here to bring you the next best thing to fresh homemade baby food. Because you CAN get all the benefits of fresh homemade, anytime, anywhere.