Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs: Colleen Mook, Founder of Baby Be Hip!
Colleen shares with us her road to becoming an entrepreneur as well as some great tips on starting your own business.
Baby Be Hip, launched in 2002 in Horsham, Pa., is the go-to source for personalized baby gifts that are fun, functional and fabulous with great customer service that will keep you coming back.
‘Ah ha’ moment that led you to launching this business: Having grown up in an entrepreneurial family, I always knew that I would have my own business. After the birth of my first daughter, Molly, I knew I didn’t want to return to my corporate job but also needed to do something other than staying at home, playgroups and cleaning up after the baby. I wasn’t sure what my business would be, but I realized that I was proud of my daughter and the name we had chosen and I wanted her name on everything. Molly was always spitting up, so I always had several burp cloths with me. I got my “Ah ha” moment when I came up with the line “All babies spit up, so let them spit up in style!” I wanted this essential item, which all new parents need and use, to showcase her name and match her outfit. This led to the birth of Baby Be Hip and our personalized baby burp cloths, which are still our best seller almost 10 years later. At that point I said to myself “I can do this” and have never looked back.
First customer: I gave personalized burp cloths to some friends who had new babies, and then they started ordering for their friends, and then their friends started ordering. Word of mouth has been huge.
Measuring Success: I remember wondering if the phone would ever ring (this was in 2002 when my first website was for informational purposes only and didn’t have a shopping cart) and it did, so I consider that to be an early success. Also, I used a creative pitch to promote my product to American Baby Magazine and I was shocked when they said they wanted to feature Baby Be Hip. I believe that really gave me early validation that we have a good thing, especially the way the phone rang when the magazine came out.
Biggest struggle: For me the biggest challenge has been raising a family while also raising another baby, my company. I was doing just fine after babies one and two, and the business was growing slowly on its own. It was a great balance. Then, in 2005, my third baby was born with severe special needs and my life changed dramatically overnight.
I overcame this greatest challenge by finding terrific help. I had to make sure when I couldn’t be at work that things were being done as if I was there; I have learned that hiring the “right” people is critical. That taught me a great business lesson and was a test to see if my business could run on its own without me present every day. Now Ellie is six and in “kindergarten”; she still has many challenges (non-verbal, non-ambulatory) but is relatively healthy. She even has a new younger sister! The whole experience taught me that I can overcome setbacks and that having good employees to manage the day-to-day aspects smoothly enables me to focus on the business’ bigger-picture items and balance my personal and professional commitments.
Surprise!: Everything I’ve learned. I feel like I have gotten an MBA without the classroom schooling. The business has forced me to learn technology, social media, website design, marketing, inventory management, employee management (hiring & firing), regulations, insurance and so much more. I’ve also found a hidden perk of running the business, which is having some control over things — because as a parent you quickly learn can’t control everything.
Promoting Business: Targeted media placements have been the best direct revenue driver for Baby Be Hip. For example, our products recently appeared on Good Morning America (thanks, Tory Johnson) and have been featured in national magazines like American Baby and Baby Talk. These by far have had the biggest direct correlation to sales.
Two things you wish you would’ve known: I wish I had known that it really is okay, and actually quite healthy, to get help with my children so I don’t have to be up all night doing business stuff. It makes a huge difference. It was tough to overcome the guilt at first, which was always my reservation, but it has created a nice balance. The other thing I wish I had known earlier is the importance of understanding the business’ financial metrics, especially managing cash flow when your fixed expenses are big. I have recently gotten on top of my numbers and there is a power in making them better.
What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?: I worry most about how to get more sales so that I can pay my employees better and have better employee retention.
Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job?: In the past, I had wondered if this is really what I want to be doing, or is raising my kids as a full-time mom and running a business too much. I’ve also debated at times if it’s really worth it. Now, however, I am happy I stuck with it through the difficult times. It has been a great experience, not just for me but also for my children growing up around a business and all that comes with that.
A Few Good Tips: It’s important to find ways to favorably differentiate your company. At Baby Be Hip, we do this through quality products and exemplary service, which is simple in concept but challenging to execute. We also focus on a high-quality product—we use quality materials and an industrial embroidery machine—so our products always impress. We focus on quick turnaround in customer communication and order shipment, which makes our customers happy.
The absolute best part of owning my business is: I am always learning and if I need to be home with a sick kid, I usually can.
If I had to start over again, I would have: told myself to hire slow and fire fast.
I never imagined: managing cash flow during growth would be so difficult.
If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout: “Ask for help, find yourself a community of like-minded individuals who are better and smarter than you. Remember: you need to tell it to sell it. Collaborate, know that you will have tough times and just do it.