With their baby-blanket company humming along, Amy Ballon and Danielle Botterell have teamed up for another co-production: a business manual for women itching to follow in their footsteps. Specifically, women who are, or plan to be, mothers.
With five children and two MBAs between them, Ms. Ballon and Ms. Botterell proudly wear the “mompreneur” mantle. While they gave birth to their business before their babies – and before the advent of that label – motherhood was indelibly imprinted on their business plan. Mom Inc.: How to Raise Your Family and Your Business Without Losing Your Mind or Your Shirt offers business and family advice tailored to a demographic hoping to gracefully juggle sippy cups and spreadsheets.
We spoke to the pair from their Toronto offices.
Mom Inc. opens with the case of Robeez, the Canadian baby-shoe company, which sold for $30-million. But there aren’t a lot of hard figures in the book about what mompreneurs can expect to make. Do you talk about how the company you founded in 2002, Admiral Road, is doing financially?
Amy Ballon: We don’t, on account of we’re a private company. Danielle and I walked away from Bay Street jobs and corporate salaries. Because we had other interests in terms of our non-working lives, we were willing to forgo some of that financial gain in order to control our schedules and our futures and the rest of our lives. Admiral Road has been profitable since out first year in business. We continue to experience double-digit growth year after year. Although I’m not comfortable revealing my salary, we know what it’s worth for us not to work for the man.
What’s your definition of mompreneur? For some, it means earning a salary that seriously contributes to a family’s bottom line. Other businesses look more like hobbies.
Danielle Botterell: Different women come to it with different expectations. One of the things is that when you start a business, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But when you start a business with children, you can’t have that much uncertainty. You have to feed somebody. When mompreneurs start, they have some kind of backup plan for the money. Some women start while they’re working full time. Some women save up. Many women work out a deal with their spouse.
So, mompreneur isn’t just a female entrepreneur who happens to have children.
A.B.: We distinguish in Mom Inc. between a mompreneur and a prototypical big-E entrepreneur who is primarily motivated by their business.
And some women start these businesses before they have kids.
D.B.:We think the trend of mompreneurship, particularly in this country, really took off when the government extended maternity leave to a year.
What percentage of them create baby-related products?
A.B: Mom Inc. might have reflected more of the businesses in the baby sphere because those are the circles we travel in. A lot of these businesses are born of a realization of a hole in the market: I really wish I had X. We also talked to actors, writers, personal trainers – all of whom chose those paths because they were a good fit for their family.
What is the biggest reality check you give to potential mompreneurs?
D.B.: The first one is that it’s hard. There’s an endless learning curve. Those are universal experiences for entrepreneurs, but mompreneurs, by definition, are layering on the other side of their life. So there’s what we call it the paradox of mompreneurship: We start our businesses in order to be available to our children and, of course, the more successful those businesses become, the less time we have to be with our children.
What’s the secret?
A.B.: People romanticize the idea of working for yourself and think that you can have it all. We try to be honest: We have most of what we want most of the time. Earning money and playing with your kids are mutually exclusive. You can’t earn money and take your kid to Gymboree all at the same time.
D.B.: Unless you have a much smarter business model than we do.
How different does a company that earns a mom $5,000 a year look from one that earns, say, $200,000 a year?
A.B.: Some women just don’t want to go stir-crazy and they set them up with a direct-sales organization and make a few hundred to a few thousand and run a small business out of your house. Danielle and I met a woman recently who is running a business selling educational materials – she was just back from vacation and was able to remotely operate her sizable business from the beach somewhere in the Caribbean taking orders on her website to supply companies like Costco and Wal-Mart and Toys R Us.
Is it a risk that everyone thinks they have the Robeez idea?
D.B.: One woman we interviewed for the book said that when she started out, she worried about was how she was going to spend her millions. Did she ever find out very quickly that that’s not how it goes.
On the flipside, what are misconceptions from the other side of the table – the venture capitalists, the bankers?
D.B.: Some people really bristle at the term. I get it. I don’t share it. When Amy and I started the business, long before we heard the word mompreneur, we differentiated ourselves: For an entrepreneur, 40 hours a week is very part-time. There is this notion that it’s some woman making barrettes with her hot-glue gun – one at a time and selling them at their church bazaar. Some women get uptight about that. I’m like, “Good for her.”
What’s another success story?
A.B.: We think Mabel’s Labels is the gold standard. They’re a company that decided that they would be big and they planned accordingly. They knew what their goals were. They market themselves brilliantly. [In 2009, Mabel’s Labels reported $4-million in revenue.]
You fended off the CBC’s Kevin O’Leary, who asked you if it wouldn’t be better for your kids if you were stay-at-home moms. There’s also the feminist argument that mompreneurs remove talent from the workplace, which might harm women’s advancement.
D.B.: These things have occurred to us. Before we started the business, I had a moment of fret. And I said to my husband, “What if we’re not successful.” He said success is being happy. That, for me, has been a touchstone over the last 10 years.
This interview has been condensed and edited.