I recently stumbled upon this week's Spotlight Mom while looking for fun, yet affordable developmental appropriate educational games and activity kits for my girls. While I have been on the fence about homeschooling the girls, I recently decided that this is the way to go for my family. While Savannah is only in preschool and Bella has yet to start, I wanted to be able to take advantage of my staying home with them, by starting them early with developmentally appropriate learning resources and games.
My search led me to Ivy Kids Kits, which I found out was created by a fellow mom, Taseea, who, like me struggled to find cognitively stimulated and engaging products for her children. So, what did she do...she created her own fun activities, which turned into a monthly subscription service, called Ivy Kids.
In addition to answering my Spotlight on Mom questions, Taseea also sent me a sampling of her upcoming Ivy Kids Kits for me to share with my girls. And, just like friends and family she has shared her kits with prior to her business launching (she will start sending out kits in July, so pre-order now), her educational kits were a hit with my girls. Filled with creative activities for children ages 3-8 years old, not only was I able to enjoy quality time with the girls completing the different activities, but I liked seeing how the kits are helping them build important foundational skills.
Sneak Peak at July's Ivy Kids Kit
Stay tuned on Friday, when I will be sharing more about the Ivy Kids Kits I was sent to review with my girls. But, in the meantime, please enjoy my Spotlight Mom interview with Taseea Cruz, creator of Ivy Kids.
Name: Taseea Cruz
Company Name/Product/Service: Ivy Kids
Company Location: Brooklyn, New York
Company Website: www.ivy-kids.com
Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter Handle: @ivykidskits
Age of Company: Just launched - April 2014
Favorite Inspirational Quotes: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C. S. Lewis
Favorite Book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How many children do you have? What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.
I have two children. Anna is almost 4 and George is almost 2. A year and a half ago, after my son was born, I officially became a stay-at-home mom. I had intended to go back to my teaching position, but that option turned out to be unavailable. Although money was tight, losing my job turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Staying at home to enjoy my children was the best thing that could have happened to me. It gave me the opportunity to watch them grow and learn each day. That was something I had felt sad about when I went back to work after my first child was born. Now I get to be there for every important moment. As for hobbies, before becoming a mom and an entrepreneur, I liked going to the gym, playing tennis, traveling, and eating out at different restaurants. Presently, I have limited free time, so my hobbies have truly become playing with my children and working on my business.
Briefly explain your business. How did it come about?
Trying to entertain two young children at home proved to be more difficult than I had expected. Since I had a restricted budget, I could not afford those great early childhood classes. I also became frustrated with the lack of developmentally appropriate educational games available for young children. As a result, I began creating my own projects and activities to keep my children engaged and cognitively stimulated. I wanted the time that I spent with my children to be meaningful and not just trying to get the day to go by. I noticed that when the activities were based around a favorite book and characters, my children were more invested. I worked hard to create activities that would encourage problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking. I started making kits for family members and friends that were also staying at home with their kids. I always included one personalized item or activity in the kit for the child, which was a big hit. I received so much positive feedback about the creative, entertaining, and educational value of the activities that I thought I might try starting a business and sharing the kits with others. I have now recruited other teachers (turned stay-at-home moms as well) for their expertise in developing the contents of each kit.
We are offering the kits as a monthly subscription for children ages 3-8. Each month the child will receive a kit containing a classic book and over ten fun-filled activities based upon the story and characters. We also offer six-month, discounted subscriptions which also come with a monthly personalized item or activity for the child. We believe Ivy Kits are a great resource for busy parents and caregivers looking for creative ways to spend quality time with their children while also helping them build important foundational skills in math, literacy, and science. The activities have been carefully crafted to encourage curiosity, problem solving, and imagination in young children. Each Ivy Kit contains instructions with ways to modify games to best suit each individual child and provide adults with questions to structure a child’s learning. There are enough games and materials in each kit to engage and cognitively stimulate a child throughout the month and can be replayed for years to come. To assure the quality of each kit, each activity has been tested and enjoyed by young children.
What is a typical work day like?
I have a good routine set up right now. After the kids are dressed and fed, I take my oldest to her three-hour nursery school class and my son to his grandma’s house. Those three hours of solitude in the morning are my most productive and that is the time I concentrate solely on the business. At , I drop everything that I am working on and go back into Mommy mode for pick-up. During the afternoon and evening, I focus on my children and spend quality time with them. After I have put the children to bed, I resume work on the business. Many nights I work from It doesn't give me a lot of time to sleep, but it is the only way to get it all done.
What has been a struggle while starting up your company?
Starting a business and being a mom is definitely a balancing act. Setting up an efficient routine and managing time effectively are essential elements. Sometimes some daily tasks are postponed, like cleaning and laundry, but I just accept that. I feel that starting a business is like trying to complete a very complex puzzle with many pieces. There are so many details to think about, and every day there is a new problem to solve. I encountered issues that I never initially thought about when I first had the idea of creating monthly educational activity kits. For example, I had to find out how to start an LLC, how to trademark my logo, how to package and ship my product, how to collect sales tax. There are just so many steps involved from the initial product idea to an actual business launch. It has taken me a full year to launch this business, but I do feel as though I have learned a lot.
What did you do in your past work life?
I majored in Chemical Engineering at Tufts University, and then I worked as an engineer for a couple of years at Merck, a big pharmaceutical company. However, I eventually realized that this profession just wasn't for me. I left my job and went back to school to earn a Masters in Early Childhood education. After that, I worked as a teacher for six years at a private school in New York City.
What have been some of your major successes?
My biggest success in life is my family. I am very lucky because I have two beautiful, healthy children, a very supportive husband, and very loving parents. Without my family's support and love, I really could have never started my own business.
In terms of my business, the major successes so far have been all the positive reviews I have received from the "testers." I sent a lot of kits out to parents, teachers, and caregivers. All the feedback has been positive, and most importantly the children have loved them. Some of my teacher-friends that received the kits loved them so much that they wanted to join the Ivy Kids team and help me with the business. The outpouring of support has kept me motivated to work hard and build the business.
What have been some of your major challenges?
It is hard introducing a new product into an over-saturated market and having it stand out. I do not have a big budget for marketing. I build the Ivy Kits in my home and fund all the start-up costs with our savings. This has been a big financial risk, since I have put a large chunk of savings into starting the business. However, I have so many people that have encouraged me and believe in the product, that it's worth the risk.
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
Honestly, an unpleasant experience is what motivates me every day. After having put in long hours and devoting myself to my students for six years, I didn't realize that being on maternity leave a second time would give the impression to the school administration that I was no longer dedicated to my job. This professional crisis made me want to be my own boss. Now I work hard, put in long hours, and spend time away from my children for my own business. It is what keeps me going on only three hours of sleep. I want to show my children that with hard work and commitment, you can do anything you set your mind to. No one is allowed to tell you how much you can handle or are capable of doing. Mommies can have a business and work too!
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
My secret is my supportive husband and parents. Without their help, I do not think I would be able to manage both.
What is next for your business?
Our first Ivy Kit subscription will ship out at the end of June. I am currently taking pre-orders.
We are also working on developing "Specialty" kits that will be offered in our store. The specialty kits will provide fun tools to build individual skill sets.
Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business?
Take the risk. It's better to try and fail than always to wonder “what if?” Don't be afraid to ask for help. People will be more supportive and helpful than you think.