Monday, February 21, 2011

Spotlight on Mommy -- Paula Tancredi Penman of Babysmartees

In honor of my online virtual baby shower, and the many must have products I will be sharing with you this week, I thought it only fit that I spotlight another mom entreprenuer.  Paula of Babysmartees is our second Spotlight Mommy of this week.  She is the creator of the Babysmartees clothing line.  Paulas' tees for parents provide infant visual stimulation through the use of  specific geometric shapes in high-contrast colors (i.e. black and white).  It is thought that through infant stimulation, your baby will be healthy and smarter.  Here is my interview with Paula, and a little bit more about her products and journey as a mom entrepreneur. Come back on Friday when I will be reviewing the his and hers t-shirts she sent for my husband and I to try out with Savannah.  In addition, I will be hosting a giveaway, where one lucky reader will wear a his and hers t-shirt set of their own.

Name:  Paula Tancredi Penman
Company Name/Product/Service: Babysmartees®
Company Location:  Saratoga Springs, NY
Company Website:
Facebook URL:
Twitter Handle: @babysmartees
Age of Company:  3 years
Favorite Inspirational Quotes:  “If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it." A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Favorite Book:  I am a huge fan of John Irving author of The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and lesser known but my all-time favorite, A Prayer for Owen Meany. His writing is like watching the weaving of a tapestry, a wonderful journey concluding in a beautiful masterpiece.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How many children do you have?  What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.:

I am a Jersey-girl.  Raised near Princeton, I left many, many years ago and do not think I will ever find my way back, as I love my life in Upstate New York. I have been married for 5 years, and have one beautiful and amazing 4-year old son. It felt like my life was turned upside down when he was born, and looking back, it was! Now everything is right-side up. I am finally back to doing some of the things I love. I am back running 3-4 times a day, and may consider running my 16th marathon in the not-so-far future. I attend a pilates class twice a week and an occasional spinning class, and am learning to snow shoe race.

Briefly explain your business.  How did it come about?:

I faithfully followed the techniques in Dr. Susan Ludington-Hoe's book, How to Have a Smarter Baby, where she explains the infant stimulation program and how to have a healthier, happier and smarter baby. In the book I learned that key to infant visual stimulation lies a baby looking at specific geometric shapes in high-contrast colors, i.e. black and white. I was also a strong believer in the post-pregnancy fashion of t-shirts and sweatpants!  When I noticed my son staring at some of my shirts with more graphic designs on them, it was an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I put the black and white designs on the t-shirts and Babysmartees was born.

What is a typical work day like?:

Typical? Am I supposed to have a typical work day? If I am lucky, I cram an hour or so on the computer before 7am.  After dropping my son off at school, I may get another 2 hours to myself for meetings or more computer time before having to pick him up. If my husband gets home from work early I get another hour before dinner and often an hour or so after dinner. Then, while my son falls off to sleep I check on the blog for the last time of the day, check e-mail and may spend some time on Twitter.
What has been a struggle while starting up your company?
Money is always a struggle; the time between holding inventory and getting sales can be a lean financial period. Secondly, is the learning curve, what did I know about designing a website, organizing a storefront, writing a blog or setting up a Facebook page? I knew nothing, but now I know a whole lot more! I have had to accept that I will make mistakes, and that some mistakes even cost money. And. I realize that I have learned something new and I should celebrate.

What did you do in your past work life?:

By trade I am a marketer. I have spent more than 10 years in the healthcare industry as a marketing professional. I miss it sometimes. 

What have been some of your major successes?:
Babysmartees now sponsors a class How to Make Homemade Baby Food. The idea has been so successful that the local newspaper wrote a front page article about it, a local parenting show is featuring a segment, and there was a live segment on the morning news. During all of the above I was wearing my shirt. So I found a topic that I am passionate about, that leads to purchases of one of my products (the Babysmartees Homemade Baby Food Starter Kit), and offers a free platform to advertise Babysmartees.

What have been some of your major challenges?:

Babysmartees t-shirts are unique, particularly when it comes to purchasing a gift for a baby or the parent-to-be.  As a baby shower gift it will not have the “awwww” factor that a cute little baby outfit does, but it will be greatly appreciated when the new mom realizes that parenthood is more than cute outfits. 

I also do not have the financing to compete online with the big players in the baby industry. If you are looking for a baby gift online your search will lead you to the obvious big names. So, getting noticed and known and then appreciated as a great gift is a major challenge.

I am overcoming the challenge by taking a step back. I am employing less expensive and often more productive ways to promote Babysmartees, such as local media and social media.

On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?:

There are two key ways I get motivated. One is to sit down to work and just force myself into it – and often that will get me started on a tough day. Or. I will recall a great day when, for example, someone will have randomly mentioned Babysmartees to me, “Oh yeah, I know your t-shirts.” A comment like that will often keeps me going for days. 

What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?:

My family comes first. I would never feel good about this business if the sacrifices to my family were too big. There is much more I could do for the business everyday, but I can live with that if I have given my husband and son most of what they need.

What is next for your business?:

Babysmartees is heading into boutiques! I am launching a new t-shirt and pant set for moms. The t-shirt will of course have an infant stimulation design on it and it will be sold in a local boutique. And, I have a couple other boutiques in Long Island and Manhattan considering carrying the t-shirt and pant sets as well.

Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business?: 

1.   Go for it. Realize that you will want to look back and say I tried and even better yet, you will feel great when you look back and say I succeeded!
2.   Ask for help. For example, ask your friends to “like” your Facebook page, ask them to follow you on Twitter, ask them their opinion of your website (and accept the constructive criticism).
3.   Network. Get on Facebook, LinkedIn, talk to your neighbors, say hello to someone in a coffee shop – talk, talk, talk to people. You never know who your next customer is or where you will meet a mentor.
4.   Decide who your mentors are and meet with them regularly.

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