Momtrepreneurs

Meet ten women who have found a workable balance between running a family and a business



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Party Girl

Kimberly Thomas
Company: Peekaboo Pumpkin
Kids: Lauren and Matthew


In 1998, Kim worked on Wall Street, itching to do something creative. Candles were popular, and she’d enjoyed making them as a kid, so she started a home-based candle company with $1,500. After a year, she was successful enough to leave her job. The next year, husband Alex followed suit.

Eventually, candles became wedding invitations and favors, then baby-shower invitations, announcements and favors. Along the way, the business outgrew Kim’s New York City apartment, so they relocated to a Stamford facility with a $35,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. Last year, the family moved to Greenwich. To date, they’ve earned over $5 million in sales, and products have gone Hollywood. “We did Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera’s baby shower invitations,” Kim says. “Anytime a celebrity touches anything that’s yours, it’s great.”

Kim focuses on designing and works fifty-hour weeks, including two days in the office. “When you have a laptop and a Blackberry, you can parent and work anywhere,” says longtime friend Jonna Gallo. “She definitely goes full-tilt on both fronts, which is a working mother’s dream, to feel like you’re able to be what you need to be for your kids and your job.” Lately, Kim’s five-year-old gives opinions about his mom’s designs. “It’s extremely rewarding to watch your work reflected back to you through your children,” she says.

Going to the Dogs

Elaine Doran
Company: Puppy Hugger
Kids: David, Tony and James
Dogs: Magic and Chelsea


The grande dame of our momtreprenuers showed up for our photo shoot rocking a pair of five-inch heels. In thirty-five years of marriage, Elaine has owned no fewer than eight dogs: mutts, terriers, and huskies. But it was her cavalier King Charles spaniel that inspired Elaine to create her own business. It was 2004, and her last son had just moved out, so the empty nester had more time to focus on her pooches... and that’s when she had her eureka moment. “Watching my new puppy curling up inside a pillow whenever she was tired, it occurred to me that what was missing in the pet-products market was a bed that catered to the way they sleep,” Elaine says. “The Puppy Hugger bed suits a dog’s natural instinct to make a nest — it has overstuffed ‘arms’ to hug your dog and a central floor area. No more dogs turning in frantic circles while digging a hole, usually in your bed covers or sofa cushions.” With $5,000, she fashioned a dog-bed prototype, brought it to H.H. Backer’s March 2005 pet trade show in Atlantic City and received accolades. Today, product demand ebbs and flows weekly, which wards off complacency. “Sometimes I think, things are waning, should I keep going?” Elaine says. “Other times, I get lots of work and wonder, can I handle it?”

Elaine supervises seamstresses, provides customer service and tracks finances from home. Her kids aren’t impacted by her sixty-hour weeks and in-demand products, but husband Charles is. “The ground floor of our home is covered with fabric bolts and dog beds — there’s nowhere for him to sit anymore,” she says, laughing. “But he’s my biggest cheerleader. He answers the phone and checks my books every month.”

Charles wouldn’t have it any other way. “Elaine is so engaged, so excited by this enterprise she has started,” he says. “She’s enthusiastic and innovative, always thinking of new things for the business.”

Planned Mothering

Nina Restieri
Company: MomAgenda
Kids: Jamie, Matthew, Jenna, and Andrew


With four children, life can be chaotic. Nina knows. “I was missing or double-booking playdates,” says Nina, a petite powerhouse. “So I created a dayplanner for myself that had separate spaces for all the kids. It worked so well, I started a company.” For nine months, Nina researched her market. Satisfied, she spent six figures to launch in 2005 and turned a profit in two years. “It’s been a roller-coaster since the beginning, but the highs and lows are less extreme now,” she says. Revenues are in the multimillions.

Nina’s forty-hour workweek doesn’t typically interfere with mom time. “I’m working when they’re at school, in bed, at playdates or otherwise occupied,” she says. And her relationship with husband Larry has deepened. “We talk business; we have more to discuss,” she says. “And we joke that we’re both bringing home the bacon, so who cooks?” Running momAgenda is a natural fit for Nina, according to Larry. “For Nina, working makes sense; she’s probably a better mother because she has balance in her life,” he says. “I think she’s a happier, more complete person because of it.”

Nina’s employees love momAgenda’s family-friendly culture.” She sets the tone that your kids are the most important thing,” says Nina’s friend Maureen Ahern Santini, COO of momAgenda. “If the school nurse calls and someone’s sick, you can work from home. You can never have it all as a working mother, but this is the best working environment.”

Going Public

Viveca Woods
Company: VMW Public Relations
Kids: Logan and Brittany


Like a true PR executive, Viveca would rather have you notice her clients than herself. But when she allowed herself to be the story, she earned a new client. “She tried to get our account and was very persistent about it,” says Don Vaccaro, CEO of TicketNetwork.com. “Then I saw her on CNN. Somehow, she got them to run a national story about trying to sell her house. When I saw that, I knew she was the real deal. She keeps up that persistence and positive, can-do attitude for us, which means everything in an emerging market.” Viveca, a technology publicist, started her home-based PR firm in 2002, ditching her Manhattan commute after the dot-com crash and September 11th. “All I needed was a computer and a printer,” she says. “I turned a profit the first month.”

Today, she works a scheduled forty-hour week, and her clients are contracted. “It manages my expectations and theirs,” says Viveca, who earns six figures. Because she keeps steady hours, her home and work life rarely conflict. “Between 9:00 and 5:00, work comes first,” she says. “My husband is working, my children are at school. I’ve signed them up for after-school programs, so they’re often there until 4:30.”

This plan lets her do what she does best: sharing household duties with husband Walter during evenings and weekends, and keeping news outlets abreast of her clients’ accomplishments during business hours. “Seeing clients written up in major publications or on major TV networks — the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN — is extremely rewarding,” she says with a sparkle in her big brown eyes.

Gone Golfing

Sharon Sunoo
Company: Birdy & Grace:
kids: Gracie and Mark


For years, Sharon loved hitting the links but hated dressing the part. “Golf clothing for women looks like men’s clothes that have been shrunk down to fit a woman’s body, changed from navy blue to powder pink,” she says. “I’d end up buying things from a sportswear line, and when people would ask, ‘Where did you get that?’ I’d say, ‘It’s not even golf clothing.’”

In response, Sharon launched a line of classic, feminine golfwear in 2007. With a six-figure budget, she hired a designer and buyers, covered marketing expenses and more. Overnight, stay-at-home-mom Sharon became
a momtrepreneur who works “constantly” on sales and PR, but her family adjusted. “The children are much more independent,” Sharon says. “They have chores and homework and know if they don’t do them, it’s their fault.”  Sharon is a great role model: We witnessed firsthand how she smoothly tackled a potential shipping and warehouse issue.

Within a year, more than 100 high-end stores carried her brand, including the Breakers in West Palm Beach and the Sedona Golf Club in Arizona. Sharon has also made inroads with professional golfers: Birdy & Grace dressed LPGA player Inbee Park — who won the 2008 Women’s U.S. Open — all of last year. “She won perhaps the largest tour event of the year and was on NBC News for final coverage wearing the Birdy & Grace logo,” says Sharon. “It was definitely a highlight!”
Success hasn’t changed Sharon, according to friends. “She’s still about her family, her friends and her golf,” says Janice Jennings, a golf buddy who moonlights as a Birdy & Grace model, “although we joke with her that she’s so busy making better golf clothes, she’s too busy to golf.”

 

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