When Amy Ballon and Danielle Botterell were starting their families and their Bay Street jobs were not as thrilling as expected, they founded Admiral Road Designs and became mompreneurs, creating handmade personalized blankets for children and babies. Since it was founded in 2002, Admiral Road has been a profitable endeavour and has allowed Amy and Danielle to balance their careers with family life. With only a few employees—Amy and Danielle work with three full-time employees and contract workers—Admiral Road is a small business that can be run out of the home. The majority of their customer base is in Canada, but they also have a foot in the American market.
Amy and Danielle seemed destined to cross paths when they met in their first week at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and learned that they shared the same major and lived in the same residence. After completing their Bachelor of Arts degrees in 1994, Amy and Danielle both spent time working abroad and then returned to Toronto to launch their corporate careers.
Prior to establishing Admiral Road Designs, Amy worked as a strategic management consultant and Danielle spent five years in the investor relations and corporate communications field. Amy and Danielle attained their Master of Business Administration degrees from the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
Amy lives in Toronto with her husband Ian and three daughters, aged eight, five and two. Danielle lives in Toronto with her husband, her seven-year-old son and her six-year-old daughter.
After nearly a decade of juggling business and family, Amy and Danielle decided to put their thoughts on paper. Their book about mompreneurship, Mom Inc., was released by HarperCollins in February 2011.
What inspired you to start your business?
After we graduated from the MBA program in 2000 and 2001, Amy was working as a management consultant and Danielle had been hired by the same company. We both had plum jobs coming out of biz school. In 2001 two significant things happened to us – first, the economy tanked, causing Danielle’s offer to be rescinded, and more importantly Amy’s mother was in the midst of a terminal illness. Amy took a leave from her job and we both spent time every day at Amy’s parents’ house. During that time we realized the importance of being available to the people you love when they need you. At that time, we were both 30 years old and had babies on the mind. We suspected that the combination of motherhood with the careers we were in wasn’t going to work for us. We spent the fall of 2001 thinking about what we could do to avoid returning to Bay St. while still maintaining engaging careers.
In early 2002 we landed on our business idea and founded Admiral Road personalized blankets. The rest is history.
There are so many amazing mompreneurs out there and great opportunities to share resources with each other.
Where did your business’s seed capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
We never wanted to invest any money in the business that we felt we couldn’t afford to lose. We pooled our resources and self-financed $15,000 to start.
What makes your products unique?
Admiral Road specializes in personalized baby blankets that are fun and functional. Our blankets are beautifully handmade in Canada. Kids love them for their cozy feel and compelling designs, while parents love them for their ease of care.
We differentiate ourselves by providing a high level of customer service. While the service standard for most personalized products is 4 to 6 weeks, we typically turn-around orders in 7 to 10 days. We also have a great, easy-to-use web site. Our customers love that they can order a lasting keepsake in under a minute!
How did you build your management team?
We have deliberately managed the growth of our company so that it can be run out of our homes. Right now, as our children are still young and we enjoy the flexibility of being available for them, we don’t want to be running a production facility. As such, we have run the company on our own, gradually bringing in more help as the company has grown. We rely on contractors and home sewers to get our products made.
Mom Inc. provides the inside scoop on what it’s like to raise your business and your family at the same time. We wrote it because it’s the book we wish we’d had before starting Admiral Road.
What insights do you have from building, attracting and retaining your workforce?
Treat people as you yourself would like to be treated. If you trust someone enough to give them a job, you should trust that the work is going to get done. One of our sewers has been with us since day 1 – almost 10 years now. We think that’s a testament to a trusting, open working relationship. The people we work with have a lot of flexibility.
How did you brand and market your business?
Craft and trade shows. We’ve experimented with many, many different things, but ultimately, craft shows are where are target market resides. Shows are a great place to talk to your existing customers, get feedback from potential customers about new products, and network with other vendors. Part of the reason we go to craft shows is to meet people who have babies coming into their lives. They may not need a baby gift that day, but if we can sell them on the merits of our product, they’ll come back to us when the baby arrives.
We’re also huge believers in PR, something we’ve executed largely on our own. It’s practically free, and we’ve found that getting our products into the print media is a direct driver of sales.
We’re now big users of social media, maintaining Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for Admiral Road. These have been great for networking with other mom-owned businesses and to connect with our customers.
Even though we’re “accidental entrepreneurs,” one of the interesting things that’s happened to us is that we’ve become addicted to entrepreneurship.
What has been your biggest success to date?
This past Christmas, our blankets were featured in a major segment on the Today Show on NBC. It was like a nationally broadcast infomercial for Admiral Road. Immediately, the phone began to ring and online orders were streaming in from across the U.S. We’ve never experienced anything like it. We joked that after 10 years, we were an overnight success.
What other milestones have you reached?
Definitely the publication of our first book, Mom Inc. We wrote the book based on our experiences as owners of Admiral Road, MBAs, and the moms of five young children between us. Mom Inc. provides the inside scoop on what it’s like to raise your business and your family at the same time. We wrote it because it’s the book we wish we’d had before starting Admiral Road.
Do you have plans to expand to new markets/products?
Experimentation is such a big part of starting a business – especially in the early years. Right now we’re really immersed in projects surrounding our new book, Mom Inc. After that, we’ll turn our attention back to Admiral Road. Admiral Road is primarily a direct-to-consumer business. Likely, our next project will be to turn our attention to our wholesale business.
Once you’ve worked for yourself, it’s really hard to go back to working for someone else.
What are your goals as an entrepreneur?
To remain – as much as possible – balanced, challenged and happy.
What is your exit strategy?
As long as Admiral Road is making money, we will continue to operate it. However, Admiral Road was born of a desire to work for ourselves and to be available to our families more than a burning desire to sell baby blankets. If there were a buyer for this company, we would entertain the notion of selling the company.
Do you have any other ventures you are presently involved in?
Mom Inc. was just released, so we’re really excited to be talking to people about our book. Along with the book, we launched a companion web site, www.mominc.ca. The web site is filled with resources for aspiring mompreneurs. There are so many amazing mompreneurs out there and great opportunities to share resources with each other. That’s why we built the Mom Inc. web site – we wanted to create a destination for women looking to be a part of this community. We’re also really interested in education. There are a lot of women out there with great business ideas – they just don’t know how to execute them. We’ve started a speaking series – Mom Inc. U – where women can come with their babies, have lunch, network and learn. You can find information about our lunch series on www.mominc.ca.
How do you define success?
We walked away from Bay Street salaries to start our own company. We know to the dollar what it’s worth to us not to work for someone else. For us, success is being happy.
What makes entrepreneurship a thrill is not hitting it out of the park every single day – but rather succeeding in general despite all the days when things don’t go as planned.
To what do you most attribute your success?
Perseverance. What makes entrepreneurship a thrill is not hitting it out of the park every single day – but rather succeeding in general despite all the days when things don’t go as planned. We’ve just shown up for work day in, day out and tried our best.
If you were to recommend a book or movie to a young entrepreneur, what would it be?
Our new book Mom Inc., of course! Seriously though, as part of our research for the book, we sat down with over 50 mom-owned companies. We also surveyed an additional 200 mompreneurs, so we really captured the whole picture of what it’s like to juggle your business with raising your family. The book is filled with practical advice and helpful tips to help women be as successful as possible.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your life?
Neither one of us thought that entrepreneurship was in the cards. It was never our plan to work for ourselves. Being and entrepreneur has affected all parts of our lives. It’s affected our career paths, how much money we’ve earned and how our colleagues view us. It’s also – largely successfully – shaped our ability to be available for our children. We’ve been at every doctor’s appointment and school play.
Even though we’re “accidental entrepreneurs,” one of the interesting things that’s happened to us is that we’ve become addicted to entrepreneurship. We say that entrepreneurship is a one-way street. Once you’ve worked for yourself, it’s really hard to go back to working for someone else. It IS a thrill to start a new project – and if you’re lucky enough to remain in business for a long time, you transition from starting up a company to running a company. We’ve had to find new ways to nurture our inner entrepreneurs.
What is the best part of owing a business?
We each to get work with our best friend.
If you had the chance to start over again, what would you do differently?
We don’t think we’d do anything differently. The way we started worked for us. Our goal was to grow the company so that it would be ready to take off at the same time as our children were. We’re right on schedule.
Encouraging the Spirit of Mompreneurship
The desire for flexible hours and an out-of-home business pushed Amy and Danielle towards entrepreneurship. Admiral Road has given the two moms the freedom to balance a career with their hectic family lives, which makes it the ideal business for them. In Mom Inc., Amy and Danielle share the lessons they have learned along the way, and aim to build a network of mompreneurs.