Meet the Mumpreneur: Vicki O’Callaghan and Michelle O’Riordan of Babyboo.ie
When Vicki O’Callaghan couldn't find a highly-absorbent bib made from 100 percent cotton that didn't make her little girl's eczema flare up, it became clear she had to come up with the solution herself.
Getting her friend of 20 years, Michelle O’Riordan, onboard, the Cork mums, neither of which had any experience setting up a business, put their minds together and soon after, Babyboo.ie was born.
We recently sat down with the busy mums to chat bibs, business and being brave enough to follow your dreams:
How did the idea for your company come about?
We started off with our droolbusting bandana bibs and the idea came from my (Vicki) daughter Ruby, she had very bad eczema and silent reflux, so she used to be a mammoth drooler. I just couldn’t find anything locally that would stop the drool soaking through to her clothes without flaring up her skin. I started ordering bibs in from the States and then chatting to Michelle one night (over vino of course) we realised if I was having this problem so were lots of people.
Michelle has four kids and all of her children have had sensitive skin as well, so she was only too familiar with the problem. So, we researched, found our first manufacturer, ordered in seven prints and went from there, we have produced over 400 prints at this point, our designs are so important to us, we know what it’s like to have a bib on your little one constantly so we want that bib to look as well as it functions, we have our own illustrator who designs for us.
Now we have extended out to a whole range of products from blankets to feeding bibs, mostly organic cotton (we’d like all products to be organic as much as possible so we’re working on this) that solve a problem for parents. We put special focus on sensitive skin and we design the products with this in mind, for example all our sleeping products have cotton care labels so even if your little one has bare legs in their SnuggleBoo sleeping bag nothing will aggravate their skin.
When did you start?
We’re about to be four in a few weeks. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s been four years but then when we look around our warehouse and see how far we have come it feels like 14!! We started off working from our homes with kids and full-time jobs and now we both work in the business full time and have two part time employees who help us in the warehouse.
How did you get from idea to actually get the business up and running?
We get asked this one a lot, at least once a week someone will ask me on Instagram or email in and ask how to actually get up and running. I think research is your first port of call, understand your market, your competitors, your audience and not just in Ireland, think big. Next is your products, why do you want to do this? Is there a market for that product? Who is the potential audience?
We spent months researching things like the quality of cotton from different countries and choosing the right manufacturing partner was so important. We have three different manufacturers now and finding each one has taken just as long. We then got samples and started working up our own drawings and how the products should look. It takes about 12 months for us to bring a new product to market, our most recent launch was the SnuggleBoo sleepsuit which is a togged sleepsuit and it took over 12 months.
We were lucky that my background is digital marketing and websites so I built our first website and launched us on social media and then it’s just getting stuck in and being passionate about your products and why you want to do this. It takes a lot of hard work and time and still does to run a business but it’s so rewarding when it’s your own.
Any hiccups in the start?
One hiccup which springs to mind, we invested in a new supplier and the quality wasn't there. The initial samples were good but when the first small order arrived we were not happy with the quality. We dropped the supplier and ditched the product. We never compromise on quality and we were lucky our initial order was small.
The other hiccups which still crop up from time to time are around delivering the product to us on time. Invariably there will be a delay somewhere be that the manufacturer, customs etc. So now we’re more prepared and orders go in well in advance for Winter stock etc.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
Try not to be too consumed by the business. I know we have both struggled at times with mammy guilt and being too focussed on our other child which is the business. It’s very hard at busy times to switch off and focus on your family or time with friends but I think we’ve both overcome this (most of the time).
On a business-related side there are lots of lessons you learn along the way, dealing with suppliers in another country with a different language. Dealing with customs and shipping companies and all the things that can delay your products arriving. We are still learning but have managed to meet some amazing companies that help us along the way. Our advice is to start small and build on it, or you could lose your shirt...literally.
What would you have done differently?
Hired staff faster, we waited 2 years to take on our first employee and the difference having help has made has been immeasurable. Investing in that side of the business is something we should have done earlier. Moving it out of our homes earlier is another thing, we used a storage company before leasing our warehouse which we could have done from day one on a small scale and scaled up as we grew, we just didn’t know that.
Biggest high to date?
There are so many to be honest, every award we win, every product launch when we see the reaction from customers, even small things like seeing babies wearing our bibs when we’re out and about. The biggest is probably, 1st November 2017 we featured on Ireland AM and sold out most of our Christmas range in one day.
Any lessons you have learned the hard way?
Trust your gut, if you think your product solves a problem and you know your market don’t listen to the negative opinions you will get. We’ve had lots of advice from various mentors, the bank, our accountant etc, some of which we took and some we knew wouldn’t work for our business. We were approached by a huge retailer in the first 18 months and we didn’t pursue it after much soul searching because we knew that wasn’t where we wanted the brand to go and we weren’t big enough at the time to sustain a relationship like that and it was definitely the right decision for us.
What is it really like running a business with your best friend?
It’s great fun (most of the time), it’s like being the only two members in a secret club, it’s brilliant to have someone else to bounce ideas off and we rein in one another on crazy ideas. I’m not sure where we would be if it were just one of us running the show, we need the two heads together. I don’t think it’s much fun for our friends though who are sick and tired of testing products and listening to us talk about work I reckon!
What is next for BabyBoo.ie?
We’ve just launched our 11th product with the 12th coming swiftly on its heels. We’re very excited about the next product as it’s going to be an exclusive completely luxury product for kids for Christmas. The quality and style is so gorgeous and we can’t wait to see it go live.
After that we’re working on two new products for early next year as well as new designs for the bibs and blankets. We’re also working hard with a great PR team on breaking into the UK market and beyond.
Are YOU a mum who set up your own business? We'd love to hear from you, so please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org