I am very excited to present the first interview here on CFO, especially because it is with Kelley Mason and her sister Kristi Jennings. They are the owners of Kozyware, which makes the popular Kozy Carrier mei tai. I’ve posted before about mei tais, and I just acquired a Kozy, which I love (I’ll post a review on Monday – and it will include a special discount code that you won’t want to miss!). Kelley has three boys (ages 7, 3, and 7 months) and one girl (age 5). Kristi doesn’t have kids yet but is learning a lot about them!
Me: How do you two know each other and how did you decide to work together? What is your working relationship like?
Kelley: Kristi and I are sisters first, then partners in KozyWare LLC. I am the
designer/founder and work the creative side and she handles everything on the business side. (She has a finance/accounting degree, naturally.) It is a very nice relationship and we balance each other well. As sisters do, there’s the occasional spirited debate and disagreement, but it’s all good. It really is a complimentary partnership with each of us bringing our strengths to the table. ;o) At the end of the day, we’re still sisters!
Me: How did you get the idea for the business and how did you go about getting started?
Kelley: I had no intention of starting a business. Since my first child was born in the fall of 2000, I was mostly using ring slings and pouches, many of which I made myself. But when my daughter was born she was very “high needs”, I was alone a lot of the time with my husband traveling and my back was killing me from doing one shoulder carries for 8+ hrs a day. I needed a 2-shoulder carrier. When I saw a picture of a Mei Tai I knew it was the answer I was looking for. Having no money to buy one, I figured out how it was constructed (4 straps and
a rectangle for a body) and using scrap fabric at home. I just made one, completely winging it. (There were no instructions online for making one back then. Those didn’t come out until after I started my business.) I read around online and figured out how to use it and from that moment on, I was hooked!! I actually tried another Mei Tai a couple months later, and that is what prompted me to pull out the sewing machine and work on my design. After > months of notes, calculations, trial and error, and sewing prototypes to try out with my daughter, I came up with the Kozy!
That was early 2003 and the design has actually changed very little since then. When we were on a family vacation in early spring of 2003, my dad (being the entrepreneur that he is!) noticed how I was getting asked often about my carrier. I had no desire to start a business but after much prompting, I allowed him to put me up a website, mostly to pacify him. :o) I think I sold one locally and not really wanting a business, I was fine with that. But in the late summer of 2003 someone online found my website and posted it to a nationwide babywearing list. The Kozy was the only Mei Tai “out” at the time to have the options of padded straps, reversible, pocket etc. These things hadn’t really been seen on a Mei Tai before, and people were anxious to try them. I started getting orders from around the country! Wow! I guess then technically the “business” started in the late summer/early fall of 2003. I was completely unprepared and had a waiting list immediately. Within months I was having to hire stay at home moms w/sewing machines. The demand and amount of work was overwhelming! Kristi joined May of 2004, just one month after getting married. I simply couldn’t handle it all myself. We became an LLC shortly after that.
Me: What was your vision for the company, and how does it compare to your vision for the company today?
Kelley: I never really had a vision for the company. I simply wanted to help as many moms as I could by providing comfortable carriers for them to carry their babies. I would say my goals initially were to simply keep up with orders and get through the day without having a nervous breakdown, and still being there for my 3 kids and husband. Now, our vision is to simply provide as many moms with Kozys as possible, and to spread the word about babywearing. This will reach more mothers in the mainstream who might not be familiar with the overwhelming benefits of wearing their baby. We would love the business to grow to support our families as well. What would be better than having a profitable business that is helping mothers and babies as well as our own families? That is a win-win all around!
Me: How many hours a week do you work? What are your secrets for balancing work and family?
Kelley: Initially, I was working 40+ hrs a week. I would stay up till dawn some mornings answering e-mails and sewing. Now that we have people sewing Kozys, and Kristi and my dad working on other aspects of the business, I have much more time to devote to my first calling, my family, which is a blessing. I think the secret is to know your limits. No one person can do everything. It is VERY easy to get burned out. You want to help others so much and you see the overwhelming impact that providing a comfortable carrier has on other mothers and families, that it is easy to overlook your own family and your own well being.
Starting a business is overwhelming, and when you consider that most people will work for years building their business before they are even able to make money, it is cause for pause. I think it is all about knowing where you want to go, getting everything worked out ahead of time, and then realizing when you need to ask for help or delegate. There is no way I would have been able to do it without help, and Kristi was the perfect partner. Having her help in areas where I lacked, but she thrived, allowed me to relax, knowing that the business was in good hands, and allowed me to resume the most important job of all, which is being a mother to my kids. I still spend quite a lot of time on Kozy, but now I am able to balance that with time with my kids, which is extremely important.
Me: What is the funniest story you have about the business?
Kristi: I had a lady once tell me she was sitting inside at a window table in a downtown café and a lady walked by outside wearing a Kozy. She leaped up from her chair, and told her husband she had to find out what kind of carrier it was. She chased the lady down the street! We’re always hearing funny stories like this about customers being stalked at the zoo, the grocery store, or the mall. We have a whole army of marketeers out there! ;o)
Me: What are the best and worst parts of being a work-at-home mom?
Kelley: The worst part is having “work” around you all day. When you work from home, you are always at work and it is hard to get away and separate the two. I have found myself answering work e-mails at midnight, because the computer is there and the kids are asleep so I can. That is OK as long as it doesn’t interfere with family time. The best part is that I am able
to work to make some extra money for my family, and still take care of my kids, which is what I consider to be my #1 priority. I consider that to be a huge blessing and a true gift from God.
Me: What are the top two pieces of advice you would give a mom considering starting her own business?
Kelley: Do your research ahead of time, so that you know what you are getting into. Know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. Have everything set and in place before you start with a business plan, a list of goals and all your resources at your fingertips, so that you don’t get in over your head.
I would say next is to know your limits. Be ready and prepared to find help if/when you need it, so that you don’t burn out and are able to continue being a parent to your children. You will absolutely crash and burn if you don’t seek out assistance. Many a good home business has cratered because the stress of trying to handle it all has become too overwhelming, and it’s easier to just call it quits.
Me: What is the best part about your job?
Kelley: The best part of my job with Kozy is being able to help other moms care for their babies. I consider that a privilege. I also consider Kozy to be a gift from God, allowing me to do something that I find so rewarding, while also having the benefit of helping to provide for my family. To me, it’s more about a mission and a ministry than a business. But nothing compares to my job as mom, I wouldn’t trade that for anything!