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Mom Entrepreneurs On Deadlines, Budgets, And Kids


I'm Maria Hinojosa, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner when you decide you want to build that small business you've been thinking about. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice. And today, we want to talk about a growing trend among moms: entrepreneurship.

You may have noticed the explosion of products by moms and for moms, from better designed sippy cups to planners meant for a mom's schedule. Many moms say starting their own company offers more flexibility than a traditional nine to five job, but going at it alone comes with crazy long hours, plus enormous financial and emotional risks for moms and their families, no matter if their kids are in diapers or in college.

We wanted to hear more about all this, so we've called on three women to talk about their paths to creating their own businesses, what they love about it and some of the pitfalls they fell into.

I'm joined now by Marta Quintana. She's the owner of Havana Road Artisanal Foods, which is a line of Cuban food products. She's also the chef and the mom of one daughter in her 20s. Rita Blackwell is the cofounder and CEO of Wine Express Tastings. She's a mom of one eight-year-old son. And Megan Gardner is founder and CEO of Plum District. That's a website that offers deals on products for moms. Her company employs mothers across the country to scout out deals and products for other moms, and she is pregnant.

Welcome, moms and fellow ladies, to TELL ME MORE.

MARTA QUINTANA: Thank you, Maria.


HINOJOSA: OK. Marta, so you used to work in a traditional job. You were the VP of a pharmaceutical company. So what led you to suddenly say, I'm going to start my own business?

QUINTANA: Oh, my. Well, unemployment. During the recession, for the first time in 30-some years of working for corporate America, I found myself with nothing to do and collecting an unemployment check. I am very type A. I have always been a risk-taker, and I went through various emotional stages before I decided that I was going to turn a big, big birthday figure, and I wanted this next decade to be an imprint of my life and to leave a legacy behind.

HINOJOSA: And so you just jumped in fearless? You said, OK. That's it. I'm going to...

QUINTANA: Actually, my daughter Ines was my encouraging cheerleader there. It went - once I started going through all these emotions of fear and not being able to find a job and what do I do, I went back to my love of cooking. By the way, I catered my first wedding for 75 people. I do. Let me run back to the reception. And people were saying, oh, my goodness. Who's the caterer? Well, shh. No one told.

HINOJOSA: She's dressed in white.

QUINTANA: Yeah. She's dressed in white. Go figure. So my daughter comes home one day, and I'm making all these wonderful recipes and my husband is so happy because he gets all these gourmet meals and he gained, like, 20 pounds. And Ines comes home one day. She says, oh, mommy, guess what? What, sweetie? Mommy, I got you your own TV channel. I said, what? Because I love the camera, and I love showing people how food can be fun. Sometimes, I watch these chefs on television, and they're so serious. If you can't have fun with food, then your creativity and your personality doesn't shine.

HINOJOSA: So she puts you on YouTube, and that's how your...



HINOJOSA: ...which is not - it's a non-traditional way of kind of starting your own business.

QUINTANA: That is correct.

HINOJOSA: Rita, you have a wine-tasting business, and you started it in a very different way. You were actually employed while you started your business.

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes. So I'll tell you a little bit about how I got started. It mainly was a passion. While I was out on maternity leave with my son, Langston, I decided...

HINOJOSA: You were drinking a lot of wine.

BLACKWELL: No. No, because I was still nursing, so I wasn't drinking a lot of wine. But prior to that, I was. So while I was out on maternity leave, I decided to start researching a way that I could take classes and learn more about wine, other than my traditional way, which was picking up my own magazines, perusing the wine aisles and picking up bottles because they were cute.

And so I decided to go to the French Culinary Institute in New York City because my mentor, Andrea Immer Robinson, happened to be the dean of wine studies there. So I was, like, yay. So I went there just for pure enjoyment for myself, but I came back so enlightened and so wanting to share what I learned. And I said, well, what can I do? I could start a wine club. I can just get people together. Maybe I'll have a small membership.

You know, I didn't know what I wanted to do, because, naturally, I wasn't really what you would call an entrepreneur. This was really just driven by my love of wine, and then my wanting to share that with others.

HINOJOSA: And, from that love of wine, you then developed a wine-tasting business that now basically does stuff with groups, with apartment buildings, with condos, with events.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, all sorts of things. We do wine-tasting classes. You know, there's like seminars for those who want to learn more about wine. We offer a monthly wine tasting that's open to the public. Because when we started we were - our slogan is private tastings of uncommon wines, so we started out as an in-home wine tasting company and it grew from that point. So we do lots of charitable events, corporate events. But you're right, I did start while I was still working and, you know, running around working all day and then figuring out how I was going to go do a wine tasting at night and on weekends.

HINOJOSA: Right. And then we want to talk about how this has all had an impact on your eight-year-old son. But that's, we'll talk about that in the second.


HINOJOSA: Megan Gardner, you are the CEO of Plum District, and you're joining us from San Francisco. You're not a mom yet, but any month now.


HINOJOSA: So if you weren't a mom then, why did you decide to create this very particular online service for mothers and mother consumers?

MEGAN GARDNER: It was really an easy decision. I mean when you think about how many household decisions are made by moms, it's 85 percent it really was the numbers. And so the combination of the business idea to have moms sourcing all of our offers in 27 different cities came from let's would be something to someone. And it was a simple decision. And as you mentioned, I'm expecting in November a baby girl.

HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. In this week's Moms conversation, we're talking about entrepreneurships for mothers. I'm joined by three women who have started their own businesses. Megan Gardner is the founder of Plum District, a website that offers deals for moms. Rita Blackwell is co-founder of Wine Express Tastings. And Marta Quintana is the owner of Havana Road Artisanal Foods.

But let me go back to you, Megan. You're in the Silicon Valley. There are a lot of big businesses that started out there with venture capital. But according to a 2010 report by Bloomberg Businessweek, only three to five percent of women own businesses. Only three to five percent get venture capital. Your business was one of them. So how did you go about securing their capital?

GARDNER: Mm-hmm. Whenever I see those stats I get discouraged. I've had a different experience, fortunately and was able to meet the right people at the right time who were very interested in the business model. So Kleiner Perkins invested in my first institutional round. They really loved the idea of the mom's sales force on the ground and I think it's a combination of just being able to get in and meet the right people, but also having the big dreams. I didn't know what I didn't know until I went, I shot for as high as I could get.

HINOJOSA: What is it about being a mom though, I was thinking about this? I mean certainly when you're a mom you learn how to manage, you're always juggling. You've got, you know, the bottom-line always ends up many times with you. So is there in all of your experiences, and we'll start with you Marta, something about in particular about being a mom that you think has helped you be a good entrepreneur?

QUINTANA: Absolutely. I think managing my time. I think being detailed oriented. I think putting myself in the other person's role. Making sure that as the founder and owner of my company I pay attention to what's going on around me and how I can best capitalize on my company. Also when you lead a team of employees they have feelings, they have lives, they impact the work when they come in so you need to know how to manage people and that comes a lot from learning how to manage your children and being in tune with their own feelings and such.

HINOJOSA: So Rita, is there anything about being a mom that you think has helped you? And also, what about the fact that you have the rest of the family saying what? Now mom is working even more? I mean there's the up side and then there's that down side.

BLACKWELL: Absolutely. And I would say first of all it's that pure love and wanting to satisfy and nurturing that totally, you know, correlates one to the other. You want to do good. Like Marta says, you want to do well. You want to make sure that everyone is satisfied so therefore, it makes you more detailed oriented. You want to make sure that things are just so. And for me, it's about creativity and at home we're always trying to create something fun and exciting to do. And as I mentioned, Langston, my son is, you know, he's been there packing up boxes of wine with me. And it's so funny because I always tell people when he started taking Spanish and they said blanc. And he says mom, like Sauvignon Blanc and we couldn't believe it, you know it's like...


BLACKWELL: ...like yeah, Langston, like Sauvignon Blanc, for sure. So, you know, it's amazing because as much as you try to like separate the two, it really all becomes one. And it's sort of, you know, a part of your life. I mean for me, you know, Wine Express Tastings is my family. I mean, you know, I do it because I absolutely love what I do.

HINOJOSA: Now Megan, you not only wanted to create a service for moms, moms as consumers, but also to give jobs to moms who basically work for your company. So when you talk about the whole mom part of being, you know, an entrepreneur what do you hear from your employees who are also moms?

GARDNER: So we employ independent contractors and employees all across the nation. And what's interesting is that many of these women were top saleswoman in, you know, a number of different industries prior to having children. And they found that, while they started having children that that career didn't really fit. And that they really want to get back into the workforce, but they want to do it on their own terms. And so we offer different levels of, you know, flexibility, basically. So the independent contractor, there's a ton of flexibility whereas, the employee's more of a standard job but those are for our manager level positions. And so we've got over 300 women throughout the country working at different levels and again, it's a career on their own terms where they'll be able to basically have their cake and eat it too.

HINOJOSA: Mm. So about the hours? I mean everybody complains about the nine-to-five and how restricted that can be when you have a family and when you have needs. But what about the fact when you're running your own business and then forget this 40 hour work week?

GARDNER: Mm-hmm.

HINOJOSA: You're working all the time, right?

GARDNER: That is correct.

HINOJOSA: How do you manage that when you have a family? Let's say with you, when you have a, young - an eight-year-old?

BLACKWELL: You know what? It's actually initially I had a lot of guilt but it actually worked out nicely because what happens is now I can rearrange my schedule to be at, you know, three o'clock carpool pickup. And then I can have, you know, there's a program going on at school I can be there. I actually put together a wine tasting fundraiser for the school where I have to go, you know, there on a daily basis just to work with the fundraising committee, so that was something that was really great. So I've actually, you know, initially it was really a guilt thing for me but then I sort of turned it around where it works out for me. And it does impact my evenings and weekends sometimes, so we just have to make sure there are fun things to do.

But initially, it was a huge amount of guilt. Like, you know, I can't be, we can't have movie night on Friday night because mommy is out doing wine tasting. We can't, you know, even on a Saturday because you start planning. It's not just that time. It's, you know, it's throughout the week. But, you know, I just worked out, put him down, go back to the computer, put together a wine list and get back up. And so it actually became more flexible because it did allow for me to do the carpool and the fundraising events at school.

HINOJOSA: So Marta, what was the most challenging or surprising thing about starting your own business? I mean is it the financial risk or is it the fact that you go on this emotional roller coaster? And when you're down, it's like - it's not about the boss, it's about you?

QUINTANA: Yeah, to me it's the emotional roller coaster. I started this company with not a lot of money. I basically took my portfolio when the recession was hitting and I said cash me out. If I'm going to turn 50, I'm going to turn 50 with a bang and I'm going to make this happen. I didn't want...

HINOJOSA: You cashed the whole thing out?

QUINTANA: I cashed everything out.

HINOJOSA: And your family didn't stop you?


QUINTANA: Well, no. You know, my husband and I had just been married six years so what was, what I had...

HINOJOSA: Was yours.

QUINTANA: ...which wasn't much, was mine. And when you turn 50 a metamorphosis occurs. And you look at you life, you look at what you've accomplished and you look at dreams that you still haven't lived and I said I am going for it. I am a very type A person. I do not believe in failure. I will succeed. I'm putting all on my drive and all my martaness(ph) behind this, so I have set goals. But you're right. The emotional roller coaster of I'm it, I'm top in the company so when I get down or when I'm having a bad day I kind of have to talk to myself.

HINOJOSA: So I wonder Megan, about the fact that, you know, as moms, as women we're always, you know, we're worrying - we worry a lot. I just think that's one of the things that we do.



HINOJOSA: So then you decide that you're not just going to worry about your personal finances, now you're going to worry about making payroll.

GARDNER: Mm-hmm.

HINOJOSA: So let's, you know, what do you, Megan, do with what I call the worry factor as a mom who is running a business?

GARDNER: It's interesting. My husband tells me you're going to be a great mom, you worry a lot. And I think about it as a responsibility. So there are a number, like I said, we've got over 300 folks involved in the company, 85 employees and they all have families. They all have hopes and dreams. They all, you know, most of them have children. And for me it's a responsibility to make sure that they're, the mission of the company, which is to make mom's day, that we're also making our employee's day every day. And so that's, it's just something I take seriously and I feel like it's an opportunity as opposed to something that's going to drag me down.

HINOJOSA: So before I let you guys go, I want to ask each of you for your best piece of advice from your own experience, you know, what to do, what to avoid. And let's start with you, Rita. Your very best piece of advice for a mom who says, you know what? I'm going to become an entrepreneur?

BLACKWELL: Go for it. Go for it. I mean really. You don't want to regret it, not doing it, so go for it. And, you know, if you do well, great. If not, you know, you've given it an opportunity. I say go for it. I think you'll get more pleasure out of the fact that you at least tried as opposed to, you know, like Marta was saying, you know, waiting until, you know, whenever and the whole thing not having to worry about the money. Just go for it. I mean life is short. Have a good time.

HINOJOSA: All right. Marta?

QUINTANA: You know, she's right. Life is short and you can be up one day and down another. There's no guarantee that I'm going to take anything with me but what I do know is when I take my last breath I will not say what if because I am doing. Go for it with passion, with gusto, put everything that you have, everything that is you behind it, and I can guarantee you that you will succeed.

HINOJOSA: Don't be afraid.

QUINTANA: Don't be afraid.

HINOJOSA: OK. Megan from San Francisco, what's your best piece of advice?

GARDNER: I would say, enjoy the process. So earlier we heard that it's a roller coaster and it is. The highs are high, the lows are lows. You get incredibly nauseous pretty much the entire time.


GARDNER: But you don't want to get off. So, but don't forget, don't just focus on the end game. Enjoy the entire process.



HINOJOSA: I love that. And she has spoken as a pregnant woman.


HINOJOSA: You get nauseous all the time.


HINOJOSA: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us. Megan Gardner is founder and CEO of Plum District. That's a website that offers deals on products for moms around the country. She was with us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Rita Blackwell is the co-founder and CEO of Wine Express Tastings. She's the mom of one son. And Marta Quintana is a chef and the owner of Havana Road Artisanal Foods. She has one daughter. Both Marta and Rita were here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you all so much.

QUINTANA: Thank you for having us.

BLACKWELL: Thank you so much.

GARDNER: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A pleasure to be here.


HINOJOSA: And that's our program for today. I'm Maria Hinojosa and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.