MBA Startups: Taking The Entrepreneurial Route At Kellogg
During my years as a consultant, I had observed several women transition from their 20s into their 30s and start families while simultaneously trying to make partner at my firm. I also noticed that every single one of them ended up leaving the company for the sake of family. As a Texas girl, this image weighed heavily on my mind because I knew that I absolutely wanted to start a family in the future.
It was then I realized that what I was passionate about was work/life balance; and I saw my passion as something that extended far beyond just me. As a millennial, I saw the demand for work/life balance as a macro trend experienced by my entire generation. I also felt that the issue of work/life balance would continue to grow as a concern as we millennials began to enter our 30s and start families of our own. Once I came to this realization, I began to scour work/life balance blogs all over the internet, looking for ways to save moms time and frustration.
I reached a turning point when I was selected to take part in the Kellogg Entrepreneurship Internship Program (KEIP), sponsored by Kellogg’s Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice. KEIP is a highly selective program that allows first-year students to bring their education, training and passion to the table to help a business owner accomplish critical tasks. Meanwhile, the student gains first-hand entrepreneurship experience.
During my KEIP internship, I ended up being matched with a high-fashion company, a fact that I considered ironic since I’m a died-in-the-wool Target Shopper. The business experience, however, was perfect for me. I discovered that I enjoying wearing different hats as opposed to specializing in just one area. I got to round out my strategic skills by taking a deep dive into more practical skill sets such as sales, marketing and inventory management.
My business really began to take shape during my market research class at Kellogg. I came into that class with several ideas, including my idea for CleanBeeBaby. While on my internship, I had encountered a customer who complained about how her baby spit up and how hard it was to clean up. At the time, I had made a note of her complaint in a book of ideas that I had been compiling.
During that class, my CleanBeeBaby idea kept coming out on top of several other ideas as I collected and analyzed market data. Every mom that we surveyed wanted my solution and no one seemed to be offering it out in the market.
I organized my entire second year of business school around the idea of developing my business plan. I also leveraged the knowledge of about 40 of my classmates in eight different classes—many of whom had worked for companies such as McKinsey—to gain literally millions of dollars of top-notch consulting advice for free while developing my idea.
And as a result, I won Kellogg’s business plan competition during my second year as an MBA student. My win surprised a lot of people. Even I was surprised. I competed against a lot of the usual suspects—consumer-oriented web, tech and healthcare companies with amazing, innovative ideas. I did not win because I had the best idea. I won because I had the best and most thought out business plan. And from that point, all I had to do was execute.
My biggest challenge has been being taken seriously. Winning that competition not only provided seed money for my business, but it gave me credibility. Most investors are men. Many of them saw my business as a cute niche idea that there wasn’t a big need for. Winning that Kellogg’s Business Plan Competition changed that perception. Even in the face of not being taken seriously, I was insistent that I was doing the right thing. While my business is not some fast-growing tech company, babies are not going anywhere. I know that my market and their explicit need for my product are here to stay.
After my win, I exceeded my first round fundraising goal and delayed my start date at work to get my company off the ground after graduating. I still went to work, however, one month after my business launched. Everyone else who I knew from Kellogg who went straight into entrepreneurship was married and getting some help from a spouse. I was single with $50,000 in debt to pay, so I went to work during the day and worked my business during the evenings and on weekends.
From fall of 2010 to the summer of 2012 I only slept three to four hours per night. And during that time, literally no one in the baby industry even knew that I was working full time while building my company. This past July, I was finally able to quit my job and begin working in my business full time.
I owe much of my success to Kellogg and the resources and community that it has given me access to. In addition to the KEIP, the curriculum and my classmates that helped me start my company, there were other unique Kellogg experiences that helped me along the way as well.
The Kellogg network in and of itself is pretty amazing. When I was growing my company I was able to get on the phone with numerous owners and senior executives of many of the most well respected companies in the world. And I gained access to them because I was a part of the Kellogg community. Those same doors would never have been opened for me “in the real world” without membership in that network.