Joe Blair will graduate with his MBA from Harvard Business School in the spring of 2013. He completed his undergraduate studies at Lehigh University, where he earned a BS and MS in mechanical engineering. Immediately following undergrad, Joe entered a leadership development program with Ingersoll Rand, the well-known manufacturing company. In that program, he rotated through several business units ranging from engineering to product development to product management. He also took several domestic relocation assignments during that period before leaving to work for Flex Energy for one year prior to entering Harvard.
Today, Joe is the co-founder and CEO of chillbaby, a service that allows parents to rent clothing for their fast-growing babies. Dubbed as “The Netflix of Baby Clothes”, chillbaby is a monthly subscription service where parents are sent clothes based on their child’s age, the season and the parents’ sense of style. The company also provides free shipping, similar to the model used by Zappos. Joe’s wife, Teva, is his co-founder.
My wife and I came up with the idea for chillbaby while visiting our young nieces. We were helping my sister and brother-in-law by babysitting the kids and getting them out of the house for some play time while their parents worked. One day, we were dressing the girls and noticed that much of their clothing had recently been outgrown. It also did not miss us that most of it was fairly new. “What a waste”, we thought.
Old baby clothes tend to up in a dresser waiting to donated to charity or passed down to the next same-sex child in the family. During some of our early research, we uncovered that children can outgrow their clothes as fast as every three months prior to the age of two.
More often than not, kids will wear an article of clothing only once or twice before they’ve completely outgrown it. We thought about the fact that there are tens of thousands of families going through during any given period and that there is always a new set of parents dealing with this issue as more children are born. We knew that there had to be a better way to use these resources, so we created it.
When we first looked at going into business together, we looked at our own skill sets to see how that might work. Business partnerships are just like marriages in that you’ll have much more success when your partner is your counterpart; someone who is good at things that you are not so good at.
By this time in our marriage, we were well aware that our professional skill sets were just as complimentary as our personal skill sets. My wife is a brilliant person who is very fashionable, stylish and great with kids. My strengths couldn’t be farther from some of those things. I’m a hardcore business guys—numbers, process, et al. It is in those areas where I shine. I handle the business aspects of the company while my wife manages clothing curation.
I actually came to Harvard knowing that I wanted to start my own company. At the same time, I knew that I would not be willing to do it if I did not have an idea that I could fall in love with and be passionate about. I have that with chillbaby; and having my wife Teva as my business partner adds the proverbial icing on the case. Currently, we run the company and manage its inventory right out of our apartment in Cambridge. We couldn’t be happier.
We got our first bit of funding for from HBS. Last September, I applied for HBS’ Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Award. Now called the Rock Accelerator, the award assists students who are building a minimum viable product using lean startup methodology. There is a round during each semester. During my round, our company competed in a pool of 50 hopefuls. Eight of us were selected for the award based on our business plan demonstrating that we have made use of the lean startup/MVP methodology such that we could make a measurable impact with a minimal amount of invested resources. The Rock Accelerator is just one of many entrepreneurial resources at Harvard. It has been our seed money and has helped us to jump start our business.