03 Oct October 4, 2019 – Shark Tankers Stephanie & Brett Parker and Breaking Bias Andie Kramer & Al Harris
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Stephanie and Brett Parker – Co-founders of Sleeping Baby, Successful Shark Tank Contestants – Read interview highlights here
Our goal has always been to strive to be debt free. We built our
business one Zipadee-Zip at a time. I would not buy more fabric
unless I had sales that paid for it. That was a choice we made
for our family and also for mental peace.
Stephanie Parker is an inventor and co-founder of Sleeping Baby, the successful baby apparel brand started with the Zipadee-Zip, a swaddle transition product she created when her daughter wouldn’t sleep through the night. Stephanie and her husband, Brett, made a successful pitch on ABC’s hit reality show, Shark Tank, where they received offers from three of the investors. They initially accepted Daymond John’s offer of $200,000 for a 20% stake in the company, but they ended up not taking the investment during the negotiations after filming. Despite turning down John’s deal, Sleeping Baby still flourished. Five years later, Parker continues to grow their ethically-made, high-quality products sold online across the U.S. and in Europe, Japan, Canada and Mexico.
Andie Kramer and Al Harris – Attorneys – Keynote Speakers – Authors of It’s Not You It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias that Built It and Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work
A gendered workplace is one that is controlled and dominated by men. So that it is a workplace in which the men are far more comfortable working than the women because it is a place that was designed by and for men.
Andrea S. Kramer (Andie) and Alton B. Harris (Al) are distinguished attorneys, married to each other, and co-authors. The pair work to deconstruct the persistent cultural meme that the greatest threat to professional women is other women—backstabbing, conniving “queen bees” and “mean girls.” The investigated this theory using surveys, social science research, and interviews before dismissing the theory as bunkum, and revealing the real threat to womens’ job advancement. For decades, Andie and Al have tackled gender bias in the workplace through speaking, workshops, articles, blog posts, podcasts, one-on-one counselling, and engagements with national and international business and professional organizations. They have appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Fast Company, Crain’s, and many other publications. They provide practical techniques that women, men, and organizations can use to prevent the gender stereotypes and the biases that flow from them from slowing down or derailing women’s careers.
Highlights from Stephanie and Brett’s Interview
When my daughter was a baby, we swaddled her like a little baby burrito. Eventually she learned how to roll over, and you can’t swaddle a baby safely when they start rolling, because they need to be able to use their arms. And when we stopped swaddling her, she stopped sleeping. This was right around the time when I was going to have to go back to work for financial reasons, and my heart’s prayer was to stay at home with her, and that prayer was answered when she stopped sleeping. So out of some desperation and exhaustion and some encouragement from my husband, who was not sleeping as well, he’s like, “Fix it, find the solution.” So I did some research, and discovered that babies often startle, or they have something called a moral reflex, where they jolt awake suddenly, because they feel like they’re falling. And it’s because they can’t feel their edges like they could in the womb or the swaddle. Well, I was thinking, How do I provide my daughter with her edges, so she can self soothe when she startles, but still give her the ability to push up and roll over? And that is when the Zipadee-Zip was born. I pulled out my sewing machine from eighth grade, that I hadn’t sewn on since eighth grade, and whipped up the very first Zipadee-Zip, and she slept 12 hours that night. We woke up before she did the next morning, and I thought for sure I had killed my own daughter. But she was sleeping soundly. I immediately had incredible success with it. And so that’s when it all started.
It’s star-shaped, and people call their babies little starfish when they sleep in them. What it does is, it provides a little resistance in the arm span of the fit, so that when a baby jolts awake, there is that resistance that they feel in the tips of their fingers and their arms. So that’s what gives that self soothing, but still the ability to push up and roll over if they need to.
We had done a million in sales when we went on Shark Tank. It’s a whirlwind. Because in order to even be on the show, you go through an incredibly rigorous question and answer session where they vet you, and you have to do multiple auditions that you film and send in to them before they even approve you. Then once they approve you, there’s so much questioning that goes back and forth. Then they assign you to producers that work directly with you to work on your pitch and revise things. We went into the Sony studios, and even some of the people that were there that were selected didn’t actually end up airing, they were brought to Sony and everything in LA and didn’t end up airing. It was quite a process. They did a good job preparing us the day before we did a practice pitch, which was not in front of the sharks, and then they revised our pitch the day before, and we had to rememorize it that night, and then pitch it the next day. And so it was a whirlwind. It was an awesome experience, and really, truly, they were wonderful.
It was a Lori and Kevin and Damon who said yes. We go on there, and we feel like we’ve got a real business, there’s real money coming through, but we’re being so reactionary as far as the decisions that we’re making. You go on the show thinking that you need all this help, and when Lori was the first one, we didn’t want to give too much away. But the reality is, when I talked about our business for 5, 6, 7 minutes, and we already got our first offer from Lori, and we filmed for about an hour—everybody sees about seven minutes, eight minutes, I believe. But within the first five to seven, eight minutes of film, we get an offer. And my knees buckled, because you feel like you got a real business. We’re evaluating a more than fair offer. Based on what we valued at our company, we knew that there was value there, we knew that they weren’t going to beat us up on valuation. We knew that, because we had the revenue and the net profits to back it up. And so when Laura gave us the first offer, it was like, “Oh my gosh, this is really going to happen.” And I knew within a couple of minutes after that happened that this was going to happen.
Then Kevin came in. And then there was lots of questions going back and forth. Then Damon came in. I think, at the end of the day, we know that all those sharks have contacts that we don’t, regardless of industry, regardless of whatever your business is. They’ve got everybody on speed dial. But I believe that there was a level of experience, knowing Damon from his apparel line of FUBU, and what we intended on him to be able to bring to the table. We knew that he had a level of experience specifically in the apparel business, that we did not, and that is what ultimately led to our decision have taken him.
After the show, I wouldn’t call it the deal falling apart. Honestly, it was one of those situations where we discovered in the process of due diligence and talking with Damon that what we had intentionally thought of as a perfect fit—he’s an incredible businessman, his sweet spot is licensing, and his sweet spot is retail. But we decided that our direction needed to be online, and that was not his sweet spot. We discovered in that process that it wasn’t the best fit that we thought it would be. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t have added value to our business, it just wasn’t the fit that we initially thought it would be.
The best way that we could probably put it is it wasn’t a no, it was just a not yet. He was incredible to us, his team was incredible on how they treated us. There was nothing but positives, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that I could call Damon on a cell phone tomorrow, and he’d pick up where we left off, on an amazing note. We’re still in untapped territory as far as where our growth can be in the ecommerce world. We don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, and we’re really, good. We feel like in the ecommerce world, we still have a lot of room to press the gas. And that’s the direction that we continue to go, which is why we’re still not in retail.
The reality is that we were at a point where, while seeing the money come in was exciting, at the end of the day, our mission was the same goal we had when we started the company six, seven years ago, and that is to make enough money for my wife and my bride to stay at home and be a stay-at-home mom, and to help raise our kids. Not everybody can do that, and there’s no judging there. Not everyone wants to do that, and that’s perfectly okay. But when Steph and I came together about forming our goal, we wanted to be able to provide that for our kids. We were trying to make $200 a month, now we make a little bit more than that, obviously. And so we were reminded we weren’t attracted to the idea that we could be worth $25 million in five years if we take this deal, with his help. While that’s nice, we’ve learned that money doesn’t necessarily always give you eternal happiness, it doesn’t give you a forever comfort. We are still as hungry as we were six or seven years ago, even though we may have a few more assets than we did six years ago. We’re still hungry, we’re still motivated. But at the end of the day, now we work not only for our family, but 12 or 15 employees that we have. We work for their families as well, to help provide. So we’re still hungry. We just want a lowered risk versus reward. We could put the foot on the gas pedal, press, and lose everything tomorrow at that risk of growing five times and 10 times every other year. But that’s just not what our motivation was. And it still is not.
Damon shared something that was super wise when we were first talking with him: you can inject more cash, but you’ll always need more. There’s never enough. When it comes to business, you can amass a debt or a need for more cash and more cash, and it will continue to just suck it up. At some point, we had to say, we’re going to be diligent. Our goal has always been to strive to be debt free. And that’s what I mean, we built the business once. I would not buy more fabric unless I had sales that paid for the fabric. That was an important aspect, and I’m sure there are a lot of people that think that’s crazy. But that was a choice that we made for our family and also for mental peace, too. We’ve been going six or seven years, and we’re still debt free. And while that is limiting, as you know, right, how big could we get? We know that, and our employees know they’re like family. Now, at this point in time, they know that they’re going to have a paycheck every two weeks, because we run the company the way we do, and they know that there’s enough money for them to have a paycheck every two weeks, because we run our company conservatively, but we also understand there’s risk in that too, right? But we choose to go this route. It’s not that it’s comfortable. We like to know that we’re going to have the cash in the bank already before the goods get here.
I’m actually going to step in on this because my wife won’t give you the right answer. I’m that guy now. But here’s the deal, I’m gonna brag on my wife. Right? And this is why she wouldn’t give you the right answer. You could say you know how to do sales funnels, you could say you know how to do SEO, and, you understand Google algorithms and Facebook algorithms and all that. And here today, 100%, that stuff is important. We may own a multimillion dollar business, but we take a lot of pride in raising our family as the family next door. Money is like makeup, it’s supposed to enhance what you already have. And we live generously, we give our time and our resources. Whether you live in $100,000 home or a million dollar home, we just want to be normal people, because we have the same struggles as everybody else. But the reality is my wife is very good. She’s genuine. And when she posts, she understands how to connect with her audience. She’s a mom, she’s still a mom, and going through mom things. And I think when you when you see our Facebook, and you see the posts, and you see the interaction between moms, we may be in the baby business, but what my wife does really, really well is being able to connect one-on-one with people through the internet. And it is genuine, she is the same person today as she was six years ago, and I think that what you really, really see is the growth of social media and Twitter and Instagram and all that people are seeing and can connect. When you can connect with an audience, you have their attention.
There were certain times, especially when we started our business—and it’s something that I shared when we were on Shark Tank—when I had no choice but to be completely… I mean, I was still sewing our products, but we lost a baby. And I could not get the orders out. I just was not able. It was not a possibility. I was up until two and three in the morning as it was, handwriting thank you notes, shipping and sewing everything. But when I lost the baby… I mean to own a baby business and then lose the baby. It was always hard. And that was something that I had to come clean with, with my customers who were like, “Where’s my order?”
She’s the face of the business, as it looks weird if a guy is the face of a baby business, right? And she’s a lot prettier than I am, and I’m willing to admit that. But the reality is we had conversations back and forth about what to do, and I said, “You just tell them the truth.” And she did that. The thing that was so beautiful is that there were women that took the time to write pages and pages of their own story to me, some of them having lost twins full term or children. And just that interaction helped me heal and helped them heal because they were able to share their story and be transparent about what they were struggling with.
After we were on Shark Tank, I got this email from a woman who shared her story about how she was pregnant with a baby that doctors told her she should abort because of medical reasons. And she said that after hearing the story on Shark Tank, she decided she’s going to enjoy her pregnancy and just trust what God’s going to allow to happen. What happened, this baby was born with severe medical issues, but he is totally fine, and a normal three year old boy right now. It’s just an incredible story and testament to when women are willing to be real and transparent, there’s a connection that happens there. And that’s contagious. We’re so blessed to have such amazing customers that are willing to share and be open and honest in that way. The other thing is moms talk. Our business grew by word of mouth alone, women were saying, “My baby’s sleeping, I’m finally getting sleep, too. And this is what worked,” so that was probably the most powerful thing for us.
There are there are there are some social media presences out there that are super transparent about everything. And that’s awesome. I don’t think we go into every single detail, but I do think that we share our triumphs and some of our failures as a family, and as a business, some of the struggles that we go through we have yet to share. Share social security numbers with anybody, we haven’t done that. But here’s the deal. We are extremely transparent people. We are, and we’re known for being that. I think sometimes we live in a world where we, with social media, everything is perfect. And I think there’s a reason why studies come out and say that there are millennials and people in generation X underneath us that that are struggling with depression. It’s because we’re living in this world where everything’s perfect, and it’s not. We share those, like Stephanie said, triumphs, we share the sorrows of when we were essentially empty nesters. We’ve got a kindergartener now, what do we do? What does Mama do? And oh my gosh, we’re getting older now. We share that kind of stuff. People can relate to that, life is full of ups and downs, and what better way than to have a community around a bunch of ups and downs.
We have employees that are amazing on a one-on-one basis. For example, Jenny and Sarah, these are girls that work for us, that when a customer writes us, and they respond to the moms, and they respond in kind, they’re not just going to respond to answer the question, they’re going to tell them a personal story about their own life in the email. These women—our incredible employees—are the reason that we have been able to continue that connection, and our incredible customer service. We couldn’t do it without that.
Stephanie’s exactly right. Stephanie started this business with interaction and being real and transparent. And you know, our girls will come, who are mothers that work for us, they’re mothers, they’ve been in the product, they know. It comes to how do I answer this? It’s like, share your story. It has nothing to do with the product half the time when people email us. They’re suffering from this, or they’re going through this, and they’re sharing their life with us. And I say, share your life with back with them, be as detailed as you want to be. Most businesses don’t do that, as you know.
You can go to SleepingBaby.com, and that’s where you’ll find all of our activities. If some are coming out with a brand new product for newborn babies that’s going to be coming out in the next few months. SleepingBaby.com. We’re also on social media, primarily Facebook. I need to work on all the fabulous other social media outlets like Snapchat, but our primary following is through Facebook right now. And that’s where you can find out about sales and promotions, tips and tricks, and things of that sort.