Julie Clark is the founder of The Baby Einstein Company, which is known for its videos and toys for children.
I invited her here to talk about the story of how she built her business and to find out what she’s up to now, including launching HappyAppy, a free app that works on all mobile devices and it’s guaranteed to make the user happy every day.
Julie Clark, The Baby Einstein Company
Julie Clark is the founder of The Baby Einstein Company, which is known for its videos and toys for children.
Andrew: Hey, since I don’t do any editing I’ve got to tell you about a mistake that I made in the intro of this interview. I said that Julie sold her company in 15 years, the number actually ended up being 5. Here’s the program.
Hey there Freedom Fighters. Today’s guest launched her company by borrowing her friend’s video equipment to create a program for children. About 15 years later she sold that business to Disney. My name is Andrew Werner, I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious up start and this program, of course, is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. This man right here, but I’ll tell you about him later.
First I want to make sure to introduce you to today’s guest, her name is Julie Clark and she is the founder of the Baby Einstein Company, which is known for its videos and toys for children. I invited her here to talk about the story of how she built her business and to find out what she’s up to now including launching Happy Appy, a free app that works on all mobile devices and it’s guaranteed to make the user happy every day. And, she’s got Baby Bites, a company that makes videos, music, and apps for really little kids and allows all those things, the videos, the music, and the apps to be mobile so they can be enjoyed anywhere. Julie, welcome.
Julie: Thank you so much, Andrew. Thanks for having me on the show.
Andrew: So, many people who are watching today either had Baby Einstein playing for their kids or maybe they even watched Baby Einstein growing up. What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up?
Julie: I grew up in Michigan just north of Detroit and I’m an only child. I grew up in a. . . I was actually the first kid in my family, extended family of course, to go to college. So, I’m the daughter of an immigrant dad from Germany and my grandparents on my mother’s side are from Italy, Sicily. And so I grew up in a pretty, I would say, sort of blue collar environment and wonderful parents, wonderful childhood.
Andrew: Was education stressed growing up?
Julie: It was definitely stressed in that I knew from the time I could talk and read that I was definitely going to go to college.
Andrew: How did you know?
Julie: So that was good. It was just something that my parents really wanted for me, which was great.
Andrew: I see books behind you, it’s an amazing collection of books and I’m only seeing part of it on camera. Did you enjoy reading as a little girl?
Julie: Oh my gosh, yes. I always had my nose in a book. I was sort of the girl, even in high school, in the back of the room reading poetry and I’ve always been a huge reader. In fact, it’s funny, I’m taking a writing class right now, sort of a creative writing class. I love reading out loud and now that my kids aren’t little anymore I very rarely have the opportunity. So, in writing class whenever the teacher’s like, “Oh, we’re going to read this section. Who would like to read?” I’m always like, “Pick me, pick me.” and so it’s kind of fun.
Andrew: Why, what did you like about reading?
Julie: I love getting lost in the story. I love what reading does for the imagination. So today, for example, in this class we were reading this piece that one of my classmates had written and it was beautiful and she didn’t really spend a lot of time describing the characters [??], but I loved it because it gave me the chance to put in my own visual of what that character looked like and I just love that. I’m just into that.
Andrew: And so, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up? Did you think you would be an entrepreneur or writer or something else?
Julie: I did not think I would be an entrepreneur. I was not the kid with the paper route and the lemonade stand on the corner. I thought I would grow up to be a teacher, which I was for a while. I taught high school English and I also really wanted to be a stay at home mom. And I was able to do both things and then ultimately in terms of becoming an entrepreneur, I would say that my business and all the businesses since that time have really been driven by those two things by being a mom and being an educator.
Andrew: Why be an educator? What drew you to that? And by the way I should say, if you can either push your computer back or step back a little bit. I want to make sure to see more of you on camera without making you feel uncomfortably awkward. Why? What was it about teaching that drew you in?
Julie: I really wanted the kids that I worked with to develop an appreciation for the things that I love. So I knew that Shakespeare was fantastic if you read the plays in the right way, you experienced it in the right way. And I myself had some really amazing teachers and those were people that I wanted to emulate and I also had some teachers that were not so great. So I knew what worked and I knew what didn’t work.
Andrew: What worked for you?
Julie: What worked for me was having an engaged teacher who clearly was passionate. That really worked for me. And I mean I can so clearly remember a professor that I had in college and a high school teacher actually who I still am in touch with and an elementary school teacher who I still am in touch with actually, who all made a big difference in my life.
Andrew: For me it was Professor Crawford who unfortunately died soon after I graduated from college and he would make us read the New York Times and tell us why he cared about it, what we were paying attention to. He made us write a report a week because he said, “In the real world people are going to demand that you produce constantly not just twice a semester.”
And he cared about the topic that he was teaching. He would have done it even if he didn’t need to teach and he probably didn’t need to teach. And that passion was something that I just loved and I felt that all the other teachers, maybe not all, there were a couple who were like that, but the rest were just there just for a job. He had a passion and I got to enjoy that passion.
Julie: Makes such a difference, doesn’t it?
Andrew: Such a difference in the way that he communicated in the time that we spent together.
Andrew: And then you were a stay at home mom, what was that like?
Julie: That was crazy as it is. I am still a stay at home mom although now my girls are really grown up. My daughters, I have one in college and one in high school. But staying at home with my kids was as much work as, more work, than I could have imagined because I really wanted to be great at what I did and I think I was. I have great kids to prove it. I mean I have great teenage girls. How many people can say that?
Julie: So somewhere along the way I think I did something right.
Andrew: What about when you were at parties and other people, other women said what their jobs were, was there any insecurity about being a stay at home mom or saying, ‘I’m a stay at home mom.’?
Julie: There wasn’t in respect to how I responded because I think it’s such an important job, I really believe in it and I think it’s a fantastic job. At the same time, I really appreciate women who choose not to stay home because they have careers that they want to pursue. They’re still great moms. So I feel really balanced. I don’t feel like one is necessarily better than the other.
I think you do what’s right for you and that was right for me. And so, no I never felt apologetic for it, but the truth is I mean Baby Einstein really ramped up pretty quickly after I became a stay at home mom. So there wasn’t much time in between when I was not doing Baby Einstein and when I was just being a mom.
Andrew: The growth was phenomenal and the idea came from something that you saw was missing as a mom, what was that?
Julie: That was exposure to beautiful things. I just realized when my daughter was born that there were so few ways to expose her to things that were really beautiful and that I could really appreciate as a parent. And it seemed to me to make perfect sense that if you have this child who comes into the world as sort of this vessel waiting to be filled with whatever you fill it with, why not fill it with really incredible content?
And so for me, because I loved classical music and I loved poetry and I loved animals and nature, it seemed to me like that was what I wanted to fill this vessel with so that we could enjoy those things together. When I looked around at entertainment products for kids I realized that nobody was doing that. I mean people weren’t necessarily making bad things, they just weren’t in that field. So, Sesame Street was fantastic. I grew up on Sesame Street, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do, which was expose my child to these things.
Andrew: So why not just play classical music on a record player? What else did you want?
Julie: Well, I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it. . . I mean and the truth is I did play classical music on a record player and then on a CD player, eventually and we danced, and we did lots of fun stuff that you do. But the truth is, it seemed to me that what you could do with video was take what is basically a board book. . .
So a board book is the kind of book that you read with a baby that’s got very simple pictures, sometimes no text at all, but has images that babies are interested in looking at. And I thought if you could take those images and put them on a video, you could actually have them move, which a book couldn’t do and you could add sound that a book couldn’t add. And so that just seemed to me to make perfect sense and when I hear people say, “Oh, no, no free time for babies and children under two, which has been sort of this controversy in the last five years or so.
I learn from screams all the time. And that doesn’t mean that I only learn from screams, and it doesn’t mean that I’m obsessed with screams, but if I watch a documentary on the Discovery Channel I learn from it. And sometimes I learn more from it than I would if I sat down with a book on that topic. And it seems to me like I could do that. I could accomplish that with these videos for kids.
Andrew: And that first version, as I said at the top of the interview, was created on borrowed equipment from a friend. What equipment did you need to create the first version?
Julie: Well, in terms of the technology equipment, I needed the video camera. So a friend’s husband worked at CNN, and he loaned me a video camera. And then I needed the bright lights. So I figured out how to set up lights on the table that I was going to be filming on. In terms of the actual footage what I was filming it was just simple. I was literally taking – if you haven’t seen the Baby Einstein videos – I was just taking toys that my daughter loved playing with. I was shooting, not shooting physically, but filming the family cat on the table.
I was just putting these really simple images together that were similar to the kinds of things you’d see in a [??] book, putting them up on the table. I acquired those things that I didn’t already own. And then I used Adobe Premier. The funny thing is this was like way back when. This was in 1996 that I was working on this.
And that was when it would take literally three hours to render for a two minute clip. So I’d like sit down, okay, type it into the computer, and I could go down make dinner, feed the baby, clean the kitchen, while this two minute bit was rendering.
Andrew: Wow. Even these images that I’m used to recording used to take about as long to render as they were to record. And now I’m amazed that with every new update they just get faster and faster. It’s so cool to be able to hit Export and see it happen within ten minutes and soon maybe even faster.
Andrew: Your cuts were…There’s something about the speed of your cuts. How did you know when to cut it? How did you know how long to keep an image on the screen or image on the screen before it was time to move on?
Julie: Actually I don’t wish I had the formula because then you’d do it. And the truth is there is no formula. I think what I really did well and what I do well still is I’m really good at seeing the world through a child’s eyes. I mean, what I was trying to accomplish with the videos and still accomplish with the videos I’m making now is to think about what does this world, what does this place look like to a baby.
First of all, everything is up, right? So they’re either laying on the floor or they’re in somebody’s arms or if they’re crawling or even if they’re walking everything is up. And so I wanted to try and think about what things look like from that perspective. And then I think, okay, let’s see I’ll put this spinning top on the screen. I’d watch it and I’d have it set to music. Is that okay? That’s enough time. I’d just know.
There really wasn’t a set formula. What I did know was I wanted the backgrounds to be very clearly delineated, so it was black, white, black, white. That makes sense to me because I knew that really little kids didn’t have terrific vision, at least, for the first six months of life. They’re still really developing their vision. And so I thought I want these objects to really stand out on the screen, and so that was part of the formula.
Andrew: We were trying to figure out how much research went into it. See, most people would have done that. I would have said I don’t know this enough. I need to hire a researcher. I need to do research on my own. I need to really, I don’t know, go get a degree. What are they doing wrong?
Julie: They’re need time because they’re not parents. I literally spent zero time on research. I did not run a single focus group other than the group of six babies who were in the play group with my daughter.
Andrew: And you would play it for them?
Julie: Yeah. What I mostly would do initially when I came up with the idea was I asked the other moms, “What do you think of this? Is this something you would buy? The truth is it seemed like a good idea to me. It was something I wanted for my baby, and I knew that I wouldn’t be alone. I knew that there would be other people out there who wanted something like this because it was a good idea. So I guess, sometimes when you do things because you’re really passionate about them you don’t spend a lot of time doing the research. You know what’s right.
Julie: I can’t put my finger on it. That’s it.
Andrew: What about the name? I remember the first time I heard it, I instantly got what it was going for, what it was about. How did you come up with that name?
Julie: Isn’t it a great name?
Julie: I thought up the name Baby Einstein. So here’s how I came up with. I sat down at my kitchen table with my daughter’s crayons and I drew the logo. I drew that head that still appears on millions of products. It’s crazy to think about it. I wrote those word, Baby Einstein, and I just knew instinctively – dear old marketing experience – but it made sense to me that a product should say what it is.
I always tell people when I speak to groups of entrepreneurs. When you’re coming up with a name for something you want it to say what it is. If you tell me you’re B & G Industries I don’t know what that is. That doesn’t speak to me. Baby Einstein spoke to me exactly. It was for babies, and it was clearly going to be something intelligent.
The cool thing is Albert Einstein who we know was known for his amazing contribution to the world in terms of science was an incredible musician and loved the arts and played the violin. There were so many aspects of the man himself that were ones that we hoped that our children aspired to. So it made perfect sense.
Andrew: How did you know you could use his name?
Julie: Well, I couldn’t; it turns out.
Andrew: I see. I didn’t know that.
Julie: Yeah. So what had happened is this. In my ignorance which I also see as an advantage because had I not been ignorant and never called my company, Baby Einstein, it would never had had the great name. What happens is this. I launched the product into the marketplace. It was an instant success. People loved it.
I only had one video copy of Baby Einstein. Two years later I had a second and then a third video, Baby Bach. Right around that time I got a letter from a lawyer who was working with the University of Jerusalem. What I didn’t know, again, in my ignorance was that you can’t just use people’s names unless they’ve been dead for a really long time. Bach was fine and Shakespeare, they were all gone. They were great. Einstein, however, had not been dead yet for 50 years.
And so ultimately we made a pretty good, decent sized donation to the Hebrew University which I actually don’t mind because that’s where Einstein’s papers are. I mean, that’s a place that you are pleased to support. So ultimately it didn’t work out to be such a bad thing.
Andrew: At that point you could afford to do it.
Andrew: I see. So, yeah, I could see how the ignorance could allow you to power through what other people would have been just stalled by doubts and questions and constant research and you just launched it. What about getting customers? How did you get the first customers?
Julie: I knew where I wanted that product to be. I wanted it to be on the shelves and in the catalog of a company called the Rightstart. So the Rightstart at the time was a place that I shopped at. I knew it was a great place for this product to exist. And I knew that they had this wonderful catalog distribution, and the great thing about catalogs is that catalogs in volume [??] write copy for your product. So you’re basically putting your product in a catalog and you get to write your little commercial blurb for it. It’s wonderful.
Andrew: I see.
Julie: So the way I got the Rightstart interested is here I was, I had my video done, and I had no background in distribution at all but I thought I wanted to be in the Rightstart. How can I be in the Rightstart [??]? And so I found my way to Toy Fair which is a huge industry event and I tell people now often when they’re starting up businesses if they have a product that trade shows are a great place to go.
I think that if you’re really looking for somebody to grab hold of your product you want to be in the right location. So trade show, for me, was where I got started. I walked through Toy Fair which had 20,000 people and on day two actually saw [??] Rightstart name tags. And I fairly have to say I charge them. I almost knocked them down. I was so excited to have my Baby Einstein video before them and I just insisted.
I think people really do see your passion when you’re excited about something. I think that they notice that passion [??]. You need to get hold of the right buyer at the Rightstart and they give it a shot. And here we are.
Andrew: How long after you created that first video did you get to sell to them?
Julie: Well, I completed the video in January, I would say, of 1997, and I went to the trade show in February of that year. So…
Andrew: Wow, that’s quick.
Julie: Yeah. It was about six weeks and then they had to try it out. They tested it in stores, but the truth is it sold so instantly. And I think there were three reasons for that. The first is it had a great name. So women and men, moms and dads, shopping in the store, “Oh, Baby Einstein. Oh, I want my baby to see it.” Number one, it had a great name. Number two is it was really unique. There was nothing else like it, and so I didn’t have any competition.
And the third reason which is really the most important reason is that babies loved it. It worked. So basically it worked, and the thing about babies is babies never lie. They cry or they laugh. They never say, “Oh, yeah, I kind of like it.” Truly. So if your baby’s teething and you pop in Baby Mozart and your baby stops crying, it worked. That’s fantastic.
I think that ultimately people also really enjoyed the fact that it was a product that they could feel good about, putting in front of their babies. It wasn’t Sponge Bob Square Pants for your one year old. It was Beethoven. So how could you possibly complain?
Andrew: I’ve seen people at trade shows approach potential customers and be as enthusiastic as you’re talking about and be so overwhelming that it’s uncomfortable. What did you do differently? Why is it not uncomfortable for you? Why were you able to close a sale rather than having that person that you were trying to talk to say, “Make sure not to get close to her later in the party because she’s too intense.”
Julie: [laughs] That’s a really good point. Well, I was brief. So while I did knock them over with my enthusiasm I basically spent a total of three minutes pitching my product and getting it in their hand. I could tell you the longer story. Would you like to hear it?
Andrew: I’d love it. That’s what we’re here for.
Julie: So the longer story is that I did know that I had my second video in the right hands. I did not know whose hands the video was really in other than it was a buyer from the Rightstart named Wendy. So I went back to my home, and she went back to California where the Rightstart was located. I waited about a month, and I didn’t hear a word, and it was no sad.
And so I just got my facts together, and I made a phone call and I called Rightstart headquarters and got the reception and said, “Hello, this is Julie Clark. I’m the President of the Baby Einstein Company which was kind of a joke because here I was the President of a company that had not sold a single product yet, and I would love to speak with Wendy.” And she said, “I’m sorry Wendy is not with the company any more.
So now I’m just devastated, and this is where the little white lie comes in, which is, thinking very quickly I said, “Oh, right, I remember Wendy told me she was leaving the company. Would you please tell me who is taking her place?” So she said, “Oh, that’s Kathy, Kathy Angel [sp], would you like me to put you through?” Sure. I said, “Of course.”
So I get Kathy’s voice mail and left Kathy a message that sounded something like this. Let me do it for you. “Hello, Kathy. This is Julie Clark. I’m the President of the Baby Einstein Company, and I met with Wendy when I was at Toy Fair at lunch. And she absolutely loved the Baby Einstein video and felt it was going to be perfect for your store.
So basically I told this giant lie and hung up the phone and I got a call. She said, “I don’t remember Wendy mentioning you to me. However, I do see a Baby Einstein video here in her set of things. Let me take it home and I’ll take a look at it. And so that was kind of my great big lie. It worked out to my advantage.
Andrew: And as a result, you ended up with your first customer and you’re off.
Julie: Yes. I was off to the races.
Andrew: What about this, too? Fear of talking to strangers. You’ve talked to April here on our team about how one of the biggest challenges is fear of rejection, fear of even talking to people. That’s a tough phone call for anyone to make. How did you do it especially when that person was so important to you, when the Rightstart was such an important customer?
Julie: I don’t know. I’m sort of impulsive, so many times I’m dogged by fear but other times I just throw myself into something. I just think, well, I’m just going to do it. So another great example is right around the time that I was in the process of trying to get the Rightstart to pick Baby Einstein I decided that there should be some media coverage of this wonderful video that I made.
So I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I literally picked up the phone and I called CNN which was right down the road and I said, “Hello, this is Julie Clark, the President of Baby Einstein Company and I’d like to speak to somebody in your parenting department. So they put me through to a woman and she answers her phone, and I said…I kind of briefly explained who I was and what I had done. I had this video. It’s wonderful. I’m right down the road from you.
It would be great for a parenting segment because it’s all about helping children, and it introduces them to a foreign language and I’m selling my product to her. Lo and behold, she said, “Oh my gosh, I’m right now in the middle of doing a story on Romanian orphans and how a lack of stimulation affects their long-term IQ. I would love to show the polar opposite of these Romanian orphans.”
Out of the blue, so she’s like, “Can we come to your house and interview you?” I was like, “Yes, you can.” I’ve never been on television before. So literally three days later I’ve got CNN at my house. They do this beautiful story. I’m on the video. I’m in the story and I’m playing with my daughter, and they’re showing scenes from Baby Einstein. It’s fantastic.
Andrew: What about the other media? Parenting Magazine named you video of the year and it wasn’t just that. You got a lot of press. How did you do it? Was it all you making phone calls?
Julie: It was. Either me making phone calls or it was people using the product and loving it and wanting to do a story about it. It was remarkable. I mean, so Parenting Magazine was great. I would always tell people anytime you seek reviews provided you believe your product is good and it’s going to get a good review, any time you can seek reviews, do it because you want credibility.
And so Parenting Magazine was one of those things. I sent the Baby Einstein video off, and it won video of the year for that sector, 18 months and under. Now granted there was very little competition, as I said, in that field which was great. So a lot of it is doing it on your own and again, Oprah, I was on Oprah, and the reason I was on Oprah it was only because the producer on Oprah wanted to do a story on moms who started businesses out of their homes. And she had Baby Einstein because she had a baby at home and he loved it.
Andrew: How did she know that Baby Einstein was started by a mom and not by a big company?
Julie: Well, we were pretty clear in our packaging, and I hate to say promotional materials because we didn’t really have promotional materials other than the insert at the time that came in VHS which totally dates itself. Basically it said, I’m a mom. I made this product for my baby, and I think your baby will like it, too.
And so I think that there was a real connection parents felt, and the truth is when you’re talking about babies – we love our babies. You’re so careful with your baby. and I was so careful with my own daughters when they were really little. And you just want everything to be good and warm and soft and fuzzy and right, and I think that you trust another mommy more than you trust a big corporation. And Baby Einstein had that real organic flavor.
Andrew: So you did $100,000 in sales your first year which is big. Then $20 million within five years, that’s cumulative over five years?
Julie: No, that’s each year.
Andrew: Each year.
Andrew: So it feels like everything just worked out. Was it that easy where it was…
Julie: It was that easy. I hate to say, it was that easy. I’m sort of learning the lessons how that it’s usually not that easy.
Andrew: Which now you’re running different companies that are kind of related and I see it’s not the same.
Julie: It’s not. It was just so new, and it was just so beautiful. When I say easy I mean, to a degree it was easy in that I loved what I was doing so much, and I was making a product that I didn’t need then. And it was pretty simple to manufacturer, right? So I would produce the video. I would shoot the video mostly on a table top, cup it on my hand, and I would go into the studio and edit it, and I had a friend who was a musician who did all of the beautiful music for the videos and it all worked out. And then I would literally send the master off for duplication and then start shipping initially out of the garage.
That was really easy. It was found that now it ended in a field that’s changed so much. I mean, people don’t buy DVDs any more. I find the technology is so much more complicated and expensive and impossible for me to do because I’m not a techie person. So I’ve gotten into some real difficult situations with this new company.
Andrew: Really? What kind of difficult situations?
Julie: Well, mostly that I didn’t have a clue how much work making an app entailed. So, for example, we have this really terrific app that… We made two really great apps and launched from Baby Bites. The first one is called Lullabytes and it’s wonderful. It’s this beautiful music app. It plays on your iPhone or your iPad and basically it’s music that your child listens to and you can leave the iPad in the baby’s room playing soft music and the iPad eventually shuts itself off after the 12 lullabies play.
The cool thing about it is if the baby wakes up in the middle of the night the iPad hears it and turns the music back on.
Julie: It’s fantastic and it has these amazing tracking capabilities so that at the end of the day or the week or the month the parent actually has a way to look at a graph and can show their pediatrician or anybody, “Look, Susie was sleeping on these nights. She wasn’t sleeping as well. She was up from 2:00 to 3:00.” You can actually track these things. So all the [??] make technology really cool, but they also make the technology really difficult to produce.
So I myself do not make apps. I do not live in that world of knowing how to put that stuff together. I can conceive of the ideas, but I can’t do the work itself.
Andrew: Unlike making videos where you can shoot the videos yourself and render them yourself. I see.
Andrew: I want to come back and find out how you did it because you did do it and I see Happy, Happy up on my screen. myhappyhappy.com, still in the business, but let’s see why you sold it. Why did you sell Baby Einstein? It was doing so well. It kept growing. Well, did it keep growing right up to the end?
Julie: Oh my gosh, yeah. So year five and I actually have to correct you because I think in our initial introduction you said after 15 years I sold it. It’s actually in five years I sold it.
Andrew: I had it wrong at the time? So where did I get that? I did my math wrong. Right, 1996 to 2001.
Andrew: Right. I did my math completely wrong. So it was five years. Why then five years?
Julie: So we had grown and grown. We were, again. in that fifth year. We did over $20 million in sales in that year alone with five employees. I mean, how crazy is that? So, yes, we were growing by gangbusters. Why did we sell? It’s an interesting question, and I have to say that my priorities were pretty clear. I didn’t want work to take over my life, and it was beginning to do that. And I knew that the market had changed. So while I launched Baby Einstein with no competition our incredible success brought a lot of potential competitors on board.
What I realized is if I didn’t grow substantially and have a company that put out lots and lots of product really quickly and support that product with a huge marketing team that somebody else was going to do it. And that was either going to be Disney or Nickelodeon or Viacom or Sony or any of those really big guys, and I thought, okay, I can either try to compete with them which I could probably have done had I wanted to or I can sell.
The reason that Disney was the perfect sale for me was because I had always established a relationship with them, so in year three of Baby Einstein Disney called me and said, “We love the Baby Einstein products. We know you’ve got these beautiful DVD’s and this incredible music. Would you like to write Baby Einstein books?” I said, “Let me think about that for a second”. I had a relationship with Disney publishing that was excellent.
My husband and I are really partners in this from the beginning. We sat back and we said, “What do we think? We can get a lot of money for this company, more money than we ever thought we would have. Or we can keep working our butts off or maybe make a hundred billion dollar company, which Disney eventually did and more”.
Andrew: A hundred million a year in sales, you mean?
Julie: Yes. I don’t even know. I think there was a time when Baby Einstein was valued at much more than that. But we just didn’t want it. We wanted to take the money and run, to tell you the truth. There were mixed feelings about that and I love the advantages that it gave me to spend more time with my girls; to travel like we love to do; to do the things that I really wanted to do and the freedom to do those things.
But it was hard too, because I loved what I was doing and I had such a close connection to it. It was in the sense of being alone with my own babies. When I sold to Disney I entered into a relationship with them that I assumed was going to mean that I would continue to be really involved in the company. And that really wasn’t the case as you hear from probably those entrepreneurs that you interview.
Andrew: They took it and they ran with it. They grew it and you’re on the side. Did you stay with the company? For how long?
Julie: I was in an agreement with the company, non-compete, for eight years. I consulted to the agreement for the same amount of time. I think the consulting was more non-compete than a consulting.
Andrew: Did you sell for more than $15 million?
Julie: I did not. I can’t say what I sold it for unfortunately. But no, it didn’t sell for that.
Andrew: It’s not. That number is not online. Did it hurt afterwards when business grew so much; that you saw it there was so much upside?
Julie: It did. I come from humble beginnings. Let me just say that after we sold the company I still went to the shoe store and had to think twice before buying two pairs of shoes. That’s true. I was very into it so I certainly spent money more freely now than I did.
Truth be told, I am so happy with the decision that I made, to sell the time that I sold. 2001 was a rough year. The World Trade Center fell a month before we sold the company. Disney doesn’t buy little companies like mine. That was pretty remarkable in and of itself and I was so proud that Disney bought my company. I have no regrets.
Andrew: I guess you were working at Disney for a while. Did you have any side projects? Any other businesses or did you just start to help non- profits?
Julie: I didn’t have any business that I was working with for a little while. But in 2003 I started filming for a new project that I was really passionate about. That was called The Safe Side. The Safe Side was my way of helping people talk to children about how to stay safe. My own kids were no longer babies. They were now at elementary school. I wanted them to understand how to stay safe.
Once again, I couldn’t find any products that I liked and I thought somebody ought to be doing this; somebody ought to do a project for children. The teacher’s done this. I made contact with John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted and said, “Hey, what do you think about helping me put together some videos for kids that help them learn how to stay safe”. And he was right down for it, right away.
He’s the most amazing person that I’ve ever worked with in my life. We worked on The Safe Side. We started that project. It was really a not-for- profit in the sense that all of the money, all of the proceeds that made went back to support the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is the organization that John and his wife started after Adam, their son, was murdered.
That was a feel good project. Not only was I able to give money to this amazing organization, but I was actually making product that helped kids.
Julie: That was incredible. I feel like I was able to use these skills that I acquired with Baby Einstein. The truth is I had a blast making The Safe Side. It’s two DVD’s and they are great products. They’re great projects.
Andrew: Now on iTunes. I can see from the website, too.
Julie: Yes, they are on iTunes. You can download them. Schools use them all the time. Police departments use them when they talk to kids about safety. It’s a cool project.
Andrew: Can you tell me a little bit about the challenges with Baby Bytes. What is it? I used to imagine that an entrepreneur has a success, then she understand business differently from everyone else. That means she could use what she learned to make anything successful. But, that’s not the way it is.
Julie: It’s not. I think that what happens is the market changes. What we’ve seen in the last… I can’t think of another time period where there have been so many changes in the way that business is done as there have been in the last 10 years. Baby Einstein launched its first video in 1997 which was on VHS. At that time nobody even knew that DVD would exist. God forbid that we would be watching videos on devices like this.
Technology just moves and changes so quickly now. That has changed the entertainment environment significantly. It was once very simple.
I have a video for Baby Bytes coming out in January called “Classical Toy Box.” It’s a beautiful video. The quality is so exceptional compared to what it looked like when this kind of thing was on a Baby Mozart VHS. The quality is gorgeous.
I still go through the same process of filming the video and editing the video. However, the technology needed to make the video available for streaming, or on a mobile device, or on a different kind of platform is so significantly different and more expensive than it used to be.
But, I hadn’t taken that into account. It’s not a question of would I still want to do Baby Bytes, because I would. It’s just that I think I was naive in my understanding of this new market and how expensive it is to create products for this market.
Andrew: How did you find a developer to do it?
Julie: In terms of Baby Bytes we are working with a company that has invested in Baby Bytes.
Andrew: I see.
Julie: It’s a company out of Manhattan Beach, California. Precision Development is the name of the company. They’re partners of ours. They’ve invested in Baby Bytes. And, they also make apps.
Andrew: I see.
Julie: We’re learning along the way. In terms of Happy Appy, which is also an app that I’ve developed, Happy Appy is like my give back project totally. There is no charge for it. There never will be a charge for it. It’s totally free.
I invested about $7,000 to make Happy Appy which is not a lot of money. It’s a fairly simple app. I live in Colorado. I found a local guy who has his own little business who creates and develops apps. He made it for me. It wasn’t expensive. I worked with a guy not a company. I did most of the graphics on my own.
For me, that has been really fun to do. Just to fill in a little bit of what Happy Appy’s all about, it’s a video that comes to your mobile device every day that will make you happy. It’s the simplest thing.
What was happening in our life, my husband’s life and my life, is that every morning we would get up and look at our iPad and we would look at the news the first thing in the morning.
Andrew: I do that.
Julie: What a terrible thing to do. It’s always depressing. When is the news ever good? This morning I looked at the news and the first thing I hear is about this shooter in New Jersey who went into a mall and fired at random and ended up killing himself and then the second story’s about, you know, a school bus that fell into a river and somebody almost drowned.
It’s all this bad news and I thought we should all wake up every day and the first thing we should see is something that makes us happy. So, I thought, I need to give people happiness every day. What I’ve done is I’ve gone onto YouTube and I have culled all of these very short videos that I love, that make me smile or laugh.
They’re either sweet, so maybe it’s a story about a boy with autism who scored like 50 goals at a basketball game or it’s a cat wearing a hat, you know it’s like ridiculous from the ridiculous to the silly, to the sweet. My motto is never crude, rude, or nude. So, you can watch any video with your 5-year-old or your 85-year-old grandma and it literally is just giving happiness away.
Andrew: It’s really well designed, also, the website, I really like what happens when I scroll. I think I’ll let people experience it for themselves, but even as I scroll through the site I like the way you change it.
Julie: Thank you.
Andrew: What’s the developer’s aim? He’s really good.
Julie: Yeah, he’s excellent. Well actually, the developer of the website is [??] and what I did with the website is a friend of mine has a son who’s in college. He sends me this note from South Carolina where he goes to school, and he said, some friends and I are going to start a company, and we’re looking for, he sent this mass email out.
Anyone who’s got a website need, let me know, you know, we need some business. So I called my friends son, Colin, and I said hey, I have business for you, are you cheap? And he said, yeah, we’re cheap because we haven’t had any business yet, so, I was his first customer and his company is called annex.
Andrew: I see annexstudio.com.
Julie: Exactly, so they’re wonderful, and my developer here in Colorado who did the app for me is named Bill Catlin [SP] and his company is York Street Studios.
Andrew: York Street Studios. Oh, by the way I just realized I forgot… I said my sponsors name but I forgot to mention him, and I won’t do a whole big thing for, this is him, Scott Edward Walker, of Walker Corporate Law. Instead, I’m going to ask you. Did you incorporate as soon as you had your idea, or did you wait ’til you had a first sale before you filed all the paperwork?
Julie: We pretty much filed all the paperwork right away. I mean, I have to say that when I talk about my husband being my partner in crime here, he is fantastic at that stuff and I can’t stress enough to you that if you’re an entrepreneur starting out, or even if you’re an entrepreneur not starting out, if you have a business, you need somebody who can manage and organize your paperwork, your numbers, all of your business. I mean and I suck at that.
If you could actually see my desk right now, it’s ridiculous. It’s like you know, just crap everywhere, because I’m creative, right? And I think that typically if you’re creative, you may not necessarily be so good with the left brain stuff, right? So I think that’s really important. So we got all of our paperwork filed but we actually sold our company to Disney. I think they were stunned at how beautifully organized our paperwork was, we had every single thing filed and narrowed down and it was great.
Andrew: I’ll say this for Scott. The reason that he wants to work with entrepreneurs who get started is not because there’s huge money to be made in setting entrepreneurs up with their LLC paperwork or corporate paperwork. It’s because if he sets you up right, everything will be so much easier later on and hopefully at that moment where an entrepreneurs ready to sell her company or raise money she’ll go back to Scott and I believe that they will and then he’ll be there with great paperwork to take them to that next step.
Julie: That’s critical, I think anyone like Scott. I mean, if you don’t have somebody in your company that you can delegate that to, you need somebody like Scott. I often think my husband ought to be a lawyer because he’s been so good at that law stuff.
Andrew: It’s so hard to find the right one.
Julie: It’s critical, yeah.
Andrew: I used to go to my dad’s lawyer, that’s where I got my first one. Anyway, Walker Corporate Law, for anyone out there who’s looking for a lawyer and finally, what’s the best part of having gone through all of this Julie, of having coming up with the idea and pushing yourself to make those calls and pushing yourself to talk at the Jacob Javits Center, at the toy fair. What’s the best part of having gone through it all?
Julie: Oh man, well I feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment in that everything that I did, all of the businesses that I’ve had, so Baby Einstein, the Safe Side, I have a children’s book called “You Are the Best Medicine” which is a picture book that helps parents talk to their children about what cancer treatment looks like. All of the proceeds from that are donated to cancer research.
I feel wonderful about Baby Bytes. I feel terrific about Happy Appy. I feel like I’ve given back. There has been some hard work, and there’s been some fun work, mostly fun, along the way. But, in the end I look around at this terrific material that I’ve been able to give to people. I feel so great about that. How great is it to think I’ve made babies smile all over the world.
If you think about Happy Appy it’s so funny. I go to my computer every morning and look at my iTunes Connect. I can see like, oh, I had 19 downloads in Germany yesterday. That means 19 people in Germany yesterday smiled because of me. How cool. That’s one of those things that feels great.
I’m a two time assassin, which is the word I prefer to survivor, by the way.
Andrew: Because you assassinated cancer.
Julie: I did.
Julie: So, I’m a two time cancer assassin. When I look back I think, wow, I’m so grateful for what I’ve been able to do. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to give back and to do something memorable. That’s just really cool.
Andrew: Thank you so much, too, for coming here and doing this interview. You’re at a point in your life where you don’t need to come here to get attention for your website or to get 20 more downloads of your app. You’re doing this to help other entrepreneurs, and I know that you have.
I hope if anyone got any value out of this that they won’t just sit back, but they’ll find a way to say thank you to you the way I’m doing it right now. There are tons of ways to connect with you if they go to your website Mommy Made. I suggest starting by just sending a thank you, and I’m going to do it now.
Julie: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye.