Tuesday 24 April 2018

The mothers of reinvention

Katie Byrne meets four mums who ditched the 9-5 to become entrepreneurs

Ollwyn Moran
Lollipops & daydreams is a childrenswear company

The rigours of the modern-day workplace are enough to try even the hardiest souls. Add in children, school runs, routines and crèche fees, and things are even trickier. Little wonder, then, that many women decide to throw anchor overboard and go out on their own.

The rigours of the modern-day workplace are enough to try even the hardiest souls. Add in children, school runs, routines and crèche fees, and things are even trickier. Little wonder, then, that many women decide to throw anchor overboard and go out on their own.

Juggling motherhood and running a business isn't easy either, but as these mumtrepreneurs can attest, being the boss has its many upsides, too. Some have turned the exhilarating experience of motherhood into a livelihood, and the kids have often had their say in the running of things, too…

Keelin O'Keeffe,

Keelin from Dublin, is the founder of Kiki Moon, a company that specialises in designer baby blankets. She lives with her husband Gordon and her children Ethan (4) and Kaela (18 months)

"My previous job before setting up Kiki Moon was with NFTE, an entrepreneurship programme for young people, run by Foróige. I loved helping young people in developing new business ideas. Perhaps being in this environment of creativity spurred me on to develop my own business…

"It did reach a point, however, where I realised I no longer wanted to work for someone else. I wanted to be in control of my own future and pave my own path. As a child and teen I was always setting up mini enterprises and always knew this is something I would do.

"My Kiki Moon journey actually began when I was pregnant with my son, Ethan, four years ago. I was buying all of the baby equipment you need for a newborn but when I started looking at the blankets and textile baby products, I was disappointed. There was such a limited choice, mostly pastels. I love strong colours, especially for babies.

"The business launched in 2015 but I had been working on it full time a year before it launched. With a product-based business, so much work goes into the pre-launch phase. During this crazy time I found out I was pregnant with my second little baby. I really questioned myself if I could continue with the business and have a newborn, but I had gone so far and brought the product to market stage, I couldn't just stop. So I didn't. I'm sure a lot of people thought I was pretty crazy but that's just the way it worked for me. I really think there is no perfect time to have a baby or launch a business.

"In the beginning, it was a big struggle. My three-year-old was fine as he was in montessori, but when my little girl came along it really was a balancing act. Now, a year on from launch, I have a more structured system in place. I also work a lot when the kids are in bed.

"I've really had to embrace the whole world of digital marketing and social media which was relatively new for me. However, my biggest challenge also offers a big opportunity. Because we offer free shipping to the UK and the US (and Ireland, of course), the world is our customer. We now ship to 35 countries worldwide.

"The LEO (Local Enterprise Office) have a wide range of grants and supports in place so that was the first step for me. They also have a great mentoring programme. There are so many supports for start-ups in Ireland out there. You just have to do your research and see what's the best fit for you. You have to be proactive and seek out people who you think can help. Don't be afraid to ask - most people are delighted to give you advice. Talk to the enterprise boards, find a mentor, and don't be put off by anyone. If you have done your research and you know it can work, then just go for it. So many hugely successful brands started off from the kitchen table - Jo Browne, Cath Kidston… who's to say you can't be one too?"


Cara Carter,

Originally from Dundalk, Cara is the founder of Cheeky Squeaks, a baby and pregnancy yoga company. She lives in Rathfarnham with her husband and children, Sophie (7) and Brandon (2)

"I discovered baby massage shortly after I had Sophie. It really did help with the baby's colic but what I didn't expect was how lovely the whole experience would be. I did a little research and there was nobody else running baby massage and baby yoga classes in Rathfarnham at the time, so that was it, the decision was made and I had fire in my belly (along with the baby).

"My former career was in the operational back office function of one of the major banks, yet after the arrival of Sophie, my priorities began to shift.

"I knew I wanted to find something that would allow me greater flexibility for my family. I put a great deal of thought into what my business would be and trained and set up whilst on maternity leave with Brandon. I then spent more than a year working full-time and running my business, which with two children and a home to run was exhausting, but I wasn't quite brave enough to walk away from a salary without testing the waters.

"Training and set-up costs came in between €4k to €5k. I used my own money so, up to now, I haven't needed a loan. My business account was fee-free for the first year, which was helpful.

"A steady salary is a security blanket. The money doesn't come as easily now. It used to just arrive in my bank account every month but now every penny is hard earned and you can never be sure how much you will have. Still, it is more rewarding to know that you generated that income all by yourself.

"Reaching the right clientèle and winning customers is not as easy as expected. You look around and see pregnant ladies and babies everywhere so assume that filling classes would be a lot easier than it actually is. There are so many pregnancy and baby classes out there and that number is increasing all the time. I offer a great customer experience and once my clients are with me, they tend to stay. But getting them there in the first place takes a lot of work.

"The biggest benefit for me so far is that I am so much happier and that benefits my children and my husband - happy mammy, happy household.

"That's my advice to other mums: be happy, as this is the only thing that you owe to yourself and your family. Don't stay where you are because you are unhappy but afraid to leave. Take the risk: your current skills will still be there and the experience of running your own business will always be marketable if you decide to return to employment at a later date."



Maria Ryan,

Maria from Knocklyon in Dublin, is the founder of Lollipops and Daydreams, a childrenswear company. She lives in Dublin with her husband Andrew and children Aisling (10), Cillian (7) and Darragh (4)

"When Aisling was born I struggled with the idea of only seeing her for an hour a day and also, as a family, we wouldn't have actually had any days together. Andrew is a chef and I worked in Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank and settled in FTI in the IFSC. It could be high-stress at times. You were continually working to very tight deadlines. I was making payments and responsible for incredibly large sums of money for big international companies so an error would have resulted in serious financial losses and penalties.

"I didn't always want to be an entrepreneur but I think the signs were there without me realising. My first little business, along with my sister and friend, was making and selling seed bead necklaces in school.

"For Lollipops and Daydreams, I began making bunting and cushions for my children's rooms as I couldn't afford the ones I wanted to buy for them. I'd learnt to sew in school and the minute I got a new machine, that was it. I attended a few markets and fairs locally and set up a shop on Etsy, an international website for handmade items.

"I found the local LEO a great help. They provide mentors and heavily subsidised courses. I did a book-keeping and a Start Your Own Business course. It also gave me the opportunity to be involved in a pop-up shop in Carlow, which was an invaluable experience.

"My first customer, through Etsy, was in California. She bought miniature dolls cushions. I was so excited I rang about five people!

"I really wanted to try my hand at children's clothes but wasn't confident at first. Clare Jordan, an incredibly talented designer, was at my house one day and saw my daughter wearing the first dress I had made. She said, 'That's what you should be doing'.

"I am both a maker and a stay-at-home mother. So I work solidly all morning and I'm there to collect the children from school unless it's my husband's day off. It's a privilege to be able to be there for them and to also do work that I love at the same time.

"Lollipops and Daydreams is now available in KID Store Dublin (in the Powerscourt Centre). I've also recently introduced a range for boys. My children are the first testers of all of my designs, and they model in all our photoshoots, too.

"What advice do I have for other mumtrepreneurs? Trust your own judgement. If something doesn't feel right, then step back from it. Don't expect to make money straight away. And don't make or spend too much on the one product without testing it first."


Ollwyn Moran,

Ollwyn is the founder of Cognikids, a company that creates products for natural baby development. She lives in Dublin with her children Matthew (11) and Alex (9).

Ollwyn Moran

"I was a secondary school teacher for over 15 years, teaching science and maths. I was also a third level lecturer and a neurological developmental therapist, specialising in brain development, before I founded CogniKids in 2013. I decided to take the leap from the classroom in 2013 after winning some funding for my business idea for our crawl suits.

"The move away from carpet flooring to wooden and tiled floors was having a huge impact on the ability for babies to crawl. These modern floor surfaces do not provide traction for babies when they are trying to crawl and many babies give up trying. This can have a huge impact on development. My 'ah-ha' moment came when I was watching my eldest child trying to crawl on my wooden floors at home and the huge challenge this presented, so much so that he was actually trying not to crawl.

"I then started to look in stores for something to help but found nothing. It wasn't until about six years later when I was studying for a Master's in education that I spotted a notice for a student entrepreneur competition. I won the competition and then decided to bring my idea to life. I haven't looked back since.

"As a parent, running my own business does have some benefits. I can manage my own time. If I need to work from home for any reason, it is possible. I am always home with the boys in the mornings and value that time with them. It is important to me that the boys don't feel any stress in the mornings so not having to be in at a desk by 9am means that I am not running out the door and under pressure. This filters through to the boys. I am very lucky in being able to bring them in to the office with me at times. They have their own space and love to feel part of the company.

"One of the most exciting moments for me is when the boys and I are in Tesco doing our weekly shop and pass by the CogniKids stand. It still doesn't feel real! It's a little like that when I see our products in any store, really. I remember the first time I saw the crawl suits in Mothercare, I took photos of myself and the boys standing beside them hanging on a rail. I think the girls in the store thought we were nuts!

"If you have an idea, before you bring it to life, make sure that it is something that you will be happy to become obsessed with. However, you will have to make it priority number two as family comes first. Be prepared to sacrifice a social life, sleep and, at times, your sanity. You will be rewarded, however, for the work you put in."


Irish Independent

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