When most people think about the best time to start a business, during a pregnancy isn’t one that often comes up – but then business mums don’t always do things in the traditional way, do they?
Married mum of two Vanessa Blake, director of dreamgenii® tells Motherswhowork.co.uk how having problems sleeping during her pregnancy and finding nothing to help improve things was the impetus to starting her award-winning business.
What work did you do before you set up your company?
I spent many years working as a senior manager in a number of corporate companies, including working as a Managing Director of a Marketing Agency. I’m sure this general business background helped when it came to starting my own business.
How did you fund the business?
My husband and I funded the business ourselves as we have never received meaningful support from banks. My parents also believed in us enough and what we were doing to support the business. The support of my family and in particular my husband Stephen has been incredible.
What was the motivating factor for starting your own business?
I was six months pregnant with my son and after weeks of tossing and turning at night I’d had enough. I tried every pregnancy pillow on the market and none of them actually worked. All of them woke me up in the night when I wanted to move and they usually ended up strewn on the floor by morning! I bought a sewing machine and made a pillow myself, but it was pretty basic. I showed it to my midwife at my antenatal class and everyone raved about it! They suggested I should look into selling it to other women so I took it to a manufacturer and asked them to make up some proper samples. I showed the samples to various midwives, healthcare organisations as well as many pregnant friends and volunteers. The pillow was universally welcomed as a huge help for pregnant women, and we went on to launch it. Six years later we now sell a range of award winning, unique products for parents and children that support their journey from pregnancy to parenthood – we are experts in sleep.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
Being in control of my own destiny! As well as being able to put our children first. We never lose sight of why we set up the business in the first place and that everything we do is for our family.
Running a business can be a mixed bag sometimes. What have been you highs and lows so far?
There have been many highs since we started the business. Winning Practical Parenting’s Award for Pregnancy Product of the Year in 2007 was a one of the first milestones for us. It gave us real validation that our product was of great quality, easy to use and valued by mums. Since then we have gone on to collect many awards for our range of products including our breastfeeding pillow and a MumpreneurUK Gold award for our innovative Twinkle Tog wearable bedtime quilt for toddlers. Every time we receive a positive review or testimonial from a mum is a fantastic achievement. You know we really are helping to make a difference to pregnant women and parents around the world.
Coupled with the highs there have been some challenges, including significant financial challenges. Getting into retailers was tough to begin with – I had to demonstrate to them why pregnancy pillows were so important and that there was a real need for our product. I also faced huge personal challenges with trying to balance becoming and being a parent (I now have two children) as well as setting up and running the business. My husband and family’s support has been incredible.
How have you managed to stay on top of your career with the demands of motherhood while running a business?
I created our first product when I was pregnant with my first child. It was hard work in the beginning, trying to get a business up and running with a new baby. Most women in the nursery industry are mothers too, so everyone was incredibly understanding and flexible. I even took my son along to most of my business meetings with me at the start, and nobody minded. These days the children are older and I find it’s all about the ability to prioritise, be flexible, and always remember that family comes first.
How has running your business impacted on your relationship with your partner and children?
I have been very lucky to have so much support from my husband. Everything we do is for our children and to make theirs and other families’ lives easier and I think running our business has only served to strengthen and improve our relationships.
Any tips for expectant mums, or mothers who feel that you can’t have a successful career and a happy family life at the same time?
Have the courage of your convictions, and stick with it. Trying to get something off the ground can be stressful, and I could never have done it without the support of my husband Stephen and all of our family. I firmly believe if you can get through those first few months it’s well worth the effort!