Mindee Hardin reframes the mommy wars for an entrepreneurial generation.
Mindee Hardin is not afraid of wiping noses, bankruptcy, or simultaneously nurturing multiple children and multiple in-progress business ideas. She’s also not afraid of radical transparency about the tradeoff when balancing business needs with the needs of kids.
Oregon-born Hardin, 40, is the inventor of Boogie Wipes, a saline-infused tissue that, as Hardin described it, can take a vexing moment between parents and kids — that constant wiping of a stuffy, runny nose — and turn it into a kinder, gentler experience.
Raising Boogie Wipes as a company — which she did from 2007-2012 — brought Hardin the elation of success and a six-figure salary. Yet she says she also lost her way as a mom — and eventually lost her investment.
After bankruptcy, food stamps, house foreclosure and a divorce, plus losing control of the ‘baby’ that was Boogie Wipes (now owned by Nehemiah Manufacturing of Cincinnati, Ohio), Hardin picked herself up to become a new iteration of the supermom. She’s still a multi-tasking entrepreneur; she consults with moms and others with nascent business ideas through her consulting business Juicebox Consulting; has penned a heartfelt memoir, Boogie Wiped; and recently launched a new product of her own.
Even in 2016, when the term mompreneur might seem a tad condescending, the phenomenon is going strong. Many consultants like Hardin offer up their services, the Small Business Association has dedicated a division to women entrepreneurs and lots of advice and resources continually pump through social media sources. Almost 10 million women-owned businesses exist in the U.S. right now. One in three business owners are moms, so strictly speaking there are a lot of ‘mompreneurs’.
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If there’s a recent spin on this meme, it’s a newfound societal debate on the importance of paid family leave, with a growing number of companies such as heavyweights Netflix and Microsoft and now local companies, ice cream maker Salt and Straw and Bora Architects, amongst others, stepping up to provide their employees paid parental leave.
But many mompreneurs won’t have the luxury of taking leave from either of their two big jobs. And Hardin doesn’t see paid leave as a sure-fire fix. Instead she wants every entrepreneur to be absolutely clear-eyed about their purpose — she’s not dictating what it should be — and recognize the tradeoffs that will inevitably occur. The hard mainstream focus on fast success for new businesses isn’t a worthwhile path for most mom-inventors, she says.
“Shows like Shark Tank, sites like Kickstarter have totally glorified the entrepreneurial process — in a good way by showing people what an idea takes to succeed, but on the down side by not showing the shrapnel and debris that can come off when a person heads down that path,” she says. “The constant quest for more glory failed me.”
The early years were promising. Hardin’s career in marketing at two major corporations — McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble — had been satisfying, lucrative and ego nurturing. But motherhood at 27 seemed to her to be the exact opposite of that — a travail she describes in her memoir, Boogie Wiped: The Story of My Mom-Life Crisis.
Inventing Boogie Wipes while her first-born was still a toddler was a welcome escape, she says. And it didn’t take long before she and her partner, also a mom, began to get gratifying business results, such as seeing their new product on shelves and landing a distribution deal with WalMart.
But over time, Hardin’s children began to seem like impediments to her work, she says, while stress caused her to miss important nitty-gritty financial and partnership details of her business. Though by 2011 the company was projecting sales of upwards of $15 million and Hardin had a 33% stake in it, through a convoluted series of moves by her partner and investors she first was ousted as marketing manager and ultimately, due to an "earn out" clause in the acquisition agreement, got a zero payout after Boogie Wipes was sold.
“My current success comes out of failure,” Hardin says. “I’d had three businesses, Boogie Wipes was the third and when that hit rock bottom I was asking myself ‘Okay, am I supposed to get a real job, are my parents right and what am I going to do?’”
The answer: Leverage her story, and the business lessons she learned as assets. Hardin Juicebox Consulting caters to the ongoing wave of moms getting into entrepreneurship as a way to validate new product ideas and keep some semblance of a career even while undertaking the full force of parenting — which is still in 2016 skewed toward being a mother’s responsibility.
After working with upwards of 300 clients, Hardin doesn’t mince words. “I’m not afraid to say, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be doing this,’” she says. “Honestly about 75% of them get into it because mothering is hard.”
Hardin herself works from home but tries to strictly separate office space, tasks, and worries from family time and concerns. She doesn’t schedule meetings, for example, during school pick up hours. And she counsels many of her new business clients, who come to her from all over the U.S. and abroad, to both start small, and stay small, while possible.
“Putting their idea on paper, outlining it, and then really, really networking it around,” is a first step, she says. Hardin uses her immediate network of 250 moms as a focus group for clients, a group that will be “brutally honest” about an idea’s potential, she says. “That’s a really fun time for an inventor and entrepreneur and they should enjoy it, the pressure hasn’t started, they haven’t taken a loan or asked their in-laws for money yet, so it’s the fun exciting phase,” she adds.
About those crowdfunding platforms. Hardin says Kickstarter and others like it can be a ‘blessing in disguise’ because they will truly test whether people who tell moms their idea is great are actually willing to open their pocketbooks. But she says the number one pitfall is growing as rapidly as our business-first society encourages.
“If you are making money and starting to be profitable, enjoy being small. When you get in the growth phase the boom feels so good and so validating and exciting that you get addicted to the boom,” she says. To counter that, Hardin says putting in place trusted advisors who demand benchmarks be met in terms of sales and profitability before taking on big growth is key.
“Seek contentment at the stage you are at,” she says. “Many people who want to go retail with an invention think, ‘I need to have a garage full of product.’” But with her latest innovation — a saline tissue for adults with sensitive or allergy-reddened noses called BlessYouz — Hardin has taken a different path. She did take a very small loan from her in-laws, but also made a tiny pilot run of BlessYouz and is now doing sales calls and getting verbal commitments from distributors.
“I have 500 units to put in front of major retailers. If they bite I’ll produce the 50,000 units,” she says.
In Boogie Wiped, Hardin details how the ‘mom-life’ crisis, which included coming to grips with her bouts of personal postpartum depression and the development of an eating disorder, caused her to realize her very definition of having it all was skewed.
“If businesses can’t truly appreciate the role of the mother, and society keeps pushing moms into the space of work, work, work — to have it all, that is a sad state,” says Hardin. What’s her prescription for change? Hardin — a religious conservative — is no big fan of mandated family leave. Instead, she promotes continually focusing on the purpose a mompreneur is actually in business — usually to help other moms solve a problem — and putting less emphasis on the material rewards.
“I don’t think you can have a million-dollar business without missing some million-dollar moments at home,” she says.
If this sounds like the same old Mommy Wars conundrum, reframed for the entrepreneurial set — well, it is. Mothers who are business owners don’t pit enterprise against family and simply hope for the best, Hardin says. Instead: acknowledge the tradeoffs. “It’s a choice,” she says. “For me, I’ve chosen a few less digits in my paycheck for a few more delights in my home.”