from The Denver Post
May 6, 2008
Working Moms on Flex Time
“Mompreneurs.” Mothers juggle job and junior, satisfying entrepreneurial urges while raising families.
By Douglas Brown
With a plastic green Martian in his mouth, a stuffed cow in his hand and a “Mr. Mischief” T-shirt on his body, Harry Lyles-Smith, 2, made noises “an airplane? a truck? a flying superhero? “and ran around the set of the play “Crimes of the Heart” in a west Denver theater house one recent afternoon.
“Harry, please take that out of your mouth,” warned his mother, Susan Lyles, as he crossed between the stage’s kitchen table and refrigerator, zoomed past the bank of empty theater seats, and disappeared behind the set before appearing again. “Harry, please don’t run.”
Lyles, the executive director and president of And Toto Too Theater Company in Denver, has an unusual job, but she fits into a broad category of businesswomen: “mompreneur.”
She is part of a rising tide of women with little children who have dumped their corporate gigs for startups that let them mind the kids and contribute to the family’s bottom line. They’re marketing from their basements, bringing the little ones to the home office and satisfying their entrepreneurial urges with work that keeps a flexible schedule.
“We started rehearsal on our first production when he was 5 weeks old,” says Lyles, 45, of Harry. She has another son, Camden, who is 5.
Like most women with young children who decide to start their own business, Lyles’ work involves a lot of juggling.
“Having to breast feed my youngest while I’m directing” was one of the more fraught meldings of motherhood and career, she said. “I’m sitting there with a notepad in one hand and a baby on my breast. While I’m breast-feeding him, I’m giving notes to actors.”
Leaving a career for motherhood occurs in several variations:
”¢ The mom can just stop working for a paying job altogether (being a mom, of course, is work; it just doesn’t result in paychecks).
”¢ The mom can put the child in day care as soon as possible and return to the workforce (and, in many cases, devote all or most of the salary to paying for the day care).
”¢ The mom can score a decent part-time job and work when the child is in preschool for a few hours a day (good luck). Or the mom can start her own business.
For many of the moms, the mompreneur route holds out the potential for something tantalizing: flexibility.
It does not, however, promise great riches, although that’s never out of the question.
Stephanie Carter’s business, Wallaroo Hat Co., hasn’t turned the former lawyer into a Boulder billionaire, but nearly a decade after she started the company, she’s sold as much as $3 million worth of hats in a year, and hired 40 sales reps nationwide.
“When we (Carter and partner Lenya Shore) started the company (in 1999) we both had new babies,” says Carter. “We got resourceful. We hired a nanny, so we shared a nanny fulltime. . . . Those were some crazy times. You are so busy, and you are so tired, you are waking up at night, you are nursing the baby. It was always that feeling “can I get it done while the baby is sleeping? And then the baby wakes up, and you have to nurse.”
The payoff, for Carter and Shore, is they managed to exploit that precious flexibility in a way that has led to a successful company without jettisoning motherhood.
Olivia Omega-Logan, 29, on the other hand, is just getting started with her business, which she launched in 2007 after her 11-month old came down with respiratory syncytial virus and couldn’t go to day care.
At that point, she also had a 4-year-old daughter and a job as an advertising executive that demanded 60 hours or more a week. Her husband worked as a teacher.
But with her son’s illness she decided to bail on corporate life and figure out something else. She wanted something more fluid, an occupation that would let her organize the hours she devotes to mothering and business in a manner of her choosing.
She came up with the idea for Baby Candy, babycandystore.com, clothes for kids that are wrapped like pieces of candy “think Tootsie Rolls.
Manufacturing takes place in her Aurora basement. “It’s a very hard challenge. I often find my workday doesn’t start until 9 at night, and then I’m up until 1 or 2 in the morning.”
She’s not making much money, yet, but the business is growing quickly and she imagines it maturing into a healthy source of income.
“The business is an investment,” she says. “It takes years for it to be successful. Had my son not gotten sick, I think fear would have kept me from doing this. I’m thankful I was pushed into it.”
When former Washington Post writer Shannon Henry’s husband took a job in Denver, she figured she would keep writing, although as a freelancer instead of a staff writer.
She had two daughters, ages 3 years and 6 months, and was not ready to sacrifice her role as mom on the altar of a demanding, fulltime reporting gig.
She had recently become interested in cooking, though, and soon after moving to Denver this intrigue blossomed into a business. In January Henry and an old friend, Alison Bermack, started cookingwithfriendsclub.com.
The website offers recipes, a blog, a link to a Yahoo message board with 400 members, an e-newsletter with 600 subscribers, and more. The site does not make money now, but Henry, 38, who lives in Denver’s Washington Park neighborhood, says they are shopping a book proposal.
Moneymaking opportunities, she hopes, eventually will rise from the hard work she and Bermack are putting into their business.
“It seemed like the right thing for my life at the moment,” she says. “I think a lot of new moms are so in love with their kids, and they want to be in love with their work, too. But it takes them away from their kids. I think that’s why a lot of women become mompreneurs. They want to figure out their lives in a more flexible way.
“I used to interview CEOs all the time who wouldn’t understand if I had kids screaming in the background. Now I talk about food and have kids in the background. It’s natural for my lifestyle,” she says. “It seems like for me, my work life and my regular life are closer together than they ever have been before.”
Like Henry, Sarah Osborne, 30, is building a business that she believes keeps her connected with her kids. Shortly before she gave birth to her first child, she left her work as a teacher and then scratched her head: Jobwise, what now?
She had been selling books online, and when she found a used bookstore for sale in Broomfield, she and her husband bought it, in November 2004. Her daughter was born a month later. Now, she has two bookstores “Old Possum Books in Broomfield and The Book Keeper in Westminster “and three kids under the age of 4.
Caring for infants and toddlers while in the store isn’t easy.
“Somebody has to be ignored,” she says, “and you can’t ignore customers.”
Douglas Brown: 303-954-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org