For this week’s episode I chatted with Kelly Oriard & Callie Christensen, the Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Slumberkins.
Slumbkerins is a pre-school brand aiming to support families in the emotional wellness development of their children with educational products. Through carefully crafted characters and stories they’ve packaged psychological techniques up to make it easy for parents to help teach their kids about emotions. If you visit their website you’ll see that one way they sort the products is by theme: creativity, family change, mindfulness, self-esteem.
Before Slumberkins, Kelly was a school therapist and Callie was a teacher, so they have the background to start this kind of company. Kelly and Callie become moms at the same time, and during their maternity leave they became unexpecting entrepreneurs.
Kelly and Callie are rockstars, so it’s no surprise that Slumberkins off to the races. Interplay is an investor and we’re so excited and proud to be a part of their journey.
During the interview, we discussed the story behind Slumberkins, why teaching kids about emotions is important, the history of parentings and how strategies have changed over time, what they’ve learned about entrepreneurship, and much more. Enjoy.
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Welcome Slumbkerkins team. Thanks for being here.
Callie Christensen: Thanks for having us.
MPD: Cool. Would you mind giving taking turns, give me a background on each of you hate ended up doing this. I can either do go one at a time, or if they intertwine sure. You've done this before
Callie Christensen: they tend to intertwine and they didn't, we tend to finish each other's sentences.
So I'll go first. My name is Callie Christianson. Co-founder co CEO of kins, and I'm a mom of three and former special education teacher behind the brand. And I
Kelly Oriard: am Kelly , co-founder CEO, mom of two little boys and the marriage and family therapists school counselor behind the brand,
MPD: a unique background for tech entrepreneurs.
Let's talk about that. So do you mind starting off by giving us a quick overview of slumber Kinsey?
Callie Christensen: Sure. A merkins is a preschool brand, aiming to support families and the emotional wellness development of their children through unique characters and storylines brought to life through our books, our products, and soon to be streaming series.
MPD: Very interesting. Why did you guys create this product? Because this is not your typical tech company in many ways, which I love about it. How did you land on this? Where did this come from?
Kelly Oriard: This is Kelly, the wee Callie
, and I have been best friends since we were 14. We met in high school and just since becoming best friends, did life on parallel tracks.
We were both athletes in high school and in college and just had a really long lasting friendship. That was. Parallel lives. We both played division one sports afterschool, both played professional sports for a while in Europe. And when we both came back around the same time to the U S started our respective careers in education and therapy.
And it just so happened that our passion was both working at schools where emotional wellness was a really big part of what we were addressing and working with kids and families on. Callie was at a therapeutic day treatment school. I was at a pre-K through eighth grade school. But working with the youngest kids and families as a, as a family therapist, And we serendipitously again, doing parallel life paths ended up on a maternity leave at the same time.
Our sons were born just two months apart. So when Callie had already had a son, so she kinda knew what she was doing. And I did not, I was like in, for the shock of my life after having my son who was colicky. I was like constantly calling Callie and saying, don't leave me alone, come over.
How do you know that he's tired? Why when he stopped crying, I don't know what I'm doing. And so Callie and I just spent a ton of time together through our maternity leave. And because it was an unpaid maternity leave. We had this idea of what if we could. Make something that brings together our passion from the schools, our inspiration from our new babies around, doing something different in the world.
And I think we saw that the schools were having a crisis around emotional health and wellness, and we wanted to give parents and ourselves tools to do better and to prepare their kids for what was coming down the line. So it was really through that, that we created the first characters or the first stories and just jump-started things from there.
MPD: What's so interesting about that story is I think it's a common step when people go through a major life change for the would be entrepreneurs out there to grab an easy solution and try to market it. There's a lot of new parents who are trying to create lists of what products you need to buy or basic tutorials.
The difference here is you guys have professional backgrounds and took a whole different creative approach where you guys always the creative types. Creating kind of fantasy characters is next level.
Callie Christensen: So I think the. Social stories when working with kids. And that just was a daily practice of using story as an intervention.
So I think when we were on those walks with our babies, thinking about, okay what if we could infuse it with a character and really the reason. It started out as a consumer products brand first was because we didn't know how to start a business, but we did know that we could, at the time borrow $200 from Kelly's mother because we were on unpaid maternity leaves and we're so broke and teach ourselves to and the things that we could, so where these creatures were, the first additions their faces were hand-stitched and the sewing was pretty basic.
And then we paired them with the storylines as a poem on card stock and fold them at the local craft fairs in the Pacific Northwest, near Portland, Oregon, and at every craft fair sold out. And so then just, it was always this momentum though of feeling, getting immediate feedback from people, even at the craft fair stages of this is so powerful.
My kids need to know these words. And so then going down the line of. Actually, we were going to head back to our roles as educators, when the maternity leaves were getting, coming to an end. And I was pitching the storylines to publishing houses and book agents. And we continuously like got turns down. And so, but, but we had built so much traction already, even in the small community that we had built that we were determined to.
Okay. We're just going to keep going and do it ourselves. So it started out completely bootstrapped. It was a mom and educator, like side hustle where we still worked for up until the 2017 school year in the schools. And this was back in 2015. So
MPD: what's also interesting about this is look, there's no guide for parenting.
I'm like you, I have two kids. I have an 11 year old daughter and a six year old son and no one teaches you anything. You kind of figure it out on your own. There's lots of books and tools and you're learning socially from your friends, but you guys figured out the social, emotional dimension. Which isn't usually the coaching that I, you know, the topic of coaching that I've received from friends and peer groups and the other places where you've learned to parent in modern life.
How did you tap into that as the focus area? And I'm guessing that's why you got such a palpable response so quickly, as you found an untapped part of the learning curve,
Kelly Oriard: In general, the emotional world. And I'm defining that, getting emotional fluency, just anything in that space therapists know this people who work in this field know it's a young field, the field of the mind and the brain and how our emotions and bodies are connected.
And there's, it's not as easy. It's not as easy to say one plus one equals two and teach the ABCs are, say, this is exactly what you do. So. There has been a hesitancy or a inability to help guide parents around these kinds of important concepts that limit us later in life. And so I think through, for me going through the process of becoming a therapist and family therapist and having the experience of doing sessions and coming up with creative interventions to try to support the family system and support their children, I gave them, it gave me an insight into looking at this from a systemic lens, not from a lens of saying, I'm just going to give you, you have a question, I'm just going to answer it.
We look at everything systemically. And so every book, every product, every tool or piece of media that you see coming out from slum Burkins is in. To create connection to either yourself or to your child. So it's trying to serve a purpose in that way that I just, I guess nobody approached it that way yet.
MPD: Could you give us some examples for people who are hearing this and thinking, okay, social skills, to your point, hard to teach, we've got books and stuffed animals. What are we, how does this bridge from physical products to those lessons learned? Could you give some examples on how that works and the types of things you're tackling?
Kelly Oriard: Yeah. So in general, when you're talking about learning about social skills and feelings, none of that is ever done in a vacuum, it's always done through relationship and through connection. So most of the tools that we had seen out on the market were about managing and controlling your own emotions.
As a way to try to then be in a state, to hang out with people. And we really just took a different approach of wanting to use the melody and the rhyming and the song to use the moment of the bedtime routine or when parents are reading a story to a child where we know that they're calming down, they're snuggling in, these are these moments of connection that are happening already.
How can we infuse those moments with powerful words that hopefully speak to what helps us build who we are as people? So. It's it's really complex and deep, but also we tried to make it so simple that whether you know that or not, it doesn't really matter because you could read the book and you feel it because there's a connection and an intervention hidden inside of it.
And we use a lot of affirmations and interaction within the books. So when you say something, the child then repeats it back and there's a lot of purpose and meaning built into everything. Written into the.
Callie Christensen: What it looks like though, is that it comes packaged as a book and character.
And the book is really just the script that really, from a therapist lens fosters those meaningful moments of interaction and positive attachment for me in routines like Kelly saner on the affirmations. But in, at the end of the day, anyone can pick up a book and read it to a child. And it is the positive words that, and the part that draws the child into repeating the affirmations and creating that back and forth between parent-child is really the magic moment of the brand.
And I would say where we will start to see are the brand, even from our how we're infusing technology and looking at developing an app to help facilitate the engagement within affirmations and mantras, where the learning comes in for both parent and child
MPD: is, can you give me an example of an affirmation?
You think is a key one that people will hear on the slumber Ken's product?
Callie Christensen: Sure. My favorite right now, my favorite always his big foot. His affirmation at the end of his storyline is I am kind, I am strong. I am brave and unique. The world is better because I am here and I like me. So when a parent is asking their child to say those words line by line, back to them, those are just, when you hear your, two-year old up through 15 year old, say words like that that start to become implanted in who they are.
It's just such a powerful thing. And I think, all of us who grew up in an age where our parents didn't have emotional fluency to open up these conversations. About emotions and like tapping into those deeper parts of us. We all want to do better than what we were given and it's not that our parents messed up, it's just that it wasn't there.
It wasn't normal to talk about emotions in that way. And I think that summer kids comes in any unique, a unique time where people are ready for needing these tools and level of support because they really just want to do right by their kids. And that's another thing in parenting. People don't know how to enter in the emotional realm.
They want to pass off the power to a therapist. Like Kelly's groups at school, around kids whose families were going through a divorce or separation her line would be out the door for these family support groups. But what she knew as a therapist and what she infused, even in our Fox collection about change in transitions is that really the parent needs to be the one to speak the words to their child, but parents just don't know what to say, and they don't want to mess up.
They don't want to mess up their children.
So I think in a very deep understanding why Kelly was able to simply infuse these really powerful therapeutic interventions into the storylines,
MPD: and you guys were professionally trained in these skills. Is there a research around or certain theories that you guys are deploying that other professionals would know or people listening can get their head around and why they were.
Kelly Oriard: Yes, definitely. We have a whole, therapeutic Bible and professional disclosure statement that goes deeper into all the theories that we ascribed to from a brand. But some of the main ones are, uh, systems like family systems, internal family systems which kind of ascribes to the idea that you know, we're all made up of so many different parts and That there's different, those different parts of us are showing up to be helpful to us, to navigate the world in the best way that we can, but there is a centered, balanced like leader or you know, why self true self, like inside each and every one of us.
And when we're connected to that we are living in our most authentic and best way. And so finding the place to take care of those parts of us, be grateful about how they're showing up for us, even when it feels like those parts are not wanted or, trapping you, like being curious about them and understanding it is a really important thing.
And then I would say you know, interpersonal neurobiology, really taking the idea of the mind is is not just in the brain that it's a full body. Thing. And that it actually exists between people, right? Like the way that we interact with each other changes our brain. And that there's always room for growth and connection and repair and different things.
So those are a couple of the main theories that we really love, but we use interventions and different thinking from many different types of backgrounds. You know, like I said before, managing emotions, right? Like a progressive muscle relaxation or a teen is loaded into our slot collection to help kids fall asleep at night.
That's a really typical cognitive behavioral therapy approach to really connect mind, body, get tuned into your body, relax, your muscles can train your body to calm down before bedtime. So we just packaged it up in a new way with a character so that it makes. Easy for a parent to implement with their kids.
MPD: What's so fascinating is a lot of what you just described is the language or the concepts that I heard in parallel from my personal executive coach. So these, the, these things that you're applying at the cha for children through your books and your stuffed animals are the same things that we as adults need help with.
Kelly Oriard: Yeah. That's and that's, what's so cool about this work. And I think for me what really inspired the approach that we took from slumber kins, I was a therapist before I became a mom. So I had a therapist, part of me that was very strong and thought, oh, I'm going to know exactly what to do when I'm a mom, because I know, and I'm helping families now.
And then I had a kid and all of that went out the window. Because it's the great equalizer we are. You can know things in your mind, but your emotional world can be at a different level because you have different healing work to do. And I still wanted to show up for my kids and do the right things because I knew logically what they were.
But you know, I couldn't handle the crying all the time and I was getting triggered and then I wasn't showing up as my best self anymore. And I felt trapped by that. You know, as much as slumber, Kansas for kids, it's also this gentle reminder for the parents. Tune into these tools also and lead by interacting and by doing these practices because it's always a parallel journey with your kids and they're just showing you your parts that you're going to need to work on yourself.
And at the same time, you can help them just be in such a better place than you were right to, to figure out what the next things are that they're going to need to work on. Cause there's no world where a child gets through their family and doesn't have issues of some sort like that. We should just squash that idea like that doesn't happen.
Everybody has issues. Everybody has pain. Everybody has. So it's just the process of how you come back to this grounded place where you're coming back to healing.
MPD: Do I know the answer here, but for folks listening do parents need any sort of training or preparation to use these techniques the way you do.
Callie Christensen: No, I think that's the beauty of slumber. Ken's it's plug and play like supportive, really easy to use. Anyone can do it. You know, even people that. Potentially would never know how to tap into their own emotional growth and learning can still pick up a book or read it and to read it to their child and still have those really meaningful moments with their kids.
So Kelly beautifully disguised very, um, deep therapeutic interventions. It's fun, engaging storylines. And it's been actually really cool to see her infuse the same kind of thinking and thought around how we translate it into children's media, how we're going to do it within an app experience to help engage that the, that like affirmation practice and learning as well as in it, as well as how the brand might show up in the music landscape.
Both for parents and kids and you
MPD: guys to date have been going directly to consumer. Is there any plan to try to bring this curriculum to schools? I know you have grand ambitions for whether this role.
Callie Christensen: Yes. So actually we do have a curriculum that we have built that state standard aligned around social, emotional learning standards.
And we've seen incredible traction within the community that is already brand aware of summer kins that then we launched the curriculum as a soft launch while we're still building some of the unit plans behind the scenes. And. It's just incredible to hear the feedback and hear how much the students gravitate towards it.
Because I think that people are craving these conversations around how they're feeling and even teachers that are overwhelmed with the task of supporting the emotional wellness of kids, but not given curriculum to do it are also overwhelmed. And so I think we're finding the same results that we've had with the simplicity of the books being plug and play.
Same thing with the curriculum. It's very like scripted, easy. Any teacher like pre-K through second grade can implement it and see immediate response and results from their students.
MPD: Okay. I want to focus a bit on your community. Where's you're talking about go to market because when it comes to channel strategy, we've had a couple people on the show talk about using community to build their businesses.
You guys have done a uniquely incredible job with us. Mind sharing some tactics, some strategies that have worked for you guys and building your. Maybe give an overview of the existing community to start. Yeah.
Callie Christensen: So our existing communities, our primary community lives in our slumber and social Facebook group.
We know that moms love Facebook groups and that's where we they love to have conversation and build community even within each other's family lives. Yeah. We ended up starting the Facebook group back when we saw so many conversational kind of threads happening on our Instagram comments.
And within our DMS is a brand that we're like, okay, we need a place to be able to have these conversations. So we started the Facebook group and it's grown, I think it's around 35,000 members now. And it is truly the lifeblood of the brand. You know, we know of eight people in the group, that's tattoos of slimmer terrorism at one very cool grandma with a sleeve, with a slot.
But what's really cool about that community is that we actually do operate it. And we have another therapist on staff that oversees the answers that we provide for questions coming in from the community. And there are so many. Questions that are very authentic and vulnerable to what all parents are facing in today's world around supporting their children's emotional wellness.
And it has really done something so unique and different for the brand that we're, we've built a lot of trust with that community in the way that we show up to support them and have that direct relationship with them.
MPD: It's going to give me some tactical things you guys do that have really made that community thrive.
What was a turning point even early on where you were like, oh, if we do this or we focus on this it gives more soul more engagement.
Callie Christensen: Yeah. Yeah. Kelly and I make a point to go live in the group quite often, so that there is that two way communication and the group feels closely connected to us as our authentic mom selves.
We also have. And engagement team that engages on pretty much every post that's posted in there from the brand that oftentimes isn't responding to questions around like what product is best for my child and doing like product wrecks. It's more pointing them even towards like free resources and even other resources.
So I think, tactically though, in order to grow that group, that group is the bottom of the funnel of the summer Ken's like customer journey. And it's been a very we haven't ever paid to increase awareness for that group. It's been an open invitation for once someone joins our email list or an SMS list or, on organic social media channels.
And oftentimes I think some of the tactics are people get really excited about the plus. Toy aspect of the world sometimes you know, the VA, we always say the vitamins are in the books and storylines, but then the plush is like the candy that people just love and are obsessed with, which is great.
But, um, so sometimes we'll say, there's exclusive like news or product drops, like specific to the summer can social group. So join there if you want like first dibs or whatnot, because as we've grown, we've oftentimes had a hard time keeping up with the demand. So I guess from like a growth tactic, that's one to give like kind of exclusive content and programming to the group.
MPD: Have you found, as you go through your customer journey, the funnel, what type of customer ends up opting into the community? Is that your most loyal? Are they looking for some time, your most needy? Is it, what is the descriptor for the customer that option.
Callie Christensen: I would say in that group, it's primarily parents.
There are some that aren't we actually ended up starting an educator group specific for educator content because the use case and the conversation is a little bit different on how you're implementing slumber, kins and why. But I think oftentimes people are joining, I would say it's different pre and post COVID, pre COVID.
It was a lot of that. I want the exclusive access to the drops that I can't get my hands on public facing and then post COVID. Oh, my God. I'm so alone in parenting right now. And parents were finding community online and it was a really supportive group with tons of free resources being provided to them at the time, because we're, we were all in survival mode, which I would say we're all still in survival.
So yeah, it's, it's changed a little bit.
MPD: Yeah. Have you found that the customers in the community have, or have a higher purchasing behavior than other customers?
Callie Christensen: Yeah. Right now it's five times more.
MPD: Okay. So why have you guys thought not sought to advertise and try to drive people into the community?
What's been the thinking there.
Callie Christensen: I think we organically advertise it. We just, you that community is so important to us that we are trying to. Strategize around how do we keep it authentic to us as a brand and us as moms and how do we scale that group? I think, and how do we differentiate what we do with that group versus what we're going to do with you know, I think we've almost launched a loyalty program, like five times, five different times, and then we're very conscious about trying to not mess up what we've already created and same thing for, an app or a membership or what that might look like.
And so with that group specifically, we were really just trying to foster. That trust around the brand, being a supportive, like therapeutic voice in your parenting journey and a place that you can really come to. I think what's different about somber kins amongst most of the other preschool properties out there in the world of kids, entertainment, toys, retail is that their primary audience is really the child and wanting to get the child's attention.
Where are our audience? And our main efforts are on the parents and supporting the parents in their journey, which is that group.
MPD: Now you mentioned COVID drove a change of behavior in the group. Did it affect other purchasing cycles for the product? Do you notice any other change in behavior just proudly with the customers?
Callie Christensen: We pulled all like marketing spend at the time and we still saw a huge increase in Site traffic and even in sales. And I think that was due to the efforts around flipping what we were producing and focusing more on providing free resources and content and doing more like read alouds on YouTube and lives in the social.
They gave us some really great earned media opportunities because post COVID everyone was trying to point parents towards resources because they're all on lockdown with kids at home at school. Yeah. So it really actually we grew and I think we did like over $2 million more in revenue than what we had forecasted for when COVID like, when we had re forecasted for COVID, then we overdid, like over-performed about by $2 million in revenue.
MPD: Kelly, did you wake up before you guys started this journey thinking you were ever going to be an entrepreneur? No. This is you guys. Aren't accidental entrepreneurs. You saw. But this wasn't the planned path. I,
Kelly Oriard: it never crossed my mind. But I think what has been really cool about this journey is that now that we are entrepreneurs, I'm like this was made for me.
This is like what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm I love it. I love the creativity and competitiveness. And then you know, you never know what you're doing day to day. It's always something new on the top right now being woo and, talk to me in three hours. And I'll probably be at the bottom crying about something and, that's, but that's the likely sign up or when you're an entrepreneur.
And I just, I didn't know, something like that existed. And I think it brings Callie and I back to our sports days of being on a team and like winning games and losing games and fighting to get to the championship.
MPD: What sport did you guys play by the way?
Callie Christensen: I played volleyball, and I played basketball.
We both played, both had division one college scholarships, and then Kelly briefly mentioned Europe, but Kelly played pro volleyball in Europe and she was actually training for the Olympics that last year. And I piggybacked on her pro career for three months. He found a team to pay me in cash to soap the games,
Kelly Oriard: the rail pass Euro rail pass in exchange for showing up to
Callie Christensen: games.
MPD: sounds terrific because living, yeah. So I want to raise a question. One of the things that's super important to us and corridor our mission interplay is facilitating and accelerating entrepreneurship. I just am personally a very deep believer. That entrepreneurship is what drives society forward.
Yes, people think they're waking up to make money and that's the carrot, but it's the hamster wheel that's creating new and better social products and services and experiences that improve the quality of human life. So why do you think this wasn't more on your radar before you guys stumbled into a pain point that needed solving?
Why is it a surprise that here you are as entrepreneurs successful entrepreneurs and loving it? What do we need to fine tune in society where it was on the list when you were 18? And you're like, oh, maybe I'll do that. How do we get to that point?
Kelly Oriard: I think my sense growing up as a girl and as a young woman was that business was for boys and trying to earn money is, was something that was very.
For the guys like, and granted, I think we're just shifting around these like deeper held beliefs that aren't maybe spoken out loud. But my, my mom was a psychologist and my dad was a longshoreman, so I had a interesting household. I didn't have any entrepreneurs, are people who had done something like this in my circle.
You know, we even thinking back to starting up, when people are like, oh, your first round is friends and family healing. I didn't have any family members or friends that had $25,000 to give us. That was $200 was from my mom. Like that wasn't a thing in our circles. So I feel like.
You know, I just had never seen or been exposed to a woman who was doing something like this. It just wasn't in my circle. And I think of at school it's, and I think of see teachers at colleges. So I knew about that. So my, my path was really determined by the people that I knew that were inspiring to me within my smaller circle.
And I didn't know any entrepreneurs. So I think that's a problem.
MPD: Do you think that might be just on the threat of lack of role models? Entrepreneurship has been popularized in America in a different way than it had been even a couple of decades ago. Things like shark tank are out there and they're common consumer media.
Now, do you think that issue is shifting or is there something else at the core that we need to be tackling, addressing.
Kelly Oriard: No, I think it's shifting. I think it's definitely shifting. And I you know, I think it comes down to, the confidence to have to believe in yourself and to have the grit and ability to go after it.
It does take a certain type of crazy to do it, like, uh, and if you are, if you're aligned with what is important to you and you are investing in yourself and you are happy and excited about what you're doing and you believe in what you're doing is that's becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business.
I just believe that those things, it will end up happening because you know, for us it didn't feel like work. It didn't feel hard because we loved what we were doing. We. We've got $200. We turned it into $700. Now people might look at that and say what a waste of time? I went to a craft fair and made $700 on Keeley.
And I, we were like, oh my God, we have $700 in a bank account for we're going to get a business bank account now, which apparently you have to have a business plan to get a business bank account. So we had to get a personal one first, but I guess it's like the enthusiasm along the way, too, of just loving what you're doing can make it so fun to create a business or create what you want in your life through entrepreneurship.
Callie Christensen: Um, yeah.
Honestly back then though for us, because we didn't have the context of what was out there. Like ignorance was truly bliss in that we were just one step in front of the other, like that we turned $700 into 1500 and then 1500 into 3000 and, just, and we just weren't completely propelled by that momentum and reaction with people that we were interfacing with.
And just trying to figure it out. And I think, I don't know. I don't know how, I don't know if we would have been so enthusiastic if we actually knew the road ahead. You know of what we would face. So, but it, it was, we very much put on our scrappy teacher athlete hats and just went for it.
And I remember a very specific moment driving in my car. I think we were probably driving the babies around the local fabric stores, which at one point in the Portland, Oregon area, we had bought all of the fabric and all of the stores and they were out, they couldn't restock it fast enough for us to keep up with sewing, some Burkins.
And then at one point I drove to Sears and bought out their entire aisle of plush blankets to deconstruct, to make into summer cans. So that just tells you the level of like demand and what Kelly was speaking to this kind of like tidal wave of traction that we were constantly sprinting to keep up with, which was this really exciting.
MPD: You guys said something in there that I think is a very important message. Something that I found myself preaching on to would be entrepreneurs. A lot of people will look at the totality of the venture. They'll say, wait, this is running a marathon. And it's extraordinarily daunting. Like, how the hell am I gonna run a marathon?
I've never trained before. But for people who get in the fray and are experienced entrepreneurs, they know, and, or ignorance through ignorance and the bliss of that, you step into it. It's not a marathon. It's not 26 miles. It's just 5,000 small steps. And each step on to itself is not that hard, but you gotta make sure to put your foot in the right place, not twist an ankle and keep going.
And it's a journey. So I think that message is a very powerful one. I hope more people will hear it, become aware of it. Look for the coaching. They need to step in the right place, but stop thinking about the whole marathon. Just take the first five steps and you're in.
Kelly Oriard: Yeah. And you always look back later and can like, see how naive or how, we just dust the other night, found our audition tape for shark tank and we were dying, laughing because thinking back to that moment, we thought that was the best tape.
And we spent so much time on it and took it so seriously. And it's like a SNL real, like it's so bad. It's so funny. The enthusiasm is real. It's just hilarious. And I just think back and think I'm just so glad that like Callie and I had each other to like, look at each other and be like, that's cool.
Yeah. Yeah. That's really cool. Instead of having, being on my own or like showing it to somebody and them being like. That is embarrassing, because we were able to pump each other up and just be like, no, this is amazing. We're going to keep going. Um, because I think now I look at it like that.
It's embarrassing, but I just laugh about it because look at where it got us, we, we, you have to take those risks. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, willing to look like a fool, willing to look stupid and to just keep going, because you're so passionate about what you're doing.
MPD: Yeah. Now this experience you guys have shared together, it's a no small part because you guys are really good friends. Would you advise other entrepreneurs to work with friends? And if so, what did you guys do that made it work? Are there any steps you took to make sure you preserve the relationship through this?
Callie Christensen: I don't know about like friends but of encouraging people to find a co-founder and a friendship. But I would say Kelly and I are more like sisters than friends. We go back to when we were freshmen in high school, so it's not like we were friends for two years and entered into this.
So there's this level of connection and trust. And, we've had to very clearly define what each of us own and where we give each other trust to operate within and defined what we both need to be a part of. And if there's something we disagree on how we come to a conclusion and work it out, and we also have the same marriage and family therapist that we go see as we are basically in a platonic marriage as co-founders and co-CEOs.
And I mean, that's, we've had to do a lot of our own personal work along the journey And like walk the walk of emotional growth in the relationship. And but it has come down to, it has not been easy. It has come down to, there's been a couple of people along the way that are like, oh, you went into this as best friends.
Did you want to destroy your relationship? That those like little tidbits of things though, were a little red flags to us of, oh, what do we not know that we should know about this? And where do we get in front of it? And Kelly is a therapist is, we're also lucky that Kelly's a therapist and usually see those things come in before they hit.
Yeah. I don't know. Kelly has insight to,
Kelly Oriard: I would just say too, right? Like the world would tell us, or, those questions were coming from a place of. Not having a growth mindset about looking in the mirror about how you might be showing up within the context of being a leader or the context of growing, right?
Like the assumptions around I'm right. And I'm in charge, like the kind of, ideas or ideals set around how you succeed that maybe the world tells us we challenge those inherently like between Callie and I, as co-founders. We think that we're trying to level the playing field for children and parents to connect.
That means we have to show and live a real marriage, like platonic marriage, where we share power, we have hard conversating or at somebody else, we look at challenges as ways to understand ourselves better and to grow. And when you have that as your base point like between how you're going to operate with.
That makes for a good relationship that makes for a lasting relationship. That's what you would tell to a couple that was coming in for marriage counseling, right? Yeah. If you can cultivate that with your co-founder and you feel like you're both aligned around those things, then just be ready. You're gonna, you're still gonna feel pain.
You're still gonna get triggered. You're going to think you're right sometimes and they're completely wrong, but hello, that's life, it's messy. And there's always a moment that you can learn. And if you're committed to your business or you're committed to that friendship or that partnership, like you find out, you figure out how to make it work.
Callie Christensen: I think
MPD: I'm hearing humility, focus on coaching or therapy and communication, and those have been themes. And a lot of the conversations I've had with entrepreneurs who have made the partnerships work. You guys are new to the entrepreneurs side. We've talked about that. What's the thing that's been most striking to you.
What have you learned that you were like, oh, this is how this works. Here's the trick. What's a nugget of advice you could leave behind for everyone listening.
Callie Christensen: I can go first. I'm sure we'll have different answers. I think my like aha moments have come a long way in the world of fundraising. Like we bootstrapped our company from us three years and you know, we had over a million dollars in revenue. Before we even went out to go raise that $500,000 friends and family round.
And it was just interesting, like Kelly said, we didn't have friends and family that were in the network we could go to. So we were pitching to local angel investors in Portland, Oregon, and just got ingrained in that scene and ended up, having a really hard time, a really hard time, even with the traction behind us, it was almost like we didn't have the glossary terms of fundraising to go in and really like own, or be able to articulate the traction or story that we had.
And I think my aha moment was when. Constantly looking for the like lead investor to come in to set the terms. And, but we had a lot of smaller angel investors wanting to give us 25 to $50,000. And we're like, okay, we'll just wait until we get this term sheet. But then we just had a moment where like, why don't we just drop the term sheet and start taking in these checks?
And so that's what we did. We just set our own terms. And it was pretty unique in the space in, especially in Portland, if people were like, oh, you actually pulled that off. And we're like, yeah, why not? We just set our own terms and started taking in checks. And then all of a sudden we had done it.
We'd raised the $500,000 and that was
MPD: people use early stage, but you gotta make sure you're doing really friendly and reasonable terms. You have to do like the terms that would have come out of a negotiated.
Callie Christensen: Yeah we didn't know what we didn't know back then. And so we serve safe note with a certain cap that we felt good about and let's go, we
MPD: actually started a passion project to help solve this problem.
This lack of access to capital. If you just didn't run in the right business circles it's a company called thunder.vc and the goal of it is to make it. So any company based on merit can find angels VCs with a couple of clicks. It's currently a free service it's out there. We put out there as a passion project, Kelly you have a similar life lesson or something else you want to add.
Kelly Oriard: Yeah, I think for me it plays off of that. And it's sort been what we've operated under, but I always say, like when you look at being an entrepreneur or business in general, right? Like I didn't think I was going to get into business. From the audience. I thought, wow, these people know what they're doing.
Uh, they have MBAs and you know, or so they went to business school. They did all of these things that I didn't do. And then I peeked behind the curtain and I realized that the founders and entrepreneurs that are making these businesses, if they have those skills great, but it's not a necessity.
And like pretty much nobody knows what they're doing. They're just taking the next step after the other. And nobody, no lesson that was learned before you can inform your decision about your business better than just you making that decision. So inform your decision about your. That's better than just you making that decision.
So it's just crazy entrepreneurs building it and figuring lock-in. But
MPD: yeah, the core skill for being an entrepreneur is not knowledge. It's figuring out how to make decisions with a lack of knowledge.
If you can do that, then you can figure out how to run that marathon. Okay. I want to shift gears a little bit.
We've talked a lot about the company, but there's some bigger, there's a bigger social story at play with what you're trying to solve. Timing is really everything you guys happen to start this at a moment in time where psycho psychology and emotional needs are more socially acceptable. How has parenting changed materially over the last hundred years decades?
Can you give us a little history perspective on how things have evolved and you know where we are today? Are we good parents today or are we just better than we were 20 years ago? Or is that even the wrong.
Kelly Oriard: That's a big question coming from the therapeutic lens. I'll just try to stay general. I think, you it always depends, right?
Like family systems are in and of themselves complex and caring the histories, trauma histories, family histories of unique individuals that make up a complex system. Then when you go to the level of generationally, how, what were the expectations and how people showed up as families? What defined a family at the different stages.
And why, why was that the definition? You look back to the times when, farming was important and you had a lot of kids because they needed to work. The farm and parents didn't play with their kids. It was like, get to work. You're here to work, and. It's not necessarily like those people were bad parents, right?
That was the context of the times. And so likely kids didn't feel terrible about that. There was a role, they played their role, they did what they needed to do within their context. And then that likely shifted as they moved into adulthood and they changed or thought about how they wanted to do things different and generationally those things changed.
So it's um, it gets really complex. But when I think about where we're at right now I think, we're at a breaking point for a lot of different things in the world that People have there's a lot of pain. There is a lot of anxiety. There's a lot of things that we're doing in the world that are detrimental to our health, to our wellness that maybe we weren't conscious about before, right?
Like just the way that we're showing up in the world. And so I think people are feeling that, and then people are also feeling it and becoming aware that they have some ownership to in trying to undo that or trying to heal that. And um, you know, I think that we were not different probably than the parents that came before us were just in a different context.
I think all parents want to do well by their children. And, uh, the world is different and the way that we need to have our children. To deal with the world looks, we don't know what the world is going to look like in 20 years from now with technology and climate change, all of these different things, but we know that kids are going to need to be very resilient.
They need going to need to be connected to other people to make this work. And they're going to need to be able to bring forth the next forms of what, what is going to take our worlds to the next place. So
MPD: I'm reading between the lines here, trying to figure out which issues you're implying. And I'm guessing it's rather than putting words in your mouth, would you mind giving some specifics around the things that you think have evolved in the context of parenting in the last
Callie Christensen: couple decades?
Kelly Oriard: think we have more which the rise of information and technology that. Parents roles in how they interact with children. There's a lot more pressure around like how we should be guiding and teaching them. And the responsibility of the adults to lead that is, has really shifted. And I wouldn't say, I would say that take it one way or the other, like I don't, I don't know if that's a good thing or not.
I can see the downsides of it, of, endlessly as the adult feeling like nothing I do is good enough. I'm never going to find the right answers. No matter what I do, my kids get ended up screwed up and I'm a failure because of that now. And if you're in that mindset and you're showing up to your family, you're not doing anyone, any favors, like that's, that's not how your child needs you to show up, but your child needs you to show up as your true, authentic self with your presence.
To love them and to keep them safe. And it's really coming back to the core of what is important between parent and child. It's providing safety. It's providing love guidance when necessary, but, we are resilient. We figure things out. And with just coming back to the deeper tenants of parenting in that way, I think you know, people are doing a good job, but it's I always tell parents to not be too hard on themselves.
I think that's what's happening nowadays. That's unhelpful.
Callie Christensen: From my perspective, even as a teacher, 20 years ago, it was so much more about behavior management and controlling the environment and making sure that they're just good behavior. And now. With the rise in awareness around even adult mental health conversations, more and more attention is going towards the emotional wellness of children.
And we truly believe that behaviors just actually communication about a child's internal, emotional state. So if we can go deeper below the behavior and the control aspect, we can actually change the behavior or the behavior will actually stop happening. If it's a perceived negative behavior, it will actually go away if you get to what's underneath it.
So I think we see those shifts happening a lot, both in parenting and education.
MPD: So what would you guys change? Whether you like it or not, you guys are you've become leaders in the space of children's mental health. He can't start a company like this, get the traction you've got and not have people looking to you with curiosity and desire for inspiration.
Are there social policies you guys are advocating for support? Things that you think need to be changed for parents right now. I like to ask it this way. If you guys were the Queens of the country, what would you change?
Callie Christensen: Obviously paid maternity leave as a business that was started on unpaid maternity
It helps you start your company with
Callie Christensen: you on that and longer maternity leave. I think I was lucky. I think I was at an unpaid state because I was taking the additional three months. So I was actually getting a six month leave. And even that felt short. So that full year would be amazing from a policy standpoint.
MPD: I suppose
social stuff also suggesting paternity leave would help create some more equilibrium in the careers of women,
Callie Christensen: a hundred. A hundred percent having some sort of timeframe where Kelly and her husband did this actually where her husband did take he's also a teacher took paternity leave while she was back at that school.
MPD: Got it. Okay. Okay. Where do you guys see yourselves in the next 10 years? I'm sure this has been a bit of a blur. Where does all this go?
Callie Christensen: From the very early days of sewing at Kelly's parents' house while they held our babies. We were trying to fill out that one page business plan to submit to the banks and bank accounts. And on it was, there was a statement of articulating, helping articulate vision. And it said finished the sentence.
I'll know I've made it when, and our answer in that early day, early days was when their slumber Ken's on ice, because I think, yeah. So I think, when you say could you ever picture this? It's yes, we could visualize the characters, knowing what passion and heart we were infusing into their personalities and their storylines, bringing them to life truly was a dream come true.
And being able to see it at that level early on, I think has been very useful. And even just how we have navigated. Building this business and the sites that we put our, um, expectations towards, or the goals that we set for, I would say
Kelly Oriard: also, we tried to do this with our coach recently and he asked for the, 10 year vision.
And I have, it's so funny because I like, my mind goes out to 30 years from now. And it's less about where we are and more about where are the people that we touched, where are the kids that got to start with slumber kittens? Who, what kind of people are they, what are they doing in the world?
How are they showing up and changing the world? And how have we supported them and their families in these past 30 years is what I'm super excited about. Because I really believe that the change that we want to see in the world and what's taking us through these next, whatever is going to be the future.
Is our, connections and the kids. And if, if I had all of those tools, when I was, four instead of 34, where would I be? I don't know. So I, that's what I'm really excited to, to see
MPD: you guys are case in point that entrepreneurship is a medium for advancing society. Thank you for doing what you're doing.
Thanks for being on the show.
Callie Christensen: Thank you for having us.
MPD: I love their story. It's so cool. When the companies are clearly chasing a very positive social mission is where I asked you to help the podcast. If you like what you're hearing and want to help spread the word, give us a thumbs up a five star share with your friends, whatever else, your heart desires.
Thank you. And hope everyone's doing well.