Keeping It In The Family
My two sisters and I have always had the family business itch, but it took a few years—and a pregnancy—to come up with the right idea.
Like many new moms, Lori, our middle sister, spent months working off the baby weight following the birth of her daughter, Charlee. The lowest point for her occurred when Charlee was a few weeks old and a well-meaning grocery store employee offered to carry the cat food Lori had just bought out to her car, “since she was pregnant.” Although she was realistic and knew it would be a long time before she had her old body back, the words stung and made her feel awful. Lori knew she wasn’t done having kids, and the thought of rigorously working off baby weight, gaining for the next, and then getting back into shape a second time was very daunting.
Fast forward a few years, and Lori, Jodi, and I had put our heads together to develop a product that would help new moms like Lori get back in shape more quickly. After much R & D, Lori tested our Belly Bandit® prototype personally after the birth of her son, Chase. On Mother’s Day 2008, we officially opened for business.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but the seeds for our family business were planted early. As kids, the three of us were mini-entrepreneurs. Our parents had a rule that any time we really wanted something new, we had to come up with half the money ourselves, and they matched our savings. Most of the time it was just a pair of trendy jeans or an overpriced shirt, but it was a great way to inspire creativity and learn the value of a dollar.
This entrepreneurial streak continued as we got older. At 16, Jodi started creating and selling gorgeous canvas paintings to local art galleries, and actually had a real income. Lori had various artsy endeavors, such as creating and selling painted T-shirt and boxer sets, as well as jewelry. I consistently worked as an emcee for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and corporate parties.
Our ventures have gotten more sophisticated throughout the years. In addition to Belly Bandit®, Lori and I run Caden Concepts, a promotional advertising and merchandising company in Los Angeles, and Jodi started the design firm Caden Design Group in Birmingham, Michigan. Now that we work together every day, the three of us have an even greater appreciation for each other and the level of trust that only a blood relative (especially a sister) can provide. I think that’s the secret sauce about family business: you have the freedom to try new things with people you genuinely trust, and you always know that someone will pick up your slack because they are family.
One of the best parts about working together is that we all have our own niche. Lori is great at PR and making strategic alliances, Jodi has a keen eye for product development since she’s a designer by trade, and my strength is overseeing marketing. We like to think of ourselves as a trifecta, and we’re lucky because we all innately know what we excel at and what we shouldn’t even attempt. It has been important for us to be realistic about what we don’t know and decide where we need to hire experts.
For example, although it took us quite some time to hire a full-time, in-house graphics person, it has been a great investment—one we should have made from day one. If we could do it all over again, one of us probably would have gone to law school and one to business school, so that we’d have those skillsets to draw from today. We’ve learned there is a time and a place to put away ego and replace it with reality!
As sisters, we are brutally honest with one another in so many areas of our lives. We don’t sugarcoat our feedback to each other or soft-pedal our individual strengths and weaknesses. Who else can tell you frankly about your shortcomings, and then in the next breath, ask you what you want to order for lunch? Any family that’s in business together will confirm that sometimes, we argue and bicker. To avoid big roadblocks, we’ve instated a “majority rules” law for the three of us with BellyBandit®. Believe it or not, we also still rely on our mom to be the tie-breaker when we need an outside opinion.
Ultimately, I feel incredibly lucky to that my best friends—my sisters—and I get to leave work every night proud that we’ve created something that helps women feel and look better.
Kari Caden is the youngest Caden sister and oversees marketing at Belly Bandit®. Together with sister Lori, she also runs Caden Concepts in Los Angeles.
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership