October 26, 2014

Jessy and Jack- Interview and Giveaway!

Immediately upon meeting, Courtney and I became fast friends.  I remember hearing second hand from a mutual acquaintance about her son's first steps (I don't think they guy even likes kids so it must have made an impression.)  Who is this Courtney character, I thought to myself?  Only the perfect friend for me right now, I would soon find out.  And as much as we just clicked, our sons did not.  It was comical really, Aiden's extreme enthusiasm and blatant disregard for Declan's personal space bubble, Declan's calm quiet style and aversion to Aiden's unexpected hugs- our son's were not a match made in heaven.

But we persevered.  And just last month we had a playground date where Declan didn't burst into tears upon seeing Aiden.  Progress!!  There was respect for personal space bubbles and fun to be had all around.  I mean just look at the two of them now:

Courtney is one of those moms who is so ridiculously on top of things that it occasionally makes me feel like I maybe left the house without Aidens pants or I forgot to feed him for 2 days.  Aiden agrees: he is constantly in awe of her water bottle selection and reliably scarfs down any snack she puts in front of him.  She just gets the kid thing.

So when I heard she was launching a children's clothing line, I knew it was going to be amazing.  There's no detail to small, no use-case unconsidered, everything would be executed perfectly.  And, as you can see from her store and below, she has got it together.

Q: What was your inspiration for Jessy and Jack and what does mean to you?

Courtney: I started out wanting to design a better bib. I wanted it to snap at the side, be adjustable, look stylish, and actually be thick and absorbent enough to last all day long. In the beginning I was just in "make something and sell it" mode, but then there were two "a-ha moments" when this business really became meaningful for me.

The first was when I realized I wanted to do gender-neutral design. I had walked around for days with this list of possible applique designs for the bibs in my phone. It was divided into boy, girl, and gender neutral ideas, and they were all just the same old tired stuff you see all the time, like ladybug for girls, dinosaur for boys - really uninspired options. I already had the elephant and robot logo, which was specifically designed to be gender-neutral, and I decided instead to continue with that theme: two non-human characters that would never normally meet, holding hands and looking out at the viewer. As I dreamed up more little character pairs they felt so refreshing compared to those cliche ideas I'd been carrying around. My favorite pieces from my own kids' wardrobes are the ones that don't fall within the typical themes of cars and trucks and sports, or ladybugs and flowers and hearts. So the moment I realized I wanted this brand to be about fresh, gender-neutral themes, that's when it really took on a life of its own, and I got inspired and excited and started to have a lot of fun with it.

The second moment was when I realized I wanted Jessy & Jack to give something back. I wanted it to do something meaningful in the world - other than making kids look adorable, of course! So for every t-shirt or onesie we sell, we're going to donate a new, clean basic t-shirt to a women and children's shelter that helps mamas, babies and kids in difficult circumstances. I can't imagine anything more heartbreaking than being a down-and-out mom who can't give her kids what they need. Each quarter Jessy & Jack will choose a non-denominational shelter, and at the end of the quarter we'll total up all our shirt and onesie sales, and we'll bring that number of clean new shirts to the shelter, in whatever sizes would be most useful to them.

Q: While you were obviously a very experienced business woman prior to starting Jessy and Jack, there must have still been some uncharted waters.  What is the biggest thing you've learned and what would you want to tell 6-months-ago-Courtney?

Courtney: I would tell her, "Don't defer." A few months ago I knew nothing about manufacturing cut and sewn product, screen printing, or any number of other things I'm dabbling in here, and I'm working with people who are experts in their disciplines. But I do have a strong perspective on how I want my products to look, and I've learned that it's really important to stand up for that vision, even when I feel like a rookie who has no business being the boss of anything in this industry.

For example, I always knew I wanted to print my tshirts with waterbased ink because it is really soft -- printing with it is like dying a design right into the fabric. My son had one shirt printed that way, and I was in love with the softness and the look of it, and wanted to emulate the printing style. But I also wanted really bright colors, and it's hard to achieve bright colors with waterbased inks. The first printer I worked with told me with great certainty that waterbased inks were only good if you wanted a "vintage, faded" look, and if I wanted bright colors I'd need to print with plastic-based inks instead. I nearly gave in because I figured he knew his stuff and I didn't, and when I looked around at most of the other kids' stuff out there it was indeed either printed with plastisol, or not that bright. So I actually scheduled the print job for plastisol ink. Then before it kicked off I called them and said I had changed my mind, and I had to at least TRY. It was awkward, and I felt obnoxious and annoying, but in the end it turned out that it was totally possible to get bright colors with waterbased inks... just not with that printer! I had to go do a lot of research and interview lots of printers until I found the right one. I ultimately got a product I was proud of, but I so nearly didn't, because I nearly deferred.

Q: Like, seriously... how do you find the time?!?!

Courtney: I have a toddler and a baby and a full-time "real" job so it's pretty crazy. One thing I would NOT go back and tell six-months-ago Courtney is how much time this project would end up taking. If I had known, I'm sure I wouldn't have done it. But I'm glad I didn't know because I'm having lots of fun.

Jessy & Jack is a business but it's also a hobby. I haven't watched a single episode of a TV show since I started it several months ago, or read any books. I do this instead. Typically I do my work after the kids go to bed, which is around 8 or9pm. I get a good hour in most nights, and it's my "me time." I really, really enjoy it. I also have to confess that my house is a mess, I never exercise, and I rarely cook (shout out to my savior, Nora Gause, who runs an affordable, nutritious meal service business in Seattle called The Helping Kitchen: www.thehelpingkitchen.com). So it's a trade-off and a lifestyle choice, like anything else! I'm also really lucky to have a supportive husband who does his share of the housework.

Q: Did you always know you wanted to have kids?

Courtney: Not at all. I was on the fence for a long time, and I never had that strong biological/hormonal urge to have them. Even when I was pregnant my husband and I were a little nervous and unsure of whether we were going to actually enjoy having kids! It's so funny how you never understand the way your life is going to change until a little person arrives and completely turns your world upside down. I am so madly in love with my kids, and having them is far and away the best thing that has ever happened to me. I just love them more and more and more as time goes on, and I cannot imagine life without them. I never fully comprehended the expression "my pride and joy" until I had kids. The company is named after them. My daughter's middle name is Jessica (she's eight months old), and my son's middle name is Jack (he's two and a half).

Q: While girls embracing traditionally-male characteristics (strong, assertive, etc) seems to be mostly en-vogue, mixing boys with traditionally-female characteristics (sensitive, nurturing, etc) is still somewhat taboo.  What do you think?

Courtney: I think you're totally right about that. It's awesome that people are rallying more around giving girls access to "boy stuff," like dinosaurs and science and leadership, and giving them credit for having qualities like strength and ambition, which have typically been associated more with boys. As the mother of a girl I am obviously 100% behind that mission. As the mother of a boy who is a truly sensitive and gentle little soul, I hope that over time we'll also see people rallying behind the same mission for our sons.

Q. Who are some of your role models (in children's clothing manufacturing or in business or in life)?

Courtney: There are so many! As far as companies go, obviously Tom's Shoes was the first to do this "buy one, give one" idea, so that was a very direct inspiration. Amazon has taught me a ton about not only online retail, but offering exceptional customer service and always building things with the customer in mind. That's a really important mindset that people often forget in favor of profits.

On a more personal note, when it comes to business and meaning, I was inspired years ago by a book called The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roache, a Buddhist monk. The message I took away from it was that you can't separate your professional self from your true self; you have to bring meaning and integrity to everything you do. He even has all these seemingly illogical pieces of advice about business karma that I think are totally valid. For example, if your revenue is down, practice more generosity. It's a totally different way of thinking about business that makes intuitive sense, even though it flies in the face of all conventional wisdom.

And the last piece of the puzzle is that my sister Cristen worked at women's shelters, and than as a social worker, for years. So when I thought about how to give back, her experience and hard work doing good very directly in the world was an inspiration.

To enter to win a T-shirt or onesie with your favorite character pair, choose any (or all) of the following options.  Courtney has also offered a limited time discount code if you want to just cut the chase- enter ANDAHALF at www.jessyandjack.com for 15% off for the next week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: I did not get paid for this, I just really like in Jessy and Jack's, it's purpose, and Courtney's drive so if anyone out there is keeping tabs, I don't believe this counts as a sponsored post.

October 19, 2014

The Story of How We Meet

"So how did you and David meet?"

I have been asked this question hundreds of times (or that's what it feels like).  I realize it's a common ice breaker but I feel like I get it even more than usual.  And I understand- I'm from a small town in Montana, David's from a large city in Belgium- it seems logical to wonder how our paths could have possibly crossed.  Plus, at first glance, we have approximately zero shared interests- the plot thickens!  But instead of relishing the interest in a bit of our relationship trivia, I dread this question.  When I feel it coming, I cringe and get awkward and try to steer the conversation any other direction.  Also, I lie.  "Oh... you know... mutual friends" I say while trying to make myself disappear.

I have my reasons- I don't want to appear rash or irresponsible (there is a child involved, after all) or sometimes I think it sounds un-romantic.  Also on my insecure days, I imagine it's just a polite way for someone to ask "How did a huge dork like yourself end up with someone so charming and handsome?" 

But enough time has passed and I've decided it's time to come clean.  So here you go- the story of how we met:

Craigslist.  Casual encounters.  No just kidding :)  Well, kidding about the second part, the first part is true.

I had just left my first job out of college in NYC (no regrets!) and was looking for My Place.  As amazing as the quality of life in the Rockies is, that wasn't it and as phenomenal of a city as NYC is, that certainly wasn't it either.  So I packed my dog in my truck and drove as far west as I could go.  My plan was to drive up the coast, see things for myself (San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver) then pick somewhere.

Spoiler alert: I never made it past the Bay Area.  It was so amazing, it just f-ing knocked my socks off.  I'd never seen anywhere like it; the city is just out of this world and it's surrounded by some of the most gorgeous beaches and mountains and vinyards.  I was hopelessly in love.  So I informed my friend/host in Oakland that I'd be overstaying my welcome (thanks Toby!) and began apartment hunting.

It was pretty bleak.  If you know anything about SF, it's probably that the housing situation is rough.  But I was obsessed with the city and also pretty tired of couch surfing and living out of my truck so I persevered.  After weeks of discouraging leads, a stumbled across a few great ones in one day.  One was central but tiny, one had several roommates, but the last one had great photos- it seemed almost too good to be true.  And they guy who answered the phone had the sexiest French accent.

Enter David.

A tall, dark, and handsome guy to match the accent answered the door.  He had his neighbor friends over to help him vet potential candidates (love you Jon and Marianne!) and after a few minutes of friendly banter and taking in the chic apartment, I was swooning.  Immediately after leaving, I called my friend told her the good news (she could have her couch back), but that there was a problem- I didn't know if I should take the perfect apartment because I had a crush on the housemate!  I would find out later that he was having the same conversation on the other end :)

In the end, I moved in and we started dating the next day.  The rest is, as they say, history.

October 15, 2014

Grace Hopper Conference

Last week, my manager (also a mom) and I went to a computing conference with our two young children.  Now... how cool is that?!?!  It's called the Grace Hopper Conference, named after one of the first ever programers and the person that coined the term "bug."  It is aimed at women in technical roles and they have conference-provided day care. :D

I don't talk about my job on this blog really ever and I don't anticipate changing that but I've been thinking a lot about why.  Sure there's the difficulty of dealing with big scary NDA's and PR offices.  But it's also (mostly?) because I really enjoy having a totally separate outlet.  As much as I love my job, it feels so refreshing and energizing to do something else for a while- to take a break and do a completely unrelated thing where I have 100% executive and creative control.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself "Sure, of course, doesn't everyone?"  And I would say, from the worlds I'm surrounded with, a resounding "No."  Everywhere I look there are programmers who go home from work and program for fun in their spare time to fulltime moms who are with their kids 24/7- everyone is specializing.

(Edit:  This interview of Mindy Kaling could not have been more timely for me: "constant requests for comments on your otherness can distract you from the hard work of doing your job")

One reason I don't talk about it is because I don't want to be isolating, unrelatable.  I guess it's my ubiquitous problem of not feeling like I fit in either side of the fence so I try to straddle the fence then just end up doing a mediocre job at many things.  Maybe it's helpful to not keep my worlds quite so segmented.  Some of the overarching themes for the conference, for example, were de-stigmatizing tech and recognizing that there are tons of women interested or already in the field.

I usually feel very hesitant about female focused events in my field but I made an exception for the Grace Hopper Conference because of it's stellar reputation.  Of course there was lots talk about surviving/thriving male dominated fields as well as some on motherhood and "having it all".  Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (right before his epic gaffe) said something perfect that I also find extremely awkward (even though probably fewer people are asking me for advice...)
"One is always being asked to pass judgement or give advice with imperfect information.... and it must be perceived as great decision"
And then fortuitously:
"Women have a lower tolerance for bullshit. "
Poor guy.

Throughout many of the less technical and more social/policy focused talks, I kept thinking "Sure... but does this apply to ME?"  It's logical- I'm just a worker bee, I'm already in tech and have no real decision making power.  But I've decided that's the wrong way of thinking about it- it's the the same as reading the news and being an informed citizen.  Probably no monumental public policy decisions well be left up to me but I can at least try to be one drop in the right direction.  And maybe that's enough.

And for my part, I can tell you that, if you're interested, tech is a fascinating field where you're surrounded by little (and big) logic puzzles.  There are so many things to improve and so many unknown avenues to explore.  (Like, for example, the Amazon fulfillment centers pictured below, which is now open to public tours and I managed to see).

Photo credit
There are so many opportunities to have an impact, and yes, even change the world.  Of course there's the added benefit of the market being flooded with great jobs in the field, too.  So if you're interested, here are some great (free) resources to get started: