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Graham Griffin
Graham Griffin
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1,000 Entrepreneurs: Deeanne Akerson on Building a Business and Innovating for Moms

Our profile covers the founder of Kindred Bravely

May 07, 2020 | About:

Since 2015, Deeanne Akerson has taken her company, Kindred Bravely, from a personal need to an extremely successful producer of nursing and maternity clothing. In 2019, they were featured on the prestigious Inc 5000 list at number 20, racking up over 8,500% growth. The company brings in millions of revenue each year and sees tens of thousands of new customers on their site each month. What started with a personal need has now turned into a powerhouse internet retailer in just five short years.

Before the business

Prior to starting her business and having children, Akerson was an active backpacker and runner. To this day, she still claims to be found most often out running if she is not working on the business. Earlier this year, she even ran a marathon. Her other hobbies include travel, cooking and swimming.

On the business side of things, Akerson never considered entrepreneurship part of her identity. The only time during her life she had any entrepreneurial experience was selling bread door to door as a girl to help fund her horses. Her career path would eventually grow her into a high school math teacher.

After her second child was born, Akerson found herself on an extended maternity leave. At about a year old, her son was breastfeeding about 10 times a day and she found herself becoming increasingly fed up with her nursing clothes. One particular culprit of her frustrations was her pajamas.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, Akerson put nursing pajamas on her list in hopes that her husband would come through with a well-timed gift. No nursing pajamas would be found under their tree that year. Luckily for Akerson’s husband, her January birthday gave him another chance to come through with some nursing pajamas. Much to her disappointment, however, her birthday would come and go and she would still not have the pajamas she was looking for.

Finally addressing the lack of needed pajamas, her husband finally scheduled a babysitter and the two went shopping. They searched every department store within reach and still came up with no good options for nursing pajamas. However, Akerson had collected a few options that had certain aspects that she liked. A fabric from one set, a neckline from another and bottoms from a third.

Sitting with her husband in her office one night, she began to theorize how she would ideally combine the different parts of the pajamas together to make the perfect set for nursing. She jokingly asked him about starting a company to make that pair a reality. At the time, her husband was actively looking for an idea for a business, so he went ahead and ran the numbers. They discovered both a targetable market and ample room for profits based upon production predictions. With his business knowledge and her knowledge of what a mom really wants, the two started Kindred Bravely.

Beginnings

Over the next several months, Akerson began to further develop her idea. She worked with a seamstress that she found in California to begin to develop samples. Still on maternity leave, she would join forces with her husband for a few hours each night to continuously develop their business model and product. With the one set of pajamas in mind, the two would quickly come to a roadblock.

In the winter and fall, pajamas would be an easy sell to pregnant and nursing moms. Pajamas had very little appeal to their potential customers in the middle of summer when most people were not wearing pajamas, if they are sleeping in clothes at all.

Thinking on their feet, Akerson and her husband were quick to develop a product that could be more of a staple and start a line of motherhood products. Akerson would land on the idea of bras and worked quickly to develop the perfect one for moms around the world. Focusing on geometry, comfort and details like seamless garments, she was able to develop a bra that could be sold year-round for profit.

Success

While the business now focuses as an online retailer, they initially listed their products on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). With an initial order of 500 garments, Akerson set out to get her products in the hands of as many people as possible. At this time, it was allowed to give out products in return for an honest review. Out of the initial run of 500, Akerson figures that almost 200 must have been given out in the first week they started pushing the business.

Alongside the product, they would give out discount codes to help get their product out into the market. One day, Akerson noticed that a sale had been made without her giving out any codes. She asked her husband if he had given any out that day and the two realized that they had generated their first organic sale. It had been 10 days since they had launched in June of 2015.

What had started as a drip of sales turned into a trickle and eventually a flow. Akerson recalled watching sales constantly and checking reviews from every customer she had. She even kept a spreadsheet that detailed the needed changes to her products. Through this direct connection with her customers, she was able to continuously improve her products based upon feedback to further suit those who were buying them.

About a year in, her husband gave his notice at work that he would transition to work at Kindred Bravely full time. “I was still on that extended maternity leave from work, leave of absence, and I waited maybe another four months before I gave my official resignation. It felt good to have those two events staggered because it was like, OK, he has closed the door on his income, but if things really fall apart I can go back on contract in a year,” Akerson said. The school district would miss her presence and Akerson quickly found that the company was going to need help with daily operations.

The first position she hired for was a customer service representative. At the time, the job would only require a few hours of work each week. The perfect fit for the position would fall on none other than a stay-at-home mom. She worked during her kid’s naptime and after they went to sleep, so it was a perfect fit. From there, Akerson continuously hired moms to work for the company as they were uniquely situated to engage with customers.

Future

Looking toward the future, Akerson is all smiles regarding Kindred Bravely. The company has just hired a president, which allows her to cut back on her hours. Acknowledging that her kids are young, the new president allows her to have more free time to make sure she is present for her kids’ childhood. At the same time, their new president brings a wealth of experience and connections in the retail world that will greatly support the business over the coming years.

Akerson was also extremely excited, yet tight lipped, about some new products coming to market toward the end of summer this year. One particular standout features some new wearable technology that Akerson could not share any further details about.

With social distancing the new normal, many companies have transitioned their employees to working from home. Kindred Bravely, thanks to their stay-at-home moms as employees, had already operated remotely prior to the pandemic. This makes them uniquely situated to overcome the challenges faced to other companies. At the same time, Akerson made it clear that she believes supply chains will not return to normal after the pandemic.

Question and answer

GuruFocus: Would you ever want to sell the company?

Akerson: I think that every business you have to run as if you are going to sell it because that adds value to your company. Which in turn adds value to every part of it, including your current employees. If the opportunity ever came up, I mean sure. Who of us, if somebody just walked up to your house and said, “Hey, here is $10 million I want your house,” you know? It would be silly to say no I would not. At the same time, I am also firmly of the opinion that a well-run company adds much more value to the world than a wealthy individual. We are able to provide our employees a sense of work-life balance that I think is a cut above most employers. We really are encouraging with each other and we exemplify those company values of generosity. We have this program every month where employees get to give $50 to someone in need. Those are things that you can not assure that a buyer of your company would keep on.

GuruFocus: What are you most grateful for at this point in your life?

Akerson: Oh man. I am so grateful for my family. My kids. These are my three loves right here. I have them on the back of my phone. I have my two boys and my husband. I am so grateful for them. I am grateful for their hugs and snuggles and just that we get this chance to create a family. I am really grateful for them.

Akerson’s advice for entrepreneurs

Be passionate and energized:

Akerson’s number one point of advice for entrepreneurs is to be passionate and energized. The journey to creating the business of your dreams is not going to be easy or fast. It will take at least five years for things to truly settle in and become established. Make sure you love what you are getting into. If you are not energized by working on your idea, it is going to take a lot out of you.

Fall in love with your customers and not your product:

Over time, your products are going to change and people are going to copy what you are building. If you fall in love with your products, you are going to feel heartbroken if things happen to them. If you fall in love with your customers, you will be able to continuously interact with them and benefit from their ideas. This will help build both your products and your business into something greater than you ever imagined.

Work-life balance is fluid:

There are times in your life when you can have a perfect balance between your work and your life. When stepping into a new venture, you should recognize that you are entering a period of time in your life that you are going to be working much more. Make sure that the rest of your life is situated for this before you begin. If you just started a new relationship, you might want to let that get established and wait a few years before you start a business. Do not let your business take over your life with the assumption that you can keep things perfectly balanced.

Make sure to check out the podcast.

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