I remember when I first had the idea for Mamamade.
It was April. Liba was 7 months. I had just cleaned the kitchen. Ian and I were going out for dinner that night, and I didn’t want to dirty the kitchen again just to feed Liba. Because when you’re exhausted, overworked, undersupported - even dirtying a single dish can feel incredibly overwhelming. I reached for a pouch. My heart sank. Why isn’t there a better option for parents?
But having the idea and actually doing something about it - getting to this stage, where we can say confidently that we are leading in the D2C space...now that was a long road. It took over a year for me to get the idea into something ‘real,’ and another year after that to hit our stride. Things started slow, and then went really fast.
I get a lot of questions about how I did it. Often from mothers just like myself, who have a dream and a vision and want to start something of their own. We can go into the question of why in another post - but the flexibility of being your own boss, of managing your own time, of earning your own money - there should be little wonder why that would be alluring to a mother. The desire for flexibility, independence and stimulation we crave as we navigate a new identity really can’t be overstated.
I know first-hand how hard it can be to visualise the process; to understand how you take an idea or a concept and get it off the ground. And so I thought I’d put together this guide of what I did - in the hopes it can help empower you to get started and to make your own dreams come true.
Because honestly, getting started is the hardest part.
How to conduct market research: The first step after the big ‘aha’ moment:
The first thing I did after my ‘lightbulb moment’ was really get to grips with the market. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate that I was conducting market research, because it all happened quite organically. But I asked around. I shared the idea with other mums I interacted with. I tried to understand how much they spent on baby food - and how much would they spend? How supported did they feel by the resources around them? And I researched other brands in the baby food space, trying to understand their positioning and the problem they were solving - so that I could better understand how my idea might fit in.
Don’t get me wrong - I was incredibly anxious around sharing my idea. Should I operate in stealth mode? Would someone steal it? What if people told me it was a terrible idea with no legs? What if people only told me what I wanted to hear? What if what I wanted to hear was all I wanted to hear? Could I open myself up to negative feedback and ‘nos’? I didn’t feel brave or strong enough.
(The book *The Mom Test* was a really helpful framework for this, by the way)
But as with most things in this story, you’ll find that a huge portion was just closing my eyes, hoping for the best, and pushing forward.
Creating an MVP (minimum viable product)
I didn’t know I was creating an MVP - that is, it wasn’t done with intention - but I had the urge to get a ‘good enough’ product out - and quickly - rather than wait until it was perfect. I wanted to get the product into as many hands as possible, so that I could get feedback and improve it to get it right. I’d never heard the term at the time, but I now understand that process is called finding product-market fit.
So the first product was made from my kitchen, using veg I found in my local waitrose. Don’t be afraid to start like that. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of progress. In time, we’ve improved our processes and source vegetables from real, organic farmers.
I had a feeling the best way to sell the product at first would be via Instagram. After all, as a new mum, I spent a ton of time on the platform. And it’s free. So that’s another lesson - find one distribution channel, and go all-in. Nail it, and then move on. The book Traction was useful here.
I set up an Instagram account and started posting, gradually building up an audience of a few thousand people. Prior to setting up the Mamamade account, I hardly ever used Instagram. But I realised that if I wanted to grow a new profile, I’d have to use the platform in an entirely new and scary way: to be social with people I didn’t know. I posted content I’d have liked to read myself, and interacted with other mums and influencers. I shared what I was working on and asked if they’d like to get involved.
It’s amazing how supportive people can be when you are open about your goals and projects. Many, many influencers posted on a gifted basis - as in, ‘look what this mum has been up to!’ sort of way. So don’t be afraid to be open and authentic - in these days, it’s a real secret weapon - and definitely thanks to this that we came together as a community.
Thinking about Brand
From the moment I had the idea, I was thinking about a name and brand ID in the background. I had a strong feeling about what I wanted the brand to convey, how I wanted it to look and feel - and how I wanted other parents to feel when they interacted with it. Branding experts will call this identifying the mission, vision, and purpose of the company - without knowing these, there is no brand.
No one knows your product like you do
I’ll say it again. No one knows your product or business better than you. I wasted a lot of time looking for answers from other people, when really I just needed more clarity on what I was hoping Mamamade would become.
The firmer and clearer you can be in your vision, the easier it will be to manage people coming on board to help you. No branding agency will give you a great brand; no digital marketing agency will create a smashing success story overnight - without your vision coming through.
Lots of people have asked who did Mamamade’s branding. And I’ll be the first to say that Childish were brilliant - but to be clear, they were brilliant at interpreting a vision I had for Mamamade. And we didn’t let up on them (sorry, Andy!!) until we achieved the look and feel that felt right. We were probably their least favourite clients!
Be difficult, be demanding. It’s your company, your investment, and your future on the line.
When looking for a branding agency, look for someone who is as excited about the brand as you are. Who can bring a fresh, unique point of view, and who is willing to listen to you. Past work matters, but not as much as you might think. Sometimes taking a bet on someone with less experience is not only cheaper, but because they have something to prove, you can grow together to achieve something special. At least that’s how it worked out in our case!
Start small & ‘bootstrap’
The startup world can be noisy and show-offy. I’m guilty of it myself. I wanted validation from investors, from other startup founders - but at the end of the day, real validation can only come from your audience and customer base.
I’ll do more posts on raising money, if people are interested. But my main piece of advice is not to rush to raise money. Stay in control of what you’re doing (remember that MVP? It needs to be constantly improving!) and remain lean for as long as you can. We raised our first round of investment when we could no longer meet demand - we needed a bigger premises and more staff in order to grow, and that takes money. But you may find you never need investment!
A note on getting brave
In a million years, I never imagined I’d become an entrepreneur. I love forms and boxes and being told what to do.
Reading what I’ve written above, I keep thinking - ‘jeez, I really did that? Where did I get the guts?’ and so I imagine if you’re reading this article, you may fear feeling the same way too.
Below are some of my favourite resources that helped me get brave. And it’s an iterative process. There are still emails I should send but I’m scared to. There are conversations I’m too chicken to have. It comes down to mindset. No more negative self-talk. You’re in the driver seat of your life. “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
Top books and podcasts that helped me as a woman founder
The mom test book - how to get the answers you need to validate your idea
Traction - how to think about growth/focusing on growth channels
You can heal your life - I don’t agree with all of it (I don’t believe science would say that negative thoughts create cancer), but elements of it are really helpful for learning to banish negative self-talk
“No we can’t grab a coffee’ - Podcast that helped a ton with time management