It’s about integration not balance — Balance doesn’t exist when you own a business, you think about it all the time. There is no boundary between personal and professional lives for us, at least…there is simply integration and we have been learning to master this over the years. It helps that we have a personal history as life-long friends, so going between the two is easy and natural. Plus, we don’t ever tire of talking about anything Pehr. But, as working Moms, it means taking kids to the office, bringing the dog or both. It means writing emails and notes to yourself on the weekend of the ideas that you’re thinking and trying your hardest not to slack your team after hours. It’s cliché, but if you love what you do, your work becomes a part of your story and who you are.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Kelly and Becca Perren.
Jen Kelly and Becca Perren are Co-Founders and Co-CEO’s of Pehr, one of the fastest-growing children’s lifestyle brands in North America. Pehr is a thoughtfully designed, sustainable brand that captures the beauty and simplicity of childhood with product ranging from clothing to nursery decor. Pehr has built a large roster of domestic and international retail partners and sells directly through its website, shoppehr.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
The two of us have been friends since grade 3, growing up in a small town a couple of hours outside of Toronto. We were the two that were always ready for new things and could not wait to explore the world. We went to separate Universities but remained friends through-out. Fast-forward 35 years and here we are!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it is to be, it’s up to me.” This is something that Becca’s Mom used to say to her and her sister when they were kids. It is so relevant to any child or adult and an important lesson to live by. Accountability, responsibility and taking control of your life…we both live by this personally and professionally.
There was a period at the beginning of our entrepreneurial journey that we were pretty insular, everything that we did was new and what needed to be was up to us because it was only us. Now, as our business has grown the quote is still relevant but it’s about empowering our team and helping them understand that they have the power to make things happen.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Strong work ethic — From the beginning we’ve had to work hard to get Pehr off the ground, from raising our children and working full time jobs in the early years to continuing to build and grow the business in present day. Our strong work ethic helps ensure that our products are the best quality and sustainably and ethically produced to meet the needs of our customers…we strive to be true to our vision.
Curiosity — In order to build Pehr successfully, we’ve had to learn and grow in many areas. Our curiosity and tenacity for learning has helped us to fuel the growth of our business and us as individuals. We have learned so much over the years and continue to learn each day.
Humility — We have also learned when to ask for help, we know that we can’t possibly do it all on our own and have had the pleasure of continuously surrounding ourselves with smart and capable people to support us and help drive our vision and growth.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Becca was a Buyer at retailers Holt Renfrew and Indigo, honing her eye for impeccable consumer buying habits.
Jen was an Account Director at Leo Burnett advertising agency and worked on the account side of advertising for over 10 years prior to founding Pehr, perfecting her creative sensibility and love for brand building.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
It was an evolution, not a revolution as we went back to our respective careers after our maternity leaves and before officially starting Pehr (for two years, we worked at our “regular” jobs while simultaneously getting our new company off the ground). We had proven the concept, re-invested everything back into the business and hired our first employee a year before we committed full-time to this new path. The evolution continues and as the business grows we grow with it. It doesn’t feel like a second-act as much as our previous decade long careers feel like our ‘first jobs’.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
After 10 years of working in our respective careers on the cusp of each having our first child, we just couldn’t imagine life behind a desk in demanding roles that left little time or flexibility for the lives that we envisioned. We both have that stereotypical entrepreneurial spirit and knew that we wanted to start our own business. The real trigger was that in Canada, you have a one-year maternity leave and we both felt that it was the perfect time to work on a business plan. . . little did we know the work required to be new moms, but we pulled it off and launched Pehr just before the 1st birthday of Jen’s son.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When you start a business, unless you are VC backed, you are generally starting from scratch and taking on every role until you can start hiring. This is a huge discovery phase. Luckily, we each had a unique skillset from our previous careers that made delineating the workload easier. For both of us, more then anything, the business allowed us the freedom to utilize our creativity in a way that we couldn’t in our previous careers.
Jen was tapping into a creative side from a copywriting and art direction perspective. Working in the account side of the advertising industry for over a decade, she had worked closely with other businesses to bring their vision to life and now was taking that skill set to bring her and Becca’s mission and values for Pehr into fruition.
For Becca, creating and developing products (the ones that she wanted to see in the marketplace!) was one of the driving forces behind the conception of Pehr. The ability to bring a product to life from a concept is overwhelming to most people but jumping in headfirst and finding the way to make it happen is an exhilarating process.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
The business has evolved over the last 10 years, but we are in a very productive phase, expedited by the tremendous growth in e-commerce over the past year and changing customer buying habits with COVID-19. We were (thankfully!) well poised to take on the online growth as we had just invested in a new and improved website prior to the pandemic. A core part of our business since the beginning has been to sustainably and ethically produce our products. We have been happy to see this become more and more important to consumers over the past decade, with many of our customers coming to us specifically because of our core values, high quality products and ethical business practices.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are two — our investors. Besides every single person on our team, our two investors have contributed to the business in very different ways, but we are eternally grateful for their support and we’re not talking about the financial.
Our first investor is an amazing woman who believed in and trusted our vision, our partnership and our product. She invested in the two of us before we even had a proven product (very early on) and definitely personifies the term ‘angel investor’. She is encouraging, supportive and extremely knowledgeable.
Our second investor is an established businessman who was intrigued and inspired by our business and the organic growth that we had achieved. He came in at a time when we had grown to a point where we really needed some financial streamlining and he pushed us to look at the business in different ways. He is our sounding board for any instrumental decision and has become a valued mentor.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
One of the more interesting things is that Pehr started by selling napkins and placemats. We did not even launch a baby product until a few years into the business and in fact, we were initially nervous to diversify our products and assortment (we were even told to stay focused on tabletop by one of our husbands, who we won’t name!) There was a point in the business where we essentially had two different brands — the home goods and the baby products. It was clear what was the winner — there was universal appeal with the baby brand, it resonated globally and filled a gap in the marketplace for high quality, design driven baby products. We made the strategic decision to walk away from home goods, which at the time was a seven-figure business with exclusive retail partnerships. From there, we were able to focus our lean team’s resources to grow Pehr as it is today. We haven’t looked back.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
It’s not news that women are treated very differently than men when it comes to looking for support from a business perspective…and, as such, there were many times when we were dealing with financial institutions and hitting roadblocks that we knew we wouldn’t hit if we were two men, instead of two women…the conversations we were having would have been different, for sure. Having a strong and smart support system is helpful…having each other to share those experiences with was even more so.
There are also ways to accredit yourself outside of the traditional route (schooling or work experience) that can validate your business. Choosing investors with proven track records, participating in business awards and so forth gave us the confidence when we were often dismissed for our lack of experience or worse, for being women.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
Truthfully, we were moonlighting for quite some time, so we were being cautious about our approach to becoming full-time entrepreneurs although, we had childcare, our husbands and each other to lean on. We look at single founder businesses in awe. We couldn’t imagine not having each other through this entrepreneurial journey. We have been told countless times that business partnerships don’t work, but ours has stood the test of time and we have complete trust and honesty with each other. We couldn’t (and wouldn’t!) do it any other way.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Everything! From creating product, producing it overseas and marketing it to selling it and shipping it…everything was brand new to us. You learn as you go. Everything is outside of your comfort zone until you give it a try and learn from your successes and failures.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s about integration not balance — Balance doesn’t exist when you own a business, you think about it all the time. There is no boundary between personal and professional lives for us, at least…there is simply integration and we have been learning to master this over the years. It helps that we have a personal history as life-long friends, so going between the two is easy and natural. Plus, we don’t ever tire of talking about anything Pehr. But, as working Moms, it means taking kids to the office, bringing the dog or both. It means writing emails and notes to yourself on the weekend of the ideas that you’re thinking and trying your hardest not to slack your team after hours. It’s cliché, but if you love what you do, your work becomes a part of your story and who you are.
- Take a fluid approach to team building — When a business is in growth phase there are so many new roles and opportunities that open up. Being fluid in your approach to building a team allows you to create exciting new career paths for your team members and allows you to build on the existing expertise and knowledge that they possess.
- Grow with your business. — Don’t be afraid to change your path. If your business or mindset is too rigid, you will miss opportunities. Be open to new ideas and ways of thinking. There were many times that we said yes to something that we didn’t know how to do, like designing and developing a line of baby clothes for a major retailer. But, now baby apparel is our largest category. If we didn’t say yes and figure it out, we wouldn’t have seen the success that we have with that part of the business.
- People are your most important asset. — You think that as your team grows it will free you up. Often the opposite happens. HR has become such a huge part of our time spent managing the business and you quickly realize the difference great people make. Holding on to those people, growing them and learning from them is valuable time spent. On the other hand, there are always people that aren’t the right fit, no matter how good the vetting process is. We’re learning to trust our gut and move on.
- Growth and learning will come out of failure — It’s cliché, but it’s true. As long as you learn from your mistakes and never repeat them, you will never regret them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Creating a better support system for new mothers from a social and government perspective. Rich or poor, motherhood is physically and mentally demanding and the load that it puts on mothers is rarely understood or supported in our culture. We are working towards ways that Pehr, as a brand, can develop long-lasting initiatives to help Mothers in need.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Phil Knight. We both read ‘Shoe Dog’ and his story of how he built Nike, and we both loved it. In the era of D2C overnight success, we appreciate the humble beginnings and business building life-lessons that Phil recounts. There is just no other brand like Nike and Phil can give a business owner of any size hope of accomplishing great things.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We would love them to visit our site, shoppehr.com. It showcases our entire collection of children’s accessories, clothing and décor.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!