Monica + Andy founder, Monica Royer, on building her business & motherhood
After hearing our friends rave about organic childrens clothing brand Monica + Andy, we reached out to founder Monica Royer to learn more about the inspiration behind the brand.
We also asked her about the #1 piece of advice she got from her brother and Bonobos founder, Andy Dunn, as well as her biggest mistake since launching her company in 2014. In addition to her business, we spoke about her inspiring podcast, The Mentor Files, parenting, motherhood, breastfeeding and more.
1) What was your inspiration behind Monica + Andy and what makes it different from other children’s clothing brands?
Monica + Andy started the moment I had my daughter. I was in the hospital and I realized I had none of the things I needed for her, but I had no idea what she needed before she came. Monica + Andy was born out of what I felt were necessities for myself as a new mom.
Besides exceptional products, I also felt like I lacked a community. I felt very lonely the first months after I had her, especially after being very social at my job. It was cold and I felt very disconnected. What makes Monica + Andy different is that we’re really about building a community. I hope and believe we’re building an emotional connection with our consumer and that’s what sets the brand apart.
We’ve become a brand of ‘firsts’ for many families, their first picture, the first clothing their babies wear, their babies first steps were in our guide shop, their first cookie at our milk + cookie bar, etc.
2) Your mission is to be the most ‘thoughtful’ children’s brand ever. What do you mean by ‘thoughtful’?
How the workers at our factories are feeling is as important to us as how our customers feel when they’re opening up their box. Even as we got started, trying to put as much thought as we could into every aspect of the business, whether it’s how soft the fabric is or how it functions, or the factories and how the workers are treated. The thoughtfulness of the emails we’re sending or responses sent to our consumer, across every facet of the business there are humans and often moms themselves. We try to be the most thoughtful at every turn.
3) What is your best selling product and why do you think moms love it for their babies?
Our organic Hospital Cuddle Box™️! When I had my daughter I wished I had other clothes for her to wear at the hospital instead of what they gave her. I was really surprised at the poor quality, they were stained and too big on her. I asked the nurse and she said the clothes could have been worn by up to seven other babies. The hospital clothes are also heavily bleached and my daughters skin was simultaneously very sensitive and full of bumps and peeling. I cringed about the fabric I was putting on her and thought, if I had only known I would have brought my own clothes for her.
The first product we set out to make was our organic Hospital Cuddle Box™️, which is our #1 best seller, and has the same products you get in the hospital: the newborn top with foldover mitts to protect them from scratching themselves, the pants with foldover feet to keep warm, the blanket with just enough stretch for swaddling and the top knot hat. The first thing you’re going to need for your baby in the hospital is clothing!
4) What is the best advice you’ve gotten from your brother Andy, Bonobos founder?
I got two great pieces of advice from him. The first was before I started my business, when he told me, it was now or never. He told me, if you don’t do this now and you go back to your job you may never have the opportunity again.
After starting the business, he has advised me to take my time as I bring the right people on board and build the culture. The way that he describes it is using the term “scaffolding.” You’re slowly building the framework, kind of like building a house that’s going to be big. The first thing you lay down is as important, if not more important, as the things you’re putting at the top of the house.
5) You’ve had outside funding from the beginning, which has helped your business grow. Do you ever think about what it would have been like to not have had funding?
The first 3 years before we officially launched I was working on the business from home and my brother and I bootstrapped. We had decided to be omni-channel from day one and I think in our case, because we were opening with physical retail from the start and we also wanted to work with the best factories from the beginning (GOTS certified organic factories with the highest quality organic cotton), we just didn’t have the money needed to bootstrap it once we officially launched.
But I think it’s different for everyone and I don’t think there’s a right answer as to whether people should take on funding or not. I’ve met founders that have taken a lot of funding and have been successful, others who haven’t taken anything and have been successful.
I think it’s about what you feel like you have to do and how you set up your business. The second thing I’ve learned since raising capital is that if you get the right investors, it opens so many doors. It gets other people who are equally invested in your success. It has made all of the difference in the world for me, it’s both the people that I’ve met and where the capital has been able to take us.
6) Do you think having a retail presence, in addition to online, has made the difference for your brand?
When my brother had launched Bonobos they were online only. But when he started opening his physical guide shops he realized they were incredible customer acquisition tools. We asked ourselves, if we could do Bonobos again, what were all the things that we would do the same or do differently.
The answer was that we would launch online and offline (retail) simultaneously. I would have my office in the back of my guideshop to be in close contact with the consumer. But when we launched our first shop we didn’t realize that physical retail would take over our lives and we didn’t start to build a true digital brand until mid to late 2017. I think it took us longer to build the force of a digital brand because of that.
In the beginning we didn’t realize how powerful physical retail could be. We were selling through all of our inventory in the stores. We’ve had 18 pop-ups and some permanent locations over the life of the brand. It’s important to us to build community, somewhere parents can come in and find a safe haven. A real sense of meeting other folks at the same stage.
7) If you could change one thing about the first few years of running your business what would it be? Any mistakes/challenges and how did you overcome/learn from them.
I think at a company like this at least 60% of what you’re doing on a day to day basis is, generally speaking, a mistake and about 40% is getting something right. It’s a lot about failing up, making mistakes and learning from them. In the early days, the saying, ’if you build it they will come’ was true for physical retail for us. But if I could go back and do it again I would have really thought through our digital strategy. How are we going to reach customers online, how are they going to discover us.
So much of the team we built in the first few years was trying to get physical retail right. There wasn’t anyone that was focused on digital. This is where boards can be really helpful. In early 2016 one of our board members told me I had to start thinking about the digital team I needed to build for the future. I had to think about how we were going to build an online presence. Part of our initial goal was to build an enduring online brand as well. I could have been less involved in what was going right in retail and should have spent more time on digital. That was definitely a mistake in hindsight.
8) What has been the most satisfying thing for you as the founder of Monica + Andy as you’ve seen it grow?
The people part of the business by far. Building a team and the feeling you get building it. It doesn’t always go according to plan, but the most satisfying thing is the day to day, a group of people humming along together. Often we’ll walk in to the office and the whole team will be wearing the same color scheme. We’re in unison to a certain degree! It’s a group of people from different backgrounds and places but we’ve found a unified passion. All of us working in the same direction on something we’re passionate about.
That also goes for the customer. Seeing people take their babies first pictures in our clothes, seeing they packed Monica + Andy for the hospital, those are always really satisfying moments. As a CEO it’s the customer and the team.
As a mom, seeing my job through the eyes of my daughter and seeing the things she loves about it and also what she doesn’t. She just turned 9, and she’ll write these very sweet emails to my parents, my brother and my husband. Seeing how she tries to mimic how my emails sound. Watching what we’ve done through her eyes has been so rewarding and so much fun. I didn’t realize how much it was going to shape who she’s become. I’m excited to see how it shapes the next 9 years for her.
9) Let’s talk about your podcast, The Mentor Files. Any common themes behind the success of the entrepreneurs you’ve interviewed?
There are two big themes. The first is positive energy. They ultimately all have this ability to believe in the impossible on a day to day basis. A lot of what so many of them have done has been a stretch. They have an ability to overcome roadblocks and there’s a positive tenacity and charisma they seem to bring to everything they do. The charisma to get their team on board and interested, to inspire people, to get investors, etc. There’s an engaging feeling that I get when I’m on the phone with really great founders and a magnetism to their personality that draws you in.
The second theme is that there’s not a single person that I’ve talked to that has had overnight success. There isn’t anyone who wasn’t toiling away at something for a while before it became big.
10) What’s your favorite Mentor Files podcast?
The first one I did with my brother Andy and then with my husband, who’s an entrepreneur as well. We had never interviewed each other before so it was a lot of fun! Beyond that, Kirsten Green, who is an absolute force of nature and the founder of Forerunner Ventures and one of the most prolific venture capitalist investors around. She’s incredibly engaging and I’ve learned a lot from her. Tim Brown of Allbirds was an incredibly honest, kind, empathetic and humble guy. I really enjoyed my conversation with him as well.
11) Any passion projects you have in the works or that you want to pursue?
I’m very interested to pursue avenues to get young girls passionate about going into business. You see this disparity of how many female CEOs there are and that get access to funding. My podcast, The Mentor Files, is meant to pay it forward to democratize the advice that I’m getting from these other great founders and investors.
But my real passion is to start to change the conversation in the 2nd and 3rd grade. Just seeing the influence that this job has had on my own daughter and her excitement to go into business.
My goal is to think about how we can get second and third grade girls excited to go into business and passionate about that for their future. And how can we develop those skills that are so important for both business and life earlier on.
12) Tell us something very few people know about you?
My dream when I was little was to become a marine biologist. I’m obsessed with whale watching! I’m very much into nature and animals, I don’t think I ever really talk about it much with people.
13) We’ve heard you love women’s fashion, particularly dresses, so we have to ask about what it was like dressing your bump!
I loved wearing dresses throughout my entire pregnancy. It was the easiest thing to wear, because a lot of my dresses were stretchy or roomier and not as restricting. Despite wearing some of my non-maternity dresses for a lot of my pregnancy, they did stretch out and I couldn’t wear them afterwards. Pants on the other hand are only going to go so far. You may get through part of your 1st trimester in your normal pants but I think as a pregnant woman the first thing you need to buy are pants!
14) Your daughter’s birth was the inspiration behind Monica + Andy and now she’s 9 years old! What’s your advice to parents with children entering this phase?
I think I probably need more advice than have to give! The age of 9 is so interesting as they’re becoming more and more independent. I often get advice from my mom, and the most important advice she’s given me was to set boundaries. To set rules for our daughter based on our beliefs and values and to stick to them.
As children get older, it gets harder because they start to have their own opinion about things. You start to see peer pressure have an effect, they see things happening and they want to do the same things their friends are doing. Establishing rules early on is important. I’ve also started sitting down with my daughter more regularly to talk about things going on at school. I want to build that habit over time with her so that when she’s older we continue to have that open dialogue.
15) You’ve had a couple of miscarriages and you’ve opened up and talked about them. Is there something you’d like to share about your experience that you think may help other women?
I actually just had my 3rd miscarriage a few weeks ago. I think it’s all about making choices. I personally tell people when I get pregnant. I understand people not wanting to early on in case something goes wrong. But for me, people knowing I was pregnant was helpful because if the pregnancy doesn’t work out you find yourself at the doctor a lot and that openness has helped me feel better and less alone. I also find that people tend to share their own experiences with you if you’re open about it.
In a work environment it builds trust as well, and as a leader, showing vulnerability and honesty makes people more comfortable to share things with you over time. It’s always been important for me to be transparent about my life at work. Hopefully over time the stigma of having a miscarriage will be lifted. Having a miscarriage doesn’t have to be a secret, but motherhood, in all aspects, is about choice. One of the choices you have is to be vocal or not. For me being vocal about it has helped me heal.
16) Tell us about your experience breastfeeding?
I was very set on breastfeeding my daughter and I did breastfeed initially but it was really hard for me and I was so hard on myself about it. I didn’t produce enough milk and I remember for the first 3 weeks I was up 24 hours a day nursing constantly. It was agonizing to keep up the pace and still not have enough milk supply.
I had tried everything, herbs, lactation cookies, nothing worked. I remember seeing a lactation consultant and she told me, you can keep doing this 24 hours a day or you can supplement with formula. I agonized over the decision and I ended up supplementing with formula. I just couldn't keep doing it. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control. When you don’t sleep for a long period of time, it’s incredibly difficult.
To be honest with you, if I could redo one thing after having my daughter, I would still try to breastfeed, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use formula. As long as babies are fed, it’s ok. I wish I had been less hard on myself.
Thanks Monica for taking the time to share your entrepreneur and motherhood journey with us! xoxo, Peggy