This week marks our 2-year Kickstarter anniversary, so we thought what better way to celebrate than to feature our founder and CEO, Nell, in the latest edition of #HowIKibou. Not only is Nell the creative mind behind Kibou, she has managed to strike that elusive balance between superhero mom and badass individual – all while plotting world domination (we promise you’ll get this joke once your read more)!
In her #HowIKibou feature, Nell shares an inside look at her entrepreneurship journey. We also got her talking self-care, female-founded brands she is currently coveting and what's next for Kibou. Read more below!
What inspired you to start Kibou? What were your AHA moments?
When my first son Theo was a baby, back in 2015, I wore him in a baby carrier walking all over our Brooklyn neighborhood. I had this beautiful (but massive) diaper bag that I had spent all this time picking, but when I’d put Theo in the carrier and grab the bag, and I was like, this sucks. Where does this bag go? Where does the baby go? And then when I needed something out of the bag, I couldn’t find it quickly. I became frustrated with the weight and the bulk and not having the right place for everything.
I started daydreaming about this idea: what if there was a fanny pack that had all the functionality of a diaper bag? I was sure someone must have thought of it, but when I Googled, nothing came up. Fast-forward to 2017 as we were starting to think about another child, and I still hadn’t found a diaper bag that worked for me.
So, on a whim, I went on Amazon, bought a bunch of fanny packs, and diaper changing pads. With my super basic sewing skills, I grabbed a pair of scissors, needle, and thread and got to work.
What were you doing before Kibou?
I wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade and that dream never changed. I taught for 11 years-- seven of them teaching middle school English in the South Bronx, and Newark NJ, one teaching adults English in Argentina, and then 3 more teaching preK in NYC, before becoming a school director at a small school in Brooklyn.
It was on my nights and weekends while working as a director that I developed Kibou.
What is the most rewarding thing about running Kibou?
Such a tough question! At this point in our growth, Steph and I each wear many hats. So my role covers everything from product design to customer service emails and order fulfillment oversight (up until June, every single Kibou we sent was shipped from my basement!)
If I had to pick one thing, okay two things, they would be:
- Customer feedback never gets old. Every single customer email or review is a gift to us--both those who share how Kibou has simplified their parenting life as well as those that share constructive feedback or issues. We listen closely to every single thing our customers tell us, and we see it as a chance to grow. I get a high from every single email or review on our website where someone tells us how Kibou has simplified or improved their life. And when friends send photos from seeing Kibou in the wild--someone wearing a Kibou at the airport or in a shop where they are on vacation--it still feels surreal. Knowing that we’ve created a product that makes a real difference for people across the world every day still blows my mind.
- The opportunity to learn so much, so quickly, as we’ve built an entire business from the ground up with the help of so many amazing entrepreneurs and business owners who we’ve contracted to work with us or who have just generously given us helpful advice along the way.
And as we continue to grow, we’ve partnered with such incredible store owners to sell Kibou in places all over the world. I absolutely love building these connections and want to be the one to cultivate these relationships long into the future (and to visit all these awesome spots across the globe--Tokyo?! Kelowna, Canada! And Murphys, California to name a few.)
As a wife, mom of 2 kids and an entrepreneur, you must have a crazy schedule. How do you balance everything?
Balance! Haha...I can’t say I always manage it, but it’s a muscle (or skill?) I’ve been working on for a while now. It’s sort of like Warrior 3 in yoga--it’s taken me a long time to figure out the right alignment so I don’t fall on my face.
I’m incredibly lucky to have 4 full days of work and one day that I get to spend with our 3 year-old, Charlie. I have a tight work schedule during the day, usually only taking a break when our older son Theo gets home from school. During their quiet time, I work. When they go to bed, I work. But Dan and I also make sure we get at least an hour or two together every night, and--call us weird--but we also go to bed together basically every single night. While date nights were hard during Covid, and I can’t say we’re the best about planning them in general, we have snuck away a few times a year for weekend getaways that aren’t too far from home. A couple of our recent favorites were Woodstock and Hudson, New York. We’re incredibly lucky to have family nearby who will happily watch the boys while we’re away (major props to my mother-in-law who was actually the one to give us a date and tell us to go away without us ever asking! AND my parents who got us to celebrate our own anniversary at our wedding hotel while they watched the kids. We don't take one ounce of this for granted, I promise.)
What do you envision for Kibou over the next 5 years?
World domination? Total and complete deliberate minimalism for all parents?!
I see us continuing to build out our product line, so that we go beyond one size and style of deliberately minimal bags. Our goal has always been to grow with your family, so we hope to incorporate more Kibou parent feedback to offer accessories and styles that accommodate families’ ongoing needs--from when their children are newborn through school-age, from their first family camping trip to their first family dog.
What advice would you give to moms who have a great idea and want to pursue starting their own company?
I wouldn’t say you can’t do it alone, but why would you want to?
By this I mean two things:
- Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to share your idea, and take time to consider the (meaningful) feedback that you get from others. When I first came up with the idea for Kibou, I was scared that if I shared it, someone would steal it. But when I finally let go of that fear, I got so much enthusiastic support and valuable input. Talking to people--tons and tons of people--helped me to understand how to effectively pursue this idea, and surveying hundreds of parents informed the functionality and design of our bag.
- Find a partner. Having a business partner to build ideas with, share the joys and the low points or the moments of real doubt, it’s so much more rewarding and ultimately builds a much stronger product and brand.
This isn’t to say that if you have a seedling of an idea you first need to find a partner before seeing where you can take it; I spent nearly a year working on the idea solo. But when I was ready to move beyond the product prototype and ready to develop a brand, I knew that Steph would bring so much to the table--not just in skillset and perspective, but in friendship. We’ve grown so close as friends and share joy and pride (and sometimes frustrations) that only we can truly understand. It is incredibly special.
What’s in your Kibou right now?
- Stasher bag with snacks
- Bar (more snacks, always)
- Bug spray (anyone else’s family get attacked by mosquitos late summer?!)
- Cards and cash
- SuperGoop sunscreen
- SuperGoop lip SPF balm
- Hand cream (for my aging, over-washed hands)
- A pen (because I’m old school and prefer to write things down)
- Bou-Boo Bag
What do you do for self-care?
I’m a person who has to sweat to stay sane. By no means am I in crazy good shape, but getting my heart rate up for 20-30 minutes definitely helps me to release tension, process any big decisions and sleep better at night. If the kids are driving me nuts or I’m having trouble concentrating, a quick Peloton ride is a perfect reset for me.
Beyond exercise, I covet my monthly pedicure and 10 minute massage, I believe there’s no better medicine for the soul than a long leisurely dinner out with my girlfriends, and my absolute favorite way to spend Sunday morning is curled up with a big cup of coffee and the NY Times.
In the name of supporting other female founded brands, what are some of your favorite female brands or shops?
Currently drooling over: lemlem
Currently I go nowhere without:
Stasher Bags for food storage or keeping odds and ends together
Super Goop lip balm and SPF
Nell has wonderful guidelines for starting a new rewarding business. It is so important to plan for balance in one’s life. Great inspiration from Kibou’s founder.