Home Work: Lessons from Work-at-Home Parents. This series of Kidoinfo interviews looks at how parents manage to squeeze in work time at home (whether working for someone else or running their own business) along with juggling kids, home life, and childcare (or lack of it).
Kate Miller is the creator of Charlie’s Playhouse, the first-ever games and toys that introduce young kids to evolution, natural selection, and Charles Darwin. These products are fun, physical, and simple, and they appeal to a child’s’ sense of wonder and love of weird creatures! Today she shares with Kidoinfo readers how she combines business and family.
Kidoinfo: What inspired you to start your business?
Kate: When my two young boys got interested in dinosaurs a few years back, we naturally started talking about evolution and Darwin. I went online one day looking for some toys to teach them about evolution. I found educational toys about physics, chemistry, astronomy, and any other science you can think of, but nothing – absolutely nothing – on evolution. Consider the politics of that! Filled with hope, toy designs, and not much else, the kids and I decided to start this business together.
How did you start your business?
Kate: I first tried to talk myself out of it. When that didn’t work, I contacted the Center for Women and Enterprise to get matched with a consultant with experience in the toy industry. Then I begged family and friends for some seed money, incorporated, and threw myself into it. The learning curve has been very steep.
How do you balance work and family?
Kate: I don’t. The two are completely intertwined, which is one of the reasons I decided to start a kid-focused business. My kids and I develop products together, and while they are at school, I do the boring grownup stuff. Luckily I don’t have regular employee hours or schedules yet, so everything is flexible. While it’s great to be so free, it’s also a drag to feel that work is everpresent.
Please describe a typical day.
Kate: Oy, nothing’s typical. Let’s take the other day: After dropping the kids at school, I drove to Stoughton to check out a toy-safety testing laboratory. Saw some pretty weird testing equipment and learned some things I didn’t want to know about toy safety laws. Then I went to my studio to prepare for selling some stuff at a Massachusetts Association of Biology Teachers meeting, but ended up freaking out about being late on a sales tax payment. Picked up the kids, went food shopping, cooked up some broccoli, kissed my husband, built a killer Pokemon deck, and fell into bed.
Do you have any time-saving tricks that you could share?
Kate: 1. Always multitask; 2. Even 15 minutes is plenty; 3. Flagrantly waste time when you need to — save your sanity.
If you could give your past self (pre-kids or pre-business) any advice, what would it be?
Kate: Living your dream is great. But before you leap, check that the spreadsheet has a reasonable chance of balancing out. It might not, in which case living your dream could actually be a fat old bummer.
Where do you find inspiration?
Kate: The kids, the kids, the kids. They are magnificent. And love of science. Oh, and anger.
What is the one kid or parent product that you could not live without?
Kate: The public library.
What is your favorite children’s book or music CD?
Kate: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It is fresh and delightful even on the millionth read.
What do you do with your kids on a rainy day?
Kate: Try to disguise household chores as opportunities for hilarity.
What is the last great non-kid book or film that you loved? What made it so great?
Kate: Larry’s Kidney by Dan Rose because it is so desperately funny.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Kate: Celebrity gossip magazines like Us and People. I looooove them, even though I usually have no idea who the celebrities are.
If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
Kate: Well, I should exercise, but I would work on the business. The work expands to fill infinite space.
Can you share a story or anecdote that is typical of your dual life as a business owner and a mother/father?
Kate: I’m having a hard time coming up with anything specific because the two things are so intertwined. Pretty much anything that happens to me can be seen as part of the dual life.
How has the experience and on-the-job training of being a mom/dad prepared or changed you in business?
Kate: Our first baby had colic for months. That taught me pretty quickly to be flexible with everything: my time, my attention, my plans, my emotions. It also taught me how to get the most urgent things done in no time flat. In comparison, starting a business is like a tranquil day at the spa. With wine.
What is next for you and your business?
Kate: Introducing some new products. Revamping the website. Finding a charming and helpful angel investor. Surviving the recession. Searching for my big break. Having fun.