Meet Ellen Diamant. She’s co-founder of Skip Hop, a game-changer in the juvenile products industry that she and her husband Michael have grown into an internationally popular brand. If you aren’t familiar with the name, we’re almost positive you already know the style—cute, colorful, functional and surprisingly affordable. (Bonus points: a portion of their profits are donated to help support worthy causes.) We got to know Ellen when she spoke with us about how the simple needs of a mom cultivated a company.
On the birth of Skip Hop …
When my son Spencer was born, I came up with the idea for our first product, the Duo diaper bag, because I needed a bag that was functional, could hang on a stroller and looked good. Now there are amazing diaper bags out there, but at the time most diaper bags on the market were either low end and had no function or were high end, fancy designer bags with no function. How could we do something that would change the idea of a diaper bag and what parents needed to make their lives easier?
I love our first product, the Duo. It’s really phenomenal. I love it, because it was our marquee product. It launched the company, and it’s one of our top selling products, still—nine years later. And I think it actually revolutionized diaper bags. I think it was a game-changer in the diaper bag world, you know? We created stroller clips and a modern unisex look. We were one of the first to do that, and I think a lot of companies followed suit.
On partnership …
In the early days we did everything. We did the shipping, we did the design, we did the marketing. My background is in art direction, graphic design and branding and Michael had experience running several companies, so it kind of gave us a good foundation. I think that when you go into business with a spouse, it doesn’t work for a lot of people. It’s worked for us because we know that we have one common goal, we’re building a business for our family, and we try, when we get home or on weekends, to not talk about work—which is difficult. But you have to be able to do that, and I think, with any couple working together, your skills have to be complimentary. If they overlap it’s a tough thing. You’re arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, etc. So, if you’re doing different things, I think it could really work.
On taking the leap …
Don’t be afraid to make a leap. I always say if you’re going to go into a juvenile business, or create some kid-related product, you have focus groups right in front of you. Use all of your friends and family and talk to them about what they’re doing. You have people at your disposal who can give you feedback. You know you can go to your friends and family and not be afraid to get feedback. Before taking the plunge with an idea that you really love, you should definitely speak to others within your circle who could give you honest feedback. They could tell you, “All right! This is a really great idea.” That’s important because it’s a big leap and a big expense to launch a business. Even if you’re just going to do a small line or a small product, it’s a lot to take on.
Definitely do your research. You have to speak to parents, you have to go to stores, you have to see what’s out there. Really get a feel of how your idea or your line fits in with what exists out there because there are some amazing products. I would say, right now, the baby business is not lacking with innovation or fantastic design. I think there’s room for growth, there’s room for new things, but you really have to make sure you do your research properly.
On the future …
A lot of parents are looking for things that aren’t based on a TV show. We created a line of zoo products for toddlers so they feel that they have some independence. They can pack their own bags, they can carry their own cups, they can stuff their hamper, they have a plate that’s divided just for them. They’re cute and they become a friend—a pal that can be with them during their daily tasks.
We have tons of people here with kids and we’re always bringing in parents for focus groups. So even though I don’t have a need now, having a middle schooler, we’re always bringing in parents, meeting with them and hearing what their needs are. We make sure we’re really at the forefront of what people are looking at because things change so quickly.
As a family, Michael and I do this day-to-day. Our son always has great ideas, which is exciting for him, now that he’s 12. He always gives recommendations and ideas.
I know a lot of people just like me. When we started, there were moms who had great ideas. They built their companies and they’ve been really successful because they’ve also looked to others. They didn’t say they could do it themselves. They looked to others to help. And that’s what it comes down to for us. It’s a partnership—like parenthood. You can’t do it alone.