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Designing Woman: Lessons from Architect-Turned-Momtrepreneur

Jeannie Marrugo is no stranger to hard work. She spent 10 years becoming an architect, a profession composed of only about 18% women. She quickly discovered the inflexibility of the career after having her first daughter. Entrepreneurship presented the opportunity to be more present at home and monetize a passion for healthy eating. Soon Jeannie began leveraging her professional instincts to design and build in a new way: launching Café Baby.

More about Jeannie:

1. What is Café Baby and why is this business important?

Café Baby is a fresh baby food and lactation product business based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. I decided to make my own baby food when I became a mother to avoid canned and processed foods. However, the process is very time consuming. As a full-time working parent, I barely had time to spend in the kitchen, let alone prepare baby food. I began to think about a business that could deliver freshly prepared baby food to my doorstep. When that option wasn’t available, Café Baby was born.

Commercially processed baby food cooks at high temperatures to preserve shelf life, which reduces the nutrients. Café Baby steams or roasts from fresh fruits and vegetables, then purees and freezes the food. Busy parents now have access to higher quality, more nutritional foods from baby’s first bite. Café Baby provides a well-rounded diet without time lost in the kitchen.

2. What person or life event sparked your entrepreneurialism?

My daughter Camila sparked the entrepreneurial flame. I initially took the Café Baby idea to my mom, Sherri Sego. Neither of us had any entrepreneurial experience, but it combined her love of cooking and my business mind to address a real need for parents. The business has now become part of the Sego-Marrugo lifestyle and we run it together. My three-year-old daughter can even recognize our logo. My friends have become Café Baby customers, which allows me to see personally how my business helps busy moms.

3. What has been the hardest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Our primary challenge has been finding a manageable rate of growth. We have tried to grow slowly at a pace we can handle. Sometimes we must pass up opportunities and other times we just make things work. Our growth now is starting to go beyond our grasp, which is a great challenge. We are gearing up for a new level of expansion and are excited to see what it brings.

4. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received and how did you apply it?

Do it scared.

Every day brings a new challenge. Buckle up and go along for the ride. Don’t limit yourself by what makes you comfortable, because what you’re dreaming of is on the other side of your comfort zone. Mom and I had to leave our comfort zones more times than I can count. We would have missed so many opportunities had we let fear take control.

5. What is the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?

Nothing happens overnight.

When we first started Café Baby, I thought it would explode overnight. (My mom knew better.) In reality, ithas taken considerable time to perfect our process and earn customer trust to get where we are. We have had to work hard and constantly improve to keep our business growing.

6. What has been your most important tangible resource? The most important intangible resource?

The most important tangible resource, and probably the most challenging, has been production space. We have outgrown two shared commercial kitchens and will begin searching for our own space soon. The Café Baby process makes it difficult to find a shared kitchen because we require ample work space; commercial equipment; and dry, cool, frozen storage.

We have two important intangible resources tied for first: word-of-mouth referrals and easy access. As a new mom with young children, you lean on your circle of friends and value their advice. When someone discovers a friend using a service to provide high-quality baby food, they sign up too. So many of our customers come from referrals.

It also was important to provide our customers with easy access to us. We want our clients to have peace of mind in knowing they can come talk to us, ask us questions, and put a face to the person making their baby’s food. We realize this will be more difficult as we scale, but easy access will continue to be important to us.

7. What are your plans for scaling Café Baby?

Step one is working with a broker to find the right kitchen and storefront. We then plan to open franchise locations 12-24 months later. Café Baby will maintain its local touch by allowing customers to access food directly from stores in their city instead of shipping from a warehouse cross-country.

We’ll also expand our social media strategy in 2019. Social media is our primary marketing channel. We’ve found it to be most effective in reaching busy parents and caregivers. We also plan to increase partnerships with local businesses to expand our brand. We’re currently exploring our best financing option to grow our business. We are very proud that after three years we are debt-free, but we know financing is necessary for our next stage of growth.

8. How do you answer the question that inevitably creeps in: “What if I fail?”

We have a mindset that failure is not an option in our family. If Café Baby fails, it won’t be from lack of giving it everything we had. With so many people, opportunities, gifts, and encouragement along the way, we’ve come to feel like this little business has a higher purpose than we’d imagined in the beginning.

9. What is your best piece of advice for other entrepreneurs, especially working momtrepreneurs?

It will always feel hard. You’ll feel like there’s not enough time in the day. Your to-do list will feel never ending. Get support from your spouse and/or family and push on. Being your own boss and doing things on your time will be worth the years of stress it took to build a business. I worked full-time with a new daughter for almost two years while I did Café Baby on the side. I’ve been able to build the business to a part-time career (full-time for my co-founder mom), continue part time work in architecture, and still be a great mother.

Remember: nothing happens overnight, so work hard, do it scared, and rock your business!

To read more advice from momtrepreneur Jeannie Marrugo, read her blog post on theCityMoms.

Twitter: @cafebabytogo

Instagram: @cafebabytogo

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