Based in Los Angeles, Abbie Schiller (left) is the CEO and founder of The Mother Company and Ruby’s Studio.
I was director of public relations for ABC-TV—and a harried working mom. Sometimes cartoons entertained my daughter, Ona, while I decompressed before making dinner, but I noticed the shows she was glued to were making her hyper and agitated. Having grown up with the soothing Mister Rogers, I longed for kinder, gentler content that focused more on the social and emotional and less on the frenetic reciting of A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s.
I was compelled to create calm DVDs with healthy messages and a positive role model. So I ditched my crazy day job, wrote a script and pitched it to investors—who loved it. But I wanted to maintain quality control. So to fund my passion, my supportive husband, Marc, and I decided to sell our home and move in with my parents.
I figured I’d film the episodes myself, so I went to Costco and bought a high-def camera! But I got smart and reached out to a high school friend, Samantha Kurtzman-Counter, who produced and directed TV shows. Together we formed The Mother Company, an online community with expert advice on today’s parenting issues, and launched Ruby’s Studio, a series of DVDs, books and plush toys.
In our live-action videos, art teacher Ruby performs activities with her class while talking with students about emotions and how to express them. To get our venture off the ground, we took our grassroots fundraising plan to the streets—literally. While squishing our toes in the playground sandbox, Sam and I would whip out our laptops and show potential investors our PowerPoint presentation. We found a great group of moms who each invested $10,000.
The feedback for our site and Ruby’s Studio has been amazing. We cover topics that are sometimes taboo in traditional kids’ media (like dealing with divorce, death or even sexual predators). But our greatest reward is hearing how the show creates quality time for families and how kids connect to it. Hmmm…maybe it’s time to sport my own Mister Rogers–esque cardigan!
1. Appreciate your partner. Let a co-owner or colleague know you value the hard work she’s putting into your collaboration. In a start-up business, that type of positive reinforcement will help get you through tough times.
2. Divide and conquer. Each person brings something unique and important to the business equation. If your partner is an awesome accountant, let her handle the books. Value your individual strengths so both your talents can soar.
3. Keep talking. As in any relationship, communication is key. So share your big-picture ideas as well as the smaller tasks you’re working on. Keeping each other informed about everything that’s going on is crucial to your success.
4. Have faith in each other. Trust can be tricky in business, but ultimately you need to remember that you both have the same goals, commitment level and values. That’s what makes a strong team—and a successful partnership.
—As told to Jennifer Parris