Kari Boiler couldn’t have guessed that returning to L.A. to focus on her life as a new mom would lead directly to her big entrepreneurial break. She had become pregnant in 2002 and backed off plans to start a lifestyle boutique business in Amsterdam, where she had been located as a seasoned advertising and marketing professional. One of the items that Boiler had brought back to the States with her new baby was a unique brand of baby stroller unlike any other on the American market. “People stopped me constantly to ask about the stroller,” she recalls.
As moms and trendsetters alike took an interest in her baby’s wheels, Boiler realized that a gap existed in the American market; while Americans could find strollers with travel systems, jogging strollers, and high-end heirloom carriages, a hybrid, cross-category product like the Bugaboo (the company describes their strollers as “active all-terrain”) was not yet available to American consumers. In recognizing the gap, Boiler hatched her business idea. Kari approached the Bugaboo Company in Amsterdam, with a scripted business plan, in February, 2002. “I basically cold-called,” she recalls. Bugaboo was small, with only eight employees at the time (it now has over 800). Others had approached the brand about bringing its products to the United States, but Boiler’s plan clearly made an impression. When she was asked if she’d be interested in buying the company out right, she declined. “I told them they’d be crazy to sell it,” she says. Kari recognized the brand’s integrity and potential to grow, and proposed a collaboration with the corporate base instead, so that she could foster this process. Her relationship with the parent company has been “close” ever since; she and the company collaborated in devising an initial business strategy, and Kari has been involved in determining the brand’s overall direction and vision from that moment on.
This symbiotic relationship is what is most unique to Boiler’s business arrangement, and has been fundamental to its success. While entrepreneurs usually take on a 100% risk, and therefore must reach specific numbers within certain timeframes or fold, Boiler was in a different position in getting Bugaboo Americas off the ground. She did take on full responsibility in the United States–signing all of the paperwork and checks–but she didn’t have to dip into her personal life’s savings to finance the project’s design, manufacturing, marketing, and so forth. Design and manufacturing were already taken care of, and Boiler was provided with initial marketing materials that had proven successful for the company in Europe. As a new mom, this buffer against high-stakes risk was a relief to Boiler. It allowed her flexibility to develop the brand according to a long-term vision. She didn’t have to make concessions on quality, or turn to mass production, to stay afloat.
By June 2002, Kari had 15 Bugaboo strollers in her garage. She started connecting with influencers in Los Angeles by frequenting places where she knew the stroller would be noticed. She sought out the “people who were looking for something new”. She went to dinner at Nobu, a trendy Sushi restaurant, and attracted the interest of the chef. She also appeared at baby showers in the Hollywood Hills. It was a grassroots, person-to-person campaign. Kari meanwhile attended to getting the stroller certified with all of the testing, labels, user guides and warnings required in the U.S. She ran her business operations out of what’s now her bedroom in her home, and eventually moved them into a warehouse.
Around the same time, Kari contacted the props department for the popular television show Sex and the City. She thought the stroller would work well within the show’s storyline, and although the product was not yet available in the United States, the show’s producers agreed to curate the Bugaboo Frog. A stroller was delivered to New York from Europe on a 48-hour turnaround time, and the Frog made its big appearance in the show’s August 25, 2002 episode. It was a major breakthrough for the brand. Demand followed.
Without any retail distribution channels yet set up, Boiler created a waiting list and hit the trade show circuit, focusing on getting the product in front of retailers. Bugaboo Americas was up and running. Boiler admits that raising the Bugaboo brand while simultaneously raising two small children (her daughter, Charlie, now 9, and son, JP, 6) has “sometimes felt like a lot.” She’s managed it all by keeping her priorities strictly at the forefront in her decision-making.
By 2004, Bugaboo was growing in the U.S. and abroad, and running the business while running a family became difficult. Kari stepped down as the company’s president so she could focus on marketing and branding, and on being a mom. She resumed the president’s position in 2009, and although she works long hours, her priorities remain intact. “No doubt: family first, job second,” she says. “Then the company gets so much more out of me. I’m giving the company a balanced picture.” Her advice for working moms, and entrepreneur moms in particular, stems from this experience. “It’s amazing how much pacing and hard work go hand in hand,” she explains. Letting go of some of the control within the company’s structure in order to maintain her own sense of balance “was a real learning experience. I still knew where I wanted to go. I knew what I wanted to give to the company—all of my decisions lead me to that. Now I have a whole new journey with Bugaboo.” She adds, “I let that process naturally happen.”