Name a new mother who doesn't have an Aden + Anais muslin wrap in their nursery. Go on, we'll wait...
For this (and the hundreds of copycat brands that followed), we have Raegan Moya-Jones to thank. What started as a passion project off Raegan’s dining table soon became a $100 million dollar empire under Raegan’s vision and leadership. But Raegan is the first to ensure we’re not fooled into thinking that hers is a fairytale story of seamless celebrity endorsements and big bank balances. In fact, in our exclusive interview, Raegan shared her story, tribulations and joys with the most jaw-dropping, refreshing honesty that left us not only in awe, but incredibly inspired. As the mother to four beautiful girls, Raegan grew Aden + Anais to its incredible success, before being ousted from her own company by investors. Speaking about the growth of her company, her experience with investment and what’s ahead for her (let’s just say, it’s a slight shift from babywear), Raegan held nothing back, and we couldn’t love her more for it. From being on the relationship struggles to the challenges only women face in growing brands, to the prejudice that exists in the world of big business – this is essential reading for anyone managing a career, a business, a family or simply the pressures of everyday life. To sum up our interview with Raegan, we’ll use one of her own quotes. “Really, I’m just so over all these people saying, ‘Oh yes, my life is perfect, and my children are perfect …’ I’m just bored with it! There is another level of pressure on women when we aren’t honest about what really goes on. Whether that’s in your career, in your home as a mother, or as a wife. I just don’t think we’re doing any of us any good by pretending.” We couldn’t agree more, Raegan. Raegan’s book – What It Takes – is currently available for pre-order. For those attending our International Women’s Day event this Friday, you’re in luck, as we’ll be hearing first-hand from Raegan. We can’t wait to have Raegan, her unflappable honesty and incredible story right before our eyes. See you there! For GRACE Collective members who can’t make it, the event will be live-streamed from our private Facebook page so make sure you’ve joined the group!
Going back to those early days of Aden + Anais, what drove you?
It was a combination of things. I was not definitely keen on working for the man, so for as long as I can remember, I had always had this idea in the back of my head, that one day I would have my own thing. When I say my own thing, it ran the gamut from a coffee shop, to a bar, to a spa. I just wanted to be the master of my own destiny. That was very much who I was as a person. Then really, the passion came from when I had Anais, being a mother and looking for this wrap – as we called them in Australia back then – a muslin wrap. That didn’t exist here in the US, and I felt very strongly that it was the right thing to wrap Anais in. So when I realised they didn’t exist here, then it just became a mission of mine to spread the word on Aussie muslin, to make sure all mothers knew the benefits of having it, and how useful this one piece of cloth could be when you have a baby. So really, the early days were driven by a combination of my own internal entrepreneurialism (I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time) which I’d had for as long as I could remember. And then it was the passion that came from truly wanting all mums to know how great muslin swaddling blankets were.
What are your memories of those early days? Do you remember the late nights or is it all positive memories?
I was hanging on by a thread for a good four years, let me tell you. I remember not washing my hair for two weeks, because I literally couldn’t find the half an hour to do it. I slept for three to four hours a night for two years. I truly look back on that time now and wonder … Just like people often said to me, “How the hell did you do that with all those kids?” I also had a full-time job at The Economist. I had the idea for Aden + Anais in 2003, when Anais was born. It took us until 2006 to work out how to get the brand manufactured and made, and then I stayed working at The Economist until the middle of 2009, before I left to pursue Aden + Anais full-time. I just didn’t want to put that financial burden on my family. So by 2009, I had the three girls, a full-time job and I was building and running Aden + Anais from eight o’clock at night until three in the morning.
Were you cranky when you woke up? How did you function? Or were you just in a different zone?
I wasn’t, because I was so driven by what I was doing with Aden + Anais, that I ran on adrenalin. In this spirit of disclosure, I’ve always been an insomniac, so I’ve never been a great sleeper. That most definitely helped, but it was really just the passion, and really believing in what I was doing, and loving what I was doing. That’s what kept me going. I don’t want to pretend there weren’t quite a few fetal position moments, because there absolutely were! There were definitely times when I stopped and went, “What am I doing? I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here. This is insanity.” I would have my moment and I would fall to the ground in tears, pick myself up, go to bed, and then wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Was it a great driver to see so much growth early on?
Yes. We knew within six weeks of our first order that we were on to something really serious, so it was that quick and that obvious. As soon as we hit the market, it just absolutely took off. That was a great motivation to just keep going. From the get-go, there was never any doubt that it was going to be a huge, successful business. I really believed that, with every ounce of being in me.
We all know that it takes ability, but how did you manage your work and the kids? What kind of help did you have and how did the wheels keep turning at home?
An incredibly supportive and hands-on husband, who was absolutely down for stepping up, in terms of helping at home and with the girls. That was key. I’ve said before, Aden + Anais wouldn’t exist if I was not married to the man that I was married to. He was a huge part of it, and then I had a nanny. Between the three of us, we just juggled it and made it work. Then when the girls were asleep, those were the golden hours to get as much done as possible. I chose sleep deprivation over any kind of financial hardship, and so when the girls went to bed, I would start working on Aden + Anais.
You left The Economist in 2009, and that's when you hit a million dollars in revenue. How do you think you hit that milestone that only 2% of women who own businesses get to?
Initially, it was just the door-to-door stuff, I was in sales at The Economist, so I was always travelling, and I would just take samples with me. If I was in another city seeing a customer for The Economist, I would walk into any baby shop or store I thought was relevant to Aden + Anais. I showed them the product and pitched them, which literally would take five minutes. And many times, they would order on the spot. I also took holidays from The Economist, but rather than going anywhere, I would do trade shows to sell the product. I just made it work that way. The real tipping point was when Target came calling. Once Target expressed interest, I knew that we were really off to the races.
What about celebrities? What sort of impact did they have on the business - particularly Prince George?
Funnily enough, all the celebrities who were seen in Aden + Anais bought the product from stores. I didn’t have a Rolodex filled with celebrities or anything. I couldn’t afford to be working with celebrities. I did have one PR working on the brand – who was with me right until the end. (She lasted nine months longer than I did.) In terms of the impact celebrities had on the brand, I don’t think they played a big role in the growth, and I’ll tell you why. Because it was such a great product, it was the everyday mother who really built Aden + Anais. Not Adam Sandler, Beyonce or Pink, because they’re all just parents like us, and want what’s best for their kids. The real momentum for Aden + Anais came from mothers telling other mothers how great the product was, and that they had to have it. That’s really what drove the rocketship growth of Aden + Anais in those early years. That said, our website crashed when Prince George came out in the swaddle! There was a whole lot of interest in Aden + Anais then, but they only wanted that particular swaddle, which drove me insane because ironically, that was my least favourite pack! We saw a peak in sales on that one particular pack for maybe a week or so, and then it completely levelled back out. I don’t want to say it wasn’t a wonderful PR moment for Aden + Anais, and quite honestly, I don’t think there is a bigger PR moment than having a royal baby have their first photograph taken in one of your products.
Tell me about the growth and your decision to raise capital. What was your experience like?
Initially, I really didn’t understand the process of raising capital, or private equity, or venture capital. I became educated in it very quickly though, because we got to the point where – despite the fact we were always making money and our revenues were growing your triple digits for the first five years – we just didn’t have enough money to buy enough product to keep up with the demand. So to start with, I borrowed money from friends and family, which I borrowed at 10% interest. I did that rather than giving equity away, because I was fiercely protective. I knew where the business was going, or so I didn’t want to dilute that just because we needed the cash. Because the business was so solid and we could easily show people that the demand was there, it wasn’t that difficult to get friends to write cheques to make 10% interest on their money. Then when we ran out of friends, we went to friends of friends. We did that for a while, and then we got to the point where it just wasn’t cutting it. The amount of money we were getting just wasn’t enough, and that’s when I first started to look for a real capital injection. My first investors – a company called Seidler Equity Partners – were just the greatest investors ever. Amazing, smart, generous, supportive people. They just happened to fall into my lap through a friend who had bought into the business when my business partner and I split up. Long story short, we met, hit it off, and I became their first female founder investment. I was very small compared to the deals they normally did, but in terms of a percentage return, Aden + Anais remains one of the best investments they ever made. Then in 2013, my current investors came to me and said, “Look, you’ve got a whole lot of money tied up in this business, but you’re still just a salaried employee. We recommend you sell it and take some chips off the table. Set your family up, then put back into the business however much you want to, because we know you’re going to continue to grow the business.” And so, that’s what I did in 2013. Unfortunately, I did not pick the right investors the second time around, and that was not a good relationship. They fired me in March last year. We didn’t see eye to eye on the way forward.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, I wouldn’t have sold the brand to them. What I know now – and I advise a lot of other entrepreneurs of this – is to never sell the majority share of your business if you are still truly passionate about running and having the vision for your business. As much as I thought that they were investing in me and my vision, that wasn’t really the case. I think they struggled with the fact that I was the university drop-out who drank too much wine, and they were all Harvard and Stanford graduates, and I just didn’t compute to them. We very rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything, and unfortunately, that became pretty clear to me very early on after I’d sold the business to them. I did say to them, “You know how big the cheque was that you just wrote for this business? I started this business from my kitchen table, so at what point does what I’ve accomplished count for something?” It was a very frustrating situation when they had the controlling interest of the business.
Retail has changed significantly in the last decade and there's obviously so much more competition. How would you describe the changes in the industry, and how they can prove to be challenging for brands launching now?
When I started Aden + Anais, the brick and mortar retailers were still extremely meaningful for a brand. Where your product was positioned in different stores meant a lot to a brand, whereas, obviously, now the landscape is all about e-commerce. That’s where all the volume is driven, and brick and mortar businesses are paying a very big price for that. Building a brand when I did, it was much more about the right stores and having those people behind your products, talking about your products, and so on. Now, it’s much more about who has the biggest following and the most clever marketing to capture everyone’s attention. It’s a very cluttered, fast-paced e-commerce environment. It’s so much more competitive now because the barriers of entry are easier. 12 years ago when I started Aden + Anais, no one had ever heard of muslin in America, and I was educating store owners about the product. They would never take on 100 muslin brands, whereas Amazon doesn’t give a shit if there are1000 muslin brands on their website. So the competition is just endless. There was definitely competition when I launched, but a store would only take on a few other brands for choice for their customers, not hundreds.
How have you dealt with setbacks and criticism?
Because my background was sales, I was so comfortable with hearing “no,” that it was ridiculous! I’d spent 20 years of being told no, so it really didn’t affect me at all. I was also very tenacious when I was starting Aden + Anais, so hearing “no” didn’t dissuade me. I just knew that it was a “not right now,” as they weren’t quite getting it, and eventually, they would. In terms of constructive criticism, I made a point of surrounding myself with people who were way more talented and smart than I was. That’s why Aden + Anais was successful. It was because I surrounded myself with brilliant people, so I was constantly being challenged and criticised. I encouraged that environment at Aden + Anais, because I knew that it made us, and the business, better.
Talent in business is just so key. How did you find the talent you worked with and the people?
Look, it’s really hit or miss. Initially, I went through my friends’ pools. I also found a lot of great people from The Economist – who I’d worked with and understood their work ethic. By far the biggest challenge with running and growing a business is the people. There is no doubt in my mind that is the hardest part by far, and I’ve learned over the years of running a business, that you live and die by your people. If you put the right person in a chair, you’ll watch your business flourish. If you put the wrong person in a chair, damn, it will bring that business to its knees. You can have the greatest product, the greatest strategy, the greatest system, the greatest everything. If you don’t have the right people, you are dead in the water.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book?
I was approached to write a book and initially, I laughed and went, “I have no idea what I’m going to write about!” I eventually got talked into writing this book because I really want people to know that if I can do it, anyone can do it. Because there is truly nothing exceptional about me. I’m not being falsely modest. I was very average at school, I dropped out of university, I didn’t have a Rolodex of connections. I am very average. What I do have is an incredible work ethic, and working hard has never been a problem for me. I really wanted other entrepreneurs – primarily women, of course – to know that you don’t need to be a technical, marketing or e-commerce genius. You just need to have an idea, an unwavering belief in that idea, and the willingness to work your arse off. Harder than you’d ever imagined you could work. But that is open to every human. If you just make a conscious decision to work really hard, everyone’s capable of doing that. I’m living proof. I did it with my husband, four kids and two dogs. I had a lot going on, and I still managed to do it, because I really believed in what I was doing. So the book is about that. There’s also an element to the book which talks to how much harder we still have it as women. We have to go above and beyond to accomplish the same things that men accomplish. Simply because it’s harder for us to access capital and to be taken seriously. I combined a lot of research with my own experience. There is research and there are statistics that prove we are up against it, because who’s going to believe the crazy, wine-drinking Australian girl, right? I threw in a few Harvard professors with their studies and quotes, because it’s not right. It has to change. In fact, the UN came out with a statement that there won’t be gender parity in the workplace from a pay perspective until 2133. That’s just fucked up. That’s not okay. So I tried to include those sort of things, to hopefully motivate women to stand up loudly and say, “Yeah, it’s not okay!” It’s an autobiographical book, because it’s definitely my story, and it’s a very honest story. I’m 100% sure I’m going to piss a lot of people off with this book, but you know what? We can’t make changes unless people are honest about how it really is. I talk about failing, I talk about the mistakes I’ve made. If I was going to write a book, I had to be honest about it. I had to talk about how I nearly ended up divorced, because of the pressure you can be under with a business, a marriage and four kids. Really, I’m just so over all these people saying, “Oh yes, my life is perfect, and my children are perfect … ” I’m just bored with it! There is another level of pressure on women when we aren’t honest about what really goes on. Whether that’s in your career, in your home as a mother, or as a wife. I just don’t think we’re doing any of us any good by pretending.
There have obviously been huge changes for you over the past year. What's next?
I’m not the chill-out kind of girl! But really, I’m getting up there … I’m 51, so it’s not like I’m a whippersnapper anymore! But I’m definitely not ready to be a lady who lunches. I’d be tearing my hair out with boredom. So I have started another business with my COO at Aden + Anais, whereby we have co-founded a boutique moonshine company. For those who don’t know, moonshine is a very high alcohol beverage that came about in prohibition. Quite honestly, it’s synonymous with dudes in overalls, with no teeth, in the woods. But the opportunity we saw was in the liquor industry – where there are endless tequilas, scotches and vodkas, but moonshine was a very relatively new category. And all the others that existed just tasted disgusting. We decided that if we could create an elevated version of moonshine, which is effectively what I did with muslin, back in the day. Muslin, for the most part, was cheap and very plain, so with Aden + Anais, we elevated a very utilitarian fabric and product and made it more premium. I thought, if we did that with moonshine, then we’re on to something. That’s what we’re doing, and it’s called Saint Luna. We joke that we’ve gone from babies to booze … It’s a very natural progression.