It's All in the Family with Club ChicaCircle

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By Pauline Molinari and Lynnee Jimenez (Co-Founders, Club ChicaCircle) Late Night Launching Across the Miles

It's midnight and we are on fire catching up on site content, product roadmaps and strategic partnership opportunities for our new site for crafty pre-teen girls and their moms. Despite a full day of other work, family priorities and limited sleep, we are finding our second wind as we see our passion come to life through our online village.

Lynnee and I are two sisters working virtually across the miles (Palo Alto and Mission Viejo, CA) despite traditional guidance to not launch with a family member. We have endured through life events, the departure of a friend / co-founder, and bootstrapping strains.

We've done all the "right" things needed to start a business, now only to realize how much more important it is to just move forward quickly. We're sharing our story so you can find comfort in launching your own business without a fully funded base in place and to reinforce the importance of expanding your network. Building on Passion

Lynnee and I have always toyed with the idea of working together on a business that could combine both my creative skills and her business management and financial skills together into something we could be passionate about. We have both experienced high pressure corporate jobs and our passions have always leaned towards our children and families and finding something that could bring the best of all worlds together -- fun, family and financial strength. Now that our girls have hit their ever impressionable tween years (8-12) where they are growing up with iPads in the classroom and exposure to product marketing tempting them to grow older sooner (push-up bras for an 8-year old?!) -- we are racing against the clock to capture memory-making ideas and challenges for moms and tweens to share before the independent teen years. We wanted to provide a safe and inspiring online space with our daughters in mind. By checking our site, you will see that this is a family affair with our daughters participating throughout. Out of necessity and passion, Club Chicacircle was born.

Leveraging Networks

Although we have been brainstorming business ideas together since college days in Chicago, we formally joined a variety of networking and entrepreneurial organizations over the past few years -- starting with Ladies Who Launch in 2007, which then led us to Women 2.0. Through Women 2.0, we have participated in several of the programs and events, including our entry in the 2008 Napkin Challenge and the 2009 Jumpstart Your Startup. There are many different ways to start a business and the Jumpstart program at the time was exactly what we needed to stay focused, motivated and accountable. We found inspiration through other innovative women and learned to clarify our vision. We compared launch tasks, tools and approaches with other entrepreneurs. Structurally, we followed all of the traditional steps by setting up an infrastructure of our business. We filed DBA paperwork, trademarked our name & logo, bought business cards, rented a mailbox (UPS Store), created our business phone number (Grasshopper), conducted market research sessions, hired a web developer, bought a domain name (GoDaddy) and hosting (HostGator) and went live in 2009 with our first site at Chicacircle.com.

Life Events and Other Hiccups

After the birth of ChicaCircle.com, our passions never wavered, but we did encounter some major life events along the way. I remarried in 2008. Lynnee gave birth to twin baby boys in late 2009. Despite some hiccups, we kept focus on converting our moonlighting venture to the dream of making our venture a full time practice. ChicaCircle.com is still lives as a design site for tween girls but without focused attention on marketing and PR, we have yet to realize full potential as introduction to the site at the younger age bracket relies on known branding (e.g. Webkidz) or introduction via a trusted adult. Through some introspection - we realized it was time to reinvent our efforts with the April, 2011 launch of a parallel site, Club ChicaCircle, where moms and their daughters connect through craftiness.

Lessons Learned

We continue to learn through this process. For our site evolution, we changed focus with our most recent launch when we quickly learned that young girls still rely on their mother or parent to be the gatekeeper, no matter how technically savvy. By connecting with so many empowered and inspirational women, we knew that there could be a creative inspirational space for both mothers and daughters to share. Here are a few key lessons we learned along the way that translate across industries:

  • Be crystal clear in your message -- We continue to work on this.
  • Be flexible -- In our case, giving up some of our infrastructure to stay lean.
  • Stay connected -- We continue to value connections made thru networking organizations like Women 2.0.
  • Leverage social media -- We leverage our Facebook page and Twitter accounts to drive connections to tween culture, mom bloggers and crafty sites.
  • Leverage free tools where possible.
  • Above all, we learned to just push forward -- Even if the content is not perfect and not all revenue streams are in place.

Slowing down to make sure all of the infrastructure is in place and the designs are perfect results in valuable lost revenue-opportunity time.

Bootstrapping Tools

After researching online resources, I taught myself the WordPress platform to prepare for the new site. We scour forums for the best plug-ins to add and other tools to leverage, including MailChimp for our email marketing list management. Because we are a virtual team, we use many free online tools to help keep us on track like iChat for when we need a face to face call, or Google docs so that the flow of information is always accessible. HootSuite is essential for our social media organization. We also take advantage of networking groups like Savor the Success and Women 2.0 and are participating in the Project Success program funded by the Institute of Entrepreneurial Women of Orange County. We also find a wealth of social media tips via SocialMouths.com.

Next Steps for Club ChicaCircle

Right now we are focused on adding content, building traffic and our expanding our subscriber list. We will be adding items (craft kits, t-shirts) to our shop that will be created by us or are offered through select partners. We will soon roll out an online summer camp program. Our business model focuses on craft kits and party items for our shop that complement our crafty and creative sensibility. We will supplement this with other revenue streams, including memberships and sponsorships.

We have self-funded our venture. It isn't always the most efficient (like teaching ourselves WordPress vs. contracting out) but the low cost model has allowed us to keep pushing ahead and to retain creative control. Our best lesson is to continue to adjust every day and in the words of Seth Godin: "Ship it!".

We encourage you to stay true to your passions knowing that hiccups will try to derail you along the way. We also encourage you to check out Club ChicaCircle, join our Club mailing list, provide feedback and send the link to an innovative friend who will appreciate the crafty content.

About the guest bloggers: Pauline Molinari (Co-Founder, Club ChicaCircle) is the creative magic behind Club ChicaCircle with a long bibliography of young adult & children’s titles bearing her creative talents, whether from art direction or end-to-end production. Her titles are in major bookstore chains as creative kits (ie. a how-to book bundled with materials to complete the play activity). Pauline holds a B.A. degree in Visual Communications from Northern Illinois University. Lynnee Jimenez (Co-Founder, Club ChicaCircle) manages business operations for Club ChicaCircle. She is most comfortable with her label maker and checklist (via iPad) in hand. Her background in finance and management with companies of all sizes from start-up mode to Fortune 100 give her grounding. You can find her balancing life with her tween daughter, Miranda, or her twin-toddler sons in Palo Alto, CA. Lynnee holds a B.S. in Accountancy, an MBA degree from the University of Illinois and a CPA designation.