Mom Entrepreneur Molly O’Kane and Best Friend Molly Mundy See a Growing Business in Buying and Selling Gently Owned Children’s Clothing and Gear Online
Getting ready for her second child, San Francisco mom Molly O’Kane cleaned out her two-year-old son’s closet. She found new clothes with tags on, and others worn only once or twice before they were outgrown. What a shame, she thought, that those adorable clothes – many of them cherished gifts – sat stored away.
O’Kane talked with other moms who faced the same dilemma. They wanted their children’s precious clothing to go someplace special, to a family that appreciated them – not in the bottom of a thrift shop bin. Likewise, they wanted to find new homes for their hardly used strollers, bassinets and other gear. That’s when O’Kane got the idea for Sweet Sprouts.
She took her concept of an online children’s consignment boutique to the Keiretsu Forum, a competition similar to TV’s Shark Tank, hosted by her Alma matter, Saint Mary’s School of Economics and Business Administration of California. With only three minutes to pitch her idea using no visual aids, and five minutes to field judges’ questions, O’Kane wowed the panel, winning mentorship to start her venture.
“Through Kiretsu I was able to receive mentorship and gain a true understanding of venture capitalist funding and angel funding,” said O’Kane, who took the reigns as Sweet Sprouts CEO. “The best advice I received was to bring the idea to fruition without taking venture capital funding or angel funding. This way I could really make the business my own, instead of answering to funding requirements.”
With confidence in her idea, which entrepreneur experts believed had the potential to be a $30 million business in five to 10 years, O’Kane got the financial support of family and friends to begin building Sweet Sprouts. Along with her MBA education, O’Kane found her background as a registered dietician and former school nutritionist was helpful and inspirational in during Sweet Sprouts’ start-up phase.
“I was used to being creative to stretch lean budgets when I had to devise healthy menus for school children,” said O’Kane.
During the time O’Kane was developing her new business, similar sites sprang up, but O’Kane set Sweet Sprouts apart from the competition by offering sellers a much higher profit margin for their sales. To avoid the pitfalls that her competition faced, O’Kane put strict quality controls in place regarding what could be sold on the site and guidelines for interactions between users, so high-rated sellers would attract more buyers, and low-rated members would be removed from the community.
O’Kane’s philosophy was that families came first. The site was designed to save families up to 75 percent of what they would pay for clothes and gear at a retail store, and it offered families an easy and safe way to sell their goods. There would be no need for an appointment or a trip to a consignment store, and sellers would not have to invite strangers from sites like Craigslist to their home for transactions.
O’Kane offers several ways for sellers to be involved on the site. They can sell items for themselves and earn up to 80 percent of the sale price. They can become a local Sweet Sprouts boutique owner and sell items for other families and earn up to 50 percente on sales, or they can ship items to Sweet Sprouts for Personal Seller Service and net up to 75 percent of the sales. For moms like herself, O’Kane wanted to offer users the opportunity to be part of the Sweets Sprouts enterprise and work from home with a flexible schedule.
To help her realize her vision, O’Kane enlisted the help of best friend and former college roommate Molly Mundy, a former social worker and now stay-at-home mom. The two shared many things in common, besides their first names. Both had a dedication to social service, both had a young child at home, and both were seeking a way to stay home with their children while supplementing their family incomes. Mundy also had specialized skills in social media as a proficient user of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks.
Together the Mollys came up with a Sweet Sprouts site that gave back to the community by donating a portion of every sale to local charities. They created a user interface that was intuitive and simple-to-use, so users could easily upload photos and descriptions of their items to sell. They also loaded the site with rich social and interactive features. The Sweet Sprouts that grew aimed to help other moms “make money, make connections, and make a difference.”
“We, like many moms, want to contribute to the household income but still have the flexibility to choose our own schedule, allowing us to be present for our children when they needed us. Sweet Sprouts offers us the opportunity to do that,” said Mundy.
O’Kane and Mundy work on Sweet Sprouts several hours a day, in between their children’s nap times and other breaks in their day. The experience has been rewarding financially and otherwise. Particularly gratifying for both women has been their ability to help non-profit organizations fundraise, giving them an alternative to ubiquitous candy selling fundraisers, which former nutritionist O’Kane believed promoted kids eating unhealthy, sugary candy.
“I figured that an exchange of clothes, like an online swap meet, would be a much better way to support schools, churches, sports teams and other non-profits. They wouldn’t have to do candy sales, and they could sell the clothes year round,” said O’Kane.
Another way O’Kane and Mundy feel Sweet Sprouts can make a difference is by helping moms meet each other, virtually and in person. Through local Sweet Sprouts boutiques, moms can get together for sales events, and online they can share stories, challenges and triumphs of motherhood. As a first-time mom and former social worker, Mundy appreciates the value of these online and personal relationships and the power of the Internet as a resource for support. She regularly updates the Sweet Sprouts blog, Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages with helpful information for other mothers.
“We wanted to give other moms the ability to use the site to connect to each other. During the first year with a new baby, many moms struggle to find one-on-one time with their friends. Being able to share their stories and give each other support and advice can help them feel they are not alone,” said Mundy. “Sweet Sprouts provides a place for moms to grow together.”