Starting a business is never easy. Add a pandemic and three kids into the mix and it can seem downright impossible, but that’s just what Snuggy Buddy Baby founder Susan Bortone did.
I first heard about Snuggy Buddy Baby from Taking Cara Babies founder Cara Dumaplin. With 1.7 million followers on Instagram Dumaplin doesn’t give out recommendations lightly, so I knew the brand had to be something special. And Snuggy Buddy Baby is indeed very special!
The brand makes wearable lovey blankets – basically they’re a sleep sack designed to solve the problem of not being able to safely leave a toy in the crib with your baby because the plush lovey is attached to the wearable blanket- Snuggy Buddy Baby even has a design for tummy sleeping and they donate fabrics to Project Linus, to make blankets for babies and kids in need.
We caught up with Bortone to find out more about how Snuggy Buddy Baby started and how she manages to juggle so many balls.
Momtastic: Can you tell us a little bit about your background before becoming a mom?
Susan Bortone: I grew up in upstate New York and spent most of my career working/living in NYC. I have always been in the creative field and entrepreneurial/business minded. I am a former ad agency Art Director, who moved into the staffing and recruitment representing creative/digital talent. Over the past 15 years I have built and lead sales and recruitment teams working closely with clients across ad agencies, entertainment networks and fortune 500 brands.
Momtastic: How did becoming a mum inspire your business?
Susan Bortone: As a sleepless new mum, if you had ever told me my babies inability to sleep through the night would some day lead to launching a company, I would probably have told you, you were crazy! But our official brand name is actually Snuggy Buddy Baby By, Roc & Oli. Roc and Oli are my kids, who fully inspired the brand. As babies they would each wake 4-5 times a night, no matter what I tried. They both needed the comfort of holding a soft, plush lovey, but being a safety-first kind of mum, I knew it wasn’t safe to leave the lovey in the crib with them. So after they would fall asleep, I would take the lovey out of the crib and sure enough they would wake looking for it shortly after. I tried everything to get them to sleep and nothing worked. I finally started designing. I created the first prototype when my daughter was six months old. The first time she used it, she slept through the night! I made a few for friends, who all tried it with the same result. That’s when I knew we were on to something and I had to create this to help other parents and babies too.
Momtastic: It’s not easy to balance running a business with being a mum – any tips or tricks?
Susan Bortone: The past year and a half has definitely been a challenge for us all. Launching a business mid-pandemic, working full-time from home with the kids in remote school, not to mention laundry, dishes and all the other things you notice you need to do when you are home all day. As mums, we want to do it all. I have found it’s impossible to do everything and do it all well. I like to make a list each day with my priorities, what are my top goals/tasks for the day and what are my bonus items if I find the time. I like to carve out time to dedicate to each task separately, creating a schedule to help me get through the list.
It is important to give yourself some grace to be flexible with it though, knowing things never fully go as planned. Also, I try to set expectations for the day with my kids, so they know when they will have my full attention and I make sure to be fully present for that time. For example, I let them know in advance if I only have 30 minutes for lunch, then have to go back to working and make sure to spend that full 30 minutes truly focusing on them.
We also started doing rose, thorn, bud at night. (What made you happy, sad and what are you excited for tomorrow) this helps me understand what is really important to my kids and what they are most excited for the next day, so I know where I need to be most present for them.
Momtastic: What have been some of the biggest challenges when it comes to the business?
Susan Bortone: Navigating production without having a background in product development, apparel or retail has been a true learning curve. I’ve learned (in both business and parenting!) it’s OK to admit what you don’t know and ask for help. I have met other mums who have launched their own brands and they have been so great and willing to offer insight to their experience and expertise! Also, find a factory who can be a good partner and is willing to help give some guidance. Snuggy Buddy launched mid-pandemic so it was definitely a bumpy few months trying to navigate what was going on in the world around us and getting our product ready for market, but I have learned so much in the process and the reviews and the feedback we have gotten from clients has truly been worth it!
Momtastic: At any point did you think about giving up on Snuggy Buddy Baby ? If so, what kept you going?
Susan Bortone: Yes. Many times. You don’t realise how much goes into starting a business, from idea, to drawing, to pattern, to prototype, to patents and trademarks, insurance, sourcing fabrics, production, all the behind the scenes work until you actually dive in. I spent about 2.5 years designing, testing and refining the product before we launched. You really have to be passionate about it and willing to give it all you have got. I think being in sales for 15+ years (and being a mom!) has taught me that there are always waves and you have to be able to ride them. Get excited about the wins, but know they are temporary and you have to be prepared and ok with the hurdles, challenges and lows that will come your way too and if you keep pushing forward you will get through them and get to the next win. Giving up is easy, but perseverance and believing in yourself is worth it in the end.
My kids have heard me talk about the journey of creating Snuggy Buddy since the start. I want to teach my kids when things get hard, you need to find a way to push forward. To not give up. To believe in themselves and teach them if they put in the hard work they can do anything and build something from just an idea. That it is okay to have hiccups and learning from them is what makes you better.
Momtastic: Can you tell us, in general, some of your favourite parenting must-have items?
Susan Bortone: Baby Breeza is a must for any new mum or dad! It was an absolute life saver when it came to middle of the night feedings. 7am Enfant Stroller Warmmuffs are a great gift for any new mum, especially those with winter babies who want to get out for walks on chilly days. The Baby Bjorn Bouncer our kids both absolutely loved it as babies and were so soothed by it. And, of course, Snuggy Buddy!