I started a business with a baby: Melinda Holohan of eleventyone Limited

Tell us a little about your business

I’ve always wanted to start on my own but never really had the opportunity or an idea that I thought was worthwhile. But in late summer 2009 the pieces fell into place and I started my company called eleventyone Limited, which focuses on developing practical and useful products for the children’s market. I initially came up with a product that I eventually had to put on hold due to development issues, but almost simultaneously I invented and designed a new educational toy calendar called Circa that helps children understand the concept of the calendar in a more intuitive and tactile way. I have a third product in development and the plan is for Circa to hopefully pay for costs towards that product.

What was your job before starting your business?

I’m a mixed bag of tricks. Most recently, I worked in the sales and marketing department of an asset management company for almost 8 years working in various roles, the last one as a project manager. However, my background is in graphic design and marketing, and I spent several years as strategic research manager in media advertising profiling consumers.

How did you go from your old career to your new business?

I am probably classified as a victim of the financial crisis, as I was made redundant in 2009. But being made redundant was the best thing that happened to me, as it not only forced me to seriously re-evaluate my life but also allowed me to explore other opportunities. So I don’t consider myself a victim of the crisis.

What were your reasons for starting a business?

I used to work very long hours before having children. However, I suffered a personal tragedy that made me re-assess and re-prioritise the important things in my life. When I returned to work from my maternity leave with my daughter, I knew immediately that I no longer had the motivation or the inclination to work the long hours required. So when I was made redundant I sat down and wrote two lists: what I was good at and what my area of expertise was. I was good at problem solving and my area of expertise was my children. Hence, I came up with the idea of setting up a company that put the two together, i.e. developing practical and useful products for the children’s market – things that I found a need for as a parent myself.

Did you use any childcare?

When I was made redundant my children were both attending nursery full time and they loved it. I didn’t want them to be affected by my losing my job and missing out on their friends and their daily activities, so I made the decision to use my severance package on keeping them in nursery. It worked two ways, as not only were my children in a safe and familiar environment, but it allowed me the time and freedom to learn about starting a business.

How did you get your business idea?

My son was the inspiration behind Circa. One evening he asked me when he could go swimming again and I struggled to explain to him on a traditional calendar when Tuesday would come round again. Reading the calendar from left to right and in a zig zag motion was confusing for him. Why wasn’t the calendar presented in a circular format for children? I decided to design an educational toy calendar that breaks each of the components of the calendar into manageable pieces, allowing children to interact with the calendar in a more fun, engaging and tactile manner, and more importantly learning at their own individual paces.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

Bringing a product to market is not easy and it has been a very steep learning curve. However, there have been many fantastic people who have started a business before me and have been great in sharing their experiences with me and giving advice. What I have learnt though, is that it is vital that you know exactly what product or service you have in mind and if plan A doesn’t work, that you have a plan B and a plan C. Things never go the way you want them to, so it’s crucial that you know how to solve the problem before it happens or at least have a backup plan.

What training, information or advice did you need to get started?

I started off going to business workshops that were held by my local Business Link, but the British Library has proven to be invaluable in their research facilities as well as the workshops held at their premises. Additionally, networking groups such as She’s Ingenious! have been fantastic in offering support and advice.

If you could give one  piece of advice to a mum of a baby or toddler starting a business, what would it be?

Never be afraid to ask questions. If the whole starting a business process is new to you, as it was for me, then ask, ask, ASK! People are generally very helpful and supportive, so it’s better to ask than to assume or worse not know and get it awfully wrong.

For more, see www.eleventyone111.com, www.circacalendar.com and www.facebook.com/circacalendar

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