Baby stepping into a side hustle

Baby stepping into a side hustle

I’m excited to share that I just launched First Peak, a line of baby clothes designed for active babies and toddlers.

I started working on First Peak as a side project, when I couldn’t find clothes on the market that could stand up to my son’s adventures. I’d spend nights, early mornings, and weekends contemplating ways to improve upon the clothes I had for Emory, and to solve the problems we kept running into while hiking, traveling, or just enjoying time outside. 

All First Peak clothes are made in California with a super soft, odor-resistant and quick-drying fabric. They have extra long, sun-safe sleeves and come in neutral colors, inspired by nature. I kid you not: my little guy can even wear the same item multiple days in a row — it stays fresh and keeps its shape. I’m truly proud of what I built, in part because of how much I’ve learned and how much fun I’ve had doing it. 

While my goal with this post is, yes, to promote First Peak and hope the product speaks to other families out there, it’s also to share what I’ve learned in the process. Starting a side business was not part of any “plan” for 2022, but it has been a highlight.  

baby in sampleEmory trying on the first sewn samples

One step at a time

To be clear, the message here is not “go find a side project.” Building First Peak has been a ton of work and has certainly required some good timing, a baby on a decent sleep schedule, and incredible support from my partner and network. Instead, my hope is to get this message across: “Don’t rule yourself out from starting something if you want to.”

For years, I’ve had product and project ideas — an app to improve the college application process, a tool to share travel itineraries more efficiently, easier-to-pack kid and baby gear — but I typically talked about these as fantasies, writing off that I simply “wasn’t someone who had side projects.” I saw myself as a strong executor and strategist within a broader project, keeping a fire going rather than being the initial spark. 

I’m not sure if it was the idle days at home during the pandemic, or the sheer frustration I was running into in dressing my son, but I made it further with this idea. At no point did I declare, “I’m starting a business now.” But I gave myself the allowance to pursue one more step at a time. I’d call a biotech company to learn about odor-resistant fabrics; I’d draft an email to the dye house in the North Bay; I’d extend a visit to see my parents in southern California so I could drive to East LA and check out a fabric production facility. 

Those little steps were fun! And they enabled me to shift my perspective away from “my goodness, am I starting a company?” to “how might I treat this like a course, with a series of skills to learn?” With that, I created a budget for the “course,” wrote out a list of questions I had, and started looking for “guest lecturers” that could help me out. It was never jumping in with two feet; it was a series of baby steps (all the more appropriate for a line of baby clothes!).

drop off at dye house
My first drop-off at the dye house

Better and bolder

If not already apparent from the last paragraph, I have a student’s mindset, and I’ve always found a lot of satisfaction in feeling like a “good student.” This certainly held me back in the early phases of First Peak: to me, the idea of having a side project implied that I’d have to slack at my “real job,” and that I’d be letting my team down. The surprise I encountered, however, was that First Peak made me feel more confident and capable at work, and enabled me to apply and dissect product principles with a new lens. A few specific benefits I’ll call out:

  • Heightened energy: The most obvious benefit from my experience starting First Peak is that it’s been wildly energizing. The work has such a clear linear relationship between input (e.g. an hour spent at the farmers’ market) and output (e.g. sales or brand reach at the market), which is a refreshing variation on the longer-term, more cross-functional efforts I often lead in my day job. Rather than “work brain” spilling over into nights and weekends, I’ve felt able to turn on an entirely different brain, and return to work refreshed when the time comes. I’ve also honed my skills at protecting my energy and better controlling my calendar. If I have to get to the sewing factory by 6:30pm on a Tuesday, I can’t let meetings spill past 5:45. Claiming that control of my time has been positive for my work, my project, and as a new mom.

  • New strategies for iterative development: My favorite part about product management is the creative problem solving it requires, and the opportunity to build, learn, and iterate in a continuous loop. First Peak has required significant ongoing iteration, and I’ve had the opportunity to pilot parts of the “product process” in a very new way. “Prototyping” felt particularly challenging to me at the outset, as I had no experience in garment manufacturing. This forced prudent prioritization of the questions I needed to answer, followed by creative thinking on the various “hows” to answer those questions (ads tests, market analyses, interviews, etc.). This is a skill I’ve felt better able to coach at work — learning methodologies need not be limited to a user research study or an A/B test; sometimes there’s a bespoke option waiting in the wings.

  • Operating with imperfect information: One notable take-away having gone through a round of garment manufacturing is that there are a lot of steps, and these steps take time and are often managed by entirely different entities. To make progress, I needed to coordinate across vendors, preparing 1-2 steps ahead to ensure smooth handoffs. That said, especially in the first few months of the project, I often felt held up in preparing steps 4 and 5 if steps 2 and 3 were still in flux. I had to grow at my ability to make decisions with limited or imperfect information, getting better at asking myself questions like, “what are the consequences of guessing ‘wrong’ in this instance?” or “how might the outcome change if this current step takes an unexpected turn?” Often these questions revealed that I felt more risk than was actually at play, and maintaining momentum through action had significant upside. I’ve carried this lesson back to work as well.
  • More effective advocacy: Talking about First Peak hasn’t felt easy. Over the past 9 months, I’ve felt shy about the project, and typically downplayed it to friends as “some little thing” I was working on. But especially in recent weeks since officially launching, I’ve had to get better at talking about First Peak to my direct network and to customers. This has provided a lot of space to practice — practice the pitch, practice exuding more confidence — while also learning more deeply about my customers and what resonates with them. I had to recognize that humility wasn’t doing me any favors; it was just making me less clear. In bringing this back to work, my ability to advocate for my needs and the needs of my team has certainly grown. I’m a bolder leader and I feel better able, in those moments of advocacy, to learn quickly about my audience and adjust my framing accordingly. Rather than feeling shy about early stage work, I see opportunity in talking about it.

finished product
Unpacking the first finished bibs

Don’t rule yourself out

I’m certain that there are others out there, particularly women, who see yourselves as “founding partners” more than “founders,” “focused professionals” more than “hustlers.” I relate to that, and I think those mindsets have served me quite well my entire career. At the same time, enabling myself to flip the script has unlocked creativity, energy, and boldness that I didn’t expect. Don’t rule yourself out, and you don’t need to fully commit to anything just yet.

And back to First Peak for a final moment: my hope is that this company can help more families feel confident exploring the world with their kids. I’d love your help in pursuing that goal, whether that’s by shopping, spreading the word, following (IG: @firstpeakbaby), or just taking a look! I’m excited to get more feedback and keep learning with this community. 

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1 comment

SUCH a great article/breakdown -so many morsels of wisdom. WELL DONE!

Nicki Wolfe

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