More than a decade ago, Lisa Kothari started her kid’s party planning business – Peppers and Pollywogs http://www.pepperspollywogs.com/ – as a part time business in Washington D.C. Three years into the business, however, she realized that she wanted change: she packed up her bags; left her job, closed her business, and left the country.
She returned to the United States in 2005, relocating in Seattle. This time, she restarted Peppers and Pollywog with a renewed sense of vigor, readiness and commitment. Timing was just right and everything fell into place.
Today, Lisa is a well known author and a nationally known party planning expert. Her book, “Dear Peppers and Pollywogs… What Parents Want to Know About Planning Their Kids’ Parties,” is a must-have for parents planning a party for their kids. We interviewed Lisa about the struggles and challenges of running her own business.
What is the concept behind Peppers and Pollywogs? What makes it different from other kids’ party businesses?
Peppers and Pollywogs is All About Kids’ Parties and its premise is that no matter how much time or money a person has, a great kids’ party can always be planned. My business seeks to show parents how to do this.
Why a kid’s party planning business? What attracted you to this business?
In 1997 I was living in Washington, DC and observing how many over-the-top kids’ parties were being organized. However, there were no services offered to parents to help them plan these parties within a reasonable price frame. The kids’ party industry allowed me to follow my passion for creativity, fun, children and being organized and simultaneously helping parents with their kids’ parties. It was a win-win!
I read that you first started Peppers and Pollywogs as a part time business in Washington DC in 1997. How did you envision the business then?
When I first began Peppers and Pollywogs, I always thought of it as a regional party/event planning service for families.
You closed your business, left your full time job and left the country for three years.
When you came back in 2005, what made you decide to re-start Peppers and Pollywogs? What made it different this time?
Serendipity! I met a partner who had just completed his MBA and written a business plan around the inefficiencies of the kids’ party market. What are the chances? What made it different in 2005 was the business was set up as web-based to empower parents to plan their own kids’ parties. Although I still occasionally plan parties as I used to, 98% of my business is via the Internet.
What did you do differently the second time around in terms of preparations before re-starting the business?
When I launched in 1997, it was a very grassroots start in that I simply put a flyer out around my community for kids’ party planning and within a few months people began to call. In 2006, my partner and I worked to survey our target market, and see what features, content, etc. they would be interested in for a niche site like Peppers and Pollywogs. Once this targeted market survey was complete, we set out to provide content and build a technology platform that made kids’ party planning time efficient and budget-friendly.
What was the most difficult part of re-starting Peppers and Pollywogs?
I have always had a tremendous amount of passion for kids’ parties and the industry. However, I did make the jump from actually planning kids’ parties in a hands-on fashion, to writing about planning kids’ parties and thinking through how technology and a web platform could streamline the process. That is a different skill-set from event planning in real time. It has been excellent to gain experience in both.
Do you have partners or investors in the business?
Yes. The company took in a small round of family and friends investment in January 2007. During 2006, the founders bootstrapped the company. We are preparing for our Series A investment round this fall.
How did you finance your business (e.g. personal funds, loans, etc.)? What were the challenges you faced while looking for financing during the startup phase?
During the first year, we used our own personal funds to finance the business. I believe unless I believe in it and have backed it with my own money, and seen progress, how could I ask anyone else to risk with me. After that initial round, we took in a small round of family and friends investment which has taken us to the next round of funding for growth. Many early-stage companies take in multiple rounds of funding to grow. This will be my second.
How big is the business now, revenue-wise (a ballpark figure will do)?
How are you marketing Peppers and Pollywogs?
Early on after we re-launched the business, I sought to become a media expert on kids’ parties. My first step toward meeting this goal was to self-publish a book that I could then market via TV spots, interviews, new and traditional media coverage. The book, Dear Peppers and Pollywogs…, has been a critical piece of my marketing strategy and has yielded major growth for the company in terms of media presence and visibility and traffic numbers to the site.
What are the toughest challenges of running Peppers and Pollywogs?
It’s tough as a sole founder to know everything, understand everything, and be able to run all aspects equally. The natural thing to do is to hire consultants or staff to help you in those areas that are not your strengths, however, you must also balance limited resources that you have available in terms of time and your own budget. Knowing where to put the limited resources to fill in the gaps that are not my strengths is always a challenge…but an exciting one!
Do you have any business blooper/s with Peppers and Pollywogs? How did you learn from it?
When I re-launched Peppers and Pollywogs with my partner back in 2006, I owned fully my realm of expertise and left the other areas up to my partner to decide on which I did not feel were my strengths, i.e. the technology platform, advertising models, the company’s financial projections. By not understanding all areas of the business, I wasn’t as proactive as I should have been when making decisions in these areas outside of my own area of expertise. After my partner left, I had to take ownership for the entire business, even those that I felt seriously unqualified to take on. However, it has been empowering to learn about my total business in the past 12 months and steer it in new directions. Certainly, I understand my entire business now, even if I delegate those parts to consultants and staff. It’s good to be in the know and to learn if you are not, after all it is your business!
What do you think are the factors that make Peppers and Pollywogs successful?
I absolutely love what I do. I love helping people plan their kids’ parties and come up with ideas that suit all budgets and time frames. It is really my passion and fun for me and so I have loads and loads of energy to meet my mission. I also think Peppers and Pollywogs offers a place for parents and others to come and get information they are looking for quickly to suit their needs. I also provide a Web Ask-Me feature where consumers can ask me their questions directly if they can’t find it on my site. This feature allows me to personally connect with the market.
How are you balancing a successful business, family and other interests?
It’s important to find the balance so you don’t burnout. I try to start the day with some exercise, take some time off on the weekends to be with my family and explore other interests, and when I am away from my work, I consciously let my mind have the break. The balance is particularly important because if you are always engaged with it, things are hard to see from a fresh perspective.
What are your plans in the next 5 years for Peppers and Pollywogs?
Growth! Grow my staff, my entertainer/party venue directory, and card inventory, add features to the site to further help parents plan more aspects of their kids’ parties, and continue to build my media profile and brand.
Do you have any lessons you wish to share to other entrepreneurs?
It’s a great ride to be an entrepreneur, but like any ride there are the highs and lows. Perseverance is the key especially at the very beginning when you are just starting out and nobody knows who you are or what you are doing. That’s the time where you get more no’s than yes’s…stick with it…find people who have been where you are and gain strength from the knowledge that everyone is doing it by putting one step in front of the other each day. If you have passion and love what you are doing…the journey is worth it!