Talk about a super woman. Carolina Gerstein had a high-powered job in the tech industry and was at the top of her game— she was even named one of the Top 100 Hispanics in Technology and ranked as one of the Top 50 Colombian Professionals. But this mom of two beautiful girls left all that behind to start her own line of nursing covers, Poncho Baby—the first nursing cover to cover both your front and your back (thank you, Carolina!) The line now features several baby items from chic bandana bibs to baby blankets to washcloths, and Poncho Baby continues to grow.
Are you wondering what could possibly motivate a working mom to leave her secure well paying job to try to navigate the waters of being an entrepreneur? We did too! Read on to find out why and to learn more about this multitalented mother.
How did you come up with the concept for your business
and at what point did you decide to make it a reality?
Becoming a mom for the first time
was really significant. Since breastfeeding was a very challenging experience
for me with my first baby, I was very passionate about breastfeeding and wanted
to support my friends and family who also wanted to breastfeed their babies. I
noticed that the nursing covers available had a lot of patterns, which distracted the baby and did not provide back coverage. That was crucial for me since I was often feeding in public or pumping in a very cold office while
working. It inspired me to launch Poncho Baby with the nursing covers as the initial
I wanted to be able to see my
baby, have coverage around back and I also wanted to use a very breathable fabric
materials. I came up with the design, got it patented, and figured out how and
where to get it manufactured in the U.S. That was important to me, because so
few baby products are made in the USA.
As I was working on the nursing
covers, I noticed that they were very few products in the market focused on
moms on-the-go. Most of the products only offer one function, which makes it
hard for moms who have to carry very heavy, huge diaper bags. I believe moms
want more multifunctional, compact products. We are always traveling with our
girls to see family across the country or internationally—we’re all over the
place! So now I’m turning my other ideas into products I can share with other busy
How do you make the leap from a secure
paid job to starting your own business?
After having my second baby, and while I was still working
full-time in technology, I started with research for the business. I created
surveys and conducted focus groups to get a better understanding about the
market and the consumer’s needs. Next, I started creating prototypes that were
evaluated by friends and I also shared with new moms at the Pump Station, a
breastfeeding resource center in Hollywood.
Since the initial concept was well received by people in
the industry, buyers and potential customers, I decided to patent the design
before I launched the company. It was a daunting experience, since I have never
patented a product in the past. However, I was very fortunate to have excellent support from a good patent lawyer, Ted Maceiko, who was highly
recommended by a contact on the East
After we got product requests from multiple accounts, and
then repeat orders, and our patent design was filed, my husband and I decided
that I should focus on Poncho Baby products solely. At that point, the product
was in beta mode. Now, I plan to make it successful as I have for other
products I helped launch, at companies such as Citibank, Yahoo! and Oracle.
How much money should someone have saved before
starting their own business?
The capital investment depends on the type of industry and
the scope (local, national or international) that a business owner wants to
achieve. You need to assess the initial set-up cost, as well as the variable
costs, before the business will become profitable. It is important to have
enough capital either personally or through investors to give the company the
chance to be successful.
How long did it take for you to be profitable?
It takes a few years to become a profitable business, and
there’s a lot of reinvesting in the meantime. It's really important to create a
good capital foundation for the setup and for at least two years of initial
Was there a moment when you wanted to give up but
pushed on through anyway?
When Poncho Baby was in the initial stages, I received
several amazing job offers in the tech world, including general manager and
vice president roles. These offers were very hard to pass on. However, I
believed that Poncho Baby had a great potential, where I could apply not only
my skills in industrial engineering and use my MBA but also test my experience
in marketing, product, technology and finance. Its been great working with my
team and being able to apply vision and strategy to all facets of the
business. Sure, I'm still a technology geek at heart. I love to keep up with
the latest trends, so now I explore ways to apply technology within the baby
and mom industry.
How do you balance your work/home life, or is there
even such a thing?
It’s always a challenge when you
are running a business and have a family; you need to have clear priorities
each day and have a supportive environment. My husband and I, though we work in
totally different industries, are very respectful boosters of each other. I
also believe you have to take care of yourself, which for me means taking a
yoga class, going for a hike or meeting a friend for a juice.
What was the best advice you ever received? Worst
My dad was an executive for a large company in Colombia and
also had his own business. He gave me the best advice, which is to be positive
and to be very focused on quality for products and services. My dad is the most positive person I have ever met. Even though he is a survivor of three
different types of cancer, he always has a positive outlook, even when he is
going through a tough chemotherapy series.
Worst advice: People asking, “Why you are taking such a
risk of launching a business when you have a great job?” I think that people
have their best intentions. Some people are risk averse and wouldn’t think to
take such a risk. However, I am very methodical about taking new risks, which
has helped me moved from product/trading at Citibank on Wall Street, to
product/marketing in technology in California with great companies such as
Oracle, Yahoo! and CityGrid.
Since you’ve been through it, what would you tell
someone starting out?
you need to love what you want to do. Understand the needs of your customer and
the competitive landscape before you launch a new product. It is important to
think in terms of a brand and product differentiation instead of one, single
willing to take risks; while you’ll create a business plan, you’ll have to
continually modify and enhance it. You may have to evolve your ideas, and that
is OK. Surround yourself with a support group of friends, family and
other entrepreneurs, and when it is your turn, please provide support and
advice to other potential business owners.
It takes a village for any mom, but for a mom
starting her own business, it must take a huge village. So who are
your go-to people/services?
Local stores and the retail community. I get such great
feedback about the products from customers and stores in my area. I also have a
great group of friends who have their own businesses or specialize in different
fields, like marketing and finance, and we share advice.
Second, I buy a lot of organic food. We go with our girls
to the farmers’ market at least twice a month. They have learned to appreciate
farmers and how to choose organic products. When I travel internationally, I
love to visit those markets, too, picking up wild berries in Paris or delicious olives in Barcelona.
Finally, take me through a day in your life.
We wake up very
early in the morning since our older daughter goes to first grade. I like to
drink a nice cup of smooth Colombia coffee while checking my email, then I go
to meetings. My creative work is usually done either early in the morning. On
Monday, we usually check the core priorities with my team. Sometimes I meet
downtown with my manufacturing team, other times I might have appointments with
store buyers. We participate in trade shows, so I love to be creative about the
booth design. In the afternoon, the best energy boost is dark chocolate. I
follow up with our PR person or sales reps, then I get the girls from school.
If work is very intense and I cannot make it to yoga class, I like to get my
yoga mat in the garden as a break. At night my husband and I relax after the
girls go to sleep, unless we have a major deadline.