When longtime friends Andrea Wenner Hollander (pictured above left) and Solange Schipani walked into a toy store to buy a birthday present for Hollander's niece, they had no idea at the time that they were taking their first step toward creating their own future toy company, Wonderhood.
"We both have daughters and nieces, and we talked about how hard it was in general to find something that wasn't super stereotypical for them—either all pink or all about princesses or makeup or fashion," Schipani tells Mom.me via email. "The cool building sets and science kits almost all seemed to feature boys. It just felt like there was this underlying message that these activities were not meant for girls."
That got the pair talking about how that should change, how there should be other options to support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) subjects.
"And then it sort of dawned on us," Schipani continues. "Who better to create that option than two moms?"
Cut to summer of 2016, when the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their first production run. That fall, Hollander and Schipani officially opened Wonderhood online and in select toy stores.
The moms, who have four kids between them (two girls for Schipani, and one girl and one boy for Hollander), also talked to us about working together, girl power and balance.
What sets Wonderhood apart from other girl-focused building toys?
Andrea Hollander: One of the most unique things about Wonderhood is our simple, open-ended design. There are no step-by-step instructions because there is no “right" or “wrong" way to build—this means more creativity and less frustration. Kids use their imagination, problem-solving, fine-motor and spatial skills to make their own creations. The possibilities are endless!
Solange Schipani: Wonderhood Toys are not just about building—they are a great value because they engage kids on multiple levels, inspiring them to design, build and spend hours in imaginative play. Plus, there are fun accessories like an elevator, figurines and an activity journal that come with each set, inviting kids to invent stories and play out adventures in their structures.
A.H.: Lastly, but maybe most importantly, Wonderhood sets feature a variety of inspiring and relatable female lead characters. Each activity journal tells their story, and these diverse, positive role models show that there is not just one way to embrace your girl power or be a trailblazer—and we think that is important for all kids to see!
What is your work dynamic with your co-founder and fellow mom?
S.S.: We’ve been friends for over 10 years, so we know each other’s styles and strengths well. We value each other's contributions and are respectful of each other's priorities, constraints and outside commitments, so there's never a feeling of who's doing more or less, but rather that this is a true partnership.
A.H.: We are in constant communication, even when we're not sitting in the same office. And we are very open and honest with each other.
When did you first feel successful?
A.H.: When we took our first order from a total stranger, that was a great moment. We had been working on our idea for over a year and got a booth at the International Toy Fair with no sense of what it would be like. We hadn't yet done any marketing, so no one knew who we were or what Wonderhood was about. On the first afternoon, this one store from Maine came by and we gave her our pitch and she was sold. That was a really exciting moment because she had literally never heard of us, but she liked our mission and, more importantly, she thought our product was really well-executed, so she placed the order!
S.S.: For me, I think it was when we got an email from the New York Times last fall, and they said they wanted to include Wonderhood in their holiday gift guide. It was such a thrill to be hand-picked by such a well-regarded, national media outlet, and Wonderhood was one of only a few toys selected, so it really made us feel good about what we had created.
As a successful female entrepreneur, and creators of femme-friendly toys, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power"?
S.S.: We talk about this a lot. Fundamentally, we both want to encourage our kids to dream big and believe that anything is possible. Neither of our careers have been linear. We have taken risks and now founded a startup together, and we want to show our kids that they too can create their own path to happiness and success, and be anything they want to be.
Has there been anything about starting Wonderhood Toys that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
A.H.: When I first started seeing the reactions of little girls to our toys, it was so motivating and inspiring. It has been exciting to see how much they love the product and for so many different reasons. Some girls just really love the building aspect, others are more excited about the imaginative play, and others love using the activity journal. It really varies, and it's been tremendously rewarding to see how our toys speak to so many different interests and ways of playing.
S.S.: The thing that was unexpected for me was seeing how much my own daughters have learned in watching us build this business from scratch. They see me struggle through challenges and work to find solutions, and they're learning some important life lessons. And it feels great to hear one of my girls say with pride that "this is a toy that my mommy made."
It feels great to hear one of my girls say with pride that 'this is a toy that my mommy made.'
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
S.S.: When it's your own business, it never stops. So that means whether it’s a weekend, at night, or even if I’m away on vacation, I still need to check in and be on top of what's happening. On the plus side, running my own business allows for a lot of flexibility and I really value that. I create my own boundaries and can set aside time to be a chaperone on a school trip, go to my girls' after-school activities or just do something for myself. I may need to catch up on work later, but it's on my own terms.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
A.H.: Go for it! Don't jump in without doing your homework, of course, but if you've done your research, feel good about your concept, and have a solid plan to move ahead, then give it a shot. The other thing I would say is that having support is so critical. You want to be sure you have people to bounce ideas off of, talk through difficult decisions with, give guidance in areas where you may not have experience, and be willing to make introductions to others who might be in a position to help. We've been lucky to have each other in that respect and also our own personal networks of friends, family and colleagues who have not only been a great resource, but also just super supportive of what we are doing.
S.S.: A really helpful piece of advice that someone gave me is, “Don’t wait for perfect." When you are creating something new, it can be scary to send it out into the world, and, of course, you want it to be “perfect” when you do. But often, it is more important to get your idea to “great," and then put it out there for people to start reacting to it so you can get valuable feedback. You can always improve things, but you won’t know unless you start somewhere, and you may miss an opportunity by waiting.