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
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
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
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
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