In Conversation with Jill Apgar of Coco Beans
Describe Coco Beans in a few words?
Coco Beans uses the natural magic of 100% silk to deliver better sleep for little beans (and parents, too). 100% silk is naturally hypoallergenic and temperature regulating and the smooth surface makes it ideal for delicate hair and skin! Our first product is a 100% silk crib sheet.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I began working on the idea when I took some time off after adopting my daughter, Cora. She is biracial and I was searching for a solution to care for her beautiful curly hair and very delicate brown skin. I shared with my best friend that I was having trouble finding a product that met my high quality standards from a brand that represented my family’s diversity. She reminded me that I built my career turning concepts into reality and suggested I do it myself! My husband supported the idea and so I got to work. I sourced the silk fabric and had some samples made locally and loved the results (Cora was my very first wear tester). By then, Cora was 9 months old and I accepted a full time position. I put the business on hold, but continued to use the samples and they held up beautifully over time. Fast forward to July 2020 and I was laid off due to a pandemic related corporate restructure. I still felt strongly that there was a white space in the market and so I renamed the business Coco Beans (Cora’s nickname) and decided I would target an October launch!
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I spent 12 years in corporate retail at some of the world’s most iconic brands. I started a merchant training program immediately after graduating from college and it turned out to be a great fit. Merchandising is equal parts art and science allowing me to express my creativity while leveraging data analytics to make key decisions.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No! However, in hindsight, I’ve probably maintained an entrepreneurial spirit throughout my life. I’ve always been a dreamer with lots of ideas but Coco Beans was the first that I felt inspired to truly pursue. I want to build something that my daughter can be proud of.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I launched Coco Beans with a presale on the I Fund Women platform and relied heavily on my personal network to reach our goal. I wanted to pre-sell $25K worth of sheets to prove my concept and get initial feedback. The response from my friends and family was incredible. They are the reason the launch was successful. I did, however, underestimate how hard it is to grow beyond that initial layer of contacts. Reaching a broader audience on a limited budget is challenging and I’m still learning every day.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I sorely underestimated how challenging it is to grow an audience. I expected that growth would be organic and fast and have since discovered that it takes a lot of work and time. I was familiar with a corporate environment with a hyper focused sense of urgency and have been forced to be more strategic and patient.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m proud of taking the initiative to launch Coco Beans. It was definitely a risk to give up the security of a corporate job but I believe profoundly in the mission and so far it’s been very rewarding.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I haven’t hired for Coco Beans yet, but I’ve hired many on the corporate side. I like to ask what inspires someone. I think it’s easy for a candidate to craft thoughtful and intelligent responses to most professional questions, but it’s much more difficult to articulate what motivates you. I’m interested in surrounding myself by people that are self aware and thrive with a sense of purpose.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I launched Coco Beans in October 2020 so I’ve only known operating my own business during the pandemic. It has certainly made some things more challenging. I’ve had to do most communication with vendors and parters virtually which has ultimately slowed the process down. It’s forced me to adapt and think creatively about everything from sampling and logistics to networking.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are so excited to continue creating dreamy sleep environments for little beans AND parents using the natural magic of 100% silk. In terms of product, we will be introducing new colors and prints as well as expanding our style assortment beyond crib sheets. When it comes to people, I founded Coco Beans on the very principle of diversity and inclusion. As the brand grows, I intend to stay true to that foundation by building a female led organization with women representing both racial diversity and a broad range of professional backgrounds.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Gratitude. I am thankful for my health, my family, and the amazing network of supporters that have helped me both personally and professionally. There are days when I feel like I’m failing or need to achieve more but 2020 has put those thoughts into perspective.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish I had started sooner! Starting a business is like trial by fire and I’m constantly learning every day. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start learning.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Spending time outside. I have never believed more in the power of fresh air.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I think balance is a fantasy. Technology has blurred the lines between work and life and the endless pursuit of the ultimate balance creates a mountain of additional pressure. I think the best advice I could give anyone is to trust your gut. Sometimes my work suffers because my family life requires more from me in the moment and vice versa. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible support system. Every day isn’t easy, but my family and friends help me weather the storms. I also think it’s important to give yourself grace, I know easier said than done (especially if you’re type A). At the end of the day, I want to feel proud and that can mean something different from one week to the next.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I studied finance and economics in college and thought for sure that I would wind up on Wall Street. Fashion and retail wasn’t even on my radar until my senior year. After multiple rejections from the big banks, I ended up interning at Escada in NYC and learned about merchandising. I then cold emailed the recruiter at Abercrombie and Fitch and he mentioned that they would be on campus that fall. I interviewed and accepted a full time role which meant moving to Columbus, OH after spending my entire life in New York and New Jersey! I’ve been here for 12 years and have worked for Abercrombie, DSW and Victoria’s Secret PINK!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- SLEEP (on silk, of course)! I get between 7-8 hours each night.
- To do lists… I thrive with lists and am constantly reprioritizing.
- Breaks and exercise…I like to get outside for a walk or bike ride. I’m also a big fan of the peloton bike (Robin and Ally Love are my favorite instructors).
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Phylicia Rashad once said “Any time women come together with collective intention, it’s a powerful thing.” The power of the Entreprenista community is tangible and I feel thankful to be surrounded by such inspiring women.