MiliMili Founder, Kelsey Searles’s, on Disrupting the Nursery Goods Industry and having a Growth Mindset
Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
It all started with a gift. Well, it all started with a one-year-old’s birthday in 2018. And for that birthday, a crafty, jane-of-all-trades friend (meet: Rose) couldn’t find a gift bold enough to match the bright style of the baby and her mama (that’s me, Kelsey, a former Interior Designer who loves big prints). At a loss, Rose dusted off her sewing machine and decided to make a custom wearable blanket in a pink and teal flamingo print for Kelsey’s tot. Funny timing of it was—I had been looking for wearable baby blankets and baby goods that were, well, less sucky. I was tired of sweet, precious, and overly gendered prints. I was tired of junky zippers and fabric that felt like it was chemically treated. I was looking for the perfect safe, breathable, quality wearable blankets and sheets that didn’t make my child a sopping bucket of sweat during hot LA summer nights. The gift was awesome— and from it the concept for MiliMili was born: bold and colorful nursery goods for the modern and vibrant family.
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
I adore connecting with other woman owned businesses and seeing where our strategic and creative minds can help one another.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I studied entrepreneurship at USC for my undergrad, and was raised by two entrepreneurs – so it was actually more surprising to me that it took a full decade post college for me to find the right inspiration and business concept to get me to make the jump from employee to business owner! But having a baby really changed my perspective on a lot of things and was the perfect catalyst to start my entrepreneurial journey.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Interior Design + I.T. Sales & Recruiting (odd mix, yes.)
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yep! It’s in my blood.
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?
We had two launches, really. A soft launch to friends and family, where we wanted to create a product, see how it sold, iterate on it and improve. Then the real launch of our first full collection to the public in summer of 2019. The first was a learning experience that helped improve the second. The first we had assumed more word of mouth would have just naturally happened and we’d get some referral sales as a result, despite our focus on just launching to friends and family (that didn’t really happen.) But it helped us in our real launch in 2019 – where we gave all those friends and family, who now had 6 months experience with our product, custom discount codes for them to share to their networks and really mobilized them to do some marketing for us. We also did a lot of PR outreach to major mom publications during this time and sent out product for them to test. The combo of both made the real launch really move the needle.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge overall has been financing. We have self-funded this venture so far, and so many of the companies we are competing against have big ad spend. Our growth has largely been via word of mouth and press. So while we grow – we’re not where we want to be or where we know we could be given our superior product and style. What we’ve learned from 3 years of dealing with this? To really grow the way we want we have to get some larger institutional or seed financing. We are working on that now – we started by applying to every grant on the face of the planet that fit our profile. Now we’re looking at banks to see what they can offer us.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
The collection we are launching this Friday with the non profit Pronoun by Jesse Tyler Ferguson!
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Ha. Yes I believe in it – but have I achieved it? No. Though I tell myself that I get to be so much more involved in my kids lives as an entrepreneur – because even if I work more, I do get more say on when and how that work happens. In terms of advice? Find your tribe and surround yourself with friends who support your journey and this phase of your life – you’re busy, you don’t have time to reply to every text in a timely manner, and you’ll probably forget some stuff. But if you have the right circle around you, they’ll be there to help out when you need it (childcare, social media shout outs, an ear to complain to when you feel overwhelmed). I’m lucky to have amazing friends who have been there for me for decades, and new friends who are also entrepreneurs who just get the journey we’re on – and we all seek to help each other in any way we can.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
This is something I knew before this journey, but that always is useful to remind yourself as you grow busier and busier: you get out of it what you put into it.
What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
We designed a custom collection in collaboration with Pronoun by Jesse Tyler Ferguson that launched 5/27/22. All profits from the sale of this collection go Pronoun and their efforts to advocate for equity, equality, and liberation for all. We’ve been working on this collection for over a year and it means the absolute world to us and we are so excited to finally tell the world about it (not to mention the huge boon it was to our business that a celebrity reached out to US to take on creating this incredibly meaningful collection of DO-GOODS.)
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We aim to expand our product line to fill your nursery, and someday the rest of your home, with big bold colors and prints. Think of us as the modern antidote to the overly precious and gendered Pottery Barn Baby/Kids.