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I Am American Business

Julie Aigner-Clark

Producer Notes

Julie Aigner-Clark now works out of her beautiful home on a hilltop outside of Denver, so we spent the day with her there. The kids in the shoot were all neighborhood friends and played in the back yard in-between shots. What struck me most was her concern about parents who just plop their babies down in front of the television screen. As a former teacher and a devoted mom, she really believes in her videos as another way for parents to connect with their children before the kids are old enough for books. She is disheartened by the idea that the videos can be used as babysitters and made sure that all the kids we worked with watched the videos along with their parents. And you knew she was sincere about selling her company to spend more time with her family, when she left the shoot in order to pick up her daughter from school. While she's had tremendous success, she's still thinking about the kids first.

Video Interview

The "I Am" Q&A

What car do you drive?
I drive a Highlander Hybrid, so I'm a good American.

What's your favorite place to go?
My favorite place to go...I love to travel. My favorite place to go has been the Galapagos Islands.

What website do you like to visit?
Thesafeside.com

What was your worst moment in business?
Oh goodness. My worst moment in business... Gosh, you know it's tough because I have had so many great moments. I don't like to think about the bad stuff. I would say I did a bad distribution deal at one point with a company, and it was just a mistake. It was one of those things. I think I felt like it was the wrong thing to do and did it anyway. I should have gone with my instincts.

What's your favorite drink?
Wine...red

What's your favorite food?
Pasta

What's your idea of fun?
Traveling with my family

And at work?
Idea of fun at work...I love shooting videos. I love actually being on set and doing video stuff.

What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
I don't forgive anything. I try to forgive...When someone is overly passionate about something, if somebody really thinks they have a good idea, and I don't necessarily think it's a good idea, I try to be forgiving about that because I don't know if my ideas have always been great, and I feel strongly about them, so I try to be forgiving in those cases.

What about business weaknesses? What business weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
I think sometimes it is a weakness, or people view it as a weakness, to feel too strongly about something. That you don't necessarily want to change your mind because you feel so strongly about something. And so that might be viewed as a weakness, but I think in many cases it ends up being a strength, because when you believe so much in something often it's because it's a really good idea.

What movie star do you like?
Daniel Radcliffe. I have teenage girls

Who's a business hero of yours?
Warren Buffet

What personal qualities do you admire in life?
I admire optimism. I admire people who make choices based on good priorities. I admire people who do what they love, who aren't unhappy in work, who see the good things in everything. I mean, I think most of all, it's that optimism. It's a sense of being happy and seeing the good in things.

What personal qualities do you admire in business?
I admire people who can listen to people who aren't necessarily "the boss." I admire bosses who can listen to people who work for them and accept their ideas and believe that the idea of the person who answers the phone can be just as valid and excellent as the person who has the Harvard MBA.

Are you doing anything green? Anything for the environment?
I drive a Hybrid car. We are actually in the process this summer of looking into ways to use solar energy because we live in Colorado, and gosh, we have more sunny days than any other state, so we are looking into that.

What was your greatest moment in business?
I think that my greatest moment in business was sort of looking around and saying I can't even...and maybe this was a few years in after getting so many emails from so many families saying how much they loved the business...It wasn't necessarily a "eureka moment." It was just this overall sense after a few years of recognizing that I had made something that I loved and believed in and that babies and people were responding to it.

And what about your greatest moment in life?
I guess I have two greatest moments in life. One would be having my children, which were not only the greatest thing that my husband I could have done together but kind of creating these things, these children, that helped us to create something great which was Baby Einstein. And then being a breast cancer survivor.

What's the most unusual thing in your wallet?
The most unusual thing in my wallet...Probably my scuba diving card because I haven't been diving in so long.

What is your dream?
My dream is to try to maintain the closeness that we have as a family as my kids get older. You know to try to maintain that. We just have such a wonderful family life...To try and keep that as the kids grow up.

Do you have a motto?
Yes, my motto is "Every wall is a door."

What is your present state of mind?
So happy to be here! So happy to be asked to be part of this CNBC campaign. It's just so excellent, so it's moments like this where I go, "Wait a minute, is this real? Did this really happen to me?"

Transcript

CNBC:
How old were your kids when you got the Idea for what would become Baby Einstein?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Aspen was really maybe six months old when I first started thinking about Baby Einstein because I was spending all my time with her. And I’d been a teacher and now I was home and I was sort of this really intense mommy and I started thinking about the idea of her, you know to expose her to stuff that I loved and stuff that I taught. And like most people who start businesses, it took me about a year to really get going with my idea. So she was about a year and a half before I had a video for her to watch.

CNBC:
Did you want to be a stay-at-home mom?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I’d always wanted to be a stay at home mom. I had been a teacher but I always knew that I would leave teaching while my kids were little and never really intended on going back to work and Baby Einstein sort of fell together as a result of being a mom. And I was sort of lucky because I was able to be a full time mom and still work and do what I loved and do you know, something for my kids and stay home, so it was really cool.

CNBC:
When your kids were little, you felt there was something missing. Tell us about that.

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
When my kids were little, especially I guess Aspen because she was my first and so she was teeny-tiny. And I started looking for ways to expose her to stuff that I loved. I could do things like read to her and dance with her and play classical music for her. But there wasn’t anything that made that really easy for me and was super baby-friendly. And I thought gosh, that just makes perfect sense, you know, somebody ought to be doing that. And I looked and looked and looked and couldn't find this thing anywhere that I wanted. So I thought well you know I can make that. And it was truly, you know, something that I wanted to do. I made it for myself, which sometimes is the best way to make something because you're making it for you. And so you make it really, really good. And I was making it for my kids who I loved and wanted the best for, so it was great. I was really interested in exposing my kids to literature which I taught, art which I also taught, and classical music which I loved.

CNBC:
Was it there?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
It wasn’t there, I couldn't find it anywhere. I mean it was one of those things that seemed so obvious to me, why not expose your little kids to these things? And I couldn't believe it didn’t exist, but it didn’t.

CNBC:
How did it occur to you that you could go out and do this?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Well I didn’t really know I could go out and do it. I just thought it made sense and I wanted it. It was a simple idea. It was based on something that I wanted for my own child and so I thought okay, I can put video together. I mean I'm not a videographer, I’ve never studied video but all I'm looking for are really simple images that my baby likes to look at, so I can do that. I can shoot those things. And I can set them to music that I think is good and baby-friendly classical music. It just made sense to me to do.

CNBC:
Were you planning something like this when you decided to stay home with the kids?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I never planned on starting a business, and sometimes I think that’s the best way to have great success. I mean when you don’t set out to make a million dollars, you just set out to make something that you want, sometimes that’s the best way to do it. You know, because you care, you have a lot of integrity. You're making it because you want it, you want it for something or someone that you care about and I wanted this for my children. It had nothing to do with making money or starting a business or being an entrepreneur, I really just wanted this. And sometimes I think that passion comes through in what you make. I made it for the right reasons, I made it for my babies and other babies responded to it as well.

CNBC:
What were the particular values that you put into the product?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
You know everything, in terms of, of what I wanted to be in the product, I wanted everything to be very much just very simple and clean. You know, I looked at my babies, I looked at my children and said, okay they’re really little. The really great thing about trying to see the world through a child’s eyes is realizing that everything is fascinating. So if you're a little baby and you lay in the grass for the first time, the grass is really cool and fascinating to you. If you're an adult, you don’t pay any attention to that anymore. So my goal is to try to see the world through my baby’s eyes and recognize wow, the grass is really green or it feels really interesting, or it’s got this amazing texture or when I walk on it, it feels cool. And to try to see the world through a baby’s eyes, and that’s what I was really looking for when I shot the videos.

CNBC:
Why did you pick video?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I picked video because it didn’t exist. You know I read to my kids all the time and I loved books, I'm an English teacher. But it made sense to me to try to couple visuals with some kind of audio stimulation, you know? I mean when I have a one-year-old on my lap, what does she want to do? She wants to eat the book. She can’t eat the TV screen. So if I sit with her on my lap and I'm watching a great video and it’s moving so it’s a little more interesting maybe than just looking at a stagnant picture in the book, and we’re hearing some great music or some poetry that goes along with it, that’s really cool.

CNBC:
What was the music that you picked?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
The first time around, I picked Mozart, my favorite composer and he was very childlike in some of his compositions. He started writing as a child, obviously. So Mozart was first and then we moved into some Beethoven and some Bach and some Vivaldi and kind of ran the gamut of the real famous classical composers.

CNBC:
And why did you think the babies needed that?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I thought babies could love things like classical music and art and poetry. I mean this wasn’t something that people typically expose their kids to, and, but it made sense to me. I mean if you have a baby, you can expose them to anything. You might think of your baby as sort of a little sponge, you know, that can absorb things or you might think of your baby as just a little ball that sort of eats and poops and does these things that don’t mean very much. But I looked at babies and I said wow, you know, this is just a great opportunity to kind of build an interesting person who can respond to something like classical music and art and poetry in a great way.

CNBC:
What did you start with?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
When I first started Baby Einstein, it made sense to me to shoot things on black and white backgrounds. My baby was really little and I wanted to shoot objects sort of in silhouette, real big to fill the screen that we could look at together, much like you would look at a board book. In fact, I coin this phrase “video board book.” So you sit with your baby on your lap, you watch the screen together and you talk about what you see on the screen just like you would do with a board book in your hand. The images were simple. Sometimes it was my cat, you know, trying to get my cat to sit on a table and I’d film my cat really quick. Sometimes it was my hand doing stacking rings to build a toy that my child liked looking at, and putting all those videos together in a way that was comprehensive on my home computer. And then set that to some kind of music or audio stimulation that my child liked.

CNBC:
At what point did you realize you had created a business?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I hadn’t intended to make Baby Einstein into a business. But once you start investing so much of your soul and your heart into something and you actually spend a little bit of money to create something, you start thinking, not only could you maybe make this a business, but maybe I could make this something that other kids responded to. I mean the idea was really cool, you know there are so many children in the world who maybe are never exposed to classical music or poetry or art. And the idea was, if I could find a way to make kids interested or stimulated by these things, that would be really cool. You know I'm really contributing something to kids who may never be exposed to that stuff. About six months in, I was filming the videos. I shot the first Baby Einstein video. My husband and I were editing it. And we said gosh, you know, I think there’s a way that we could maybe offer this to other people. How do with do that? And so the idea came. Okay, well lets see if any stores will carry it, you know. Lets actually produce more than just this one video for our child but lets see if we can produce more than that, which we did. The first Baby Einstein video came about because I wanted it for my own child. And it occurred to me when I saw how much she loved it, that other babies would love it as well. So here was a business.

CNBC:
How did you come up with the name Baby Einstein?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
It’s so funny. The name Baby Einstein, I have my great story about how I came up with it. I literally thought this is for babies, and it’s about stimulating babies, and who was a really interesting, stimulating, creative person? And of course Albert Einstein popped into my head. The funny thing is at the time that I created Baby Einstein, I didn’t know I was naming a whole company. I thought I was naming this one video, which ultimately turned into a company.

CNBC:
How did the logo come about?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I sat down at my kitchen table with my daughter’s crayons and I literally drew that little Baby Einstein head and wrote the words Baby Einstein. I am so proud to say I still see that on all the Disney products all over the world that carry Baby Einstein. That’s pretty exciting. That literally happened at my kitchen table. This was not necessarily a dream that I started out with. I didn’t grow up, you know, an entrepreneur. I wasn’t the kid who sold lemonade on the corner or you know or delivered newspapers. I was the kid who read poetry at the back of the classroom, you know, I just loved art and writing. So I never thought, gosh I'm going to be this world famous entrepreneur and I'm going to start this multi-million dollar company. That was never my intention. It was lovely that that ended up happening but my intention was to make something really good for my child and I'm so proud that I made something that was really good for so many children.

CNBC:
Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur or is that just a word that kind of fits with what has happened?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I think of myself as an entrepreneur because when I hear about entrepreneurs, I hear that most of them started because they were really passionate about an idea that they had. And many of them started because they wanted something that didn’t exist, they wanted it for themselves. So they really cared about it, they had this great integrity in terms of what they were doing and what they were making. And I think that’s a really entrepreneurial way to be. I think that the Baby Einstein I sort of fell into was a happy accident, something that I worked really hard on. Bu The Safe Side, my new company was something that I thought, okay I can do this because I'm an entrepreneur.

CNBC:
What advice would you give to someone?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Gosh, you know, my best advice would be if you have an idea that you're really passionate about, that you really care about, that’s fantastic. And if it’s a really original idea, that’s great too because you want something that’s new and unique. And I get lots of people who ask me questions about, I want to make a baby video. You know, can I, how can you help me? And I think, well don’t make a baby video. That’s been done. Do something really unique and interesting.

CNBC:
What do you think it takes?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I think it takes a lot of hard work. I think it takes some luck. I think it takes tenacity. You know, you work really hard, I mean, but when you care about what you're doing, you don’t mind. It’s not really work. I mean when I look back on Baby Einstein, it was so much fun. I was making what I loved, I was home with my kids, I had puppets on my hand, I was doing what my children laughed at. Ad I was making something that I really believed in. That was a blast, that was great.

CNBC:
What made Baby Einstein a success?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Babies loved it. And the truth is, babies don’t lie. Babies love it or they hate it, they smile or they cry. And the great thing about Baby Einstein is that babies loved it, and when babies loved it, parents loved it. Because not only was their child happy, their child was happy about Shakespeare, their child was happy about Mozart and Beethoven, that was really cool.

CNBC:
What kind of marketing did you do?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I did no marketing the first five years that I owned Baby Einstein. I literally worked through word of mouth. Parents told other parents, you know, when their baby responded to it, they would tell other parents in their play group. And it was just mom telling mom telling dad telling grandma. It was unbelievable and it was, it was just excellent.

CNBC:
How did you get it into the stores?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I wasn’t sure how to get Baby Einstein into stores. I’d never done that before, I wasn’t a marketing person and I certainly wasn’t a merchandiser. But I thought, okay, this is a good product. I know my children like it, I know my friends’ children like it. And I just started pounding the pavement, sending my video off, seeing if anybody would pick it up. Ultimately it ended up at a trade show and I was able to get my video into the hands of a retailer who did pick it up and that was incredible. I did a voluntarily exclusive with that retailer for about a year. It just helped really build the name and build the brand that way.

CNBC:
You also had a financial risk…

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I did take a financial risk. I mean it was ultimately, when all was said and done, the first video at the shoot cost fifteen thousand dollars which was a ton of money for us. I mean I wasn’t working. My husband was working for a company but we didn’t have fifteen thousand dollars lying around. The truth is, the more you start to invest financially in your company, in your dream, the more it helps you to want it to succeed, at least so that you could make your money back. It was a bit of a risk. And I think that, you know, a lot of people looked at it and said gosh, you know, are you sure you really want to do that? But we did so much of the work ourselves. I mean, ultimately fifteen thousand dollars was a lot of money but not nearly as much as it could have been if we haven’t been doing all the work ourselves for the most part.

CNBC:
Do you think that’s important when you're starting a company, to have a personal stake?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I think having a personal financial stake is a really good idea. I mean because again, you know, it’s one of many things that helps contribute to your passion and your belief that this can succeed.

CNBC:
Were you ever scared it might not happen?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I was scared it might not happen but I think that I was so proud of what I’d done. I really ultimately wanted this to be a great product. And I wanted babies to be happy and to love it. And I think I believed that it would work. When I built Baby Einstein, everything I did, everything in the video, everything that you heard, I made because I thought it was right. It wasn’t based on focus groups, it was based on what my babies liked. It was based on what I wanted as a mom for my child. And that worked because what my baby liked, most other babies liked. You know babies are babies, it’s pretty great.

CNBC:
When did you realize you had a hit on your hands?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
We got Baby Einstein into our first series of stores, it was The Right Start chain of stores. And we were really pleased. I mean we got it in, we were so excited it was actually on the shelf. Well after a week of five videos in each store and there were a handful of stores around the country, they called and they said gosh, you know, it sold in a day. All the videos were gone. We need more. And Bill and I looked at each other and we were just astounded, we couldn't believe it. We were so excited. And in that first year, we did a hundred thousand dollars in sales which was nearly five times my, my teaching salary. We just couldn't believe it. And after that first year, we realized that this really could be a business. We could make another video, The Right Start was asking us to produce something else. And we thought, okay, we can actually make another video and maybe Bill can leave his day job and come work with me and we can make this work as a team.

CNBC:
How fast did the company grow?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
The company grew so fast. From people who know about business, this is something that is not typical. You know we just sort of hockey-sticked. In our first year, we did a hundred thousand dollars in sales, our second year, a million dollars in sales with two products. Our third year, nearly five million in sales, our fourth year, ten million in sales. And our fifth year, the year that we sold, we did over twenty million in sales. And that was with a team of eight people. I mean this was me producing all the videos with an editor and Bill running the company as CFO and a handful of people who kind of helped us out with some of the logistics.

CNBC:
How did you feel?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I was just stunned, you know, it was one of these things that I couldn't believe it. I mean I literally, you know, would everyday sort of pinch myself and say, is this really happening? And you know it was funny though, because it was happening so fast, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to think about it. It was so exciting. And the great thing is, I was making something that I loved to make. It never really felt like work. It honestly was so much fun and my children loved it. And I got these amazing emails from parents around the country saying, thank you so much, my baby loves this. Thank you for bringing, you know, Beethoven into our lives. It was just the coolest thing.

CNBC:
When did the business merger, how did that happen?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
About four years into the company, Bill and I recognized that the reasons for our starting the company, our children, were just beginning to feel the repercussions of us having a business. You know we were starting to get busier. I was unfortunately not able to spend as much time at home, or as much time with my children as I wanted to. And we sort of looked at each other and said okay, we can work harder and take Baby Einstein to the next level but we really didn’t want to do that. Or we can sell it. And we already had a relationship with the Walt Disney Company because they were producing books with us, we were licensing product to them. And I was writing books for Disney and so they were a natural company for us to approach and they were immediately interested. It was really a great move for us.

CNBC:
So it was your decision?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Our decision was to sell. It was something that, we just felt the time was right, we’re happy we did it. We never could have taken it to the level in terms of you know the, the disbursement of product that, that Disney has been able to take it to.

CNBC:
Don’t you think it’s unusual, that you created this hugely successful company and then –

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
Sold it? Yeah, [LAUGHS]. You know when we sold Baby Einstein, it was bittersweet. We knew that we wanted to spend more time with our children. We wanted to spend more time traveling and now we had the opportunity to do so. We prioritized, we picked family over business ultimately. And we were able to have the benefits of both. You know, we had this wonderful run, amazing success with a product that we loved. And now we were able reap the benefits of that great product and spend this amazing amount of time with our family. And it’s been a great decision, we’re really happy.

CNBC:
What was your greatest moment of success?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
[CHUCKLES] Probably one of the greatest moments was, well there’s, there’s sort of two funny stories. One really great moment was sort of walking out onto the Oprah stage and going oh my gosh, you know, all my like friends from high school that I haven’t talked to in so long are going to see me on Oprah, how cool is that? That’s pretty exciting. It was sort of continually this amazing thing that was happening to us. And (the other) I would say, somebody asked me what was the first thing that you did after you sold the company? And I remember going into a shoe store to buy a pair of shoes and sort of like looking at two pairs of shoes and going, oh my gosh I could buy both. It was like so decadent to buy two pairs of shoes, so it was really funny. But I mean I would say that overall, everyday I would wake up and go, oh my gosh, is this truly happening to me? I mean it was just so incredible.

CNBC:
How did your kids feel about being your inspiration?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I think my girls are really proud. I think that they’ve had the benefit of having parents that worked at home so they’ve been able to see us work hard and build something that we believed in. I think that they’re proud that we made something that we’re proud of, that’s a good product. I think they’re proud when they meet other families with little children who say, babies love Baby Einstein. And you're the children who were in the Baby Einstein video. I think that all of that is great. And I think that when other children can see parents happy, this is a great thing. So whether your business is small or big or you don’t have a business or do, I mean as long as you have this wonderful fulfilled life and you like what you're doing and you're happy in your work, this is a great thing for your kids to see.

CNBC:
Did you always have faith in your own ideas?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I think I’ve always had a lot of faith in my instinct, so I think that instinctively I’ve been in pretty good shape. I think I’ve operated instinctively in a lot of ways. So I made product based on what instinct told me was right for my children and that worked really well. It’s worked in my new business, it’s worked in Baby Einstein. And it’s certainly worked in my life. I operate that way as a teacher when I teach courses. You're playing off of other people and you have to be receptive to new ideas and to what people around you are saying and, and doing and believing.

CNBC:
So lets talk about your new business a little bit. Your kids are older now.

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
You know the girls aren’t babies anymore, sadly. But it’s interesting you know, I think that my, my whole perspective changed. So no longer am I making videos for babies. I started making videos for children. What I saw was a move in the marketplace, again, just like with Baby Einstein, I realized that as my kids were getting a little older and becoming more independent and spending time away from me, going to friends’ homes or camp, than they needed good information, good solid fun-to-learn information about how to stay safe. And I couldn't find it anywhere, I couldn't believe that nobody had made that investment. So I felt this need to create a product that could teach them how to stay safe in a world that isn’t always safe and do it in a fun way that was kid-friendly. So I started The Safe Side, and it’s just been a fantastic video product series that helps children learn how to stay safe.

CNBC:
And you make it fun?

JULIE AIGNER-CLARK:
I’ve tried really hard to make it fun and this is a subject that obviously isn’t usually fun, how to stay safe; strangers; internet safety. These things are tough to talk about with your kids but we worked really hard to produce a great script, hire great actors, make real movies that actually teach kids these things in ways that they love. So kids love watching it, they watch it again and again, elementary school aged kids and it’s been really successful.