Friday, March 24, 2006

How To Turn $5000 To $25 Million In 5 Years Selling To … Babies

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Julie Aigner-Clark Story

Most great ideas are born from a need. The Baby Einstein Company LLC based in Littleton, Colorado, came from Julie Aigner-Clark’s need for a learning tool for her infant daughter. In 1995, this former teacher and new mom read the latest research regarding babies’ capacity to learn. Finding nothing in stores that used the research and that was developmentally appropriate, educational and fun, Aigner-Clark (pictured with daughters Sierra, 3, and Aspen, 6) decided to create something herself. Her first video, Baby Einstein, featured intriguing pictures and mothers speaking different languages.

Says Aigner-Clark, “I wanted something that was not only entertaining but stimulating and engaging that would give [my daughter] exposure to things that were lovely.”

As a mom, she knew her product was good, but “nobody was returning my calls,” she says. “I knew if I could get it into the hands of a mom or an executive who had a baby, [that] would sell it.”

Two years later, with no responses to her many queries, Aigner-Clark finally hit pay dirt: She went to the American International Toy Fair in New York City determined to get her product into the hands of a buyer from The Right Start, a high-end baby retailer. She searched the huge show for two days without luck. When she finally found the buyers, she says, “I ran up to them [and said,] ‘You’re going to love this video! You have to watch it! It’s perfect for your store!’ ” Aigner-Clark’s instincts were right on: Baby Einstein soon became the store’s fastest-moving product. Here initial investment - $5000

She’s followed up with more books and videos—Baby Bach, Baby Mozart, Baby Shakespeare and Baby Van Gogh. She’s also developed Baby Santa’s Music Box.

Still, even with 1999 sales of more than $4 million, $10 million in 2000 and $25 million in 2001, Aigner-Clark’s best rewards are being able to organize her schedule around her daughters and reading the stirring letters she gets from Baby Einstein viewers. How does she define success? “That I’ve made these kids—who are so special—happy . . . that I’ve made them smile.”

Using the philosophy that the infant brain thrives in a child who is positively stimulated emotionally, physically and intellectually, Aigner-Clark incorporated puppetry with sounds, foreign languages, poetry and classical music. Baby Einstein's productions emphasize "real-world" images over computer graphics or animation to more accurately reflect the world that babies see.

Despite Baby Einstein's phenomenal reception, the company has never employed more than seven people. Clark (Julie’s husband) also notes Baby Einstein never took out a loan or equity capital. In fact, Baby Einstein operated from Aigner-Clark's home until 2001.

The secret to Baby Einstein's success, Clark said, has been "a good concept and a brilliant branding strategy."

"[Julie] did a marvelous job of catching a trend and building it," Clark said.
That’s when the business got Disney’s attention. In 2002 the couple sold the company for an estimated $25 million dollars.

With Disney, the characters that Aigner-Clark created would not only get a wider audience, but better production values.

As for Julie Aigner-Clark, she’s looking for another big idea.

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