This week in Meet the Mumtrepreneur I’m chatting with the founder of Claphandies Liza Crotty, an inspirational woman, who has just come into her tenth year in business with Claphandies.
Hi Liza, tell me a little about ClapHandies and how you came up with the idea?
ClapHandies runs classes and training programmes for parents. The core offering is our weekly PlayLabs where we have over 500 families attend one of 60 classes running in and around Dublin each week. We also run monthly First Aid courses, Baby Massage courses, birthday parties, corporate events and children’s entertainment at festivals like Bloom in the park.
After having my first child I realised that I wanted a career that would become more family friendly allowing me to work around my children’s needs and my desire to spend more time with them than a 9 to 5 job could allow. So instead I set up a business that required me to work 60 hours a week for at least the first five years! But at least many hours were on my time evenings and weekends and not the kids time.
I had an unusual approached to the venture. I set out with a list of personal requirements; I did not want a financial investor to report to or the pressure to hit unrealistic financial targets. I wanted a business that I could start with the small savings and access to credit myself and my husband had. This business was going to have a very different approach than previous ventures I had been involved with. My goal was to simply earn a living and not to develop a business that would make me a millionaire (I tried to become a dotcom millionaire with a previous business but missed the boat). I wanted a simple life, which allowed me to drop and collect my children from school and be there while they grew up.
So I spent a few months developing a number of business ideas which ranged from tech based apps to retail. I even developed a business plan to run a private business transport company in Dublin but decided coaches and bus drivers weren’t for me! Being a new parent I explored a number of child centred business ideas, researching what was available in cities like London and New York. I based the first draft of the ClapHandies business plan on a Children’s Play Centre in New York, but buying property in 2006 in Dublin was not an option so after a number of drafts I decided to start with running classes in community centres.
I looked at various franchise options but I felt I could develop a better programme myself. We developed ClapHandies, PlayLabs with our customers, and work-shopped the PlayLabs with more than 50 families over a six-month period – watching, listening and learning, seeing what interested the little ones, what worked, what challenged and engaged them, and more importantly what didn’t work!
I have a drama background so singing and dancing came naturally. I brought in experts to develop the educational side of the programme, we ran workshops with early educators, speech and language therapists and paediatricians. Then 10 years ago we opened our first venue in Sandymount we now run in over 28 venues in the Dublin area.
Wow, that’s pretty awesome! What’s been your biggest challenge starting-up?
Probably the long hours and the lack of a regular income, in the beginning I probably worked 60+ hours a week and yet for the first 4 years I never had a regular income, everyone else got paid, new equipment was purchased and then I took what was left in salary some month were better than others. The other major challenge was making it through the recession in 2008 our income dropped by over 40%, I came very close to shutting it down, but somehow managed to restructure and made it through the next few very hard years.
How did you fund your ClapHandies?
From a small amount of savings, myself and my husband had, overdrafts and credit cards (I don’t recommend this, though!) it took us at least 5 years to get back on track!
How did you juggle childcare?
Well this was the major driving force in the business, in the beginning I hired a nanny, a wonderful Australian girl who developed the programme with me, one week she would run the classes while I minded my daughter and then the following week I went out to run the classes and she did the minding, it was ingenious really. Once the children started school and pre-school it became much easier and cheaper! I would work the morning, hang with the kids in the afternoon (albeit with the business phone beside me) and then my second shift ran from 8 to midnight. I also worked many weekends when my husband could mind the children.
That was so clever Liza! What are you most proud of since setting up?
The ClapHandies programme, I am very proud of what we do in the PlayLabs, we continue to develop the class and strive to make the experience the best we can for our customers both young and old.
What words of advice would you give to other mums who are thinking about setting up their own business?
Be realistic with your financial projections and the effort you will have to put in. Write a solid business plan, I worked with the Dublin City enterprise board and got a mentor.
What’s next for you and your business?
Growth and consistency. I am heading into my second decade! After 10 years I only now feel that we are out of the “start-up” period. My children are half way though junior school so I now get to do nearly a full day’s work each day and now only work a few evenings a week. It’s an exciting time for me, I have delivered on my first requirement to have a steady lifestyle business but now I am ready for a considered and careful growth period ahead.
Awh Liza that’s a pretty inspirational story! Finally, where can we find you?
You can find us on our website, on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re an Irish mammy in the baby business and would like to take part in Meet The Mumtrepreneur pop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org… Up next week I’ll be chatting with Leona from Pretty Baby Hair Accessories.