It’s a known fact that mothers are heroes — they find everything we’ve lost and have an answer to everything we’ve ever asked. Meet Monica Royer, a woman who is no exception to this statement. The combination of her ability to empathize with others and the constant support from her family pushed her to create Monica + Andy, a company for baby clothing that personalizes each purchase and emulates the special experience of being a mother (She’s also about to start a podcast to encourage fellow female entrepreneurs — is there anything she can’t do!?). Read further to learn the greatest challenges she faced while launching her company and how she remains inspired.
Name: Monica Royer, CEO/Founder of Monica + Andy
Location: Chicago (but always running around NYC)
Education: University of Illinois
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
How far back do we want to go? I had my work permit at age 14. My first job was in women’s retail, but my real passion was volunteering at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. I started doing that at the age of 12 and worked there every summer until I graduated from college.
Prior to starting your own company, you worked in pharmaceuticals. What skills transferred well from one industry to the next? What skills do you think can best be transferred to any industry?
I think there were a few core skill sets that were very transferrable. The first was the ability to multitask. In my previous job, I might be with my director, who would be evaluating me, while talking to a customer (or multiple customers) at the same time. This would all be happening while I was trying to make sure that I got us from one location to the next. I was always thinking 10 steps ahead. Unfortunately being able to multitask doesn’t mean you are organized. I still struggle with that one.
The second skill was my ability to read people and figure out what part of the story was most valuable to them. At Monica + Andy, I have investors so fundraising has been a key part of my job. It’s more important in those initial fundraising meetings to listen before talking. This way you can figure out why they might want to invest in you or, sometimes, not invest in you.
Your family is no stranger to the world of e-commerce — you helped to advise your brother, who is founder and CEO of Bonobos. How has this influenced your own business decisions? How does your family help support one another?
My brother is truly my cheerleader. I saw how hard his first five years were, so I was prepared for how difficult launching my own brand would be. He has been very influential and if it wasn’t for his guidance I would not have had the courage to fundraise. He taught me how to believe in myself in business that no one had ever done for me before. He is the true Digitally Native Vertically Brand pioneer. We are all just following his lead.
I think my family and brother are supportive in two ways. First, my husband Rob (CEO and founder of Interior Define) and my parents are a great help with our daughter — we share the parenting load. In fact, my parents live in the same condo building as us. They are amazing. It really does take a village. And second, my family is always honest. We are not about praising each other behind the scenes. We are critical, in a positive way, so that we can always be improving.
The first was the ability to multitask. In my previous job, I might be with my director, who would be evaluating me, while talking to a customer (or multiple customers) at the same time. This would all be happening while I was trying to make sure that I got us from one location to the next. I was always thinking 10 steps ahead.
Your passion for clothing began at an early age. Tell us about how your early experiences shaped your future career path.
I have always been obsessed with clothing. I thought for sure I would do something in women’s fashion, but my daughter came along and that changed everything. Baby and kids fashion is really so fun! Kids are fearless and uninhibited. Because of that, we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously.
What ultimately led to you deciding to start your company, Monica + Andy?
I was so frustrated with what was out there. My daughter had super sensitive skin, and I felt like I was finding the quality organic fabrics in the styles that I wanted. It was the dead of winter and I was stuck inside shopping online and I couldn’t find anything that fit my needs. I had questions I wanted answered. I needed help.
I think that’s why we are so obsessed with great customer service. We want to help new moms and to really answer all of their questions, so our Guideshops and Pop-Ups are all about that experience. We opened a guideshop in NYC earlier this year on the Upper West Side (410 Columbus Ave) and have plans to open several pop-ups around the country in the next couple months.
I couldn’t find anything that fit my needs. I needed help. I think that’s why we are so obsessed with great customer service. We want to help new moms and to really answer all of their questions
Tell us about your company’s mission, values, and goals. Why are you so passionate about these core facets of your company and brand?
My brother and I share the same parents and therefore see our life and company values much in the same way. I have learned so much about managing a team from both my brother and my mom, so I incorporated a lot of their ideas into our company.
The number one value at Monica + Andy is empathy. Are you kind and empathetic? This is a must. Number two is judgment. Can you make good decisions? Number three (and a tough one for me at the onset because I came from a background where my job was to make sure I was well liked) is intellectual honesty. Can you be honest with your team and can they be honest with you? This is really key at a growing company. Number four, bring the positive energy. You need to bring the room up when you walk in. And finally, self-awareness. Are you aware of how the team and your co-workers perceive you?
Our company’s mission is to be the most thoughtful children’s brand ever created. From organic clothing, customer service, layette appointments, and experiential retail everything is designed with our customer in mind.
I am so passionate about both the team and the brand because to be great they need to work together. It all has to come full circle.
What is unique about Monica + Andy and its products?
We work overtime to make it super easy for parents and gifters to shop the brand. You can buy one piece or an entire baby wardrobe — everything is designed to work together. We also put incredible care into presentation. Every item is hand wrapped because we know just how special your little human beings are. And we want to make sure that your experience with Monica + Andy reflects that.
What was the most challenging part of starting your own company? Did you ever consider giving up?
Work. Life. Balance. The company doesn’t bend, but for me, neither does parenthood. I was determined when I built this to build it around my daughter. The downside to that is long hours in the early morning and late into the night. Also, when life throws you an additional curve ball, you can’t take a break. I had two miscarriages in 2015 and 2016. It was not easy, but I haven’t considered giving up yet.
There are two major problems in retail. You can either have too much or too little.
What were your biggest inspirations and support methods during the beginning phases of opening your business? What advice do you have for other women in similar situations?
My biggest inspiration was my daughter. My support was my brother, husband, and parents. Without all of them — in different ways — I couldn’t have done it.
My advice for other women is to make sure you have a support network and a few great mentors. I’m all about telling people to go for it. However, it can take years to really get rolling and success is not guaranteed. Expect failures along the way. Above all else, believe in yourself.
What was a memorable failure as you started your business, and what did you learn from it?
I think my biggest failure was merchandise projections. There are two major problems in retail. You can either have too much or too little. We’ve had many times when we had too little. We had a huge Guideshop opening party in Lincoln Park for our first retail storefront and we had no merchandise because we had sold out online and our new collection hadn’t arrived. Thankfully, the boxes came the night before and we pulled an all nighter getting the store set up. We were still vacuuming as the first person walked into the party.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Enjoy the time on your own when you are totally free in life.
Monica Royer is The Everygirl…
Favorite drugstore makeup product?
L’Oreal Voluminous mascara
Your iPhone camera roll is full of…
Photos of my daughter. Literally every single one.
Best part of being a mom?
The brightness she brings even to the tough days.
The one food you’ll never stop eating?
Peanut Butter Puffins (Have you tried them?)
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Living it would be JK Rowling. Not living it would be Princess Diana. 20 years later she still feels so timeless. I have passed on my princess Diana obsession to my daughter.