What If COVID Inspired You to Go Into Business with Your Mother? * CoveyClub

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What If COVID Inspired You to Go Into Business with Your Mother?

with Dr. Shaula Yemini and Not Arias

“She’ll hate to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: she’s developing into her mother.” So says Dr. Shaula Yemini of her daughter Noa Arias. In a Reinvent Yourself first, Lesley Jane Seymour interviews this mother-daughter entrepreneurial duo who founded Bloomers Intimates together in 2020. Formerly a computer science professor, Dr. Yemini was isolating with her daughter Noa during the COVID pandemic, when a laundry-folding session led to a conversation about the lack of full coverage, comfortable intimates that are also sexy and confidence-boosting. “I can’t be the only older woman who still wants to wear pretty underwear,” says Yemini. When they realized there was an opening in the market they decided to take the leap. In this warm, witty conversation, mother and daughter explain the exact process they followed – and how they manage to maintain a healthy relationship while also running a business together.

Shaula Alexander Yemini is a startup mentor, board member and advisor to several technology companies. She is also an angel investor. Until 2007, Shaula was a Vice President at EMC.

LJS: So welcome, ladies. I think you’re my first mother-daughter team. I’m really interested. I think there are a lot of women out there, mothers and sons, who might want to do something together. Mothers and daughters, for sure. So we want to find out about how this came about, why this was your reinvention, and then we’re going to talk about how to make a mother-daughter reinvention work. Like, what are the things that you have to know and have to do for each other? So, for whoever wants to start, how did this come about? Okay, Shaula, how did it come about? Give us a little bit of your history, and what is this that you’re doing?

SY: I’ll give you a little bit of my history, and then we’ll jump into Bloomers. So, in a former life Iwas in technology. I was a computer science professor at NYU. Then I worked at IBM. Then I built a software company, which was acquired, and I pretty much retired. And the main thing I was doing was mentoring young entrepreneurs for fun, to keep engaged in the technology world and so on. And at the same time, my daughter Noa was involved in other startup ventures, mostly in the luxury goods/fashion space. So fast forward to November, 2020. COVID. Isolation. Mother, daughter, and daughter’s family isolating together at a vacation home, and Noa and I were folding laundry. And I had this, like, old, tattered pair of really pretty  – I would say almost sexy – knickers, full coverage, beautiful lace, beautiful scallop. And I picked it up, and I said to Noa, “I can’t believe I can’t find anything like this in the market anymore. I can’t be the only older woman who still wants to wear pretty underwear. Nothing more confidence building than putting pretty stuff on you.” And at first, Noa said – Noa, do you want to pick up now?

NA: Well, at first, I was like, “I don’t really want to hear about your underwear, Mom.” But then, I’m an expert Googler, and I was like, “We could find this, what you’re looking for, on the Internet.” So I went on a hunt, and I actually couldn’t find anything like it. Everything was either too cheeky, too expensive. There wasn’t any full coverage. Comfortable, but still pretty and sexy, no-VPL  option for women out there who don’t want to wear a thong and they don’t want to wear cotton Jockey granny panties. So, we realized that there was a need and a pain point in the market, and we set off and surveyed 100 of our closest friends and family. And it turned out it wasn’t just my mom looking for something like this. There were my friends, people even younger than me. I’m 44, almost, for reference. So that’s how Bloomers was born. That was in, I think, November of 2020. And, it took almost a year to get to market. And we launched in September of 2021.

LJS: How did you do the market research? Did you talk to the women about what they were looking for? Did you give them things to try on? Go ahead, Shaula. 

SY: So part of it was a questionnaire that Noa had put together for our closest family, 100 family and friends. And part of it was that I actually went to a trade show in Paris. It’s called Salon de Lingerie. It’s everyone who’s anyone in lingerie who’s exhibiting. And I saw again that everything was designed for 18-year-old bodies. But over the years, our bodies change. You know, we gain a few pounds, we have a few babies. A few years pass, and our body is different. And nobody seemed to be targeting this changing woman’s body. In addition to that, we did the obvious. I went to Bloomingdale’s and Saks and Macy’s. And when I was in Paris, I went to all the big department stores there, and lo and behold, there really was a white space in the market.

Her Highness Lace Briefs are made from super soft, stretchy lace

LJS: So give me an idea of what the Bloomers are, what they’re made of, what do they look like, what do they retail for?

NA: So we launched in September 2021 with our signature briefs; they’re called Her Highness Lace Briefs. They are high waisted, full coverage rear, integral scallops so there’s no panty lines. And they’re made from super soft, stretchy lace. So you think of lace and you’re like, oh, it’s going to be crispy and itchy, but our lace is really super soft. And that’s one of the things that makes us different. So for one year we only had one style. We had, you know, a few colors. And then in fall of 2022 we really started expanding. So we launched a boy short. It’s a high rise, but not as high as the briefs. A little hint of cheek. and it’s just a more casual fit. It’s perfect for lounging in. Still no, no panty lines. Same lace, but, you know, a stretch lace waistband. So it’s a little bit more…flows with your body. And then right after that, we launched the Pantyloon Slip Short, which is a long line, almost like biker short–style underwear. And that was a runaway hit. There are really a lot of bike shorts on the market, but they’re usually like modal, microfiber, cotton. You really won’t see anything that’s made of lace and still sexy and full coverage and comfortable. So in terms of pricing, our briefs and boy shorts are $38. And then the Pantyloon Slip Short is $45. And we actually just recently expanded even further to include… a silk camisole and short set called the Great Chemistry Set. It’s intended to be worn day, night, indoors, outdoors. And it’s got a little more coverage, too, at the arm flaps, if you will. The shorts are a little bit higher rise so your butt’s not hanging at the bottom. And we’re actively looking and developing new solutions for women and our ever changing bodies.

LJS: What is the fabric?

NA: So for underwear, it’s nylon and spandex.

LJS: Like nylon and spandex, okay. So what have you found now that you’re launched? What are you finding that people are actually wanting? And who is your customer, compared to what you thought? Is it the person you thought? Is it somebody else? Sometimes we think it’s going to be one person, it’s another.

SY: So I thought it would mostly attract women post-40, little paunch, little extra pounds, a few babies. It turned out that we have a much broader audience. There are a lot of young ones, especially the Pantyloon, which is a sexy, long bike short. When it peeks out of a dress – young girls now wear very, very short mini skirts – it’s very cute when it peeks out. It’s a little more modest than a thong peeking out, obviously. And it’s pretty. So our audience is actually much larger than we had originally envisioned.

LJS: Do you have an age break on that? Do you have a sense of what the ages are?

NA: Yeah. So, according to Google Analytics, I would say our customer age base starts at 24, which was surprising to me, but it goes all the way up to 80 plus. So it’s more about a psychographic than a demographic. Like, 24 year olds, I think, don’t really have a problem feeling young and sexy. But, you know, everybody who wants to still…you know, I still see myself as 24. I’m shopping, sometimes I’m buying things, and I’m sometimes regretting it, but, I would say the bulk of our customers [are] somewhere in the middle of that, you know, 24 to 81 plus. But we cover it all.

What was the big surprise in starting this business? Were there any surprises?

LJS: So what was the big surprise in starting this business? Were there any surprises? Was it exactly what you thought had you planned for all the possibilities? We all know it’s a struggle. It is harder than you think! Everybody here who’s listening wants to reinvent, a lot want to start their own businesses. So let’s hear the truth. What was the surprise first?

SY: First of all, there was a lot for us to learn. So I can’t really say it was a surprise, but for me, coming from software and moving to soft wear, it was a big learning lesson. So there really, really was a lot to learn. I think both of us are very fast learners, but also, we were extremely lucky to find, very early on, two contractors who fill the space that we didn’t know about, and we’ve learned a lot from them, and they’re really helping. We work very well as a team. So finding out what we didn’t know was a little bit of a surprise, but we weren’t hampered by it because of the great people that we work with.

NA: I want to also add: we only had one style for the year, and then we introduced new styles. So when the Pantyloon launched and we sold out within a matter of a month, I was surprised by what a hit it was. But also, I’m learning the importance of inventory management and making sure that you have the product that people want because we’ve sold out a few times of that product, and I’ve just had to figure out how to pivot and repromote and reinvent ads. It’s like a balancing act that I continue to chase.

Noa says delays in business are common post COVID

LJS: What were the disappointments in the business? Was there anything disappointing that you thought you were going to do that you didn’t get to do that you wish you had, anything you had to leave on the table?

NA: Not disappointments, but there [were] frustrations along the way. You kind of don’t realize, one, how long everything takes. There was a shipment of the first set of briefs that was coming. It ended up in Vancouver for two weeks. I don’t know why. I’m not even sure, I thought it was flying into New York. So you have to be ready for everything to just fall apart and figure out another plan. We just were waiting for a restock of shipment that got delayed, and everything is just hinged. Emails and promotions are all hinging upon that, and then it’s delayed. So you just have to be flexible and build in at least two weeks for error with whatever you’re doing in terms of timing.

SY: More than that because, in fact, our silk set was originally designed to be ready for Christmas, then we had to postpone it to Valentine’s Day. Then it still didn’t come on time. So we said Mother’s Day, and it finally arrived – barely. A week before Mother’s Day. So, yes, everything takes longer. Everything is a lot more complicated. You know, it’s fractal. The more you look into detail, the more detail you discover.

LJS: Is that just post COVID, do you think? And all the delays caused by COVID, or no? This is just the average working issue with products that are made. And are they made overseas?

NA: Yes, so our first batch of product was actually made here, so there were no delays in it, but it wasn’t, as perfected, I would say, as the batch that was made overseas. So our current lace and briefs are made overseas. And we got the silk set from India as well. I think that the Vancouver incident was definitely post COVID. That was, just everything was backed up in a disaster. But now I think it’s just that life has picked up post COVID, and this was probably happening forever before we even created [the] business.

So let’s talk about mother and daughters working together, what are the benefits

LJS: So let’s talk about mother/daughters working together, because I know a lot of people sort of dream about this and think it would be great. What are the benefits of working together? Let’s start there and then I’m going to ask you each to talk about what surprised you about the other that you didn’t know until you worked with each other. So let’s start with the benefits. What were the benefits of being mother/daughter?

NA: Well, I think we have very different skills. so I think that our skills are complementary. My mom, I would say, has, well, I mean, she has a background in technology, and business, and… she’s a far better negotiator and deliverer of, you know, not excellent news than I am. I am a people pleaser. I think that… we work together well in that way. She has skills that I do not have, and I believe it’s the other way around. I’m a marketer. She’s a technologist and businesswoman. And, I’m well versed in the Internet and as good [at] social media as [I] can be for somebody who doesn’t – I don’t do it every day. I mean, for the business we do, but not for myself.

LJS: Shaula, what surprised you? What made it work?

SY: Well, first, I think it’s every parent’s dream to have a family business that they can work with their children. Part of it is imparting to children what I’ve learned over the years. The other part is learning from them because the world changes all the time. So I very much was excited about doing it. I can tell you that. One of the challenges that I think we dealt with very well, but it was a little rough for a while, is the transitioning from being her mother to being her equal partner. As her mother, I want to teach her every day. As her partner, I recognize that a lot of things I want to teach her, she already knows, [and] she doesn’t always welcome getting preprocessed analysis, and she wants to discover things… for herself. And that she knows. She really knows a heck of a lot more than I knew she knows. So. No, but. But it’s really that way because… we interact. You know, I am a fairly involved grandmother.  …I was instrumental in getting the kids to become, you know, avid readers. I visit often and so on. So it’s that aspect of Noa and of family I really understand very well. But Noa, the businesswoman, I really had to discover.

LJS: Give me an example of when it surprised you about your relationship with your mom. Was there something you didn’t know she was going to behave in a certain way, that you were like, oh, my God, I can’t believe that’s my mother. Anything like that.

NA: I mean, my mom is not that. She’s never been, like, one to keep secrets or hold back, so not much is a surprise. There are times when she’s right, and when she gives me the advice, at first I get super annoyed, and it’s an argument for, like, a minute. But then, like, just even yesterday, I was like, you know what? You were right. I’m going to do this. And then she’s very thrilled that I finally listened to her.

Shaula and Noa are a mother-daughter team working in digital marketing

LJS: Shaula, give me an event where you thought you knew something, but Noa actually knew better, and you had to learn from her.

SY: Well, obviously – I shouldn’t say obviously – but everything that has to do with digital marketing and the world in which I lived, we sold software to major corporations with direct salespeople, and now it’s just a totally new world with everything digital and social media and influencers and the space being split into so many specialties that I really get annoyed by, you know, when I say, why can’t one company produce all our, you know, our communications in the same voice? It’s not the world today. So I’m learning a lot about how things work. Not that I think everything is good, but I am learning a lot about how things work, pretty much every day.

LJS: What do you think the advantage of being a mother-daughter team is out in the marketplace? Yeah, go ahead, Shaula.

SY: I think trust is one of the most important things that you need to make sure of, whatever venture you build, whether it’s a business venture or a nonprofit or building a community or anything, when you have to rely on other people, and you can’t do anything alone in this world. You really have to trust the person you work with. And we have 150% trust between us. The other thing is, and I’m not sure Noa will totally recognize it, but we think alike in many ways. When I was younger, I also was a little bit more of a pleaser, and I was afraid to… stand up to other people. But I built a company, and, you know, it was sink or swim. And when it’s sink or swim, you do everything to swim. And sometimes you have to be rough. You have to fire people, you have to. So I recognize the path that she’s going through, and actually, I was her age when I started my software company. I started, you know, I was, ah, an older entrepreneur in technology. I was 44 when I left a really cushy job at IBM and decided I’m building a software company. So I feel that she’s actually learning faster than I had learned at the time. But I think part of it is because we are working together and, you know, there are certain mistakes that I made that I sometimes can alert to.

LJS: Noa, what do you think is the business benefit?

NA: Besides the trust aspect, and the way we complement each other, working with your family, it’s like, I mean, obviously there are points where you want to keep it separate from family time, but just we’re in constant communication. I’m not worried about annoying her and picking up the phone and asking her to do something or asking questions and vice versa. So it’s like, anytime throughout the day, we can just. It’s fine. It’s like working with your best friend and… not having to worry about, like, have I offended you? Am I annoying you? It’s just that ease.

LJS: How do you put boundaries around the business versus the personal life, or don’t you?

NA: I try. Sometimes, you know, like, if the weekend is the only time we’re going to see each other and she has to deliver something to me, or I have to give her something, and, you know, I’m like, we try to, like, keep that talk to a minimum on the weekends. On the weekdays, it’s anything goes.

SY: At any time during the day and night.

What are the do’s and don’ts for a parent-child relationship

LJS: Okay. All right, so let’s finish up by talking about what are the do’s and don’ts for a parent-child, mother-daughter. I don’t know if the two are different. I’d like to hear from you, for people who are listening, what are the do’s and don’ts? What must you have to make it work? What must you avoid? What do you guys think are the things you shouldn’t do it? Like, what are the nono warning signs from your points of view?

SY: I can tell you one. Don’t ever say, I know better because I have 30 years of experience building businesses. That does not go over well at all, because there are retorts that could be, you know, well, that was then, and now is now, but that’s not the real reason. You know, you really have to give each other space. I have to let her push back, object, argue, argue her point. And I think it’s important that she let me explain why I’m saying what I’m saying, but really leaving each other space and not, like, suffocating with help is important.

NA: And I’ll also add, and I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but I think I’ve improved. You know, everybody’s opinions and thoughts are valid. And don’t dismiss or don’t be quick to dismiss ideas sometimes. I am. And I’m working on it. But, you know, some of the best ideas we’ve had have come from my mom. So, itcan be easy to be like that because it is your mom. And like I said before, I’m not worried about offending her or annoying her. But I think that it’s really important to remember to treat someone as if they are a regular colleague, and with that same respect that you would give a regular colleague or somebody who’s not related to you. Yes.

LJS: Do you think that that would be the same mother-son, or do you think it’s because you are female that it works better? Do you have any sense or thoughts about that? Go ahead, Noa.

NA: I don’t know. I think the mother-son, because I have a son, and I have a brother, it’s just such a different [dynamic]. The dynamic is so different. I think that mothers and daughters, they tend to see themselves in the daughter so they can be harder on them. Or expect different things from them, because that’s how they’re viewing themselves. Whereas I think when you’re looking at your son, it’s just, it’s very different. But I wouldn’t know how it would work, like, working together. I can guarantee you that my mom and my brother could never work together. But, I know that it could work for some families.

LJS: Interesting. Any thoughts, Shaula?

SY: Well, another thing. I mean, one of the things I don’t know exactly relates here, but I was surprised to see how much of a workaholic Noa is, because when Noa was younger, like most young people, she slept late and, you know, she missed some important things. and one of the big surprises, and actually, you had asked that earlier, and I hadn’t thought about it, is she is. She’ll hate to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway, she’s developing into her mother. She’s a nicer person. She’s much more sociable. But in business things, I really feel she’s developing. And to me, I can’t believe how many hours she works. Indefatigably.

Noa Arias and Shaula Yemini discuss midlife transition

LJS: All right, Noa, one last comeback, and then we’re going to close. Is that okay?

NA: Yeah. I don’t have a comeback, but I do see myself turning into my mother.

LJS: But it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. That’s cute. Wonderful. That’s really cute. Fantastic. So go out, check it out

LJS: Wonderful, ladies. Thank you. This has been lovely. And I love the reversal of “I’m turning into my mother.” We all say that. The first time that we say, when your kid says, why do I have to do this? And you just say, because I said so. And you turn around to yourself and say, did I just say that I’m my parent? This is horrible. So it’s a wonderful ending. Thank you very much.


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