Today's feature for #gathrethegood is a dear friend of ours. Katie founded the brilliant company, PUJ, and lives with zest and humility. You'll get a taste of that in this interview that we're sure will leave you better afterward. Thanks Katie!
Grab Katie's mat here.
Hey Katie! So happy to have you here. Could you tell us about your upbringing and your family?
I grew up in the desert of Phoenix Arizona. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors or in the swimming pool. I am the 4th of six kids and was blessed with an extremely creative mother. I remember many times when I was young declaring something I wanted my Mom to buy only to hear her say, “Oh Katie, we don’t need to buy that. I can make it!” For me, that’s where it all began. As a young mom, when I didn’t find the baby products I wanted I just decided to make them. That is how Puj began.
-What are 5 things that not everyone knows about you?
1. I am a really great cook and almost never use a recipe. I find it’s easier to understand my instincts when I don’t have instructions.
2. I work daily to overcome self-doubt. Simple things like eating right, meditation, and exercise put me in a believing mindset.
3. My favorite part of product design is making. I often skip the sketching and “design process” and go straight to the cutting, sewing, gluing, and prototyping phase first. There is something so magical about thinking of something and then bringing it to life. I love it!
4. I’m a girl who LOVES tools! In my life as a maker I’ve worked with routers, chisels, table saws, rip saws, planers, welders, grinders, sanders, jack hammers, and industrial sewing machines to name a few.
5. I have always cut and colored my own hair. I grew up in a home where we didn’t go the hair salon, including my mother. (Remember she would say, “Oh Katie, I can do that!”) So without really thinking about it I guess I just always cut and color my own hair because “Oh Katie, I can do that.” :-)
-Puj is an incredible company. Can you share with us about it’s beginnings and the up and downs that have got it to where it is today?
Puj is a company that comes from my heart. As a young mom I didn’t plan on going into business. I really like creating and sharing those creations is a passion of mine. I started by making gifts for my babies and my friends babies. That grew to local boutiques which quickly grew to national boutiques. It wasn’t long before I realized I didn’t have to limit my reach and that I could touch people’s lives around the globe with my designs and ultimately with my love for motherhood. From that point on I was hooked on selling my products internationally and helping moms across the globe focus on what matters most. There have been many roadblocks along the way. In fact, I never could have imagined how difficult this journey would be. But I have learned to believe in the impossible and there is always a way….always!
-There have got to be a lot of things, but to what do you attribute the incredible success of your company?
Puj has not been successful because I followed some formula in a business textbook. I believe the success of Puj is two-fold. 1) The products work amazingly well and really solve a need! I am so thrilled the many times I hear people describe them as “Genius” or “Brilliant” 2) I have a greater message to share with parents, specifically mothers and Puj is my vehicle to share that message. It’s a story of hope and optimism. Parenting is extremely difficult and it’s so easy to feel at times like we are failing. But the reality is you're not failing! Parenting is a great work that you have been called to do. And if you can let go of your feelings of doubt and trust your inner-voice you can find your greatest joy.
-Any good failure stories you can share with the rest of us who are making mistakes as we grow?
Oh man, failure is so painful but I always tell myself, “Someday this will make a really great story!” After 2 years of developing the Puj tub and completely self-funding the development and patents, I took our only Puj Tub prototype to a trade show in NY. It was going to make the last 2 years of hard work and sacrifice worth it. It was going to be a smash hit and I was going to come back with more orders than we could fill. But what I came back with was a giant goose egg. ZERO ORDERS! I couldn’t even face my husband. He was undaunted and believed in me and believed in our product. We took everyone's feedback, made a few changes, and signed up for another trade show. Almost a year later we went all in at the ABC show in Las Vegas and the rest is pretty much history. We sold to nearly every buyer that walked into our booth and completely changed the way people bathe their babies. Since that day we’ve sold tens of millions of dollars worth of a product that I initially sold $0 worth.There is no such thing as failure if you choose to learn from the experience and move forward. Everyone has failures, the question is “What are you going to do about it?”
-Are there things you don’t do that help you juggle all the roles you have to juggle?
Learning to say no is a process, but getting clear on my priorities has helped me focus on what matters most. I don’t throw fancy themed birthday parties for my kids. For me all the fanfare is a distraction from what’s most important. Instead I let the kids be very involved in the planning (I use that term loosely) and we keep it super simple. We always have it at our home and the kids come up with simple games or activities for the few hours their friends are here. We do science experiements like make goop or an exploding volcano. The kids love creating an obstacle course or bike course through the yard to race on. Honestly we are making stuff up minutes before the guests arrive. Really it’s about bringing kids together to have fun and celebrate the one we all adore. And if the plates and napkins don’t match I’m okay with that.
-We love how you value family. How has PUJ changed your family?
Puj is an extension of my family and the things we value. I don’t know that Puj has changed my family but rather that my family has changed Puj. At first I thought Puj was solely about good design and making things that look cool. But very quickly I realized it didn’t matter how cool a product looked if it wasn’t adding value in some way. In our home we teach our kids at a very young age how to contribute in the home. From things like helping with meals, putting away dishes, sweeping, and feeding the chickens. This work that they do helps them feel needed and valued. And it’s the same with every Puj product. I want to know that Puj is contributing to your family in a valuable way.
-What are some of your favorite resources (books, blogs, websites, etc) you could recommend for a fellow dream chaser?
I am very purposeful with the books, movies and media I consume. I believe these inputs make us who we are. I love the scriptures and feel that truth has application in all areas of life, especially in business. Greg McEwen shares so much wisdom in his book “Essentialism” and I love the book, “The Power of Habit”. While I wash dishes I listen to books, TED talks and podcasts from Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Brenne Brown, and Tim Ferriss. But then I always make sure to balance that with a good laugh from Brian Reagan or Ryan Hamilton.
-If you had a to pick one essential attribute for a budding entrepreneur, what would that be?
Believe that you can! There will be so many people along the way who for one reason or another will tell you it’s impossible. Just nod your head politely, listen to what they have to say, but DON’T believe their doubts. Learn from their words. There may be some truth to it. But there is always a way. It’s so easy for an outsider to see the pitfalls and dead ends. But you are the one with vision who sees the opportunity. All you have to do is inspire them and help them see it too. You can do it, I know you can!
-Tell us about how you and Ben work together. What works and what doesn’t in your business partner/spouse relationship?
Working with my husband has been the biggest blessing. It hasn’t been a perfect ride and we have both made many mistakes along the way. But just like our marriage, we are both in it for good. We had to learn to not take business personally. It’s easier said than done. The trick is recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and knowing when to push or let-go. We like to challenge each other. And if I have an idea I’m willing to fight for then I know it has legs. When I had the idea for a our toddler towel I kept trying to explain and sketch it out for him. He “didn’t get it” at all but I knew it could be great. So I told him to not talk to me for the day while I made a prototype. I first shaped it out of sheets of bubble wrap and packing tape. Once I had the shape I wanted I cut it up to use as a pattern for the towel. I traced each shape on terry-cloth, sewed it all up, and that’s how our fitted toddler nodded towel was born. I still remember throwing the finished product into his hands that day and the stunned look on his face. At first he was speechless and when he finally looked up at me said, “Katie, this is brilliant!”
-Parenting is amazing and hard. Mind sharing any mantras you try to encourage with your kids in your home?
Life takes bravery. But if we want to learn and grow we have to be willing to step outside our comfort zone into the unknown. This is something we practice A LOT in our family. At a very young age my kids are riding bikes, using knives, and speaking in front of people. If someone is having a hard time with something, anything, they get to stand on the Brave Chair. You stand on a chair, put your hands on your hips like Superman and say, “I can do it!” Over and over again. It’s amazing how hard it is right at first, but with some coaxing they begin to build their confidence and you can see a real change in their face. Once they are in a state of certainty they can say it one last time as they jump off the chair and throw their fists in the air. I wish I could say this is just for the kids but every now and then it’s my turn to get up on the brave chair.
-Do you ever feel mom guilt? If so, how do you cope with negative voices?
I think it’s natural for every mom to feel “mom guilt” The question is, what do you do about it? Do you believe it? I have learned that in order to get rid of a thought I have to replace it. So when I get those guilty feelings I replace it with gratitude. For example, when I’m at work and find myself feeling guilty for not being with the kids I think how grateful I am to be surrounded by loving friends and family that can help take care of them. Rather than feeling bad in that moment I am instantly filled with love.
-What’s your guilty pleasure? Anything you do to feel refreshed or spoiled?
These days my guilty pleasure is a good Seinfeld episode. I love a good laugh especially once the kids are in bed. So after a long day I grab some dark chocolate, a sparkling water, and convince my husband to come laugh with me.
-If you didn’t own a company and had no requirements on your time, what would you do with your days?
I would travel the world. I’m a very adventurous spirit. I love experiencing new flavors, new scenery, and new people. In the early days of Puj we lived in Taiwan with the kids for a month. It’s amazing how much I grew as a person and a mother in those 30 days. I look for opportunities to travel because I always feel I come back a better person than I was before.
-For good measure. What’s your favorite PUJ product?
Oh gosh, it’s so hard to pick a favorite. I really love our hanging kid cups. Doing dishes is about my least favorite thing in the world and the Puj Phillup is a game changer. It eliminates the cup pileup that happens at the kitchen sink (you know what I’m talking about.) With the Puj Phillup, everyone has their own colored cup and a hook to hang it on. Plus we use them to organize a whole bunch of things around the house. Seriously, they’re amazing!
-Lastly, we love hearing people talk about their dreams. What is your greatest dream, big or simple in life?
My dream is for my kids to not put limits on their life. It’s taken me a long time to learn that anything is possible if you're willing to do the required work. That and exotic tropical vacations every now and then is really all I need in life to be happy.