Interview with Helen Smith | Founder and CEO of Roo & You
Helen Smith is the Founder and CEO of Roo & You, a community-driven business dedicated to creating fun, and design-forward products that are a lot less about being expensive, and a lot more about having fun.
Helen's story is one a lot of moms can relate to. After being pregnant with her first child (Kai Kai!) she found it hard to be apart from her baby but still wanted to do something that was just for her. Kai had just started teething around this time and she had a hard time finding modern, minimalist baby accessories, something to match her style while being baby-friendly and affordable. So in February 2017, she created Chew Chew Baby Roo, an affordable silicone teething products that provided modern accessories for the whole family!
Since then, Chew Chew Baby Roo has rebranded and evolved its product line, designing and making products that aren't only functional, but also modern, chic and will excite families to use.
In our interview with Helen, we explore her origin story and the influence of motherhood on her entrepreneurial journey.
Hello Helen and thank you for participating in this Q&A session. Please give us an overview of your background and origin story prior to launching your company Roo & You?
Helen: Thank you for having me! When I was 8 years old, my parents fled Kurdistan (North Iraq) because of the Saddam regime, which made me and my family Kurdish refugees. I still remember running home from Kindergarten when the sirens went off because that meant we had to get somewhere safe. Hearing the bombs and the guns. My parents showed amazing bravery and courage to leave Kurdistan and move our family to somewhere safe. I am forever grateful to them for it.
It wasn't easy growing up, and being bullied for looking and sounding different from everyone else, but it definitely helped me grow a thick skin which comes in handy as an entrepreneur. Not wanting to ever waste the opportunity my parents gave me, I received my Diploma in Child & Youth Work and my Bachelors in Psychology and Sociology with a specialization in Children & Family.
This led me to my last career as a Child & Youth Counselor, working in a women's shelter and the school board.
Why did you become an entrepreneur and what were the factors that influenced you to pursue a career in entrepreneurship?
Helen: When my maternity leave ended after having my first child (Kai Kai!), I found it hard to be apart from him but still wanted to do something that was just for me. Kai had just started teething around this time and I had a hard time finding modern, minimalist teething accessories, something to match my style while also being safe, baby-friendly and affordable. So I decided to launched Chew Chew Baby Roo, but soon after I start my business, I found out I was pregnant with my 2nd.
I was wrangling two boys and hand-making silicone products while they slept, with a sweet “office” setup under the stairs, Harry Potter style. Once I started my business, I realized I could still be around for my kids while doing something fulfilling for myself. My mission has always been to show that you don’t have to pick work over your family and vice versa.
It wasn't easy growing up, and being bullied for looking and sounding different from everyone else, but it definitely helped me grow a thick skin which comes in handy as an entrepreneur. - Helen Smith
What key challenges have you faced as an Entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
Helen: Running a business and learning to scale it to success has been two of my biggest challenges. I quickly learned the two easiest ways to overcome any challenge is to have an amazing support network and to just ask a lot of questions. There’s so much to do and learn in any business that it becomes emotionally and mentally exhausting. But entrepreneurs don’t need to do everything solo. Having great people around you to share the workload is so important because it gives you a sounding board and the chance to tackle many of the opportunities that exist out there.
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about glory for yourself. Behind every great entrepreneur or company is a great team, and it’s up to the entrepreneur to make sure questions are asked and answered to help lead the business to success.
Once I started my business, I realized I could still be around for my kids while doing something fulfilling for myself. My mission has always been to show that you don’t have to pick work over your family and vice versa. - Helen Smith
Please tell us the origin story behind your company Roo & You?
Helen: Fast forward to the Fall of 2020, after living Harry Potter style since 2017, Kai and Finn were getting into making forts using our couch cushions, which made me think the boys needed their own couch to build with! That's when the ‘Joey’ was born!
Since then, Roo & You has evolved its product line while teaming up with Matt (my husband) and my baby brother, Rozin, to design and create products that aren't only functional but also modern, chic and exciting for family use. Who says you can't have both style and function?
We didn't want to stop at just a couch, because to make epic forts you need more pieces that are not only great for building forts, but are multiple functional, and can be used for therapy purposes, and as stand alone products to make slides, rockers, and so much more.
How would you describe Roo & You’s value proposition?
Helen: Being a parent really changes your life, because you get to be a kid again! Sometimes that comes at the expense of our adult sensibilities, grown-up relationships, and hard-earned dollars. As parents, I know what that can feel like. Not everything needs to be bright and in your face!
Roo & You is a community-driven business dedicated to creating fun, design-forward products that are a lot less about being expensive and a lot more about having fun.
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about glory for yourself. Behind every great entrepreneur or company is a great team, and it’s up to the entrepreneur to make sure questions are asked and answered to help lead the business to success. - Helen Smith
Why should customers shop at Roo & You?
Helen: To dream, build, and play! Becoming an adult means the world slowly chips away at your imagination and your inner child, and businesses are so … transactional. There’s nothing personal anymore, just exchanging dollars, even if it means hurting the customer.
Everything we do at Roo & You is to encourage the growth, imagination, and wellbeing of kids all over, reminding them that life is pretty awesome and that you really can do anything you put your mind to it.
There’s nothing we create or sell that we would not give to our own children. We know how important family is, and have made Roo & You the centre of our own community of customers, where they are able to vote for new products and colours, give feedback, share fun projects, and more!
Overall what do you attribute your success to as an Entrepreneur?
As cliche as it sounds, it’s perseverance. I went through a few ideas before we landed on the ‘Joey’, but getting through the slow, less successful parts of the business was tough. There were a lot of times that the business didn’t make much. On those days where it got tough and I doubted my vision, my husband always supported me and said if you see the potential in this then you need to go for it!
Do you have any advice for women seeking to go into entrepreneurship?
Helen: Be confident, believe in yourself and network! Don't let your fear of failure get in the way of your vision. So many people doubted me along the way, especially when I found out I was pregnant with my 3rd just as we released the ‘Joey’. But you can't let that get to you.
Build a network around you, it is so helpful and I have been fortunate to have met some pretty great people along the way. It can feel lonely sometimes, so having others to talk to that have gone through or are going through something similar, is helpful.
Thank you Helen, for participating in this Q&A session. We wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Helen: Thank you.
Don't let your fear of failure get in the way of your vision. - Helen Smith
This article was originally published in Issue 13 of The Business Anecdote magazine.
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