It’s estimated that 27 million Americans will leave the traditional workforce in favor of full-time self-employment by 2020.
While the failure rate for entrepreneurship is still north of 50% within the first four years, people still want to venture out on their own.
They want to be their own boss. Control their work/life balance.
Also, they want to create something cause-worthy or that impacts people outside of just providing a paycheck. The millennial entrepreneur is not all about making dollars and cents; they want to give back and do more.
Ericka Perry had the same mindset when she left her non-profit career in Chicago and ventured into entrepreneurship. Her career was stressful, and it was no longer fulfilling, and she wanted something more. Ericka’s journey through a failed business venture to becoming an award-winning 40 under 40 by the Business Observer recipient is inspiring. Outside of that, her product is loved by the likes of Khloe Kardashian and R&B singer Tank’s Wife, Zena Foster.
Things did not come easy for Ericka, and her path was untraditional, but her story is inspiring. Recently, we were able to chat with Ericka and learned about her entrepreneurship journey. Keep reading to learn about her experience.
Jemia Young (JY) of Mogul Millennial: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ericka Perry: I am a wife, a mom of three, and an entrepreneur. I call Florida home, but I am a military brat. I have lived all over, Germany, Kansas, North Carolina, but I consider Florida home for me. My Husband is from Chicago, and that is where I was living when I started The Stork Bag.
JY: Was The Stork Bag your first entrepreneur venture?
EP: I started as a mommy-blogger, and in 2012, I created my company MommyMaiDD Services. Its purpose was to connect busy families to caregivers and mommy-assistants. Things didn’t work out the way I anticipated, but I shifted focused, pressed on, and didn’t give up my passion for building something within the mommy and family industry.
JY: Were you working while you started your first venture?
EP: Yes, I was working in non-profit, and I had just finished up my Master’s program, and I just felt very unfulfilled. I knew that to grow in my non-profit career, I would have to obtain my masters, to make more money, but even after I did that, there was still something missing. I could go after a more significant role, but after seeing what a career in non-profit is like financially, I decided that it probably isn’t the best for my family. My financial goals and the life I wanted to provide for my children required more, and I wanted more. I tried to be a stay at home mom for a little bit; it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I was putting together a care package for a friend who was expecting when this big idea came to life.
I had a girlfriend who was expecting, and she was having a rough time. So I told her, ‘You know let me send you a care package with some of the stuff that I use, and then I will try and find something to help with your headaches and nausea.’ So I went online to see if there was something I could find, and I couldn’t find anything. I thought to myself, ‘No one thinks of the pregnant woman?’. When I was pregnant three times, I never got gifts outside of flowers from my Husband, which was great, but nothing to help me along with my pregnancy. What I realized is that people buy gifts for the unborn child, but not gifts for the mom.
I ended up curating a package for my friend, and she loved it. She was crying and was excited that I sent something that was for her during her pregnancy. Her gift came in a bag that she could use as a keepsake. I looked to my Husband after that and said, ‘I have to create something for the pregnant woman. What should I call it?’.
The Stork Bag was born soon after that.
JY: How did it feel when you got your first order.
EP: My business venture started before Instagram influencers took off. But Instagram has been the platform of choice for me when it came to marketing my business. And I remember learning that Tank’s girlfriend at the time, now wife, was pregnant – Zena Foster. And so I thought to myself ‘I wonder if I can send her a Stork Bag and get her to post it so her followers could see,’ and she said yes of course. I sent her a bag, and this was a few months after we launched. After that, I got ten customers right away. Before then, I got orders from family and friends, but Zena helped me get orders from people I did not know.
JY: What made you want to make The Stork Bag a subscription service?
EP: We started as a subscription service because that was popular at the moment. And then I began to look at how my customers and fathers, co-workers, and others shopped and I realized that I wanted to provide them with options. Now they can purchase one bag, or they can buy the subscription service. I no longer wanted my customers to feel like they had to commit to a subscription.
What we see now with the full subscription is a mom of the expectant mom, father, or very close family members purchase it. And the single Stork Bag is often a pooled gift from co-workers, friends, Dad or other family members. I love the fact that I can give people options that opened up my customer base. The ultimate goal would be to turn those one-time purchases into subscription purchases or have the receiver of that Stork Bag, turn around and gift one to her expecting friend.
JY: This is great Ericka. I want to back up a little bit to talk about your college experience. Right now, there is a major push for HBCU attendance. I know it has always been something prominent in the Black community for a while, but over the last few years, it has been much more visible. I see you went to Bethune-Cookman University. Did your attendance of an HBCU, shape or impact your growing experience?
EP: Oh gosh, absolutely! I went to the GREAT Bethune-Cookman University. When I decided to attend, it was because of some personal stuff. After high school, I didn’t want to go too far. But I also wanted to be around a lot of people that I was comfortable with. Growing up in a military family, we traveled all around the world, and I knew that if I went to a university with people I felt comfortable with, I knew I would have a better experience molding and transitioning into a more confident bold woman. My first year shaped me.
I met my Husband at college. And we always talk about the importance of attending an HBCU, but more importantly, it is a different type of experience than any other institution. With football games, Greek life and the campus. Bethune-Cookman gave me a greater sense of confidence. In the business world, there are a lot of people who do not look like me. And Bethune-Cookman gave me the tools to tackle that post-college.
Attending a school that gave me many different life tools just propelled me. “Enter to learn, depart to serve” is Bethune’s slogan. I am proud to be an alumnus and show the world that this type of person, me a Black business-woman, can produce the kind of career results that I am.
JY: Now, let’s talk about your first venture, MommyMaiDD. What did you learn from the failure of this?
EP: I think I started right. I chose something I was passionate about, and it was personal for us. I had a busy family. My Husband was working for a motor company at 14-hours a day. I was working, and we had two small kids, and I was pregnant. So this idea I had was perfect because I needed help with my busy life and I just knew other people would also need it. But really, I have no clue about entrepreneurship. I didn’t even know how to reach out and get mentors or for advice. I was trying to figure this thing out blindly, with no support.
The biggest thing I learned was the importance of having the right resources. And I don’t just mean financial resources — networking, mentors, and conferences. I jumped in headfirst with no roadmap or strategy, which is dangerous and costly. When you do not have a roadmap, goals, or objectives laid out, time and money are misspent.
You also have to be right in the headspace to run your own business. Having the sole idea of “I want to make money,” isn’t going to help you make money. I knew I had to invest in the product and brand, but I didn’t know to what extent.
JY: So how did you go about finding mentorship to get you on the right track.
EP: When I started The Stork Bag, I knew I needed to get out and network. I didn’t get out there with my first venture, but I learned, and now I am putting my mistakes into action. I bought a ticket for the Inc Women’s Conference in New York. The ticket was $500, and for a mom of 3 and a wife, that can be costly.
One of the women I wanted to see was Angela Benton. I bought this conference ticket with the sole idea that I wanted to talk to Angela, and I wanted her to mentor me. After she spoke, she goes backstage to the speakers’ area. I walked towards the back of the stage, was approached by security and he asked me where I was going, I said ‘Oh my friend is back there,’ and then I spotted Angela. She gave me a look like ‘who is this person.’ I knew I wasn’t supposed to be back there and she probably knew I wasn’t supposed to be back there either, but I went for it. I asked her to talk; she said, ‘um, sure.’ I told her my crazy story of how I purchased my ticket to meet her, and she said ‘let’s hop on a call.’ And to my shock, we hopped on a call. Everything was falling into place for me. I didn’t expect my random approach to work, but it did.
During our call, she gave me some great advice. She said to focus on being an entrepreneur and not let other stuff distract you. Things like speaking engagements and their newfound brand overshadow how they got there in the first place, which is their product and what they are trying to accomplish.
She also told me I needed to re-brand. “I don’t see something that is going to be major” is what she told me. I was crushed. But in retrospect, I look back and see precisely what she meant. So I went in and paid for another logo and we re-branded the entire thing to be more polished. I sent her like 20 different logos and ideas, and she helped me narrow it down to two. I picked one and sent her a final look, and she told me I should alter it just a little bit more, but I decided against it. And now I kind of wish I did. But she gave me the direction I needed. She helped me grow in a global brand that can be taken seriously.
JY: Do you have a favorite celebrity customer or someone who has promoted your brand?
EP: You know people say a lot of things about these sisters, but Khloe Kardashian was one of the most impactful customers. She got a Stork Bag when she was pregnant with her daughter True. And we still have customers who come to us from that. Just a few weeks ago, we had someone order a bag, and on the note, it said: “I hope I love this just as much as Khloe did.” I was shocked that she is still pulling in customers.
I know major celebrities will charge thousands of dollars to place an ad on their social media, but Khloe did not charge us at all. She was excited to receive The Stork Bag, and she spoke about it on her SnapChat. I was on a flight when it happened, and when I landed I had a ton of notifications and a text from my father, saying ‘congratulations, I saw the Kardashian girl talk about The Stork Bag.’ Then US Weekly picked up the story and they hyperlinked our website. It was a lot of great recognition and support. So by far, she is the best celebrity customer/endorsement.
JY: Final words of wisdom for upcoming mom-preneurs, Black women, or millennials as they are embarking on their entrepreneur journey.
EP: Thoughts become things. Sometimes we walk into situations with not a lot of confidence in what we are walking into, but your thoughts become things. If you can think about something and visualize the results, even when it gets hard, then you will see it manifest. It is crucial to guard your thoughts. Write your goals down. Stay focused. If you can see it in your mind, you can see it in your reality. Guard your thoughts!