Talking with: Julie Aigner-Clark
Originally Published August 2000, Updated January 2002
Founder, The Baby Einstein Company
Julie Aigner-Clark is the founder of The Baby Einstein Company, an organization that produces developmental media designed to engage babies and very young children in the arts. With a wide range of products from videos to flash cards, Baby Einstein items encourage learning by fostering interaction between baby and parent. From its inception in 1997, the company grew into a multimillion-dollar home-based corporation receiving national media attention and accolades from its users (and their parents!). In November 2001, Baby Einstein became part of The Walt Disney Company and is now a leader in infant devleopment media including DVDs, videos, music CDs, books and toys.
Julie Aigner-Clark with some baby testers!
How did you first come up with the idea for Baby Einstein?
Believe it or not, when I stopped working when I was six months pregnant, I had no intention of going back to work. I was planning to be a stay at home mom! I was really committed to the mommy-thing. If this was going to be my new job, I was going to be the best I could be! My background is 'humanities' and the arts. Before having kids, I was a middle school and high school arts teacher. When my daughter was born, I started taking her to museums and places like that. But it wasn't very engaging to her or to me! And then I started thinking, "Am I the only mom who wants to develop the love of humanities and fine arts in her children?" So, the idea for Baby Einstein was born.
How did an "idea" turn into actuality?
It took me until my daughter was about 18 months old to really start to put my ideas into action. I wanted to help mothers (and myself) spend quality time with their babies while exposing them to new cultural, musical, and artistic experiences.
So, with no videography experience, I borrowed a friend's video equipment and started filming my first video in the basement of our home. My husband and I financed this project ourselves -- it cost about $18,000 to develop, design and package our first video, money that we took from our savings.
How did you spread the word?
We didn't spend any money on marketing and advertising. Our first big break came when we convinced a baby retailer with about 45 stores nationally, to test our product on the shelves of six of their stores. The response was amazing. Parents loved the video and it flew off the shelves, really by word of mouth. The store was so impressed by the performance of the first Baby Einstein Video that our product was offered in their catalog. With a distribution into ten million homes, the exposure was incredible. Parenting Magazine also named us "Video of the Year." That gave us a tremendous amount of credibility. We have been very lucky!
Luck couldn't have been the sole factor in your success?
Babies loved our products. Plus, right around the time that our video "Baby Mozart" hit store shelves, there was a study published which received a tremendous amount of national media attention. Called "The Mozart Effect," it explored the positive relationship between the development of a child's intelligence and exposure to classical music. It seemed like our timing was perfect!
In the meantime, along with the growth of your company, you had another baby. How do you balance building the company and raising your family?
Honestly, I felt and still feel guilty all the time. When my company started really growing, I didn't have any help in my house at all. I had the upkeep of my daily life, I had a one year old and a three year old, and I had my house. So I had to prioritize. The thing I liked to do the least was housework. So I hired someone to help out in the house. That along with my really excellent husband has made all the difference. But, I feel like I never really gave up the "full time mom stuff"- sometimes it feels so hard to balance. Even now, I feel like I never give either my company or my kids enough attention. It's really a battle when you have your office in your home. On the one hand I feel really lucky because I can be there, and if my daughter falls down and cries I can go to her, but it also seems like I work constantly. My day starts at 5:30 AM, when my kids get up. We usually spend about two hours in the morning just doing stuff together before I even go into my office and start working. But at 10:00 o'clock at night, I'm still working - if I walk by my office, I can't resist going to my computer the check my email.
What are your plans for the future?
Sometimes I think about getting an office away from the house so I can separate my work from my home. My oldest daughter starts first grade in the fall and my little one will go to preschool 2 days a week. That will give me two full days that I can dedicate completely to work, something that I never had before. In the meantime, Baby Einstein products are going to the "mass market" which means that they will be available in some of the country's largest retail chains. Prior to this, our products were only available at childrens specialty retailers. I am not exactly sure how this will impact my life - although I am sure up for the challenge!