Katie has an impeccable sense of style and clean modern design. Her brand’s core vision is “simplifying parenting” and she has done just that by creating products that make life easier and more enjoyable. Her products have been featured in major publications like Parenting, Fit Pregnancy, Pregnancy & Newborn, and Daily Candy. Her innovative folding infant bathtub, the Puj Tub, was awarded by Pregnancy & Newborn as the #1 Baby Product of 2010. It’s also been featured on the Rachel Ray Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Read further to hear what Katie has to say…
Katie, you met your husband and business partner, Benjamin, while studying Industrial Design. What was your first impression of him, and when did you realize he was the one?
Ben was a legend before I ever spoke to him. I would see him around the design labs and was familiar with his work. He was a year ahead of me in the Industrial Design program at BYU. It was a very competitive program with a limited number of spots. He was one of the top designers and WAY out of my league (or so I thought 🙂 ) He could tell pretty quickly that while I did have raw talent, I was not receiving a lot of direction with my class projects.
From the very beginning, he always believed in me and my ability to achieve greatness. The program was very loose and students were often left to “figure it out.” Lucky for me, Ben was a great teacher and we often worked on projects together. We would meet up at the library and he would help me with my sketching. I remember drawing straight lines over and over and practicing freehand circles and ovals.
We would spend hours in the computer lab, honing our CAD skills and pushing each other to improve our designs and make them better. It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
It was all the little things that really that made me fall in love with him. I always felt like a lady when I was around him. He would open the car door for me, pull a chair out for me, or offer me a glass of water. We were in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show with our fellow students and he insisted on carrying my glossy red purse for me. He was such a gentleman and consistently put my wants and needs before his own. He is still that way today and it’s one of the many things I love about him.
How do you separate your personal relationship from your business relationship? What is the key to making it work?
Our personal relationship and business relationship are very intertwined. We have learned that our criticism on each other’s designs is not personal, but rather we are trying to discover the best possible solution together. As a woman, I’ll admit this was hard for me at first. When I would show him an idea or my creation, I wanted him to jump up and down with excitement and tell me how amazing it was! But he is always silent at first, thinks about it, and gives me suggestions. And then almost as an afterthought he says, “It’s looking really great, Katie.”
It took us a while to learn how to communicate with each other, but that clear communication is key. Running this business together has forced us to let all our walls down and be very clear on our priorities and values in life. And as husband and wife, we know each others strengths very well. Ben is a big picture guy who loves looking into the future. I love figuring out all the little details. I feel our skill sets complement each other and give us a competitive edge.
Family is at the core of your business model. You seem to have an incredible balance on prioritizing all aspects of your life and keeping your children included in the family business. How do you do it? What do your kids think about all of it?
We have four kids, ages 10, 8, 6, and 1. Puj was started when our oldest was 5. For them its very “normal” to see a picture of themselves on a store shelf, or Mom’s product on The Ellen Show, or a family photo in the newspaper. Being entrepreneurs has given us the freedom to live the life we want. For example, we had always wanted to travel internationally with our kids. So three years ago, we got the kids same-day passports and took the whole family to Taiwan for a month. It was one of the best experiences for our family and was an amazing education for the kids.
Finding balance between family and business has been a matter of knowing what my priorities are and sticking to them at all costs. Some may think it’s silly to rearrange travel and a video shoot schedule so that I don’t miss my son’s piano recital, but for me, it’s clear what to do because I understand my priorities in life. Finding balance takes focus and intention. Because life is always in flux, I have to access my balance every day. And a major key in finding balance is taking time to take care of myself. This means exercising, eating right, getting eight hours of sleep, drinking lots of water, and taking time to have fun. By making myself a priority, I have the energy and mental power to not just make it through the day, but really thrive.
You and Ben both designed products for major name brand companies before creating Puj. What sparked your decision to make the change? Growing up, had you always envisioned owning your own company?
I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I lacked the confidence I needed in myself and in my ability to make products that people would actually pay money for. I saw myself as a stay-at-home mom only and didn’t see how I could ever have a design career. It was my husband who first suggested I start a company. Along the way there were people who believed in me and had the confidence that I could do it. There was Merril, the local boutique owner who told me, “I go to all the trade shows and this stuff is HOT!” The throngs of store buyers who crowded around me and my wares at a small trade show… And Scott, a Global Creative Director at Nike, who believed in my shoe design and encouraged me to go after it. And Ben was always at my side, encouraging me to keep trying. When I was in my deepest darkest moments, he would lift me up and point out all the progress I was making. He would point out the bright spots and help me find solutions for my hurdles. He taught me there is always a way. Now as I look back on this entrepreneurial journey, I see all the people who believed in me. And in those moments when I doubt myself and my abilities, I have learned to lean on them.
With four sweet kids, we imagine parenting has heavily influenced your work. Tell us about that. What about your kids? Have any of them come up with a stellar idea yet for Puj?
Our kids play an active role in our business. They want to see Puj be successful just as much as we do. One day we were doing a photoshoot for our soft spout-cover, the Snug, and my son who was three at the time had no interest in being a model. We had him in the tub with lots of bubbles and all he was giving us was a grouchy face. So I went to the school and pulled my kindergartener out of school so he could be our model. He’s so proud of that photo and he is on store shelves all over the world. And they love coming up with ideas with us. It’s not out of place to have a brainstorming session over dinner, or draw new inventions with a whiteboard marker on the fridge. Children are uninhibited which makes them extremely creative.
Puj includes so many brilliant products. Is there one that’s your favorite? What’s the story behind it?
One of my favorite products is our toddler towel, the Big Hug. I wanted to make a hooded towel that had an athletic fit to it. It would be easy for the kids to wrap themselves up and instantly be covered. I had the idea in my head for a while and Ben kept telling me to sketch it out for him (because he wasn’t understanding the concept). I’m a maker more than a sketcher, so I decided to make one right then and there. I created a child’s body form by wrapping my six-year old in old clothes and duct tape. Then I cut the form off and stuffed it so it had volume. Then with packing tape, scissors, and sheets of packing foam, I proceeded to make my hooded towel. It was a quick and inexpensive way to get the overall silhouette and shape I wanted.
Once I had it just right, I took my sharpie and drew out where I wanted my seams to be. I cut up all the pieces and used them as patterns to cut out the terry material. Then I sewed it all together and figured out how to hide all the seams so it had a clean and finished look. Three hours later I tapped Ben on the shoulder and showed him my toddler towel.
In a rarer moment he looked up at me and said, “Katie, it’s BRILLIANT! I love it!” By that night I had emailed the pattern to our factories and a week later we had our first samples in our hands. Now I get emails from parents saying how much their kids love the Big Hug and how it’s one of their favorite Puj products. It’s rare for a new product to come together so quickly but it’s sure fun when it does.
Before you created the Puj Tub, were you improvising with something similar when you bathed your kids? How did you conceptualize these ideas? How many prototypes did you go through before the final designs?
The idea for the Puj Tub came after the birth of our second child. I had never found an easy bathing solution with my first and I was dreading every bath with him. The simplest solution was to bathe him in the sink. I would line the sink with towels. While it was quick and easy, there were still a lot of problems. I knew there had to be a better way! So I made a list of the “must haves” for my solution. Easy to fill, cradles baby, warm on his skin, stores flat, and can be set up with a baby in my arms (always a must).
I used a brown paper sack as my inspiration. It easily pops open to hold volume and stores flat. There are no complicated mechanisms, but just a living hinge. Then I researched materials and wanted something that was soft, but non-absorbent. What I landed on was a medical grade closed cell foam. It’s used in life vests and the food industry so I knew it was durable and non-toxic.
We cut our first prototype out in our living room over Christmas break. Our baby was too old at the time, so we had our neighbor sign a non-disclosure agreement and tried it out with her infant. After trying it for a week, I asked for it back and she didn’t want to let it go. We could see very quickly that we were on to something. There has only been one change from that first prototype and it’s the thing that gives the tub its magic: the recessed magnets. They’re what make people call the tub “genius.” This concept came from many late nights of sketching and prototyping, but once we solved the problem, we both knew we had just made an already really great product “brilliant.” And every time someone uses those words “brilliant” or “genius,” I do a fist tuck and exclaim, “YES!” because that’s exactly what we were going for.
The world’s first hangable kid cup, the PhillUp, is your latest design, and it funded in one day on Kickstarter. Congratulations! How long did it take to develop it for your campaign?
We worked really hard to make the Puj PhillUp an overnight success. The cup design itself went through many prototypes and iterations before we finalized the design. Then we spent several months putting together the campaign to market the cups. We had to figure out how to communicate the problem and solution. We had to explain why this was “simplifying parenthood.” On the day we launched our Kickstarter campaign to customers, numbers climbed very rapidly because we had spent time creating an awesome video and images, and getting people to sign up before the launch.
We love your Puj Approved products, and your Gift Guide, how did you select the items?
I noticed that our design criteria and brand values were also effective when it came to purchasing any products, so I decided to take these same values and build a whole parenting story with products from many categories. Puj is all about simplifying parenthood, and guess what? There are some amazing companies out there doing it too! Over the past several years, we’ve used some awesome products and have even met many of the people behind them. Rather than keep them to ourselves, we wanted to share our finds with everyone.
Given your track history, we imagine you have something else on the horizon. Care to share anything about what the future holds for Puj? Or maybe you’re just planning a family vacation to celebrate the Puj PhillUp Kickstarter success?
My husband and I are both industrial designers. Solving problems and inventing solutions is what we do. Whether that is a physical product or a digital product, it doesn’t matter. In the immediate future, you will begin to see more Puj products in the kitchen. It makes a lot of sense with the introduction of the Puj PhillUp, our hangable kid cup. And then I would love to design products that are used when you’re out and about or traveling. Travel and adventure is a big part of our family lifestyle and I would love for Puj to play a role in that. But there really is no limit on what we can do.
All photos © Puj
From 2/23/2015 – 5/10/2015 (Mother’s Day) save $10 off 1 framed photo and $20 off 2 by using Gift Code – PUJ10