Jennifer Williams: A Story of Vision and Commitment

  • What did you eat for breakfast? Golden Grahams cereal 🙂
  • What’s your workout? I’ve recently joined a fitness class focused on water aerobics and other pool activities at a local gym. I’m the youngest participant by about 25 years. I enjoy the conversation with the other ladies much more than the actual work out. Recently one of the women gave me a bathing suit to match that of hers and her friends. I’m obviously the cool, young, hip one of the group. I think. I love it all.
  • What picture is on your phone’s home screen? Share it with us. My adorable Chihuahua mix Izzy looking up at me with her big sweet eyes.

    Jennifer’s Chihuahua mix, Izzy

The Birth of an Idea

  • Tell us about your work. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now? In 2009 I was laying around with my Great Dane Rufus getting ready for a weekend nap with him and I noticed just how unique he was physically. He had two different colored eyes, unique markings throughout his fur, etc. and I thought “It would be great to have a stuffed animal custom made to look like Rufus”. After some internet research I realized this type of product didn’t exist at the time. “What? A product concept that didn’t actually exist and one that seemed to have such obvious mass appeal (in my mind anyway)” That was the day Cuddle Clones was born. I met my business partner Adam Greene in an entrepreneurial focused MBA program at the University of Louisville and he loved the idea so we decided to pursue it post-graduation and here we are. We now have about 40 total employees and are steadily growing.
  • What do you see for your future? My personal future? Traveling the world helping pets! Cuddle Clones’ future? We’d like to expand our digital footprint into all things pet related. Think of an online community that’s a one-stop shop for pet related items but also a place in which you can share pictures/videos of your pet, enter a contest for free Cuddle Clones products, or nominate animal related non-profits for donations. We’re also looking into the development of a mobile game involving your pet as the main character. We’re currently evaluating the possibility of an additional investment round to accent our organic growth and to extend our reach into new geographic areas.

Inside Cuddle Clones

  • How large is your business? How many employees do you have? We have 40 employees at the moment and are looking to add a few more in our Louisville, Kentucky office. In terms of revenue, let’s just say we’re doing pretty well 🙂
  • Tell us a success story about funding your business. Our seed round of investment took place in early 2013 and we found that the concept resonated with many savvy and non-savvy investors. Our investors also liked the fact that Adam and I had put in a significant amount of our own money into the business and had quit our well-paying jobs to focus on Cuddle Clones full time. Essentially we were talking the talk and walking the walk even prior to investment, which is something I have found is lacking with a lot of wanna-be entrepreneurs.
  • What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities? The main challenge we have is the ability to scale. Since our flagship product is by nature a very labor-intensive process and requires so much one-on-one attention, it’s tough to scale quickly. Our employees require extensive training in order to produce a plush Cuddle Clone at the quality we demand and we can’t just hire a bunch of people and expect them to reach that level of skill right way. Our main opportunities involve creating more awareness around the brand and about the concept in general.
  • Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame? I think we’ve been very successful at being sensitive to the emotional needs of our customers. We take great pride and care in our ability to provide some level of solace to a customer whose pet has passed away (which is a fairly large portion of our business). A mistake we’ve overcome – hmm, there are plenty. I would say the initial build of our website was with an agency that we didn’t properly vet. We trusted them a bit too much and they really led us astray. We’ve been fighting an uphill battle with the way our site is developed ever since. We’re finally launching a new website this year that should address a number of issues the current website falls short on.

A Closer Look

  • What do you love about being an entrepreneur? It may sound corny but I really do love making people happy and I think the existence of our company does that for a lot of pet owners who may be grieving the loss of a pet or who simply want a cool custom product in their pet’s likeness.
  • What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values? We’re creating value not just economically at a micro or macro level but emotionally with our customers. I love the idea that our products can help people grieve.  The loss of a pet is devastating – we’ve all felt it – and if we can help ease that pain even just the tiniest bit that means a lot to me.
  • What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?” I don’t stop. My business partner and others tell me my battery never needs recharging. I have to be told to stop working all the time. Perhaps what charges my battery IS the act of working itself…
  • Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you? Currently, I’m into Dr. Peter Diamandis, “the Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and launching large incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity”. I’m really into the book ‘Bold’ right now, which Diamandis co-authors. It tries to provide a framework for entrepreneurs to think big and utilize the next wave of technology. so I’m trying to train my brain to think big and go big.

Takeaways For Female Entrepreneurs

  • What’s the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman? I think sometimes that it doesn’t cross a man’s mind that what Cuddle Clones does is big, or that I might be interested in some of the same hobbies (say golf or the NFL, of which I am huge fan) or discussions that they are interested in. If I get asked what I do and I answer that I am the founder of a business that creates stuffed animals of people’s pets, they automatically assume I am making them by myself out of my house. That’s probably a combination of being a woman and making cute cuddly products but still, I always try to get in that little tidbit of our employee count or that we’re actually doing quite well.
  • Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs, and if so, how? If not, why not? I do think females are different than male entrepreneurs, and not always in a good way. I will use a recent conference I attended as an example. I would like to discuss the challenges and opportunities that we are facing with respect to our businesses but the conversation at most of the conference tended toward self-esteem, work-life family balance, not being mean to each other, etc. Which is not the reason I was there. I doubt that the men are talking about these types of issues.
  • What the best advice you ever got, and from whom? That when you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, that you should frame it in a way that is you investing in yourself. That’s not a new concept but if you had $20,000 to invest, the true entrepreneur would not put it in savings bonds or even the stock market when there is a remote possibility that you could earn 20 times that by investing in yourself.

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