Sharon Schneider, Moxie Jean, Woman Entrepreneur

Sharon-profile_largeI was introduced to Troy Henikoff who is the managing director of Techstars Chicago.  We got together and discussed many of the start-ups that he is involved with.  He talked to me about a few women entrepreneurs he thought I might like to talk to.  Sharon Schneider is one of them.  Her energy level is contagious.  Her company, Moxie Jean, is an online consignment store for kids clothing.  Even the other day we were laughing about how I'd buy the kids clothes just a bit big because I knew they would grow out of them so quickly.  What do you do with those clothes when they are over with besides donating them?  Sharon decided it makes the most sense to upscale and resale. 

Sharon grew up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio.  Both her parents were both accountants but worked in separate companies.  Her father worked in manufacturing.  Her mother stayed home for a while and then went back to school to get her MBA to return to accounting mostly in the non-profit arena including being the comptroller of Anioc University.

Sharon did not go too far after graduating from high school.  She chose University of Toledo because as a national merit scholar she was awarded free room and board there.  Her parents said they would buy her a car if she got a free ride to college.  She looks back at that now and laughs in regards to where her priorities were.  It was obviously all about the car. 

She decided that she wanted to be an English teacher so she majored in English.  She found the classes very simplistic and so she ended up shifting gears.  Sharon grew up in a white Catholic homogeneous area and at University of Toledo she was fascinated with how many different walks of life people came from.  She gravitated towards the study of Sociolinguistics, the study of dialect and the power of language.  She says she really came into her own in college participating in plays, starting groups and clubs.  She also met her husband there.

After graduating, Sharon received a fellowship from University of Pennsylvania from the professor there who had started the field of sociolinguistics.  She was still so jaded being in Ohio that when she got to Penn and got a tour of Franklin Hall she asked what all the banners were.  They told her it was for all the ivy league schools.  She had zero idea that Penn was an ivy league school. 

She made the leap and moved to Philadelphia for the opportunity to do a fellowship in four years where she would complete her Phd.  Her boyfriend went to Utah for a year but after that he moved to Philadelphia to be with Sharon.  Sharon decided that this program was not what she had expected so she decided to get her masters in two years.  Her interest was in how kids speak.  Kids from African American families speak different than kids who grow up in white families.  Linguistics can predict the issues that kids  have as they start to learn to read.  Many kids get disproportionally labeled with special needs but that is not always the problem.  She wanted to work with school systems around the country on these issues so that they understood better how to teach kids to read.  During the time she was doing her masters on this work she was interning at the Pew Charitable Foundation.  After she completed her thesis they offered her a full time job.  She stayed in Philly for about 5/6 years. 

During this time her boyfriend, now her husband, discovered Atlantic City.  They both were mathematical people and loved black jack.  They both got hooked.  They realized that the only person who wins the most is the dealer so they both went to night school to become registered black jack dealers.  They were hired by Tropicana to run black jack tables on the weekend.  They would get there on Friday night and leave on Sunday.  Great way to make extra cash on the side.

Sharon was recruited out of Pew by a company in Connecticut called the Foundation Source.  At Pew there was a $5 billion endowment and 150 people working there.  Foundation Source hired her for her expertise to bring to the family foundations they serviced.  There are multi-pronged thoughts on how to develop strategies for investors so that they can make an impact with their funding.  She learned that at Pew and brought that same strategic thought process to Foundation Source. 

After six years living in Fairfield, Ct they decided it was not the place they wanted to be.  They moved to Chicago while she continued to work for the Foundation Source.  During the time she was there she realized that most of the wealth created from these family foundations came from selling a business not just making a good salary.  That was a big aha moment for Sharon in how she wanted to create her own wealth. Giving back should be tied to your own personal goals.  She thought I want to make millions to further her own social instincts and beliefs instead of having a firewall between the two.

When her niece was born her youngest son was one year old (Sharon has three kids).  She had boxes and boxes of clothes from all her kids in the closet.  At the time she was doing a consulting gig and traveling for the Foundation Source and she wanted to make some time to go through all the boxes before sending them out to her niece in Oklahoma City.  She wanted to find a repository where people could send their stuff to buy and share but she couldn't.  It was August 2011.  She couldn't find one and that was her aha moment.  She called her Mom who had been a comptroller for the past 30 years and her sister who is also a CPA and business analyst in the manufacturing industry and told them that she had an idea.  She wanted to know if they thought that creating a place online to share and buy kids clothes made sense.  They said yes and that they would do it with her.

Sharon told Foundation Source in September that she would be leaving at the end of the year.  She wanted to nicely transition out.  By the end of the year they had launched the original idea which was a Netflix for baby clothes.  They owned the clothes and started with a subscription fee to get seven outfits in the same size for newborn to 24 months and then when you were done they'd send you the next size up.  One person subscribed on December 31st and they eventually mangaged to get 20 people.  They won a pitch competition at a collaborative based start-up in NYC and then returned to Chicago where they got into Excelerate Labs (which eventually turned into Techstars).

The first month at Accelerate she felt like something wasn't working. She got on the phone with one of her subscribers and began to ask questions.  She was the core target demo as this woman just had her third kid.  The customer said she felt like the clothes were too precious and she couldn't remember which one was hers and which one was theirs.  The kids spit up on the clothes and ruin them and she felt a burden of borrowing clothes and then feeling responsible for keeping them clean.  This conversation forced them to go back to the drawing board. 

They wanted to keep the core of reusing clothes so they thought what if we just resell the old clothes instead of lending them out.  They hired a tech contractor and in three weeks they had changed the business and renamed it Moxie Jean.  The first name was Good Karma and after doing a simple marketing poll which was sending an intern to the food courts asking Moms what they thought of the name, they nixed Karma because it was too polarizing. 

Moxie Jean graduated from the Techstars program in August and have made some serious progress since.  The brand relaunched in July 2012.  They raised money on a convertible note and are now raising a seed round (although since our conversation they might have already completed that).  They tripled their revenue since December.  They continue to grow monthly and have sold over 25,000 units on their site.  Some Moms are buyers and others are sellers.  You can send them your clothes and get a credit towards buying new stuff or cash back based on what sells.  Not only have their built a business they have created a community around the product they are providing to families with young kids.

Sharon is impressive.  I love that she brought her Mom and sister in to join the team.  An interesting career that has led her to be an entrepreneur.  If you have kids, check it out, Moxie Jean.