As other members of the Stanford Business School Class of 2007 twisted their tassels, bracing for a lucrative career on Wall Street, Monica Royer's younger brother, Andy Dunn, shocked his parents with the announcement that he wanted to forgo a six-figure salary to sell pants on the internet.
"I remember at his graduation, he told my parents he was starting an online apparel company," Royer recalls. "My mom is an immigrant from India. They worked very hard to get here and fashion is something that wasn't in their wheelhouse. They were like 'Woah, what is your brother doing?' "
Royer took a step back, sinking into a corporate job in the pharmaceutical industry that her parents very much supported, and watched as her brother's risky proposal became a prosperous reality. Within three years, Dunn's menswear company, Bonobos--which would later be acquired by Walmart for $310 million--was closing its first venture round.
At the same time, Royer was in the hospital, giving birth to her daughter. With Andy's success buzzing in the background, she cradled her newborn, noticing the poor quality of the clothing supplied for her child by the hospital: tattered rags and stained clothes already worn by other kids. She realized this was symptomatic of the quality of most baby and children's clothing on the market.
The light bulb went off in her head, and she didn't shut it off: "I took my maternity leave and never came back."
With the scratchy hospital attire serving as fodder for her creative mind, Royer embraced the entrepreneurial instincts that would seem to run in the family and began the three-year process of researching what would later become Monica + Andy, an organic clothing line for babies and young children based in Chicago.
"I was super excited," says Dunn of the moment his sister introduced him to Monica + Andy. "I saw her authenticity for it and the mission-driven mindset behind it. I knew she was going to be successful with it when it became more than just doing something entrepreneurial for its own sake, but serving a mission."
Since its conception in 2013, Monica + Andy has expanded in both its digital and physical presence, boasting 250 percent year-over-year growth. It has six physical locations--three permanent stores and three nine-month-long pop-ups--in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, with a Boston location set to open soon. It has also lassoed the attention of celebrities like Serena Williams and Jessica Alba, who have both posted Instagram photos of the soft, pastel prints.
Success isn't assured, however. Kelly Mariotti, the executive director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, warns that entering this market at this time isn't exactly straightforward.
"There are two major factors to consider as a baby or children's products company when entering today's market: Birth rates are low, and retail outlets are consolidating dramatically," says Mariotti. "This directly impacts the size of the total market and your go-to-market strategy."
Like Brother, Like Sister
Even so, the success that Monica + Andy has seen so far is noteworthy. Royer largely credits her brother, who is the chair of the company's board of directors and company namesake. On a fundamental level, she says, he helped demonstrate that building a successful company from scratch is viable.
"What's cool about Monica is that the Bonobos journey helped her see, this is doable," Dunn says. "There is a process that she saw me go through, and when it connected to her passion, she was like 'I've seen this movie before.' "
What's more, Royer was able to adopt parts of the Bonobos business strategy that had proved successful, such as the Guideshop model. This brick-and-mortar revamp, pioneered by Andy, is an inventory-nimble store that allows people to see and shop the product but have the merchandise mailed to them after-the-fact.
Instead of opting to be digital only, Royer followed her brother's advice and launched Monica + Andy's digital and physical stores simultaneously. Retail sold out immediately. But the Guideshops provided an even greater benefit for the Monica + Andy brand. These stores allowed her to directly connect with consumers, establishing a level of customer service that she says sets her company apart.
"For the first two years, I had a tiny windowless office in the back of that physical location," says Royer. This proximity was useful to the entrepreneur, as it helped her learn about her community and develop the Monica + Andy brand. And she found that what they wanted was a personal experience.
With her daughter on her hip, she got to work hiring a workforce of moms who would be able to relate to the Monica + Andy customers. She also began organizing a number of classes for new parents that would take place inside the stores, and geared everything toward building a product that would reflect the care and attention new moms valued.
"We as a team hand gift-wrapped every item, putting personal notes in. With this brand, we weren't jamming things in a cardboard box or a plastic bag," Royer says. "In this digital world, that human touch is more important than it ever was before. There is always a human behind what we're doing, and it's always close to where I am."
Home Is Where the Startup Is
Although it was her relationship with family that helped establish and shape Monica + Andy, Royer says that having the people close to her in the same unstable profession can often make life very stressful. That includes Royer's husband, Rob Royer, an entrepreneur who founded Chicago-based custom sofa company Interior Define.
"The job takes a hold of you and your life so firmly," says Royer, who is looking to close on her company's first round of funding this year. "We're always on the go and there are so many things happening. I don't think we'd go back and change that we've all done this, but sometimes we're all fundraising at the same time, and there's not a lot of stability in these kinds of jobs. We're all fortunate to do it, but it's not like having a steady corporate position."
But even when they're all stressed out of their minds, Royer says it is her family that keeps her sane. Especially her 7-year-old daughter, who is the spark behind Monica + Andy.
"The good thing about motherhood and entrepreneurship is it forces you to elevate out of your day-to-day work life and be there for someone," Royer says. "It forces me to be myself and be there for someone who does not care what kind of a revenue day it was. It keeps you grounded, but it's really hard."
Corrections and Amplifications: Due to incorrect information from the company, an earlier version of this article misstated the timeline for when Monica + Andy's first funding round would close. The company expects this to happen sometime this year.