Motherhood gives birth to companies, too

Among four start-ups is a one-stop Web site to supply new mothers

THE BUSINESS: Selling products over the Internet for pregnant women and small children
FOUNDED: Spring 1998
MOTHERHOOD OF INVENTION: An expectant mother's frustration while shopping

Laurie McCartney, a 32-year-old Harvard M.B.A. and former executive in the strategic-planning group at the Walt Disney Co., has an eye for spotting business inefficiency. Last year she became exasperated on a shopping trip. "I had to go to 5 to 10 stores just to outfit my nursery," she recounts. Before her son, Jack, was born, she hatched an idea: a one-stop-shopping site on the Web where women could buy everything they needed during pregnancy and the first two years of motherhood.

So McCartney founded eStyle, a company based in Los Angeles. She raised $16 million from seven venture-capital firms -- led by Global Retail Partners and Oak Investment Partners -- and says she plucked 11 employees from Disney to join her and her other employees. By July she had her Web site ( up and running. Its offerings range from maternity frocks to the Boy-O-Boy nursery, which is fully outfitted down to the tissue box. "The buyers for our company are moms," notes McCartney, boasting that therefore culls only the best merchandise available from the business's 250 suppliers.

Sales have been brisk, McCartney says (although she won't divulge numbers), and she expects to add 20 employees to her 40-person staff by year-end. Her goal is for eStyle to become the "ultimate shopping destination for women," providing items for everything from home decor to personal care. A second Web site scheduled to debut by early 2000 will serve mothers "as the baby grows," says McCartney.

Hunt for diaper bag spawns company

THE BUSINESS: Designing and selling masculine-style accessories and apparel related to fatherhood
FOUNDED: February 1997
MOTHERHOOD OF INVENTION: Futile quest for a dad-friendly diaper bag

While Monica Bosserman Lopez was pregnant with her son, Niko, her husband, Perry Lopez, prepped for the inevitable parental duties: he and Monica went shopping for two diaper bags because, as a '90s father, Lopez wanted one of his own. But all he found were bags adorned with lace, gingham, and cartoon animals. "He said, 'I'm not going to carry that," remembers Monica.

But that didn't deter the couple. They envisioned a market for a whole line of father-friendly accessories and clothes. Before the birth of Niko, they designed (you guessed it) the Niko bag, a rugged nylon backpack (retail cost: $89.95), featuring multiple compartments fitted for bottles and diaper-changing gear. The product line of Dad Gear, the company that the couple started in February 1997, now comprises shoulder bags, T-shirts, and caps displaying its logo.

To finance Dad Gear, the couple dipped into the proceeds from the sale of Hot Hot Hot, their former business, which included a salsa store and an Internet retail site. (See " The Well-Merchandised Web Site," October 1995.) The pair constitute the company's only employees, with Perry concentrating on design at an office in Pasadena, Calif., and Monica working at home on marketing and administrative matters. All manufacturing is outsourced. Although Dad Gear started as a wholesale company, the founders now expect the Web site ( to generate at least half the company's six-figure revenues. Monica adds, "I get to work from home, which is how we wanted it structured in the first place."

Start-up offers aid to 'isolated' mothers

THE BUSINESS: Providing nonmedical assistance to new and expectant mothers
FOUNDED: November 1996
MOTHERHOOD OF INVENTION: Founder's realization that she could help mothers in a way that would have benefited her

Ask Noreen Roman to make the intellectual case for doulas (a word derived from doulos, which is Greek for slave), and she's happy to oblige. Roman is the founder and CEO of Cleveland-based Birth & Beyond, which employs 20 doulas, women trained and certified to assist new and expectant mothers at home. Doulas, she says, are filling a vacuum created by shorter postpartum hospital stays and less help from relatives than were once customary. "We are so isolated as mothers," Roman says.