Balancing Act: How a Working Mom Built Steals.com

9/25/13Follow @sramana

Working mothers are constantly struggling to strike a balance between spending time with their kids and making the most of their professional skills or supporting their families financially. Jana Francis, co-founder of Steals.com, has achieved this balance, and for her, the most rewarding part is that her employees are able to strike a balance as well.

The motivation for Steals.com came to Jana Francis right after she had a daughter, her third child, when she had to head back to work in the sales management team for a dot-com startup at the end of her maternity leave. She realized she was a smart, capable woman who could come up with a way to earn money from home. Once she started thinking along those lines, the ideas started to flow.

Jana was always the one you could count on for online shopping deals—her friends called her the dot-com princess. But when it came to online shopping in the baby market, she was disappointed. There was no website that would tell parents the story of the product, why they would want it, and what problem it would solve for them. She developed a burning passion to create a new kind of website that would launch new “steal deals” every dayoffering steep 40 to 80 percent discount on premium baby products.

With a full-time career and three kids, including the newborn, Jana took 18 months to go from concept to creation. She partnered with Rett Clevenger, then an online media manager for a large e-commerce site, to launch BabySteals.com in April, 2008. As the business became profitable more sites were launched—ScrapbookSteals.com, KidSteals.com, and SheSteals.com. Revenue in 2012 was $16.4 million.

For five months till the site proved to be a success, Jana continued with her full-time job. She would utilize breaks and lunchtime to call manufacturers and source products. After work, she would follow up on all emails, place one or two additional purchase orders for future deals, check incoming shipments, and pack orders sold that day.

A month before launching the site, Jana took a two-week vacation to promote the site at a baby expo in Salt Lake City. With just a banner of her logo, a PowerPoint presentation, and some bookmarks she had made, she told every woman who walked by all about the business. She got 160 people to sign up for her e-mail list and just before the site launch, she e-mailed her family and friends as well as everyone on that list to spread the word. Even to this day, Jana says the company spends very little on customer acquisition. But today that list has grown to 375,000 daily e-mails, and the company has shipped 1.7 million orders.

Jana managed to pull all this off without any investor capital. She put in around $5,500 of her own money to cover website development, logo design, and the baby expo fees. She covered the first month of product purchases with her credit card and was soon able to pay off the debt.

Today, Jana has over 70 full-time employees, most of them based out of Salt Lake City. Her webmaster was a former colleague who had left the company after her maternity leave and started freelancing from home. About 70 percent of her employees are women and about 25 percent of them have had a baby in the past two years.

Because it’s completely bootstrapped, Steals.com is not the best paying company, Jana says, but for most of her team, the flexibility the company provides means a lot. Most of the customer service staff are able to work from home for 30 hours a week.

Jana says, “For me it is very rewarding to know that the situation I dreamed of for myself is being provided for so many moms in Utah who would not have a job if they were not working here.”

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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