In the 1987 romantic comedy Baby Boom, hard-charging Manhattan business executive JC Wiatt (played by Diane Keaton) finds she has to off-ramp from her career when she adopts a relative's baby daughter.
She moves to a cute little house in the country, prepared to settle into the life of the stay-at-home mom. But you can’t keep a lid on that MBA-educated entrepreneurial spirit, and JC soon finds a way to turn one of her routine mom tasks—making her daughter delicious homemade applesauce—into a successful business that captures the attention of Wall Street.
So the story goes. But for some, such as Walnut Creek's Cathy Bennett, the story is no Hollywood fairy tale. Bennett hit upon an idea that was so original and practical for parents that it has captured the attention of fellow parents, and now, outside investors.
Bennett is an example of a new breed of American entrepreneurs—the mom inventors.
While their babies are napping or in between shuttling their preschoolers to play dates, these highly educated, one-time successful career women work on projects that they hope will capture the attention — and charge cards — of other moms and dads. Soon, the stay-at-home mom has her business and is bringing in extra income, or even enough income that she becomes the family breadwinner and the founder and CEO of her own company.
Bennett's original idea was to use new photo and web technology to help moms more easily start scrapbooks chronicling the lives of their kids. She has just sold her business, How Fast Time Flies, to a New York-based publishing firm.
In a Diablo magazine profile, Bennett explained that she attempted to start a scrapbook after the birth of her first child. She bought paper and stickers and sat down to create it. “But it wasn’t long before she gave up, discovering that preserving memories of motherhood takes time and energy away from simply being a mom," Diablo wrote.
Bennett was guilt-ridden for being a self-described scrapbook dropout. But this former marketing executive figured out a better way. She started working on her idea about six years ago and launched How Fast Time Flies in 2007.
“We are a basically scrapbooking, 2.0.," Bennett said. “I founded the company shortly after that bittersweet ‘A-ha moment’ after trying to scrapbook when my son was 3 weeks old.”
How Fast Time Flies allows its 34,000 members to build individual scrapbook pages in one-tenth the time and half the cost of traditional scrapbooking, Bennett said. “Believe it or not, traditional scrapbooking is still as popular as golf, according to the Craft & Hobby Association. But there are an increasing number of frustrated defectors."
“We've become enormously popular with moms who like the idea of scrapbooking but want a more modern digital solution,” said Bennett, now the mother of Patrick, 6, and Elizabeth, 5.
Members establish a free account that allows them to go onto the web site and create 12-by-12 inch pages by dragging and dropping their digital photos into templates.
They can send a link of their pages to friends and family for free. They also can order their pages for $5.50 each, which are printed on the highest quality color cardstock and shipped to them. Members slide the pages into standard scrapbooks, which are also sold at How Fast Time Flies, starting at $32 each. One of the most attractive features of the web site, Bennett said, is the beautiful and elegant design of the page templates.
How Fast Time Flies was a near instant hit, earning features on the Today Show and in Parents and PC magazines, the San Francisco Chronicle and Diablo magazine.
Two weeks ago came the announcement that New York-based MyPublisher Inc., a pioneer in the photo book category since 1995, had purchased How Fast Time Flies.
MyPublisher has sold and shipped more than 5 million photo books since 2002. The recent growth of MyPublisher and Bennett’s How Fast Time Flies, “has been fueled by explosive growth in the use of digital cameras and the demand for high-quality digital photo products,” MyPublisher said in a press release.
“It’s an intense time for me emotionally,” Bennett said. “The business was always growing, despite the economy and (I was) always feeling like I was swimming upstream. I was part of a whole wave of mom inventors that started five or six years ago. Now to be selling what I started and moving on to the next level — that's intense.”
Bennett declined to say how much MyPublisher paid for for her company. She will continue to have a place in the company, occasionally traveling to New York but mostly designing products out of her home office in Walnut Creek. That was always the part of the business she loved best, she said. MyPublisher will take over the more mundane and time-consuming administrative, marketing and consumer-service tasks.
It's a big step, she said, after the years of the family making certain financial sacrifices, i.e. eating “peanut butter sandwiches," to support her dream.
But she said she and her husband knew that How Fast Time Flies would lead to something profitable and was worth the time and labor. Its sale validates that belief. “It’s still is a scary time," Bennett said, "but it’s also heartening to know that it can be done.”