Careers rarely go according to plan. In Job Hacks, we shake down experts for the insights they cultivated on their way to the top of their field. This week we spoke to Nichole Smaglick, whose company Cooper and Kid supplies fathers with activities to do with their children.
Name: Nichole Smaglick
Job: Smaglick is the founder of Cooper and Kid, a subscription box geared towards facilitating activities for fathers to engage in with their kids.
Where did you get the idea for a father-and-kid activity kit?
I had a business before Cooper and Kid, and it kind of evolved out of that, even though on the surface it looks like it has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. I had another company called Another Land, and we did African wildlife and cultural safaris for about 17 years. One of the unique things about that business was that we created cultural programs with very remote communities in East Africa. Many of them were warrior-based, nomadic, and had a strong cultural tradition of initiating youth to adulthood. So for 17 years, going back and forth between suburban Midwest America and way out there Africa with nomadic warriors, one thing that really struck me was the difference in male development from one culture to the next. I didn’t see that difference in female development — I really saw it in male development.
What were some of the main differences you observed?
The real big one was that there, there was a running towards responsibility. A sense that responsibility empowers you, whereas here in male development there’s sort of a cultural norm that responsibility is a big heavy stone you have to carry and that it’s going to weigh you down. What I saw was the root of that difference what I was experiencing in East Africa — father-led male initiation. And it really helped the young boys choose their own power and see that their power came from responsibility. And I really saw that manhood was a choice, whereas womanhood is just something that Mother Nature slaps us with. We don’t say to each other, ‘Oh just woman up.’ We don’t have to prove it; it just happens. Whereas manhood is something that’s very challenged, particularly over here. And by seeing this male initiation process, manhood wasn’t challenged anymore after they went through the initiation.
So I was just really fascinated by male development, and then I was really noticing that Generation X and Millennials are totally different dads than the dads of the past. There’s a huge change in terms of roles here: men want to be an integral part of the development of their children and have that tight relationship even if they didn’t have it with their own dad. Many statistics left and right say men today are spending a heck of a lot more time with their kids and really valuing fatherhood.
When you were first getting Cooper and Kid off the ground, did you meet any surprise that you were spearheading this as a woman?
I still just think the concept of a female entrepreneur is still relatively culturally new. So I’ve gotten it equally with all my businesses. Often the comment is “are you doing this with your husband?”
How do you respond to that?
I just politely state the facts and say no, he’s involved as much as the fact that I talk about it non-stop when I’m at home, but he is gainfully employed elsewhere and that this is my business. But people are surprised by that. It’s going to change, but it’s not quite there yet.
As it becomes a bit more normative to be a stay-at-home dad, are you finding that stay-at-home dads are also using your kits? Or are they mainly for working dads?
They’re mostly for working dads. Originally, we were thinking the stay-at-home dad, but we’ve seen those numbers changing and growing and we did a lot of research on it. We’re tending to find is that they don’t have the same pain point that we are the solution for. And that is, ‘I don’t have a lot of time and I want to make sure my time is great.’ Stay-at-home dads are able to plan activities themselves, whereas those who are really busy at work don’t have a ton of time and they don’t want to spend it planning and shopping. They’re willing to have a partner in helping them maximize their time. So those tend to be our customers and it tends to be in households where both parents are working.
What are you most looking forward to for the future?
The ultimate plan is to go into retail stores. We’ve dabbled with it. This past winter we had a little pop-up shop in the Mall of America and we’re doing another sort of pop-up cart for Father’s Day in another test market here in the Twin Cities. And we want to roll it out more in our test markets and looking to go into airports, which is really where our customers sort of have their critical moment of truth, when they’re feeling like, ‘I’m not at home, I’d like to be with my kid, and when I go home and be with my kid I want to do something great. I don’t want to just give them a toy and say see ‘ya; I want to spend some really good time together.’ That’s what we’re working toward.