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Career Chats: WonderTent Founder On Leaving VP Position To Launch Business

We’ve heard from a number of mommas who are wanting to either a) go into a completely new field or b) make the jump from stay-at-home-mom to working mom, and so “Career Chats” was born. Here you’ll hear from moms turned entrepreneurs, moms who went back to school to get the job of their dreams, and moms just doing the damn thing — hustling to make their goals a reality.

Today we talk to the owner of WonderTent Parties, which looks to help make your sleepover and glamping experiences magical and create memories to last a lifetime. WonderTent currently serves the greater Los Angeles area and plans to expand across California and the United States. Trish shares about her decision to leave her job as a VP in Talent Management to start a business that she is not only passionate about, but also gives back to the community, all while being a momma to her teen daughter — the inspiration behind WonderTent.

MOMMY BRAIN: How did the idea for WonderTent Parties come about?

Trish Healy: WonderTent Parties all started with my 13-year-old daughter. At the time she had just joined our family from foster care and part of her Christmas wish list was to have a sleepover, something she hadn’t had the joy of experiencing. I, of course, wanted to make it special, and in doing so hit upon the idea of creating sleepover experiences that make the night truly magical. The concept of luxe sleepovers is one I learned from my home country of Australia, but I wanted to elevate and evolve it for Los Angeles with our own unique take.

MB: When and why did you take the plunge to launch your own business? Can you speak to the birth of WonderTent Parties?

TH: When my daughter joined our family, I was working as a VP in the Talent Management space and decided to take (adoptive) parental leave to spend time with her and my husband. I wanted to focus on our family, and it was during this time that I started to reassess my priorities. I had achieved a lot professionally, but had always felt unfulfilled and like I wasn’t doing enough to give back. I was just making money for myself and others, like my bosses or shareholders. I wanted to build a business that was commercially successful, but that also gave back to the community. For me, there is no better cause than Kidsave, a non-profit dedicated to finding older youth permanent lasting adult connections, whether it’s a loving home or mentorship.

MB: Did you have any business background before starting?

TH: I have never worked for myself. I have always worked for others and prior, I was a successful VP in Talent Management, managing a $50 million business unit for one of the world’s leading companies. I wanted to take some time and be my own boss, plus give back in some way. When I developed WonderTent Parties, I made sure that a portion of each event goes to Kidsave, the organization that helped match us with and adopt our daughter.

MB: What has been the most challenging aspect to date?

TH: You know, you start off wanting to do so much and you soon realize that it’s tough going in. You need to be a jack of all trades – marketing, operations, finance, etc. Marketing the business and getting the word out has been the toughest part for me. We’re pioneering a new market space, so it’s part educating and part developing that market. Once people hear what we do with our SleepOvers and GlampOuts, they love the idea. However, it’s making them aware in the first place that’s the ongoing challenge.

MB: How did you/do you promote and grow WonderTent Parties?

TH: I spend a lot of time on our social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, trying to inspire and build awareness about what we do. There’s also the undeniable power of “Word of Moms.” Referrals and recommendations from our amazing moms and dads have been invaluable. Once a parent hosts a GlampOut or SleepOver, other kids want the same wonderful experience, which is great. It’s also really important to me that our parents feel supported, so I don’t just want to be someone who delivers a product. I want to provide a hassle-free experience that their kids will remember forever.

MB: What does overhead look like for starting a business like this? Is it something you saved for or did you need a business loan?

TH: Definitely saved for. I decided from the onset that I wanted everything we did to be of the highest quality. For example, our beds are actual high-comfort mattresses not air beds. There was a lot of investment, time, and effort in curating the right high-quality, luxurious finishes and also in handcrafting our tents, accessories, and making sure we have the inventory to do our standard setups to accommodate anywhere from five to 50 people.

Trish Healy of WonderTent Parties, with her husband and daughter.
Trish with her husband and daughter.

MB: What are your top learnings so far?

TH: It’s tough being an entrepreneur, ha! A lot of it, for me, is developing and delivering that magical, luxurious experience that will create lasting memories. You only get one chance to “wow,” so I really concentrate on delivering that. There’s also so much noise out there that it’s tough to build awareness and get support on social media. I appreciate everyone who follows us or visits the website, because it lets me know I’m on the right track.

MB: How do you “balance” (is there really such a thing?) being a momma and WonderTent Parties?

TH: The joy of this job is that I get to work from home, which allows me flexibility. That means I can do the school runs, be a soccer mom (yes, she plays soccer and volleyball, and this semester possibly track!), and all that fun stuff. But also being your own boss means you end up having to do a lot of things, which can mean long hours, and obviously most of the weekend is taken up with party setups and breakdowns. My daughter loves that she inspired this business, so she’s supportive and my husband is amazing too. I couldn’t do it without their support. It just makes me more focused on making sure I dedicate time and space to our family. It’s a juggling act that I am constantly trying to manage.

MB: What are your top three tips for someone looking to start a new business?

TH: Belief. Flex. Patience. When I started out I had some friends and especially previous colleagues who were skeptical. But, I also had a great team of friends who were super supportive and that kept me going. You have to believe in yourself and your idea to see it through.

However, you also have to be willing to change, to flex your ideas, and to not get overly invested in one way of doing things. I’ve had to let go of some of my core ideas on how the business would work. I had a business advisor, Mike, who told me something that has stuck with me throughout: “Imagine yourself in a tug-of-war. Each side pulling hard, trying to win at all costs. There is a lot of effort that goes into pulling things your way. Now think of dropping that rope. What happens? All your energy releases and you can let go. Try that sometimes when you are pulling too hard one way.” This works for me when I’m way too invested in one way of doing something. I just drop the rope and see what happens.

Patience is important. It’s also something I’m working on having more of. When I launched, I wanted bookings from day one and it doesn’t happen like that. It takes time to build a customer base and community, so you need to be able to ride out those first six to 12 months when you’re just building awareness. You need to be able to financially ride that and it’s hard, really hard.

MB: What are some resources that have been helpful in starting/growing WonderTent Parties?

TH: Having a trusted group of friends you can bounce ideas off is vital. They’ll let you know what’s a good idea and what’s not (brutally sometimes, so get thick skin and be open to their feedback as best you can). Also look at the support available from your local Small Business Development Center. Mike our advisor has been invaluable and provided some key advice, focus, and insights. And really, our moms have been great. They love the experience and they refer us to their friends or have us back for another event. We have one client named Daun, who I adore. She has booked us five times, for everything from Thanksgiving to birthdays. We love delighting her and her family.

MB: What are your future plans for WonderTent Parties?

TH: We will take the business nationally through franchising and help other moms or dads establish their own businesses. It’s hard to create and run your own business, so we have created the blueprint (through my business experience) to help others have something commercially successful that can also be a vehicle for giving back. I’m also growing our offerings. Our GlampOuts have been a huge success and recent additions of SpaNights or Romantic Nights for couples have been well received. It’s great to see our clients embracing the potential of what our experiences can be. I’ve got a few more offerings in the pipeline that I’m excited to introduce, so stay tuned.

MB: Knowing what you do now about the business, what’s one piece of advice you would have for your then newly-entrepreneur self?

TH: Keep learning. I’m still learning every day. And you have to be open to that. Not everything will hit, but if you take something away from the experience, then it’s been valuable. Also, make sure you have the financial backing and know how long things may take to get going. If you think it’s six months, plan for 12. If it’s 12 months, plan for 18.

And again, believe in yourself. The joy I get from witnessing a child’s face light up after seeing the SleepOver setup or the “OMG” moment from someone seeing their GlampOut fills me with happiness. You know you’re giving them a space for lifetime memories to take shape and that’s a cool thing to do. Also by growing the business, we are giving back to Kidsave and helping foster youth find adoptive placements or permanent connections with adults. That is the key to this — building a lasting business that gives back. As a new business starting out, I just want to say a big thank you to all the parents who support us and help spread the wonder. It really means a lot.

Join the Mommy Brain private community where members can have open and honest discussions about all the parts of motherhood, whether that’s parent/child-related, self-care, life after becoming a mom, divorce, career changes, intimacy with your partner — there are many layers to who we are as women and as mothers. This is the space to talk about it all!

*Photos provided by Trish Healy.

By Mommy Brain, March 19, 2018
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The motherhood juggle is real! Mommy Brain was created as a safe space to ask questions, share experiences, and to grow as both women and mothers. Every month there will be a series of live Q&A discussions led by guest speakers, delving into facets of motherhood that are not always openly discussed.
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