Founder and CEO of HoneyBug Jen Kennedy started the company because she wanted to “take the guesswork (and hassle) out of baby and kids’ gifting.” Being a mother of two, she works with a schedule filled with “birthday parties, baby showers, baptisms and more.”
Since she has already built a career as a marketing executive for a multi-billion-dollar brand, she finds it hard to find the perfect gifts for every occasion. Now, HoneyBug should solve Jen Kennedy and other mothers’ gift-giving dilemmas.
Before HoneyBug, Jen Kennedy found herself choosing “generic toys, clothes and other baby items at major retailers just to keep up.”
Jen Kennedy plans for HoneyBug to “make gifting for newborns, babies, toddlers and kids, easier, more enjoyable and fulfilling.” The company prides itself in putting the “long hours and hard work into curating a beautifully coordinated gift,” taking the extra work away from its customers. Browsing the site gives you a “handpicked selection of clothing, toys and accessories for every stage of childhood, with 100% cuteness guaranteed.”
Jen Kennedy and HoneyBug also plan to end your days of “randomly picking gifts off the registry” and “desperately searching the shelves at boring Big Box retailers.” The company offers a diverse array of unique items that will help you stand out “in a sea of sameness on the gift table.” With the company’s wide selection, you and your gift will be the buzz at the next party you’ll go to.
Anyone can come up with a great product, but not everyone can have a great culture or mission. Jen Kennedy, HoneyBug
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Jen Kennedy: I truly think it’s the company culture and our dedication to our customers. While we have these amazing products that people love, I’m prouder of creating a culture where the team feels cared for and respected, and that our customers know we will do everything in our power to fix issues when they arise. Additionally, I’m proud that we support minority and female-owned businesses, companies that source ethically and brands that give back to our communities. Anyone can come up with a great product, but not everyone can have a great culture or mission.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Jen Kennedy: The old saying goes, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” While that sounds cliché, it’s 100% true. Throughout my career, I have never been as happy as I am now — nor have I worked as hard as I do. I work around the clock, and I never think twice about it. Even when I’m burnt out, a few hours of a sleep and a glass of wine will fix it. That was never the case for me before. Start-ups are a grind and you have to be doing something you love or you’ll implode very quickly.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Jen Kennedy: You are absolutely right! Without a great support system your success is deeply limited. Especially as a woman and mother, having a partner who supports you and is willing to shoulder the burden is beyond important. My husband (who is a successful businessperson in his own right) manages the kids and the house just as much as I do, not to mention he helps pack orders on the weekends and does odd jobs around the warehouse. Without him, there is no way HoneyBug would have ever gotten off the ground.
A good company is a brand that makes money selling things, a great company is a brand that makes money by improving things.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Jen Kennedy: A good company is a brand that makes money selling things, a great company is a brand that makes money by improving things.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Jen Kennedy: I know this feeling very well coming from the food industry. Five percent of disposable income goes to food for decades. No more, no less. It’s a zero-sum game of trading customers between products and brands. When one brand wins, the other loses. That is business in general — sometimes you’re on top and sometimes you’re not. Stay focused on your north star and don’t get distracted by the noise or doubt. Recalibrate and go.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Jen Kennedy: You have to be realistic. Especially during COVID. Don’t pine over past results, or metrics you used to hit. All that matters is how you weather the storm and set yourself up for the future. As an e-commerce brand, we have been fortunate enough to remain open during these tough times, but we are always working toward laying the foundation for 3–5 years out. Be it new systems, processes, technologies, products — we’re rarely looking at just the months ahead of us, which also helps us to forge forward on a daily basis
You have to be realistic. Especially during COVID. Don’t pine over past results, or metrics you used to hit. All that matters is how you weather the storm and set yourself up for the future.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Jen Kennedy: It’s often underestimated how much tenacity and grit is needed to run a brand. Especially a start-up. As an executive at a mature company, you have tons of perks — administrative support, large teams, agencies, partners, firms, budget. Simply put, you have a lot of freaking help! That’s not the case with start-ups, which means, if you don’t do something, it won’t get done. So, you have to have the grit to just keep going and know it will get easier at some point because of the foundation you’re laying each and every day.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a “Wow” Customer Experience?
Jen Kennedy: You are reading my mind! We are only in business because of our customers, and we must never forget that. They are honoring us with their hard-earned money. So, don’t take them for granted and don’t lose sight of the fact that they’re CHOOSING us. Trust them with the respect they deserve. We have all had terrible experiences with brands, and if you remember those when you interact with your customers, it will guarantee you don’t make the same mistakes.
I find that purpose-driven brands don’t have that concern as much, since being genuine and authentic is core to their missions and saying something misaligned with their brand is less of a risk. Jen Kennedy
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Jen Kennedy: As an e-commerce brand, social presence is non-negotiable and important to our success. With that being said, more mature brands often wrestle with this because being authentic is uncomfortable to them — they have a team of 40 marketers in a war room crafting the perfect tweet. I find that purpose-driven brands don’t have that concern as much, since being genuine and authentic is core to their missions and saying something misaligned with their brand is less of a risk.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Jen Kennedy: Listening to the wrong people. I have a very small group of mentors and advisors that I trust and listen to. Early on, I was told “you should really listen to this person” or “you should work with that person” and found myself in uncomfortable conversations with people that didn’t care about my success or the success of the brand, but rather themselves. Sadly, especially as a woman, you get underestimated by the start-up world and people think you need “help” despite your years of experience or successes. I told myself early on that I would only trust and listen to those that I would genuinely want to hear the good AND bad from. There is one person that has always been this for me in my career, my former CEO at Jack in the Box and mentor — Lenny Coma. As a textbook example of a Purpose Driven Leader, he encourages me to be myself and to lead as I would lead — not as someone else would lead. He has conveyed the same message to me for 12 years and never once changed it. Those are the people you should listen to, not anyone else.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Jen Kennedy: My goal in the short term is to be able to start funding micro-loans and offering business advice for minority and female-owned businesses. Helping people bring their visions and dreams to life would be the greatest professional accomplishment I could ever dream of. If not for those who opened the door for me, I wouldn’t be here — and sadly, it wasn’t easy. There is a network of people who succeeded because they had the right connections, went to the right schools, knew the right people… I want to make achieving your dreams more egalitarian, especially fundraising.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jen Kennedy: Follow @shophoneybug on Instagram and Facebook
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!