For generations, families ran businesses together out of practical necessity—to “keep the farm going”. Today, you might think that mothers and daughters would have a natural affinity to co-run businesses, given the energy and attachment that often goes into the relationship, yet we don’t hear a lot about mother-daughter teams.
Jennifer and Jean Spencer are a very exciting exception. During the epic winter storms of 2010, Jean was completing an internship in Washington D.C., with The Wall Street Journal. Battling frostbite, Jean wished for a way to operate her iPhone without exposing her hands to the bitter cold. Her need led to a product idea that Mom Jennifer—a prior entrepreneur—hopped on immediately. Six months later the mother/daughter duo launched Agloves, patent-pending winter touchscreen gloves. Jennifer is the President and CEO and has worked in all levels of business development from start ups to repositioning large corporations over the past 25 years while Jean is Vice President of Communications. Together they have addressed a market void, creating the first 10-finger touchscreen glove when the category was nascent, rapidly becoming the runaway category leader.
Launched on September 29, 2010, 43,000 Agloves had been sold by year’s end. 2011 sales closed at 173,000 and Jennifer is projecting 4X growth for 2012. The day I interviewed Jennifer and Jean, the company was running a Groupon promotion, selling 8,000 pairs of gloves in hours. Privately funded, profitable within the first three months and now employing seven full time employees, Agloves is an incredible story of small business success.
How did they do this? Theirs is a great merger of talents, in which Mom’s business experience is married with Jean’s social media know-how. Mom takes on the business stuff: invention, human resources, problem solving and finances. She has also focused on the operational trials including the inherent challenges of manufacturing with silver, a substance known for being very delicate and also the logic behind the name (“Ag” is the periodic table sign for silver). Overcoming additional challenges, Jennifer quickly identified a second manufacturer when demand far exceeded initial supply in the first two months. Daughter Jean has focused on mining the Internet to market and sell their product. Initially available only through the web, Agloves quickly made in roads selling in 43 countries within 3 weeks, with Jean mastering the use of Twitter (initially 6.4% of sales), Facebook, blogs, etc. to build awareness and generate sales. Direct sales at Verizon stores and several European outlets followed later.
When asked about the use of social media to launch and market a product, Jean commented, “some people think that social media dehumanizes social interaction, but I would argue that it enhances it if you allow human interaction”. Thus, Jean and her colleagues pay close attention to the real-time feedback made possible by social media, making improvements and modulating based on daily customer input. Social media based feedback helped fuel some of their most promising current product development efforts. Right now, soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are testing Agloves. In addition, Jean has identified several populations for B2B marketing such as pizza delivery personnel and UPS delivery professionals.
Start ups founded and managed by mothers and daughters are unusual and particularly so for technology-driven consumer products. But, the best part isn’t that they are women making technology happen, what is really special is that they adore the process. Jean can’t imagine a more competent partner and Jennifer is the proud Mom who gets to watch her daughter become more successful by the day.
Who could have imagined just 23 years ago when Jean was born where the umbilical cord would lead them?
Note: This fantastic mother-daughter duo closed the doors to AGloves in May 2013. Read more here.