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Jillian Lakritz on Yoee Baby and Play from Day One

What do you do in the industry?

I’m the founder and CEO of Yoee Baby. We make baby toys designed for bonding through play from Day One.

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

About three months after my first daughter Yoella was born, I started searching for developmentally appropriate activities we could do together and instinctively looked to my toy box. I quickly realized most baby toys aren’t designed for a baby who can’t yet sit up, grab for things or move around. It was really frustrating because I wanted a toy we could play with together! Having spent my career developing new products for some of the country’s leading brands I recognized a gap in the marketplace and as a new mom, I knew this was a problem I had to solve.

If you had told me a few years ago that I’d end up launching a toy company, I wouldn’t have believed it, but it’s been so much fun and I have to pinch myself every time I really start thinking about it.

Where did you get your idea?

I read about an activity that said if you caressed your baby with a feather it was good for body awareness and sensory development. I tried it and my little one loved it! She instantly started smiling and cooing —the reactions we live for as new parents. We played with that feather every day but at about 6 months old, she started grabbing it and putting it in her mouth. I started wondering if I could create a baby-safe feather made out of irresistibly touchable fabrics and that’s where the idea for Yoee Baby was born.

What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?

We hear a lot of new parents say “my baby’s not ready to play yet,” but science, and now the experience of thousands of customers, tells us otherwise. A child’s earliest experiences have a lasting impact on the architecture of their developing brain.

Playful, nurturing interactions help form strong neural connections that lay the foundation for all future learning, behavior and health, so it’s really important to get playtime right. For most new parents we have an innate desire to bond with our newborns through play but it’s not always easy figuring out what that looks like. At Yoee Baby we want to make play joyful and intuitive from in the earliest days, weeks and months. There’s a lot of information out there about the importance of reading, talking and singing to your baby and we believe that play needs to be part of the conversation too.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I’m humbled by how many strangers reach out to us and tell us that Yoee Baby is their baby’s favorite toy. When I launched this company I just wanted to share the joy I had playing with the feather with my baby with as many new parents as possible. As an entrepreneur, you can get pretty crushed by the day-to-day challenges of running a business, but knowing we made a baby happy is what makes it all worthwhile.

“I could not understand why our friends all insisted that we get one of these for our little girl. I reluctantly spent $25 on what seemed like nonsense, and have never been so glad to be so wrong! Our 14 weeks old little girl LOVES this thing! Giggles, belly laughs, smiles... reaches and grasps. She visibly lights up when Eugene Bunny comes into her line of vision! I just wish we had bought one sooner.”

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Tough one….it’s a tie between Trouble and all of my stuffed animals. Trouble was (and still is) endless fun for kids of all ages, not to mention that irresistible “pop” sound. I bought Trouble when my girls were still too young to play in anticipation of family Trouble night.

I had so many stuffed animals on my bed there was barely room for me to sleep. I loved how a simple stuffed animal could become your friend, give you comfort and stoke endless hours of play. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I still have a stuffed animal from my childhood that I keep on my bed (I hide it behind my pillow so no one can see). His name is Wooley and yes, he’s a stuffed sheep. I’ve tried over the years to quit Wooley, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Pretty sure Wooley will come with me to my grave.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

Just one?! When we first launched Yoee Baby, we underestimated the challenge of educating consumers about what the heck this feather-duster looking toy was all about. We were so excited to be introducing a tool designed to make interactive play from Day One easy and fun that we didn’t anticipate the need to first explain what this funny looking thing was and how to use it. If you go to our website, you’ll see that we took all the questions and objections we heard and address them head on. It’s changed the conversation from “what is this thing?” to “lets try it!”

We’re also grappling with the classic growing pains of a young company. Despite the fact that we’re in over 320 specialty toy stores, on Amazon, selling internationally and launching into Nordstroms, we underestimated how much capital it takes to fuel this kind of growth. Scaling a company takes cash and you can’t be searching for the right investor soon enough.

What’s next?

We know that babies were born to play, that play lights up a baby’s brain and helps form strong brain architecture, and perhaps most important, play is foundational for bonding relationships. With that as our true north, we’re on a mission to build a pipeline of toys, tools and resources that encourage playful connections from Day One. We have some cool ideas and we hope that with Mary and ChiTAG’s continued support we can reshape how people think about play with a newborn.

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