Just three weeks after the birth of her second daughter, Courtney Stewart launched NOMI+SIBS, a company that makes personalized, reusable baby bottle and sippy cup labels. The solo-founder grew up in Amherstberg and worked in various marketing roles before starting her business. Stewart sat down with DRIVE Magazine to discuss how she made it all happen.
What is your vision with NOMI+SIBS?
The vision is simple: to responsibly manufacture safe, sustainable, toxin-free, adaptable labelling solutions for drinkware and snack containers. Traditional adhesive labels on the market last only a few months, tend to fade or tear in the dishwasher, and even rub off after regular use, resulting in repeat purchase over and over, again and again. NOMI Labels™ offer a one-time purchase solution and can be used from infancy through tween years and beyond.
Why did this business idea matter to you?
When I was preparing for Niaomi to go to preschool, I was getting “all the things labelled” as required by all preschools. After only a few weeks of washes, our labels on sippy cups were coming off in the dishwasher or when using just soap and water. I found myself relabelling all too often and I had to come up with another solution—we were only in preschool at this time and we have several years of schooling to go. And, thus, The NOMI Label™ was born.
Not only are they stylish and functional, but NOMI Labels are super practical and truly do make the lives of parents and caregivers easier and more efficient. As a parent, I know that every little bit of “easier” counts.
Why was having a social mission (“reduce your impact”) important to you?
As a consumer, I feel good about supporting brands that are doing good things—it doesn’t have to be monumental but every bit counts; I really believe that. We are big recyclers in our home and the environment matters so much more to us now that we have kids who will be reaping the benefits of how our generation lives and consumes. A reusable product creates less consumption, absolutely, but this product has a secondary recycling component that also contributes to creating spaces that allow families and children to create lasting memories within. Now that is really cool!
Being both a parent and a founder isn’t easy, and a lot of people shy away from starting a company or taking a financial risk after becoming parents. How did you make this decision?
I completely understand why people would have these concerns, especially if you were the sole or primary financial contributor in your family. For me, after having Niaomi, I knew I wasn’t going back to work for another company and that I was going to have control over how our family life “looked.” Now, after being in business for almost two years and seeing how much less time I have for my family, I see that entrepreneurship is not what most people think it is—especially as a mom. I am still the head of our household—ensuring everything gets done, kids are fed, the house is clean, the laundry is done. I run my business and my house and it’s no joke.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband helps, but I may or may not be a bit controlling over how things go down in my home. My husband also has a very demanding job, working for a California-based start-up. Looking back, I’m not sure what we were thinking with him having his crazy job in the start-up world and me launching my own. There were nights when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I probably had a bit of a breakdown but I got through it. Now I have help at home and I have help with the business so I am able to be more strategic about where we are going. This is the part I love!
Where did grow up and go to college? What did you study there?
I grew up in Amherstburg, the youngest of five children in a family full of strong athletes—most of whom played at the NCAA level in the U.S. I went to the University of Akron (UA) in Ohio on a full ride scholarship to play NCAA Division 1 Basketball. I studied business administration with a concentration in strategic marketing. Then I completed my MBA from UA—while working as a graduate assistant in the Office of the President.
Tell me a bit about your career trajectory— what did you do before you started the company?
I worked for two large global corporations—Cummins, Inc., a diesel engine manufacturer, and Mondelez International, a start-up created to be the snack food side of Kraft. For both of these large companies I worked in various marketing roles.
Do you run the company by yourself? If not, who are the other co-founders?
Yes, I launched NOMI+SIBS three weeks after my second daughter was born.
Did you always know you were going to start your own business?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial and worked really hard in any job I had but I’m not sure I thought I would really do something quite like this on my own. My unhappiness in my career is what really drove me to pursue something on my own. I am a firm believer in if you are not happy with your situation, you need to make the change – no one is going to do it for you. Your happiness matters and it’s never “just a job.”
What does the name of your company mean?
Niaomi or “Nia” is the name of my first-born daughter. When she was little my nieces/nephews and our friends children called her Nomi because they couldn’t pronounce her name. The nickname stuck and ended up being a frontrunner for the naming of the business. I originally named the brand, NOMI Baby; however, after a product shift for our initial launch and seeing the potential beyond only baby-focused products we lost the “baby.” +SIBS was kind of by accident—I was pregnant with my second daughter while working on the launch and thought I would probably hear about it for the rest of my life if I named my company after my first-born only. So I decided +SIBS would cover me for any future children we may have. I do really love it and people get a kick out of the story.
What year did it all start?
We formally launched November 2017 (the day before Black Friday) but the groundwork started about five to six months before that time.
NOMI+SIBS is also a social enterprise (with the “reduce your impact” mission)—was this part of your business plan from the beginning or something you incorporated after the business was already running?
This was always part of the mission but from a marketing standpoint we didn’t start driving this mission until about six months once we had more concrete plans in place as to what, aside from having a reusable product, would be our “full story.” We are currently working on a program for recycling the material of any unused, damaged, outgrown, or just no longer needed NOMI Labels—the company we are in talks with will use the material for youth playgrounds, parks, and other recreational centres. We hope to be able to share more about this exciting initiative and how our customers can participate in early 2020.
You have great reviews on social media and people seem to love your product on Facebook. Do you have any specific stories to share about a memorable moment or feedback you’ve received?
Interestingly enough, my business in the U.S. has been the primary driver of our ssucess the past 22 months. But of course, everything trickles into Canada eventually, so it’s really amazing to see customers out and about at stores and restaurants with our products. Recently, I was dining at a local restaurant and saw a young family and the toddler was using our labels—it was the first time I’d seen it in public. I felt confident to approach them and tell them that those were made by my company. They were so supportive and went on to tell me that everyone asks about these labels and all of their friends have purchased them; moments like that make all the hard times in this journey worth it.
Who manages your social media and how do you incorporate people’s feedback into product development?
I manage most of the social media with the help of my assistant at times. We take customer feedback very seriously and will actually be releasing a new NOMI Label later this fall as a result of customer feedback. I learned very early on that listening to your customers will be the most important thing you do as the brand grows—we stand by our customers being happy and feeling heard! Our next launch will demonstrate this. Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher, famously said, “Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.” I give everything to this because the moment your customer doesn’t feel heard, you’ve lost them—and five of their friends.
What has been the most exciting aspect of starting the company?
Being able to see where we started and where we are now. The business has grown nearly 20 times from where we were just a year ago and now with me being able to focus on our short- and long-term strategy, things are really going to move. And also, having my oldest daughter—the original inspiration behind the brand—be proud of her mom’s work.
What has been the most challenging/difficult thing you’ve faced since starting the company?
Aside from the physical challenges of staying awake all hours of the night (especially when having babies), the hardest part is missing things, especially when it involves my girls. This past spring, the brand was asked last minute to participate in a high-profile gift bag giveaway and the turnaround time was less than 24 hours. At the time, it was just my assistant and me, and I had to make the decision to miss my daughter’s ballet recital in order to get everything out in time. That was probably the first time I realized there were going to be many moments like that down the road, and it was a hard pill to swallow.
Looking to the Future
What advice do you have for other moms and dads who may want to make a career change but feel they can’t due to responsibilities at home?
Do it! Do what you can, when you can. Start small if you have to but just start. Use your local resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help. One huge thing is to surround yourself with people who are doing similar things. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey, especially early on. I was lucky to have and still have a couple of close friends who’ve been down this road. People always think that because I have a business background that it makes sense that I have my own company. But this has has nothing to do with having a background in business and everything to do with hustle and heart. If you believe in yourself, make it happen! And most importantly, celebrate the small victories; everything is a milestone and should be noted and celebrated.
What are your future plans for the company? In other words, where do you see NOMI+SIBS in five years?
While I can’t share too much right now on the business side, I do see the brand continuing to strategically grow our e-commerce presence. We have some really fun and creative retail projects in the works but really focusing on creating a family brand that every household around the world is proud to support and wants to be part of is something that I work hard for every single day. We all know that amazing brand or business that we just love—from the design and branding to its core values and mission, to the way the products make you feel. We want to create this special experience for our consumers, with special touch points along the way.