This Mom Launched the Ultimate Imaginative Play Tool for Kids

Rachel Neill needed something to occupy her six kids during the pandemic. That's when the Wisconsin-based entrepreneur thought of the Figgy. Here's her story and tips for busy parents looking to start their own businesses.

When Rachel Neill was growing up, her father was a self-employed carpenter who worked six days a week. As a young girl, Neill was inspired by her dad's work ethic, but she could see the downsides as well. "I also saw how little he had amassed in the end," recalls Neill. She additionally dreamed of running a business that would allow her to spend more time with her family.

At 16, Neill became pregnant and found herself in a difficult situation. "My parents said, 'If you're going to be a teen mom, you're going to do this yourself.'" The experience, though challenging, fueled her entrepreneurial spirit. Neill taught herself how to code and build websites and also coached figure skating. Ultimately, she pursued a sociology degree at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also met her husband, and got a full ride to law school.

Midway through law school, Neill realized she didn't want to pursue that career path and dropped out. At the same time, her husband was offered a position at a large software company in Madison, Wisconsin, so the pair picked up and moved together. Once they got settled, Neill was drawn to the startup space and joined a growing business in the consulting professional services field.

"After we had grown over 900 people in five years, I said, 'Hey, there aren't enough women entrepreneurs that I can look up to—at least locally. And I think that there's a need in the market,'" she says.

Neill raised a quarter of a million dollars to start Carex, a consulting group that matches the best candidates with top companies. "We've been able to connect people to some pretty cool opportunities," she shares. And after five years in business, the group is now on track to do $14 million in revenue this year.

In the meantime, Neill and her husband grew their family to include "six rambunctious kids." And during the pandemic, Neill was working from home with her children. "I needed something to keep them off of screens, active, and using their imagination," she says. Her idea: a play couch called The Figgy that's billed as "the ultimate Montessori-style imaginative play tool for kids."

The proud mom called her friend and fellow parent Chris Roepe who has experience in the supply chain and retail. "He saw the need," says Neill. "And within six weeks, we had built a business plan, gotten a prototype made, and then decided to launch on Kickstarter with the goal of hitting $40,000 at the end of our campaign. Spoiler alert: We hit $40,000 in eight minutes, and then, we closed out an organic campaign at $230,000 in just 30 days."

The company did a lot more volume than the team initially anticipated, explains Neill. "We ended up having to deal with some supply chain delays, but ultimately, we endured, and Figgy went off to the races."

She and Roepe then raised over half a million dollars. "That allowed us to be able to have inventory, and we weren't waiting to fulfill orders," she explains.

Neill's experiences have led her to conclude that "oftentimes, moms make the best entrepreneurs and the best employees, because they have learned to multitask. They've learned and endured through so much." (In fact, she points out that everyone on her team, besides Roepe, is a mom.)

Here are Neill's best tips for pursuing even your wildest entrepreneurial vision as a parent.

Trust in Yourself

It's easy to be discouraged by conversations about how difficult it can be to raise capital, especially as a mom. "I would like to say that it is difficult, but it is not impossible," says Neill, noting that she raised capital shortly after giving birth to her third child and while pregnant with her sixth.

"I've done it more than once, and it is something that you can do," says Neill. "You just have to keep pushing forward. I like to say that in a world of 'no's, you just need one 'yes,' and just keep pushing through to get that 'yes.'"

Be Open To Change

Although she had initially envisioned herself graduating with a law degree, Neill trusted her intuition to go down a different path. As a result, she encourages parents to look for new opportunities that might change their professional trajectory but result in an even more satisfying path.

​​"I moved here from San Diego, and my husband's from the Bay Area, and never did I think I'd live in Madison, Wisconsin," she notes. "And it ended up being this pretty amazing place. There's still affordable housing and all sorts of things that are pretty cool about the state."

Surround Yourself With the Right People

As you're working toward your goals, you'll find "people who want to see you fail," says Neill. "And they're also gonna be people who wanna see you succeed, and you really have to surround yourself with the people that want you to succeed and do better and don't be afraid to ask for help." You can get solid advice from people you look up to, she adds.

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