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North Star Leaders Podcast

Jessica Rolph

Season 2 Episode 3 7 May 2024

Transcript

Jessica Rolph:

We just want ourselves to become our fullest self, the fullest expression of who a person is. And that is what we're here for at Lovevery is to try and help children become that, and help parents feel so good that they've provided that opportunity for their children.

Lindsay Pedersen:

The world needs what only your business can bring, and as a leader, it's your job to deliver. But where do you focus? Where do you direct your time, your team, your budget, and your emotional energy? We are learning this together on the North Star Leaders Podcast. I'll be talking to purpose-driven leaders about the choices they make to create audacious economic value while also realizing their distinctive purpose. I'm Lindsay Pederson, brand strategist, author of Forging an Ironclad Brand, and host of the North Star Leaders podcast. Let's get to it. Today I am really happy to be joined by Jessica Rolph. Jessica is CEO of Lovevery, an early learning platform that offers a stage based system of information for parents as well as products for children. Jessica, welcome to the show.

Jessica Rolph:

Oh, it is so wonderful to be here, and so timely for me to be connecting with you.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Ooh, that makes my heart sing. Really makes my heart sing. To start us off in this conversation, Jessica, what is your favorite thing about what you do?

Jessica Rolph:

I love the children. Ooh, just love children and I love being in their lives in the way that Lovevery is. So it is such an honor to be in these new families homes. It's just the beauty of what we do.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Do you wish when you were a new parent that you had had Lovevery?

Jessica Rolph:

Oh my gosh, yes. And still, we still haven't been able to catch up with my children's ages. They're now eight, 11 and 13, so we don't have anything specifically for those age bands, but oftentimes my children do play and test and give me feedback on our products and books. So it's fun to be a part of their lives too.

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's so special. That's so special. When you started Lovevery, and I know that you have used the Stanford design thinking principles, talk about how you leveraged those or any other framework as you were defining what is Lovevery, and what are we going to be in the world?

Jessica Rolph:

Yeah, we had a core question about the system and the early learning program that we were building. And our core question was were parents up for it? Was this going to feel like work and pressure, or was this going to be something that they would joyfully participate in and feel confident and good to be a part of? And so we had always modeled our program to unfold with developmental stages, and that means that it's a subscription program, so it's sold by subscription, but really we're there for all these important learning moments that evolve over time, from birth to age five. So when we first came up with the idea for the company, and when I first wanted to understand what customers were thinking, and potential customers, we made a simulation. We did use the design thinking model to hack together these really ugly prototypes.

Ironing things together, working with a local woodworker, hacking together different ways to experience the simulated experience of Lovevery. And we shipped these boxes to 25 families across the country, and we looked for families that were from all different income brackets, all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, different geographies. We really tried to create the most diverse group of families possible within the United States. And so we would ship this prototype and then go visit them, and see a couple months later what was it like to have these products in your home? Did you read the information? What was this experience like and how does it compare to frankly, all of the really engaging flashy, light, plasticky toys that have surrounded early childhood? And a lot of the themes, like there was the sea theme or the jungle theme. So toys have really taken on their own notion of what we as adults think of as a toy. What we've built at Lovevery are really tools for learning. And sometimes the tools for learning look really simple, and they don't look like a toy.

So one of our top performing items is a clear plastic tube, because babies love to pour locks and balls and understand this concept of containment by watching something fall through a tube, as well as keep something in a pot and pan. And so we shipped these very simple tools with information for parents, and we asked them, is this something that you would want to continue? Does this actually compete, or is this any better than all the other toys that you have in your home? And would you want to invest in an early learning program and a system? And what we found, overwhelmingly, the big answer to our question was, of course, parents want the best for their children. There is just no denying that fact. Wherever you are, in whatever side of the world, all parents want the best for their children. And so we were able to really tap into that intention with something that was analog, that didn't involve screens, that didn't involve flashing lights, that really provided this connection between parents and children, and helped parents feel confident that they were in fact giving their child the best start.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I hear so much of the joy of seeing their faces, like the parents who are appreciating this and are probably, I imagine, if I'm representative, starved for it without having the words for it, and to give them something that actually it feels like a gift to them, because it's what they want for their family and the kind of parent that they want to be.

Jessica Rolph:

Yeah, we really found that. I think that there is this moment of joy and aha when you see your child doing something that you never knew that they wanted to do or that they could do. And so watching a 13-month-old poke these little carrots through a hole and push them through the hole, and really understand this concept of containment and really wanting to post, it's called posting in child development science, having a parent witness their toddler's focus and desire and really having that toddler... That toddler wants to just complete that task. They want to get all the carrots through all the holes in the little box. And so having that aha moment from a parent's perspective, there's just nothing like it. And I think that we are here to serve those families and help children and parents really connect in that way.

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's another part of this too, is that you're also serving parents. So there's the products for the children, and then there's also the stage-based system of information that the parents are getting, right? You're actually serving a family. The children are playing with the things, but the parents are learning and given the platform for interacting with their kids. Am I saying that right?

Jessica Rolph:

Yeah. Thank you so much for knowing that. We're really serving two customers, users, people who are experiencing the product in a way that no one else is. So we have the child that we're serving with just the right materials at just the right openings of those development windows, that evolve over time, and then we're serving the parent with just the right information that they need to know about their child's development so they can have a window into what their child is hungry to learn at each stage. And we're doing that in a really holistic way. And it's the combination of the two that's the magic. It's so simple, but I think that we've always had beautiful German wooden toys. We've always had intentional play things. We've always had apps and information for parents, and there's the What to Expect book, and there's the pediatrician appointments, and there's so much on Instagram now, but no one has really brought those together in a way that we believe is truly creating, fostering connection and changing outcomes for children, and really improving that parent-child connection.

Lindsay Pedersen:

You use the word window, I love that because there's a levity and light-spiritedness to it that... I don't know as I... Gosh, my kids are older teenagers... If Lovevery were around when I was a new parent, I think my experience of parenting would have been really different. One of the things that I struggled with then, and to a lesser extent, now, is all of the efforting of parenting. So I was really intrigued to learn that the word parent only became a verb pretty recently, like to parent somebody. It's new to the English language because we used to just let the kid grow.

And you probably know the book All Joy and No Fun. So this idea that there's this, "I'm trying to get too much joy out of this, or too much accomplishment," or looking at my kids as a deliverable for parenting. So you're striking the cord that is engagement without performance or... I don't know if what I'm saying is resonating because it's pre-verbal for me, it was such a visceral experience of like, "I want to do well at this so badly, but I also needed somebody to say, it's okay to not worry about whether you're doing well at the same time. It's both."

Jessica Rolph:

It is both. You've really hit on how we want to show up for families, is this balance that we feel is really trying to help parents feel confident in their moments, and feel some inspiration, and some light, and some positivity, and some support, and feel seen. Whereas for the children, we really want to help them have the learning experiences that they're craving and desiring. So sure a child will develop, the development windows will unfold whether you give them certain opportunities to learn something or not, whether you give them two balls, that one is heavy and one is light and they look identical.

A child will ultimately understand the concept of heavy and light. But if you give an 11-month old the ability to hold in their hands, one ball that looks the same, that's heavy and the other ball that's light, you can just see the synapses firing in their brain. You can really see that learning happening. And so we want to try and give the tools for the children and also the information for parents. It's not about driving them forward, it's about going deeper and allowing them to be present with the learning that's happening.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yes, there's such a simplicity and a lightness to that, that it feels really good, at least, to my kind of achiever oriented way of thinking about parenting that I'm always on guard for. And I heard you say it was really great when I heard you say that you should really think that you're succeeding if you're getting 60 to 80% right as parents, the idea of perfectionism is really not welcome here because it doesn't help anybody.

Jessica Rolph:

It really doesn't. I've experienced it just this past weekend. I was like, "Oh my gosh, do we need a shift?" Because we were on a really special outing with my kids and my husband and I was so excited. It was a holiday. I had a half day to be with my children, and we just couldn't get consensus on what we were going to do. And it was just like a ton of fighting. And I just took away and I was like, "Oh my gosh, have I failed as a parent? Why are we here?" We just wanted to have a little family time. What happened. And I think there are so many moments like that, it's just so complex. Humans are so complex. So where, at Lovevery, where we feel like we can partner with parents is in actually the place where it isn't as hard.

It isn't as complex. It's play, and it's connection, and it's meaningful, intentional play with all the right tools and information that you need to just feel good in those moments. So we're really there to try and provide that nerdy edge and that elevation of the information, the experience, and help parents feel like the items that they have in their home are beautiful and sustainable, and represent the world that they want their children to grow up in. But it's also... We're dealing, honestly, with the easy part. Sleep is so hard.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh my gosh.

Jessica Rolph:

Breastfeeding is so hard. Bottle feeding, the struggles and the emotions around giving birth and what kind of birth, how children are brought into this world, there's so many hard things that are so complex about parenthood. And I would say that for us at Lovevery we're really trying to own the space of joyful play and intentional play and connection.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It strikes me, as you're describing this, and as I picture the product experience, how the tone that you bring to this experience is so important. And so if it were a product, a toy paired with parental education about the engagement, and it weren't presented with the joyfulness and levity that you're bringing to it, it could bring such a different end result. It's so much more than the actual product, it's the spirit that you're conveying, I imagine, in ways both big and small. Well, I know that it comes through in your messaging, it comes through in the types of things that you do.

You have a podcast, you're educating. But the tonality and the personality is so important here. I guess it's not ever not important in the world of brand, but it's so differentiating, what you're describing, and such an important part of the experience, because a different tone could take a parent to the perfectionism realm, for example, or the achievement realm, for example. The baby Mozart, that's what was big when my kids were little, realm, where just make your kid a little Einstein. And you don't have that at all, it has so much heart and love for the children.

Jessica Rolph:

You've just hit on something that's really been a challenge for us as we from the very beginning. So we had a placeholder name for the company, and it was Smart Baby. Terrible name. It was never going to be Smart Baby, but exactly what you're talking about, because we are trying to help parents make the most of those first thousand days, the first five years of life where 90% of the human brain by weight is developed. There's so much development happening in those early years. And so Smart Baby was the wrong name, and we really wanted to infuse it with love. And so Lovevery is the right brand for what we're trying to build, but it doesn't mean if we go too soft and we're too much into play, then why bother with a early learning program that you need to invest in over time and that you need to commit to from a financial perspective.

And I think that we are trying to ride that edge, and it's very hard, because on one side, I want to say to anyone who's listening, and Freddie and anyone else who are here listening to this conversation, know this, I want to say some important hard facts, 90% of the brain is developed by age five. There's a lot of science around what happens in those early months and years that really make a difference. And I feel like in America and in parenting in our past, we've said skills will unfold, it all worked out for me. I didn't have anything special. Why do we need to make this extra investment and why do we need to think more deeply about these early years? They will learn to walk. They will figure it out. Children could have a stick and a rock and be good, and some dirt and be good.

There are children that play with their natural environment and have a very healthy development. And I guess what I want to say, on the one hand, is that neuroscientists say around half of who we become is our genetics, and the other half is our environment. And this interplay between our genes and our environment is so powerful. And oftentimes we think about the environment, we think beyond care, beyond basic needs, care, connection being held, there is a slice that is the experiences that a child has, the verbal exposure that a child has, how much is the parent talking to that child? How much are they exposed to different learning opportunities? Fine motor skills actually ignite language learning in a brain. All of this development is so intertwined. So you give children the right experiences at the right time, it can actually make a difference.

And I say all of this knowing that my children didn't have this opportunity. They had some, they had an approximation, but they didn't have the full Lovevery experience. And so what I'm trying to build is this really intentional program for future children, and it's coming from a very deep place of desire and heart. On the other hand, if we go too hard into that language, that genes are half of it, the other half is their environment, and environment does matter, and you can make a difference. It feels like fear mongering and it feels like pressure. And if you go too soft, if you're like intentional play, joyful play at every stage, look at these beautiful playthings, look at these children having so much fun. They're having so much fun because they do have so much fun. When you tune into their development windows that are opening in a child's brain over time, they have so much fun. They are so engaged, they're so focused. But then there's alternatives and there's other ways to opt out and not feel the need to invest in the learning program that we've built.

And maybe there's some information you might grab from Instagram or from a pediatrician, or maybe you could tell yourself you're going to read that parenting book, or you're going to understand those stages, and you're just going to pick up a few things and maybe you'll do it later. Maybe you'll just invest in that later. Now I'm just not sure. Do I really need it now? And I just believe so strongly because I've seen it happen so many times, that if you invest early, you are really banking, you're putting so much in the bank for the future, for your child, around you are committed to making investments. If your child needed help in reading or math, you wouldn't make the investment needed. You would get them the extra help. Oftentimes parents think about extracurricular activities, so they start thinking about making those investments around five, six, 10, when your children are a little older. Yet the leverage on the early years is so much bigger. So I think it's a very delicate balance, and I don't know that every day we actually get it right.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Well, it sounds like you're marrying two things that don't usually coexist. The science and the vegetables of it, the learning and the disproportionate amount of learning in these magic windows. You're marrying that with a very big-hearted spirit. Those two things don't usually go together, and they're dials. Sometimes you might go a little bit farther on one side than the other, and that's the work of this brand. It's interesting because when you said, and I remember hearing this when my kids were little too, by age five, the vast majority of neurological development that will ever happen in their lives has happened by age five. And you can take that statement in so many ways.

I can take that statement and be like, "Shit, that means I have missed windows or I'm about to miss windows, or I got to get," but when you describe it, there's another way that it can take me, which is pure wonder. That is astonishing to think about, just this little primate, that is your zero to five child, there is so much happening in their organism during this really short window of... Heck, that is amazing. It feels joyful just to think about that. And so holding it with the humility that it could go either way, it could go too much to the achievement and it could go too much toward something that isn't going to capture a sustainable business, with sustainable premium price points, and that kind of thing. You're doing both. It's hard.

Jessica Rolph:

Yeah, I think that, from a parenting perspective, it's just growth mindset always. There are just so many examples where I haven't been the parent I want to be, but I got to begin again in growth mindset, and I have growth mindset for all my children. It's just that if you take a bird's eye view, and I talk to somebody who's about to become a parent, I want to give them all the best information and all the best opportunity. If that window of the first five years has... I'm talking to a parent of an eight-year-old like myself, we're always going to begin again. We're always going to be growth mindset. So I think that it's also just trying to help ground us in who we're speaking to at what point in time, but there's a real opportunity to shift what a person can become.

We just want ourselves to become our fullest self, the fullest expression of who a person is. And that is what we're here for at Lovevery, is to try and help children become that, and help parents feel so good that they've provided that opportunity for their children. I would say the other thing is there are some headwinds on parents today, and the headwinds are around just an hour, screen time for kids and screen time for parents. I'm struggling with that a lot myself with my own screen time, with my kids, just running a business and getting Slack notifications and trying to be... It's just really hard. It's really hard because of the speed of information and there's just so much coming at us at any given time. And then it's also just normalized, what is now seen as just okay. And we're not sure if that's actually okay for what we're exposing our children to.

And so I don't know. I don't know if my son playing video games at 13 is great for his brain. I'm trying to limit it, but that's how he's connecting with his friends, and I'm struggling with it. It's like there's a whole wave of society that you were trying to navigate, the systems that we live in. And so what we want Lovevery to be is just this peaceful, beautiful place that's analog, that's about human connection, that is about joyful play. It's about understanding these development windows, and helping your child feel like their best. And it's actually quite easy. It's so much easier to help a child by speaking to them a little bit more in a way that talks about propositions for...

For example, toddlers have a window where they just love to learn words that are really relevant to their life like up and down and inside and outside. These are concepts, these words represent concepts. It's so much easier to do that than to help my son with his physics homework. And I would say that I'm not making a total comparison, but I kind of am. This development that's happening early really makes a difference in how that plays out in a child's future brain architecture and their capacities. But we have to get that balance right from a branding perspective. You're such a genius on brand. And so just really hearing you see that tension that we experience, is so real, and the fact that you honed in right into it. And I think that we don't always get it right and we're working on it. We're trying to figure it out.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Well, it's interesting because as you described the tension that we parents in this era feel, especially parents of kids who are old enough that they're on devices. That's a tension too. Right? And you're a working mom, CEO. And it's not as though you cannot have screens in your house. There's a tension here because we can't have that, but we also don't want to have the life where it's all that. And so that's a tension too. I feel like the tension that you're dancing as leaders of Lovevery mimics attention that we as parents are trying to dance as well. It would be so easy if there was just this singular answer, which is, move off the grid. And some people can do that. God bless them. But for the rest of us, we're living in an era where we do have to navigate these opposing goals. And so you're feeling that too. It's interesting that that tension is that intersection that you experience running this business, is also a tension that you experience as a parent, as a mom.

Jessica Rolph:

Yes.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It's interesting, because this is such a personal brand, especially as a parent, as a fellow mom talking about this. And I wonder what it's like for you, how your purpose as a person overlaps or differs from the purpose of the company? Or do you need to keep those separate?

Jessica Rolph:

I don't keep them separate at all. There is no separation at all. It's all consuming. It's what I'm here to do, and I love this company so much. I love this company so much. And there are times when there's conflict with my time and my ability to be there for my children. And I try and use my gut to balance that out and really say, "Okay." This afternoon I'm taking my son to get contact lenses. My husband could do it. I wear contact lenses and I think I should be there for him. But I'm also missing some meetings and I'm really... A lot is happening at work that I want to move forward. And so it's always a tension, but there is no doubt that this is my life purpose is to build this company and really be in this space, and try and serve families and parents and listen, and give families what they're hungry for, what they're looking for. I answer DMs personally to customers on Instagram. It's all consuming. It's so meaningful. I feel so fortunate to have this work in front of me and feel so grateful for it.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I feel it. I just wrote down, "This is what I'm here to do." I believe it. I vibe with you on that. This is what you're here to do. This both worlds, being the head of a family and the head of a company. It's what you're here to do. Okay. I have some rapid fire questions for you. I've got five of them. One word answers. Does that sound good?

Jessica Rolph:

Sounds good.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Jessica Rolph:

Neither.

Lindsay Pedersen:

An afternoon person?

Jessica Rolph:

I don't know.

Lindsay Pedersen:

You're in the middle. Okay.

Jessica Rolph:

In the middle.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Lucky.

Jessica Rolph:

In the middle.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon?

Jessica Rolph:

Go to hot yoga.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Ooh. What's your favorite salty snack?

Jessica Rolph:

Salted dark chocolate. Caramel chocolate.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Ooh, yum. Do you have a favorite brand of those?

Jessica Rolph:

I eat a lot of chocolate, and I just researched that... There's always the expose that there's something in our food that we should worry about. And there are a lot of heavy metals in our system, it just is. But I just bought a case of dark chocolate from this company called Mast, I think it is. Yeah. It was delicious. I don't drink coffee in the morning. I just eat chocolate.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. That's a bold choice. I like that. What is a pet peeve?

Jessica Rolph:

Not going into the details. Skimming over the all important details.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Like missing nuance, missing the subtleties.

Jessica Rolph:

Yeah. Like a typo on something that's supposed to be smart. We're supposed to be a smart brand. If there's a typo, I'm worried.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. And last question is, what's your favorite thing to cook?

Jessica Rolph:

Well, Gwyneth Paltrow has a cookbook called, It's So Easy, and I love everything in that cookbook.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I knew she had a cookbook, but I don't own it and have never tried it, so I'm going to.

Jessica Rolph:

It's great. It's so great. There are so many dishes that are really good.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Is it easy though? Does she say it's so easy and it's totally not, or is it?

Jessica Rolph:

It's not really easy. I'm not much of a cook. They're weekend meals.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. She calls it a Tuesday night. I call it a once a year feast. Yeah.

Jessica Rolph:

Exactly.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, Jessica, this has been so great. Where can people find more about you, about Lovevery?

Jessica Rolph:

Loveevery.com. We're everybody there, and I'm Jessica Rolph on Instagram. We've got Lovevery Instagram. We have a wonderful developmental email series that people can sign up for on our website.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much.

Jessica Rolph:

Oh, it's been wonderful being here. Thank you.

Lindsay speaking

About Lindsay

Lindsay Pedersen is a bestselling author and brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar, and IMDb.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for the executive’s charge: increasing the company’s value. There, she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita. In each case, she was solely responsible for increasing the business’s value.

Thanks to this executive perspective, Lindsay demands that brands be hard-working, disciplined and rigorous in growing a business. Her brand strategies are tested in the crucible of her proprietary Ironclad Method. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy to guide choices as they grow.