In many ways Jessica Herrin doesn’t appear too much different than any other 30-something woman; she’s married, has two kids and a career. What’s different about Herrin, 37, is that she co-founded two highly successful businesses that have followed the trajectory of her life — Della.com, a virtual wedding registry that became WeddingChannel.com just a year before she got married, and Luxe Jewels, a new type of home-based e-commerce jewelry business geared toward working moms that she birthed just about the time she was about to give birth to her first daughter. Now called Stella & Dot, the company has some 14,000 sales representatives known as stylists and recently caught the eye of venture capitalists, who pumped $37 million into it.
As she told Inc. magazine, which named her one of the top 10 female entrepreneurs in 2010, “I've always been one of those people who is very driven about work, but I also always wanted to be a mom. All your priorities change when you are shifting your career to accommodate a family.” She sees Stella & Dot as a way to help other moms do that, too.
Herrin, her husband, Chad, and their daughters, 7 and 4, live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You have said that, in creating Stella & Dot, you were, “looking to create the modern women's business.” What is a modern women's business?
Women are very different today than our mothers’ generation. In general, they’re more educated, the have children later and they had a career before they had to get to the question of how do I find balance of not only being the mother I want to be but also have my own sense of accomplishment and continued personal growth so I can be a role model for my children as well. So, to me the modern woman is someone who isn’t a certain age but is living in today’s world, who’s being entrepreneurial and creative. How they’re going to create a life that’s happy for me, that’s about having a flexible but intellectually challenging and professional-level rewarding career but is something that you can schedule and control.
Home parties sound so retro; its what our moms did with Tupperware in the 1950s and Avon later on. Why are home parties still so attractive to women, as a business and as something to attend?
What differentiates Stella & Dot is that we don’t see ourselves as a traditional party-form company, but rather a multichannel company for woman to have a much more broad customer base. It’s about personal customer service. Jewelry is a $9 billion market and women love to accessorize and feel pulled together, but in a retail environment jewelry is locked up in a glass case where women can’t really try it. At a truck show, where all the pieces are laid out, a woman can get really personal styling tips and learn how to look fabulous in it. The trunk show is still the heart of our business, even though most of our customers go on to repeat shop online.
Back in 2008, you and your chief creative officer, Blythe Harris, rebranded the company as Stella & Dot, after your two grandmothers. What was it about your grandmothers that made you want to name your business after them?
We both wanted this company’s name to reflect the spirit of created and inspired by strong women, and if you think about the generation of our grandmothers they sailed across oceans, got the vote, went to work when their country went to war, clipped coupons, raised families and did it all with style and grace, and we inherited a lot of tenacity from that generation. They forged their own path and we’re still doing it today.
You have said that when you became a mom, you decide you wanted to be a “mom working,” not a “working mom.” What does that mean for you, and how well have you handled running your company, raising two daughters and staying connected to your husband?
The mom part comes first. I’ve been able to do that because I can control my own schedule. I still work very much full time, I travel, but it is on my terms so that I can put my children first. I work my day around being able to be home with them in the morning and at nights. We don’t have meetings at 6 o’clock; I’m home having dinner with my family. I also have an incredibly supportive husband who as made accommodations for our family because it’s incredibly important to us. We’re an equal partnership that we’ve had to evolve.
You stayed home with your first daughter for three months; with the second one, she was at the office with you when she was a week old. Your business is geared for stay-at-home moms, but you are hardly one. Could you happily be a stay-at-home mom?
I don’t know if anyone, frankly, is happy just being a mom. To me, being a great mom isn’t about making every meal or doing every load of laundry. It’s also about being a strong female role model for your children; the two are intertwined and not at odds. An essential part of being a great mom is pursuing your own passions and being an interesting, dynamic growing person that your children have as an example. That’s my core values and something I’ve always wanted. I’m not raising my daughters just to get married and have children. I’m raising them to be strong individuals and they need to see that every day of their lives. My daughters are actively involved in what’s going on in Mommy’s life; they know all about Stella & Dot and they’re very proud.
How do you handle child-care duties?
I was the primary caregiver until my youngest daughter was 2. When I really wanted to focus on growing Stella & Dot, we had to renegotiate that contract. Instead of me being primary and him being backup, we were going to have to be equal — taking kids to doctor appointments or making homework got done or making preschool drop-offs. We had to really work that out. Its not like one person’s the heavy and one person’s the softie. We’re on the same page. We really worked on it; we knew ultimately that marriage is a marathon, not a sprint and both people need to be happy. Are we both thriving in it? Because that’s the only way long term everyone’s going to be well taken care of.
What do you do in your “me” time, if you have any?
I run and do yoga. That’s how I stay strong and energized. Then I run for my social time, with my girlfriends.
What do you think you’re sacrificed as a working mom and what have you gained?
We both realized we’ve sacrificed having a third child. I always wanted a very large family and that’s a question my husband and I ask ourselves constantly. I think we realize I don’t want to split my time between more children even though if it were up to me I’d have 50 kids. I’ve gained happiness, passion, excitement, the feeling that I’m thriving. I really feel like I’m doing my calling, and I feel very lucky to say that.
In what ways has motherhood surprised you?
Everybody knows that they’re going to love their children, but the amount of absolute euphoria I get from my kids still blows me away every day. The amount that I love these little people is awe-inspiring. Every parent thinks their kids are the best thing in the world, but my husband and I always joke, “But we’re right!”
What are the lessons you hope your daughters will learn from the choices you’ve made in your life?
A real work ethic; the tenacity and focus to believe in yourself and go after the things you want; to not expect anything to be easy or handed to you but to build it; the ability to stay curious about what you’re supposed to be doing and who you are and what makes you happy and your relationships to work to evolve. Life isn’t easy or fixed; it’s an ongoing endeavor that you have to continually be thoughtful about.
Would you encourage your daughters to be Stella & Dot stylists?
Of course! They already are. They come with me to trunk shows. I’m sure we’re breaking child labor laws, but they do a good job.
When your daughters look back on their childhood, what do you hope they’ll remember most?
The same thing that I remember about my childhood with my father, that there is a enormous amount of unconditional love and fun and play with their parents, and firm and honest guidance.
Stella & Dot entrepreneur Jessica Herrin was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom.