Three years ago, Tanisha Chea was a high-flying marketing whiz at Taco Bell where her successful management of national campaigns led to a vice president of marketing position at Carrabbaís Italian Grill.
Then, the bottom fell out. Last November, Chea was downsized after more than a year at Carrabbaís. The timing, however, would prove to be "a blessing in disguise."
A new mom to twin boys Rhodes and Zealand, Chea had been dreading the return to the grind of the corporate world.
"I was really enjoying being with my boys," she said. "I told my husband that I really didnít want to go to work."
Laid off with a severance package, Chea found herself with not only enough time to spend with her sons but also money to follow her heartís desire: start a business.
"I have always wanted to start a business, but I never knew what that was," said Chea, a former Miss Connecticut and Miss Georgia USA who holds both an MBA and bachelorís degree from Clark Atlanta University. "I wanted to work for myself and work as hard as I did in corporate as I did for myself."
Presciently, Chea had begun mapping out plans for a clothing business, Tala Baby, while pregnant ("tala" means "to speak" in Icelandic). That idea was born from the lack of "inspirational" baby clothing currently on the market.
"I said ĎIím going to create what I canít find,í?" she said.
Chea, who lives in Tampa, hired an illustrator to create watercolor designs that paired animals with the inspiring messaging she wanted: a lion and the word "valor"; a unicorn and "imagination"; a giraffe and "pride."
The goal was to create a clothing line that espoused "purposeful parenting" Ė teaching children values, morals, and positivity, she said.
"I try to look at positive character traits (of animals) and pull them out," she said. "Elephants are very loving animals and that symbolizes empathy for me."
By the time the boys arrived at 38 weeks, seven designs had been created and other vendors and suppliers were lined up. Chea took off two months to adjust to being a new mommy before plunging back into building her business.
By December, Cheaís online store was ringing up sales. She estimates about $5,000 of merchandise has been sold to date.
Building a business while raising twin boys has required that Chea employ some creative strategies to keep everything floating.
A living area of her home serves as both her office and inventory room. An au pair tends to the boys while Chea makes conference calls, boxes up orders, and plans promotional campaigns.
But drawing a hard line between mommy and entrepreneur during business hours can be tough, she said.
The babies come first. So if one becomes upset, "Iíll listen out and listen to what type of cry it is," Chea said. "If I need to go to them, Iíll go pick them up."
Chea said she doesnít hold herself to a strict balancing act.
"Unlike working in corporate America, Iím not having to find a balance... itís just life," she said via email. "Because they are the reason I started this business, raising them and raising a business are fully intertwined into one."
While Chea is no longer in the C-suite, the lessons from years in corporate are still at play from posting social media to buying ads online.
"Everything I learned, Iím applying now," she said.
That includes mapping out a plan to scale up. Chea said sheís got ideas to expand Tala Baby beyond clothing and add a "mommy and me" line.
"I really feel like the brand has a lot of legs and room to grow," she said. "I feel like itís endless."
There are some drawbacks to running a business solo. If a computer acts wonky, thereís no IT department to call for repairs, and thereís no money in the budget for an intern.
But the sacrifices have been worth it to be present for the babiesí milestones, like the first roll over, first crawl, first steps, Chea said.
For other would be "mompreneurs" Chea advises they "test the waters and start small."
"Thereís no perfect time to start your dream," she said. "When the opportunity presents itself, just jump on it."
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]