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 Carrabba’s Italian Grill.
Then, the bottom fell out. Last November, Chea was downsized after more than a year at Carrabba’s. 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 didn’t 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 heart’s 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 bachelor’s 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 ‘I’m going to create what I can’t find,’?" 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" – 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, Chea’s 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, "I’ll listen out and listen to what type of cry it is," Chea said. "If I need to go to them, I’ll go pick them up."
Chea said she doesn’t hold herself to a strict balancing act.
"Unlike working in corporate America, I’m not having to find a balance... it’s 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, I’m applying now," she said.
That includes mapping out a plan to scale up. Chea said she’s 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 it’s endless."
There are some drawbacks to running a business solo. If a computer acts wonky, there’s no IT department to call for repairs, and there’s no money in the budget for an intern.
But the sacrifices have been worth it to be present for the babies’ 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."
"There’s no perfect time to start your dream," she said. "When the opportunity presents itself, just jump on it."
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]