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Home > Julie Aigner-Clark

Julie Aigner-Clark

August 16th, 2005 · 8 Comments

 

Founder, Baby Einstein Company and Aigner Clark Creative
www.aignerclarkcreative.com

Ask the parents of a young child who Julie Aigner-Clark is, and they’ll probably tell you that she founded Baby Einstein, the popular videos that entertain little ones with classical music, puppets, poetry, etc. – and that buy Mom or Dad precious minutes to take a breather.

But they might not know what Clark has been doing since selling The Baby Einstein Company to Disney. Clark and her husband have launched Aigner Clark Creative to create new brands that bring value to non-profit organizations.

With John Walsh, the host of America’s Most Wanted and a well-known child safety advocate, they started The Safe Side (www.thesafeside.com) and produced the first video in a series that teaches young kids about avoiding dangerous situations, like abduction and abuse. Clark’s second project, Memory Lane (www.memorylanemedia.com), creates videos and CDs that entertain people who suffer from memory loss diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Before Baby Einstein

“I grew up in Michigan, went to Michigan State University, and started teaching high school English out of college. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I wanted to stay home, so I left teaching. Chicken pox had broken out at the school, and I had never had it. It was a good excuse to spend my last six months of pregnancy at the pool.”

Birth of a Multimillion-Dollar Company

“About a year into my daughter’s life, I started thinking about the whole idea of making a video for babies. Something stimulating and positive. I wondered, ‘Why isn’t there a way to expose her to the arts and sciences?’ I found the marketplace completely lacked what I was looking for. Like many people who start businesses, I spent about a year thinking about it before I actually did anything with the idea.”

Shooting Her First Videos – in the Basement

“I didn’t have a video background, but my husband and I borrowed video equipment and started to shoot scenes on a tabletop in my basement. I put a puppet on my hand and plopped my cat down in front of the camera. My husband and I used our home computer to edit our first video.”

Building a Powerful Brand – All By Herself

“Everything I did in the first videos was based on my experience as a mom. I didn’t do any research. I knew my baby. I knew what she liked to look at. I assumed that what my baby liked to look at, most other babies would, too. I drew the Baby Einstein logo myself. Everyone asks, ‘How did you come up with the name?’ The truth is, I just sat down and thought of it. We didn’t test market it or anything.”

Start-Up Costs

“I didn’t really expect that I was going to have a company – I just thought, ‘I’m going to make a video.’ But once I had to start paying for music, the costs shot up. In hindsight, the first video was cheap to produce – about $15,000 – but that was a lot of money to my husband and me at the time.”

ABCs, 123s and ROI

“In the first year, with one title, we made $100K in revenue. This was nearly five times my teaching salary. By the time we sold the company in 2001, we had revenue of over $20 million in sales for the year, with just 10 videos and a handful of books. The company was still just my husband and me – we had five employees and a couple of consultants.”

The Best PR: Happy Babies and Parents

“The first Baby Einstein video took off because it was a completely new concept. It was an entirely new idea. No one else had videos for babies. During the first five and a half years, we never ran an ad. The videos made babies happy. Parents told their friends. News articles and publicity opportunities came to us.”

When Fun Becomes Work

“We started to think about selling to Disney when running the company started becoming less fun. In the early days, I would sit in meetings with Mark, my (video) editor, brainstorming potential scenes for videos like Baby Shakespeare and just cracking up. It was so much fun then.”

“But as we grew, we started to see competition coming into the marketplace. We felt like we needed to hire a PR firm and start marketing more. There was a lot of competition – once you’re successful, everyone wants to rip you off. Because of that pressure, life was not what we wanted it to be. I had left teaching because I wanted to be with my kids, and I was finding I had less and less of that.”

Deciding to Sell to Disney

“My husband was a physics major and I was an English major. We never thought we’d be rich. We began to think about, ‘How much could we sell this company for?’ We came up with a number, and approached Disney because we were already doing books with them. Disney had nothing in the baby video market and we knew that if we didn’t sell to someone like them, they’d make their own (content for babies). We felt that with marketing ability like Disney’s, they could take our market share away.”

Donating Talents to Good Causes

“For the first two years (after selling Baby Einstein), we tried to be philanthropic. We realized that we could not only contribute to good causes with money, we could actually create products that would help the people who were part of organizations we believed in.”

Protecting Children from Danger

“There’s nothing I’m more passionate about than keeping children safe. When they’re very young, your kids are with you all the time, but once they reach 1st grade, they’re beginning to become more independent. They go to school and play at friends’ houses. I wanted to teach my kids what to do in potentially dangerous situations. There was nothing on the market that I felt was any good, so I decided to make something myself.”

“People are becoming aware of how horrific the (child molester) laws are in the United States. We let these people out of jail.” (According to missingkids.com, there are 549,038 registered sex offenders in the United States, many of whom are not in prison, and an estimated 100,000 sex offenders whose whereabouts are unknown.)

Getting Kids to Listen – Again and Again

“I want to teach kids how to avoid dangerous situations in the first place. They don’t learn their ABCs by singing the song one time – it’s repetition, reading and singing them again and again. That’s how safety is. It has to be a conversation happening in your home on a regular basis.”

“With The Safe Side video, we tried to make the topic of safety funny. Kids won’t watch videos again and again if they don’t enjoy them. Kids love The Safe Side – they’re watching it repeatedly and it’s sparking all kinds of communication between parents and kids. Right now Amazon.com and nearly all of the Family Christian bookstores have it, and by the end of August it’ll be in Borders and Barnes & Noble. You can order it on the Safe Side Web site (www.thesafeside.com), too.”

“An organization that I became deeply involved with is the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com), a non-profit organization founded by John Walsh and his wife. We donate 10 percent of sales to the center. I’m making something that will help this cause. For me, that’s so fulfilling.”

Walking Down Memory Lane

“Memory Lane came about because I had a close relative who had dementia and I watched the absolute suffering that he and my family went through. He knew he was supposed to know us, but he didn’t know us. It was so sad.”

“People with Alzheimer’s can’t watch TV, because they can’t follow a plot, but they can often remember things from a long time ago. They can sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ They can put their hands on their hearts and recite The Pledge of Allegiance.”

“The first Memory Lane video, which we just released, has little vignettes themed around dating, marriage, family vacations – all things that most people have experienced in their lifetimes. I’ve seen people in nursing homes watch the video and then applaud when they hear applause on the video soundtrack. They’re responding, and my hope is that this positive experience will not only make them happy, but also offer some positive communication between patients and caregivers.”

“We’re doing this video in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Foundation. It’s available on our Web site, www.memorylanemedia.com. We’ll have CDs coming out that contain familiar old songs that people will recognize. No one has ever made positive video programming for the millions of people who have this disease.”

Greatest Success

“My greatest moment in business was selling to Disney. I look at what they’ve done with Baby Einstein, and I’m so proud. I never could have expanded the brand the way they have. ”

Greatest Challenges

“Realizing that not everybody is doing things for the right reasons. I came into the business world naive and optimistic. I trusted a lot of people because they seemed wonderful. Now I often repeat the old X-Files line, ‘Trust no one.’ It’s a hard lesson to learn. People who I thought were friends helping me out, ended up launching companies identical to mine (but not as good!).”

“And there was some difficulty after selling to Disney… I’m thrilled that we sold and have no regrets, but I’m sorry I wasn’t allowed to continue to be involved. Baby Einstein was my baby. They bought it and said, ‘This is Disney now.’ That was tough.”

Words of Advice: On Positive Reinforcement

“One piece of advice I always give women who are serious about starting their own businesses: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and in your idea. It’s critical. When you’re second-guessing yourself about whether it’s really a good idea, you don’t need other people second-guessing you as well.”

Words of Advice: On Doing Biz with Big Retailers

“We’ve worked hard with The Safe Side to keep (the video) out of the mass merchant stores while we launch. It’s too new. I don’t think anyone with a product to sell should go into Wal-Mart or Target or Best Buy or Costco until they have an established brand. You risk becoming one of a million things on the shelves. If you fail at a retailer, it’s really hard to get them to take you back.”

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