By Kristin Shaw
Exuberant and charismatic, Laura Jacks is someone you want to get to know better. Her face, when she is talking about her family or her business, Gorgeous Millie, lights up as clearly as if you had lit a candle from within.
Before Jacks founded teacher-led playgroup Gorgeous Millie in Westlake at the beginning of 2011 with friend JC Conklin, she was a busy trial lawyer.
“I wanted to be a trial lawyer since I was 5,” she remembers. “I was at the library at Cedar Grove Elementary school, and Mrs. Donald, the librarian, presented a show on possible careers. That day, I came home and said to my parents, ‘I want to be a lawyer.’”
All through elementary, middle school, and high school, Jacks was on the student council, debate team, and was her high school’s first female student council president.
“It was a gimme,” Jacks said. “I was going to go to school and be a lawyer.”
Then Jacks and her husband, litigator Tommy Jacks, had their first son, Will. While Jacks continued working, she nursed and pumped, and an empathetic female bailiff with four children froze Jacks’ milk for her every day. One day, when Will was a baby, Jacks was in the middle of a trial when she got a call that Will had a high fever and ear infection. And then food poisoning hit the staff.
“Before the day was out, I was vomiting my guts out,” Jacks said. “We lost a paralegal, lawyer, and juror to food poisoning, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up the lawyer job and reinvented myself.”
Jacks left trial law and transitioned to being an associate judge. Eventually, she decided she needed more autonomy and left the court to start a private practice and co-manage Gorgeous Millie with Conklin. Conklin is a force of nature in her own right, as a former Wall Street Journal reporter, best-selling fiction writer, and mother of three. Her last book, The Icing on the Cupcake, is in its fourth printing.
With input and consultation from her sister Allison, a developmental psychologist, Jacks and Conklin came up with the idea for Gorgeous Millie, based on a concept they had seen in the D.C. area. Together, they designed a place for mothers, caregivers, and children to meet during the day to share parenting experiences with each other, enjoy a cup of tea in a beautiful environment, and provide plenty of socialization and stimulation for little ones, age 0-3.
Over time, Gorgeous Millie became much more than they had imagined; there are over 60 active families enrolled. Today, Jacks has two businesses: she is a special master in the mental health court as an independent mediator, and manages operations for Gorgeous Millie. She is also the mother of two boys, age 4 and 6.
“We wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated, but whimsical. We wanted it to appeal to moms as well as stimulate children; more like a home than a gym,” Jacks said. “Sometimes, it’s hard for people to understand the real magic of Gorgeous Millie until they step inside and try it. It’s unlike anything else we’ve seen.
“I believe in the mission passionately. In my heart, I know this place is a luxury, but if you can afford it, you can do no better for you and your child. It’s as important to nurture the mother as it is the child, and having a child – especially once you’ve been a professional, or recently moved – it can be so isolative. It’s a seismic shift of your life. You shop differently, sleep differently, travel differently – every single thing changes. Why would you not want to find a peer group? When you go to college or a new job, you’re thrown into a peer group. You have a baby and sometimes you’re just floating out there.
For me, the sense of community – the ability to put structure in your day, the ability to create confidence, and socializing without forfeiting one-on-one time – is what makes our business great.”
Jacks has reflected on the word “balance” and what it means to her as a working and entrepreneurial mama.
“I thought my kids would need me less as they got older, but that’s not true. For me, finding balance hasn’t been without hiccups; I was a very defined person in my life as a trial lawyer, up at 6 out the door, working long hours. I had to figure out how to allocate my time; how to avoid judging myself.”
Sounds like she’s doing a great job so far.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU, LAURA JACKS?
As a business woman, I’m inspired by the mission. We actually have an employee, and we help the economy chug along, even just a little. We’re adding to the fabric of America. I believe in what we’re doing here. Even if we just broke even, I’d still do it.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE?
Think of it in small bites. Do a gut check and make sure your family can afford the loss – both immediate and potential – but don’t get bogged down in that. Whatever you estimate your start-up costs to be, double them, and you’ll probably need more.
HOW DID YOU PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS?
Word of mouth has been huge for us, and Kids Directory ads. We really hustled, used social media, Plum District, low and no cost events and promotions, partnerships, and out of the box ideas. Think through your options – What is plan B? Or even Plan F? The key is to plan ahead as much as you can and be ready to roll with the punches.
Kristin Shaw is a marketing manager by day, writer by night, a full-time wife and mother of a preschooler. She grew up in the RV capital of the world — Elkhart, Indiana — and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati. She enjoyed several years in Atlanta before the mother ship called her Texan husband home to Austin. Her favorite things are family, airports, classic cars, sports, Italy and dessert; not necessarily in that order. You can reach her via Twitter @AustinKVS or her blog http://www.twocannoli.com, where she writes about relationships, motherhood and love. She also writes for The Huffington Post Parents section at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-shaw
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