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Moms Doing It For Themselves: Erica Sheehan

When Erica Sheehan came up with the idea for her new Irish healthy food brand Homespun, she was prepared to leave the lucrative corporate world behind to launch her now hugely popular Quinoa Crunch range. But, some would say having a small child supersedes any office-based pressure mothers come up against! We find out how she has launched a business while raising a toddler and how she is expanding the business she started in her Blackrock kitchen into the UK and Middle Eastern markets!

Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)

I’m from Blackrock in Co Dublin and after school, I did business studies at university but in all honesty, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in lectures! I was involved with the College radio station and newspaper. I always interested in writing and journalism and after I left Trinity I worked in the Irish Echo newspaper in New York for a time. When I got home, I worked in TV3 as a news reporter – it had just launched – and I also did some freelance work in radio and print.

A few years into it, I was offered a job in PR and spontaneously decided to make the switch. I spent several years working in Coca-Cola Ireland. It was exciting to work around very creative and smart people. Deep down though, I always knew that I would like to set up my own business. In personal terms, I have always had a real interest in health and nutrition and focusing on that as my day job was a change I knew I wanted to make. So I decided to leave my corporate job. It also coincided with my husband Michael and I having our first child, Katie, who is now 2.

When I founded Homespun last year, it was a dream come true because it combines my interest in food and well being with my background in business. Now I’m running my own business full-time. It’s a big change going from employee to entrepreneur but I’ve never been more motivated. I love the ongoing challenges. I launched our first range, Homespun Quinoa Crunch in June 2016 and it’s now stocked in about 300 stores in Ireland, including around 200 Supervalu stores nationwide, as well as Avoca, Donnybrook Fair, Brown Thomas, and health stores.

We are expanding into the UK and in October we go on shelf in the Spinneys stores in the United Arab Emirates. We are developing a new flavour and a snack range; the reaction to our products has been great. When you’re juggling and struggling with the startup phase of a new business that sort of reaction really keeps you going!

Where did you get the idea for Quinoa Crunch from?

Homespun Quinoa Crunch is a nutritious twist on granola made from popped quinoa, and I got the initial idea from cooking with quinoa, which I love as it’s protein-rich, full of fibre and vitamins and really keeps you fuller for longer. First, I began to use it in cooking a lot – in savoury dishes as a rice substitute – but then I noticed there were recipes for healthy quinoa-based cereals, granolas and snacks on blogs and in healthy cookbooks, but there were none I knew of on the market, ready-made.

In parallel, I was contemplating a change in career to allow me to focus on my interest in healthier lifestyles. I was trying to think about how I could take what I’d done to date, and what I was really interested in, and develop a business in that area and it kept coming back to health food. I come from a family where my mum cooked from scratch, where we grew our own vegetables. I’ve always had a huge appreciation for food. Wandering around nice food shops and reading cookbooks is my hobby!

I created the first recipes for Quinoa Crunch in my kitchen and all my family and friends said they loved it. However, when launching a business, you have to really verify your assumptions by checking with people who are independent! So, I started a little stall at a farmers market to test them out. I loved the farmer’s market. I was bitten by the bug from day one. The reaction to Quinoa Crunch helped. People loved the taste, the quinoa dimension and the fact that all the ingredients are clean and nutritious. Every week we were selling out. I was making it at home at the time and couldn’t keep up, I was exhausted! At that stage, I sensed it has real potential and I decided to take the leap of faith and do it full-time and launch Homespun into retail. I promised my husband that if it was a flop, I’d dust myself off and get another job and he went along with it!

Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?

I wasn’t a mum while I was working in full-time employment. I actually discovered I was pregnant when I was testing my products out at the farmer's market and I set up my business properly after having a baby. While I was delighted to be expecting a baby, I initially thought it was the end of my plans to start my own business. After a while though, I began to see it differently and could see the
advantages of working for myself as a Mum and there are lots.

So, in my case, motherhood and start-up life happened together. It was a big but really positive change on all fronts. Since becoming a mum, I definitely feel differently about work and my career in general. I really enjoy my work and I am very fortunate to be doing something I really love, but Katie is my priority and I find that I am a lot more efficient and I get my work done during work hours and then when she’s home it’s all about her. I’m conscious these are precious years we won’t get back.

How did your partner support you through this time?

My husband Michael has been great. He’s a really supportive person, in every way. He’s a really great advisor and sounding board and I often go to him with the tough decisions, and he’ll always have a unique and helpful take on things. Things work because we tag team and we support each other. Every parent knows it’s a juggle with kids. We try to work together.

What changes did you make to make your career work for you?

I looked after Katie full time until she was 10 months and then she joined a lovely crèche right beside our home. She enjoys the company of other children and all the varied activities and we enjoy our careers. Without childcare, we couldn’t do what we do and while motherhood is amazing, I also love my work. But, when Katie’s not in crèche it’s our time together as a family – and so in that sense, there isn’t much me time, which I’m okay with. In my life before a baby, I lived to the max! I’m comfortable with the shift in gear now, it’s fulfilling.

I like being with her in the garden, going down to the sea and to places like Airfield. We cook together. I just got her first apron which she loves wearing! She hops up on a stool in the kitchen and likes to help whether it’s washing vegetables, stirring pots or making a cake.

Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now - how have they improved/decreased?

They have increased massively. I really feel grateful that my life has turned out as it has. I have a happy and healthy child and a supportive partner and I am working full-time on a business that I love with products that I believe in. I am genuinely grateful and content and count my blessings. I am so passionate about my business but equally, it’s really nice to clock off at teatime for a while and spend time with my little girl. You really can’t think about work when you’re with children, it’s an imposed antidote to stress!!

How do you rate your work/life balance?

I would say good, but with room for improvement. With a start-up business, it’s pretty inevitable that you will work long hours and when you’ve a small team and you’re the founder, it’s easy to become preoccupied. But I mitigate against that by taking lots of exercise. I take time out every day to go for a run, do a spin class or lately I’ve been doing high-intensity training classes – they’re quick!

For me, exercise is really important. Not just for stress levels, but for keeping things in perspective. I try to schedule time for friends. When you become a mum it’s life-changing. In terms of switching off and having a laugh I really enjoy the company of my female friends.

Would you have three bits of advice for working mothers?

  1. I definitely think if your budget can stretch to it, a little bit of help around the house can make a huge difference. With kids, laundry is almost a full-time job. Add in cooking, cleaning, not to mention admin; it can all really mount up. Having someone come in for a few hours a week is a great investment, and personally, for me, I would rather forego other things.
  2. Cultivate plenty of ‘mum friends’. My mom buddies are the key to my sanity. Playdates double up as quality time with the kids and a chance to catch up with one another.
  3. Lastly, be comfortable with saying no to things and not feeling guilty for it, whether it’s turning things down at work or socially. There are only so many hours. Do what you can and call it a day!
Homespun Quinoa Crunch is available in Supervalu stores and health stores nationwide, price €5.99,
for more information go to: www.homespunfoods.ie

About the Author

Lucy Earley is MD of artisyn.ie, (former editor of Salon Magazine) and is a freelance writer, interviewer and editor. She's a delighted convert to the maternal side following the birth of her daughter, Lara, in August 2014

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