Interview with Jenny Leahy || Blindsides

What do you do? How would you describe your working life? 

I run my own business selling a product that I developed called BlindSides that blocks out the light that black out blinds, despite their name, still usually allow in down the sides. 

Because I work from home and for myself, I don’t really have defined times when I sit down to work, apart from when my children are at school/nursery. At least partly because of this I’d say my working life is pretty much constant, because even if I’m not at my desk and I have a spare minute to think, maybe when driving for example, then my mind will probably turn to something to do with BlindSides.

Did you show any early signs as a child that indicated that you would end up where you are today?

I’m not sure there were any early signs and if I’m completely honest, I had no desire to run my own business until a couple of years ago. I’ve previously worked for a couple of micro business and I’ve seen how all-consuming they can be and I didn’t think I wanted that. 

However, with two small children, but still wanting a challenge, running a business is actually perfect. The difference to my business and the ones I’ve worked for is that they were service businesses where clients wanted you to be available at all hours. While I’m constantly thinking about my business I supply a product rather than my time to customers so it’s a different kind of business relationship.

Describe your morning routine. 

Before the kids are even up I’ve probably decided what my priorities are for the day so once I’m back from the school run, I procrastinate for about five minutes. Then I’m at my desk checking emails and cracking on with my first task which at the moment is probably different every day.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from and when do they arrive?

Ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere, you just have to be open to them. I think the most important thing is to give your brain food for thought which it can be processing subconsciously. Most often I get ideas when I’m not actually “working”.

When motivation wavers, how do you get back on track?

I think when you’re feeling a little demotivated, if you can take a little time away, and then just get on with it. Pretty soon something usually happens to get you excited all over again.

What is the best thing about your job/lifestyle?

It has to be the flexibility I have to be there for my children without having to sacrifice a fulfilling working life. The beauty of my business is that as my children grow and their independence increases it has the potential to also expand. While they’re very young it’s small but the time I’m spending now is hopefully laying the foundation for a larger business that will require more of my time as the children (in theory) need less.

If you could do something else for the day- what would you do?

I would be a civil engineer, a career that I didn’t even know existed when I was considering what to study at university. I’m fascinated by huge structures and the challenge of constructing them.

How do you overcome any challenges in your working life?

Usually by talking about them with someone who I think can help or who has an informed opinion. Because I work on my own I often have to wait to discuss challenges which can be a bit frustrating: for example with my husband in the evening or perhaps with a group of like-minded people such as a networking group I’m part of called Startup Mums. 

I’m also very lucky to have met someone who runs her own product business with a similar target market that is much more established than mine. She is happy for me to pepper her with questions, I suppose you’d call her a mentor.

How do you celebrate your successes? 

Usually dancing round the kitchen with my kids. And if it’s really significant, like winning Jojo Maman Bebe’s Invent with Tom competition, by sharing a bottle of something bubbly with my biggest supporter, my husband.

Do you have any tools/resources or rituals that you couldn’t live without?

Mobile technology is my biggest enabler, particularly my iPhone. I can check my emails etc. quickly and easily whenever and wherever I am even when I’m with my children, particularly if I’m expecting to hear from someone, without it really intruding on our time together.

It also means if I have a few minutes to spare here and there when I’m not at my desk I might be able to complete a quick task which I wouldn’t have time for if I had to dig out my laptop.

Which books from your bookcase would you recommend?

I bought “Build a Business from Your Kitchen Table” by the founders of Not on the High Street but I’ve yet to open it. I love reading but for relaxation and pleasure rather than work so I don’t have any recommendations to make for business books.

What are your daily essentials to make you feel ready?

A plan for what I need to achieve that day, a notebook and pen (old school, I know) and access to the internet. With those things I can work pretty much anywhere if necessary. 

What advice would you give your teenage self?

Study what you’re interested in and take your time exploring all of the potential careers that you think might interest you. I was actually destined to be a medic – once I suggested at school that’s what I wanted to be I was pushed down that path and no one suggested I at least look at other options. It was only when I got to university that I pulled out of the course and changed to Geography which I had always enjoyed and which kept more career options open. 

Where would you like to be in 5 years time? 

I would like to have established BlindSides as a successful business with a well-known brand and an international customer base. I would also like to have extended our range to include complementary products. 

I’ve gained so much from spending time with people who have much more established businesses in my industry and in five years’ time I’d like to think I will be in a position to help people who are just starting out.

Huge thanks to Jenny for her insight. Please visit her website here and wishing you a peaceful night's sleep! :)

The first six months of parenting | The crazy journey so far

Today is the 21st April 2016. The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday and we, as parents, celebrate our son turning 6 months old. There have been many years when six months has simply skipped by- how is it June already? However this particular six months is hard to quantify.

In some respects, October seems years ago (perhaps because I have never seen so many hours of the day). Those fragile first few days seem a distant memory; the relief and love you feel when you finally meet your beautiful baby, those bonding, special moments as a couple and those first hours of recovery when you don’t know if you will ever feel like you again. Even basic tasks such as walking seemed the most ridiculous request from a stern midwife, less than 24 hours in.

However to see in front of our very eyes, a mere six months later that we have a jolly, eyebrow wiggling, sitting, high fiving, definitely not sleeping 16 pound baba- I can’t believe the months have whooshed by and as of tomorrow, he will be closer to his first birthday that he will be to his birth. This blows my mind. 

Everyone has their own set of milestones that resonate with them. Perhaps it is getting to Christmas in one piece? Or when maternity leave comes to an end? 

For me, six months seems to be a huge marker. Over the last few weeks, our baby’s world has expanded- an introduction of food, going swimming and moving our said ‘definitely not sleeping baba’ into his own room.

Big changes are happening which bring a mixed bag of feelings (a) a mega mum high five of ‘we made it this far’ and (b) how did we get here so quickly?

The first night we moved him into his own room punctuated this point. I seemed to step into a bad 80s' music video without the singing or the smoke. Just the pacing, the staring, the wanting to look… and then knowing I should give him space. I hadn’t anticipated the emotion of the move- we have been together since January 2015 (sounds dramatic, I know!) but it is just another change and he is ready. Turns out, the separation sadness didn’t last long, I was in there a short fifty three minutes later so I should have used the ‘landing time’ far more productively- like to have a bath or eat my dinner or brush my teeth.

I wanted to share a few thoughts from this important time in our lives- I hope you enjoy.

Food is central to everything. Food, water and sleep make up a triangle of joyful health, however once you have a baby, one third of the triangle quickly scarpers (unless you have a rare baby who ‘pretty much slept through the night from three weeks’ - by the way, I have NEVER met these babies!) so filling, hearty, nutritious grub is crucial for you and your partner to keep the other two sides of the triangle afloat. If you are reading this in the later stages of pregnancy- fill your freezer immediately. Do not delay. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get your Nigella on- a quick dash around M and S will have the same effect. Plus stock up on snacks and lots of them, as a new mum I was and still am always hungry. I liken the feeling to jet lag/being on a plane for a long period of time- you have no idea what time it is but you always want to eat. I have been known to make random rounds of toast at approximately 3:40am as it felt like breakfast time.

Life is kind of easier once the baby is here, as you know the baby you are going to parent (rather than the befuddled pregnancy anxiety). We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or a girl and once we met our baby and got to know him and his needs, life seemed smoother and more predictable, on one level. On another, we have no more sense than any other new parent. In those final few weeks of pregnancy, you have too many questions and the unknown is difficult to comprehend- no wonder, there is a tendency to feel a little b b b onkers.

I was (and still am...come round!) grateful for any kind of help. Dishes being washed, a freshly brewed tea, someone passing you something or switching on the telly before they leave, so you can watch another re run of a house renovation programme. Wow, those things are crucial. Our baby was 9 pound 10 and so pretty much wanted a milk version of ‘all you can eat breakfast’ 24-7 so those offerings made everything so much easier. My love and adoration for my parents and family multiplied. As a nipper, I always felt secure, like things were sorted and that I was surrounded by love. When I speak to parents with older kids now, they will often mention ‘I had absolutely no idea what I was doing’ so if this was the case in my home, it never felt like it.

I understood the squinting eyes of tired parents. A mum who was pacing around the streets with a screaming baby in a weird mismatched outfit (often it was me) made me always want to share a smile or exchange an unsaid ‘Yep, me too- you are doing great’. Equally other parents are the first to open doors, offer to lend a hand with a buggy lift or chat total nonsense with you to pass the time of day.

The importance and joy of chairs. We bought an amazing cosy, sumptuous, corner sofa in the January sales. In the early newborn months, your living room becomes everything in the evening. Lounging, spreading out and casual dozing become your main pursuits. A baby chair was also a great purchase (view the chair here) - our baba seems to be happy as long as he has something to look at (the washing machine, the shadows, his own reflection in the oven door- I promise I interact with him too- this is just whilst I do other things) and owning a chair to transport around makes everything less stressful. Plus a nursing chair for feeding was great (view the chair here) - good for your back as my posture has taken a beating and a nice part of the bedtime routine.

I can’t believe I did so much so early on. I had an emergency C section but bizarrely and fortunately, I recovered quickly and found myself having a North London, heavy medicated, slightly delirious stagger to the Farmers Market four days later. It sounds totally nutty now. If I am lucky enough to have another, I will definitely not be so eager to please and be ‘superwoman’ right away. Strong boundaries and the ability to say no is crucial.

I now have a certain ability to cut the c^&$ and be super productive. I really don’t know how I filled my time before- I get the necessities done in record time. However because time is of the essence with two self employed parents and a small baby, I did notice I barked ‘You’ve got seven minutes for a shower… Go go go!’ - only once or twice, but still. Not cool. Note to self- do not be a weird, shouty (often sweary) bossy pants.

The baby books are useful but don't in any way give you a step-by-step guide, they can be worse than a flat pack instruction manual. They offer general strokes of information (often not wanting to be accountable or give just one solution are my suspicions) and give you some guidelines but you won’t know what works best for your family until you are there. Sometimes mammoth tasks of ‘your baby should self settled’ are made to sound like a simple to do. In fact, it can be hours of figuring out what the heck is going on and finding your own solution.

Washing is always on the go. Nuff said.  

You may be asked really personal questions that (a) you don’t have the answer to or (b) respond in a high pitched voice with the first thing that comes into your head whether it is accurate or not.

Here are some of my favourites:

(1) How are your bits and bobs?

(2) When are you having another? Do you want a big family (Ermm... we are 5 days in…?)

(3) How are your ankles- still swollen?

(4) Late Pregnancy … asked by a ‘birthing know all’ guy (in truth, all the gear no idea) ‘When are you getting swept?’ with may I add,  an accompanying hand gestures. Yep. Grim. 

I have really appreciated the small pleasures in life. A bath. A hug. Tea. Cake. Sunshine to makes walks pleasurable. Good people. My local community. Plus the importance of having time to care for yourself- a manicure, a hair cut, dare I say…a wax? Previously for some unknown reason, I have always thought it was flippant that a haircut could make you feel better. Wrong. My hairdresser greeted me and my 'out of control' mane (that incidentally was so long I could tuck it into my lounging pants- you are welcome) with a ‘I’m glad you’ve come’ hug as though I had trekked across some mountainous range in a blizzard. Nope, I just took a while to get my shit together after having a baby. 5 inches off later- I’m a shorter haired woman who looks like she may have her shit together. Boom. In truth- I do most of time, it takes a lot of focus and concentration to take care of a newborn but a sassy haircut makes society less judgy.

My body is very clever. Not only I have carried a whopper of a baby I have fed him and bounced, danced, ‘flown’, rocked and wiggled him around. My body has cleverly adapted to sleep deprivation (I was an ‘early night and 8 hours- own bed all night’ type of girl before) and recovered. Sure I may not be entering a Victoria Secrets’ competition anytime soon but that’s ok. Plus the combination of concealer and blusher are always there to hide a multiple of midnight madness. What a power couple. This guy works a treat (view blusher

I have lots of guilt. The friends that I haven’t had the time, energy or coordination to speak to and give my full attention (I’m sorry I am aware of this and it will improve I’m sure) or conversations that I start and then pause and say ‘Nope it’s gone”. Equally questions of ‘Soooo, what do you do all day- Mum stuff?’ or ‘How’s life?” are too big to answer in a general way. Occasionally, I wonder if I am on track and doing everything that I am supposed to be doing- teaching him a language? How are his fine motor skills? Is he happy? No, good and yes are the answers. Being kind to myself is again the lesson. 

Our house may look like we have been burgled most of time and a good cleaner is not only a great investment but invaluable and eliminates many potential arguments. On another note, storage solutions such as baskets i.e. a designated place where stuff can be easily found/chucked. A special change bag (view bag) seemed a stupid indulgence at the time- (er £60?!) but this bag of tricks is always good to go- essential for that quick get away… Buggy, baby, bag… go!

Most people will have an opinion on most things and will mostly like to share it with you- even if they do in a disguise of ‘maybe…’ I have picked up some gems along the way (thank you) but also lots of shiz I would never do. Your baby, your choice and the act of ‘nodding and smiling’ is a trained, valuable skill.

Often things will be made more complicated than needed- information overload. The weaning process, the number of bed options, how I should ‘play’ with my baby. Do what works for you and ignore the updates. I quickly unsubscribed from many newsletters. Oh and keep googling to a minimum, you will uncover all kinds of horrors.

Finally love. Ah love- apparently it’s all you need. I look at my baby boy and see how much he is loved, not only by us, but also our family and friends. We have been so lucky with the support we have been given; the thoughts, the gifts, the care and love. Yep sometimes everything gets a bit real aka month 3 when a stomach bug resulted in projectile poo at 3am that shot across the room about a metre and hit the door. This is certainly not something that features in the Jo Jo Maman Bebe spring/summer magazine but I'm sure parents reading this have had a similar ludicrous experience.

On the whole, life is good. I thank my blessings this sweet, curious little character is in our lives and I have the pleasure of being his mummy, I feel very lucky.