Jamie and Brian Ratner started their multimillion dollar business with $5,000 and a great idea.
Now, more than a decade later, the couple tell all in their new book, ParentPreneurs: A Decade of Deals From a Messy Minivan.
In ParentPreneurs, Jamie and Brian tell their rollercoaster story of how they built their company, CertifiKID, through thousands of deals with businesses; cut a deal with Kevin O’Leary (aka “Mr. Wonderful”) on the ABC television show Shark Tank; and navigated the COVID pandemic during which they made a pivot acquisition of Macaroni KID.
Throughout the book the Ratners share the lessons — the good and the bad — they learned along the way, both about running a business and working together.
"Our book is not just a business book, and we hope it provides some inspiration for any parent to try something new, possibly even with their spouse or partner," says Jamie.
The book has the full support of their business partner — Kevin O'Leary. He even wrote the foreword for ParentPreneurs.
Macaroni KID chatted with Jamie and Brian about what they like — and don't like — about working together and what it was like telling all in a book for the whole world to read.
MK: Let's start by telling me a little bit about you both — outside of the business.
Brian: We just celebrated our 18th anniversary! We met at a bar through mutual friends which is quite ironic because neither of us are big drinkers. We have two kids, Noah and Lila, and live near Washington, D.C.
|Jamie and Brian Ratner, with their kids.|
MK: What set you on the path to entrepreneurship together? How did you get started?
Jamie: I always wanted to start a business and went through one business idea after another. Each time, Brian never seemed that excited, which would dampen my enthusiasm and I’d move on to the next idea…until lightning struck when I pitched my idea on a family-friendly Groupon to Brian on a 4-hour ride to Pittsburgh in our messy minivan over the Christmas holiday in 2009. He shocked me when he said “that’s a great idea!” The rest is history.
MK: What kind of bumps did you hit along the way that were challenging and you leaned on each other to overcome?
Jamie: The three major challenges that stand out — which we discuss in detail in the book are the enormous competition we faced in the early years; the pandemic, when overnight the essence of our business — family experiences outside the home — fell off the cliff; and the Macaroni KID acquisition and the resulting integration of our teams and the Macaroni KID publishing community.
MK: I've always admired how well you work together, but I'm sure it's not all sunshine and roses! What's the most difficult part of working with your spouse?
Jamie: Everything with Brian takes forever!
Brian: I struggle with the mess, and I can’t keep up.
MK: OK. That's the worst ... what's the best part of working with each other?
Jamie: Because Brian is so deliberate, I love everything he produces.
Brian: Jamie has the best and most creative ideas, so with a little polish and extra thought, I know whatever she does will work and be successful.
MK: What do you do when you don't agree on a business decision or have different goals?
Brian: The way we work is that Jamie generally has the ideas for what we should do or the vision for what is next. Then I ask lots of questions and push her and our team to then do additional research, analysis, and due diligence. This often annoys them, as it delays quick and instinctive decisions! At that point, after we talk it through, we usually find consensus.
If we don’t, it’s more likely that Jamie will just park something and then come back to me later instead of insisting on doing it. Good examples of this and Jamie’s persistence are applying for Shark Tank and writing ParentPreneurs.
MK: Do you separate marriage from business, or is that impossible at this point?
Jamie: We do try at times to focus on ourselves and our family, such as on vacation or when we are dealing with our kids and the focus needs to be on them. And this is really important. However, it’s very hard because when you run a business, you always have to be “on” and prepared for something to happen.
For example, as we wrote in the book, something always seems to go wrong when we are on vacation or at the worst time! This is a sacrifice entrepreneurs have to make and accept.
Brian: Also, sometimes our travel time can be our most focused family time, so we’ll sneak in time to work on something while the kids are sleeping or watching a movie. Our kids are immune to all of this at this point because they have been living with it for so long, so it’s just our version of normal.
MK: Let's talk about the book. Why did you want to write a book about your entrepreneurial journey? Why did you think it was a good idea?
Jamie: This was on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I am an avid reader, and had a very specific idea for what I felt would be a fun, easy breezy, enjoyable, AND informative read for someone else.
It’s part memoir about our story and part “how to” start and build a business with your partner or spouse. It uses a very unique structure — one I actually had never seen before, which is why I liked it so much — where I offer my perspective, then Brian offers his perspective, and then we offer a shared perspective on each year of the business. We hope people enjoy it!
MK: Anything you wish you hadn't shared in the book, now that you've seen it in print?
Jamie: I knew when I was writing the book that I was using a lot of curse words, but it was a bit jarring to read them in print from my mouth! It’s funny because I never curse in person. What’s even funnier is that Brian is the opposite – he doesn’t curse in the book but curses like a sailor in person. LOL.
MK: I know this book is full of tips for couples starting an entrepreneurial journey together, but if you could give them just one piece of advice, what would it be?
Jamie: Think of the glass as half full when you start, and then half empty when you succeed.