Raegan Moya-Jones, Founder, aden + anais
Against the Odds
How Raegan Moya-Jones built a $100 million business from the ground up—no fancy MBA required.
Raegan Moya-Jones was an Aussie in New York City, pregnant with her first daughter, and she couldn’t find the right baby blanket.
Every Australian mother from time immemorial had swaddled her baby in a cotton muslin blanket, and Moya-Jones wanted to do the same. But no matter where she looked, she couldn’t find one.
Rather than simply becoming frustrated by the futile search, she had an idea.
“I figured that all Aussie parents couldn’t have it wrong, and if I introduced it to American parents, they’d feel the same way,” she says. “Luckily for me, my hunch was right!”
Moya-Jones went on to found the successful baby product company aden + anais (partly named for her first daughter), publish a book about her journey, and launch a second business all while raising four daughters.
Even when success turned sour, as it so often can in the entrepreneurial world, she didn’t let that stop her. Moya-Jones has weathered the heartbreaking end of a partnership and gut-wrenching business betrayals, becoming stronger, wiser, and more successful for it.
A Rocky Start
In 1997, Moya-Jones moved from Australia to New York, after her Chilean boyfriend landed a new job. She was partway through an MBA, but put it on hold to be with the man who is now her husband.
Without a visa, she struggled to find work, but eventually managed to land a position at the Australian consulate. Through connections she built there, she moved into a job at a conference company and then into a position as a sales executive with The Economist, where she worked for over a decade.
It was when she learned she was expecting her first child in 2003 that she began that fateful search for the perfect swaddle.
For three years, she toyed with the idea of starting that business. As a first-time entrepreneur, she had to learn everything from product design to manufacturing, but in 2006, she set out to launch her brand.
While she may not have had a completed MBA under her belt, she had years of experience in sales, a degree of common sense she felt she could truly rely on and, above all else, the drive to work as hard as it took.
“I really am a huge believer that common sense and work ethic are the two keys to building a successful business. They’re the two most important things,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s how much work you’re prepared to put in to be successful. I could never, ever have estimated how much work had to go into building a business from scratch.”
For the next three years, Moya-Jones would work her day job, then return home to spend quality time with her family (which now included three daughters). But once the bedtime rituals were complete, she burned the midnight oil building her business, from 8:30 p.m. until 3:30 a.m.
“It was pretty brutal,” she says.
But the odd hours she kept weren’t the only tough part from the early stages of aden + anais.
Moya-Jones launched her business with her friend Claudia Schwartz, and for the first few years, they worked together flawlessly. They initially invested $15,000 each into the company to build a basic Yahoo website, design a logo, and make their first manufacturing order. They anticipated the investment would last them six to 12 months.
The money ran out after eight weeks.
They each invested another $30,000, but at this point, Moya-Jones had run through her savings. Timing is everything, and it wasn’t on their side.
“We were starting out during the worst recession since the Great Depression, so it wasn’t really good timing in terms of having access to capital and people wanting to loan us money,” she says.
So Claudia made an additional investment that Moya-Jones was unable to match, and once they asked Claudia’s father-in-law to grant them a $200,000 loan, Moya-Jones says she noticed a bubble of resentment growing.
“I think the disparity in what I could contribute financially to what Claudia could was one of the biggest catalysts for the partnership dissolving,” she says.
Moya-Jones says she found three other women to buy out Claudia’s 49% share in the business, and in 2008, the partnership ended.
Off Like a Rocket
Although Moya-Jones was struggling through the personal blow of saying goodbye to a friend, aden + anais was steadily growing into a healthy, flourishing business.
“It was a rocketship in the early stages, for sure,” she says.
The muslin blankets were an instant hit, and thanks to 20 years of sales experience, she was well equipped to get the products to those who wanted them most. Moya-Jones loaded up taxis with samples of her product and went door to door sharing it with every store that might be interested.
“That’s where definitely my sales experience came in handy because I was extremely comfortable with that part of the business,” she says.
In the early 2000s, brick-and-mortar stores still reigned supreme, so she wasn’t yet focused on the ecommerce side of the business. She also chose to build relationships with existing retailers, rather than launching into fraught competition with them.
“We didn’t want to piss off the retailers by competing against them with our own website and sales and everything,” she says. “Then, Amazon entered the picture, and of course, all bets were off at that point.”
Meanwhile, Moya-Jones was still balancing her company with her day job. She didn’t want to cause financial strain on her family, which would eventually grow to four daughters, and she didn’t want to put added pressure on her business to perform.
“It was my conscious decision to choose sleep deprivation over any kind of financial pressure on my family and on the business in the early stages,” she says. But the years of toil took their toll.
“There were definitely times when my hair was falling out,” she admits.
She still believed in her business, though, so she powered through the strain, set a goal for when she would leave her day job, and waited for the right moment to arrive.
“Statistically, only 2% of all women-owned businesses ever break a million dollars in revenue,” she says. “I knew it was a pretty stretch goal, and so I sort of said, ‘Well, if I can get to a million in revenue, then I’m prepared to dive fully into aden + anais and quit my day job and give it a really good go,’ which is what I did.”
In 2009, Moya-Jones went full time with the company.
But even though her business was a success, she still needed additional investments to keep the business alive. She borrowed money from just about anyone who would lend it to her for nearly a year and a half after the dissolution of her partnership.
“Initially, it was friends and family, and then it was friends of friends, and then once we got to the point where it was just obvious that we were never going to be able to scale doing it that way, that’s when I went out and looked for investment money,” she says.
Although the business had traction, Moya-Jones says that she struggled to find investors. But in 2010, her first investor came aboard. That investment led to aden + anais’ first year of $10 million in revenue.
A Dark Day and a New Dawn
With the acquisition of another business in 2016, aden + anais pushed past the $100 million mark. But even as Moya-Jones’ success continued to blossom, disaster loomed on the horizon.
In 2013, the first investors in the business departed, and their parting piece of advice to Moya-Jones was to bring in another private equity firm to share the load. They could never have known what this would mean for the company’s future. The new firm bought the majority share of aden + anais, which would lead to an internal struggle for the future of the business.
“That’s when the whole thing started to go downhill for me,” she says. “We did not agree on the way forward. I don’t think they really understood me. This is the whole Stanford, Harvard, Yale backgrounds coming up against the crazy, opinionated Australian girl who has no education on a piece of paper to show. We just didn’t see eye-to-eye on very much at all. It was sort of the beginning of the end to tell you the truth.”
Outspoken about her disagreements as she saw her beloved company moving in a direction she didn’t support, Moya-Jones was informed in 2016 that she was being moved from the position of CEO.
“My story is actually way more common than I think people realize,” she says.
After a string of failed replacements, a new CEO finally stuck, and in 2018, Moya-Jones was fired from her own company.
“It was a pretty awful time,” she says.
But the new firm had the controlling interest in the company, so they were well within their rights to show her the door. And it wasn’t as though Moya-Jones had planned to run the company forever. The luster of serving as CEO of a massive business had already started to fade for her, and she missed the rush of innovation.
“Once you get up to the $60, $70, $80 million dollar mark, you just become the person that all you’re dealing with is shit every day,” she says. “The fun stuff everybody else is handling. The only time you’re really needed is when it’s too hard for somebody else or they don’t want to make the decision and deal with it.”
But she still wishes she would never have sold the majority share, at least until she was prepared to exit on her own terms instead of being forced out as CEO.
“I’m grateful in that I ended up making a very nice amount of money from aden + anais, but it’s definitely bittersweet. If I could do it all over again, I would do it differently.”
To this day, she is still the single largest individual shareowner in aden + anais.
But her story wasn’t over. In fact, a publisher soon approached Moya-Jones and asked her to share, well, what it takes.
While she was initially hesitant because, as she says, until the business reached about $50 million in revenue, she was operating largely on common sense, she decided to move forward with the book when the publisher said they didn’t want a conventional outline of what it took to become successful. They just wanted her story.
“To say I’m the antithesis of the MBA-educated business mind is an understatement,” she says.
And in her book, What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds, she shares just how she did it and hopes she inspires others to do the same. She believes that anyone could follow in her footsteps without any kind of training or prior experience, as long as they are willing to put in the work.
And being asked to leave aden + anais didn’t keep the tenacious Moya-Jones down for long. Today, she is elbow-deep in a brand new business that has taken her “from babies to booze.” In June 2018, she co-founded the moonshine company Saint Luna Spirits.
“We wanted to create a high-end moonshine that was served in five-star restaurants and the best cocktail bars out there,” she says.
The business has already won gold and silver medals at spirit competitions, and after only a few weeks on the market, the label already appears in renowned establishments across New York, such as Jean-Georges and Employees Only.
“It’s super fun to be back in the trenches building something and creating,” Moya-Jones says.
And no matter what she does or where she goes next, by weathering the storms of her first business, Moya-Jones has proven unequivocally that she has what it takes.
Raegan Moya-Jones Tips for Entrepreneurs
Through successes and trials, Raegan Moya-Jones has build up an extensive bank of knowledge when it comes to launching and shepherding businesses, and these are some of the tips she shares with every entrepreneur she meets.
- Use Common Sense
“Not all people have common sense, but what I’m trying to say is you don’t need to be an expert in really anything, I believe, to start and build a successful business.”
- Think Twice Before Selling
“Never, ever sell the controlling interest of your company if you’re still passionately involved in it and dedicated to it.” Unless you are looking to exit a company for good, Moya-Jones recommends that founders think twice before relinquishing control, even for a nice payout.
- Stay True to Yourself
“Everyone’s going to have an opinion. There will always be the people who want to come in once you’re successful to change the way you do things.” Moya-Jones reminds founders to trust their instincts and remain true to the things that help them launch and grow their business, even if others disagree.
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Erica Comitalo
- How Moya-Jones’ first child inspired the idea for aden + anais
- A peek into her journey from Australia to the US, and the struggle to find a job
- An entrepreneur’s juggling act with a full-time job, family, and building a business
- Why Moya-Jones was committed to staying at her full-time job until she broke $1 million in revenue
- How finances eventually turned a partnership sour
- Moya-Jones’ philosophy of running a business on common sense and work ethic
- How she got aden + anais off the ground by using old-school sales tactics
- The journey to $100 million in revenue
- The one business decision Moya-Jones regrets to this day, and how it led to her being forced out of her company
- What motivated Moya-Jones to write What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds
- How Moya-Jones made the transition from babies to booze and is now finding success with moonshine company St. Luna Spirits
Full Transcript of Podcast with Raegan Moya-Jones
Nathan: The first question that I wanted to ask you that I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Reagan: Well, I created my job, I guess is the answer to that. And I actually had the idea for my business after I had my first baby. And look, it was really the Aussie connection thing. Had I not been in Australia and I moved to America, aden + anais would never exist. And it was the fact that I went looking for a product that I knew back home from Australia when I was living in New York and couldn’t find it, and realised that there was a huge market opportunity because I figured that all Aussie parents couldn’t have it wrong. And if I introduced it to American parents, they’d feel the same way. And luckily for me, my hunch was right.
Nathan: Yeah, amazing. So what were you doing before aden + anais? Was that your first business or?
Reagan: It was my first business, yes. Prior to I’d always been in sales. I’d been in sales for my entire corporate career. In Australia, I work for Schwarzkopf, the hair care people and then into pharmaceuticals with Smithkline Beecham. They were Smithkline Beecham then, and eventually Pfizer, and I left Pfizer to move to the U.S. in 1997.
Nathan: Wow. Okay. So in 1997, you were in New York then.
Reagan: I was. I moved straight to New York. The reason I came to New York is because my then boyfriend, now husband, got a job in New York with Telstra. He’s an electronic engineer and they were setting up their U.S operations. So Marco said he’d been offered the gig over here for two years and would I be interested in moving over with him. And I jumped at the chance because I’d been to New York for a holiday a couple of years prior, and just absolutely loved it. So I quit my job at Pfizer. I was also doing an MBA at Macquarie at the time, and dropped out of that, and came over for what I thought was going to be two years, and 21 years later in a business and four American kids, I’m still here.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow, never left, never got back.
Reagan: Never left and they’re here. And I struggled a bit to get a job when I first moved to America because we weren’t married, so I didn’t have a visa. So I came over knowing that it was going to be tough to work here and thought, “You know what? Oh, well my husband’s Chilean and I thought, “Oh, I’ll just learn Spanish and I’ll do some volunteering stuff for a couple of years, and then go home and get back into it.” But that didn’t work. I ended up laying on the couch for about half a year before Marcos said to me, “What the hell are you doing? This wasn’t the plan.”
And so the first gig I actually had in New York was working at the Australian consulate doing data entry because I didn’t need a visa to work at the Australian consulate. And then eventually, another Aussie who I’d met here was working at a conference company, and she basically helped me get a job at the conference company because they would sponsor my visa. So then once I had that job, it was from IIR, which was my first job here. They got me the visa and then I was with them for less than a year. And that’s when I moved over to the Economist and I was with the Economists for just over 10 years before I started aden + anais.
Nathan: Interesting. And how did the idea come about? Was e-commerce big back then? Did you start… Yeah, like talk me through that and what compelled you first business? Did you finish your MBA?
Reagan: No, never finished it. Left with a postgraduate diploma because chances of me going back were probably going to be slim. So, the real motivation was, as I said, when I had my baby and I went looking for this product that everyone in Australia used when they had babies, and it didn’t exist here, and I just… and it wasn’t something that one or two moms would use with their babies. Literally, every Aussie mum used these blankets. So I just thought, “Well, culturally, we’re pretty similar, the Aussies and Americans.” And I just thought that if I introduce this to the American market, that they would react to it the same way. And obviously with America and the size of the market, it was a huge opportunity if I was right.
And so, I effectively created a whole new market segment in the baby category business over here. And it happened relatively quickly. But as for my first business, yeah, I actually started working at the Economist for… I had the idea for aden + anais in 2003, took till 2006 to work out how to make the product because I had no supply chain or China’s experience, or manufacturing, or any experience building a business. Right? My background was sales. So I took from 2003 to 2006 to find a manufacturer, and actually, place our first PO and get the product onto the market.
And then I started actually working at the Economist from 2006 till 2009, at which time I was building aden + anais of an evening after I got home from the Economist and put my kids to bed. And so, I would start working on aden + anais about 08:30 in the evening and go through till probably 03:30 most mornings. And I did that from 2006 till 2009. And the impetus for actually quitting the day job at the Economist was when I hit $1 million in revenues. So I’d set that as my goal and when… okay, because statistically, only 2% of all women owned businesses ever break $1 million in revenue. So I knew it was a pretty stretch goal. And so I said, “Well, if I can get to a million in revenue, then I’m prepared to dive fully into aden + anais, and quit the day job, and give it a really good go,” which is what I did.
Nathan: Interesting. So that statistic, has that changed because that what? 10 years ago.
Reagan: No Yep. It’s still pretty much the same, which is got a lot of work to do. Women start businesses at a greater rate than men do, but in terms of the scaling of businesses, we still fall behind in that category.
Nathan: And like a million dollar business that’s pretty senior because you would have had good margins, decent margins. Right? Like, so that was like you could have… did you have any staff by that stage or it was just you?
Reagan: No, it was, well, I founded the business with a friend and that all went very badly. And we had a horrible breakup in 2008. So we were doing it together until 2008, and then from 2008 on, it was me. And then, yes, when Claudia and I broke up, I hired one person and she was just… I joke and say she was actually officially employed at aden + anais before I was, because I started working the day job even after I’d hired employee number one, and she just wore many hats; customer service, sales, accounting. She did it all in the daylight hours and then I would come home and keep going until early morning hours.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Really just it ran the clock 18, 19-hour days.
Reagan: Yes. It was pretty brutal. And then at that point by 2009, I had three of my four children, so I was clearly a glutton for punishment because, yeah, I definitely had a very full plate.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. And back then, talk to me around the early days around like you said you got your first… it took three years to find the manufacturer, get your first order with China. And what was the MOQ? Did you raise any capital or anything to get that?
Reagan: No, initially the business was all just funded with Claudia and my savings. So we got to the point, and this was I think one of the reasons that our partnership ended badly, was because Claudia had money and I didn’t. So we got to the point where we had put our initial investment into the business to get our first purchase order, and to your point of MOQ, it was just exactly that. It was the smallest amount that the Chinese factory would allow us to buy. So that was our first order.
And we put in $15,000 each initially to get a very basic website up and running. That back then it was we did it on a Yahoo platform, and it was two colours, and organise, get the basics in place for the business and then logos, and bits and pieces, and then the initial order. And that was it. That was $30,000 worth of capital to get to the point where we had our first order. And then we thought that would probably last us 6 to 12 months, that amount of stock and it was out in about eight weeks. So, the product was an instant hit in the U.S. when we eventually got it here.
So then we put in another 30,000 each, and then there was another, I think 30,000 again, but at that point at about $75,000, like that was it for savings. Then we had to look to borrow money and we started aden + anais … We were starting out during the worst recession since the Great Depression, so it wasn’t really good timing in terms of having access to capital and people wanting to loan us money. So then we ended up borrowing money off of Claudia, my business partners, her and her husband put in extra money and then eventually his dad put in, I think it was about $200,000.
And they were loans. It was at a 10% interest. But I think the disparity and what I could contribute financially to what Claudia could was one of the biggest catalysts for the partnership dissolving. Even after I bought Claudia out or, well, I didn’t buy Claudia out, I found other people to come into the business to buy her out because unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to do it myself. I sold 49% to three other partners, three other women that I knew that were happy to invest in the business.
And after I had done that, I then continued to borrow money off anyone who would lend it to me for another, probably another year and a half. We limped along that way where I was just borrowing money at 10% interest from initially it was friends and family and then it was friends of friends. And then once we got to the point where it was just obvious that we were never going to be able to scale doing it that way, that’s when I went out and looked for investment money. And that was in 2010 that I brought on my first investor.
Nathan: Oh, I see. Interesting. You said that the product, you sold your first batch of your orders in eight weeks. How did you get your first customer? What did you do to… obviously you had a great product, but-
Reagan: Yup. Well, it was the old fashioned way and this is where my 20 years of sales experience came in handy, right? So I just went door to door to every store that the product made sense for and I sold it that way. I’d load up the boot of the taxis in New York City with samples and just go from store to store selling it. And then I flew out to L.A., which is where my partner lived at the time, and we would do it in L.A. as well. But that’s where definitely my sales experience came in handy because I was extremely comfortable with that part of the business, pitching the product and getting it out there.
And then this was also back in the day when it was all about brick and mortar stores, and not so much about econ. So we did a lot of trade shows as well, and we would always pick up hundreds of accounts every time we did a trade show.
Nathan: So to get probably, would it be safe to say, to get to your first million, a lot of it come from selling to retailers hints, probably not as good of margin as opposed to going direct to consumer on… Yes.
Reagan: Correct. Actually, back when we started aden + anais, we were actually very cognizant of not competing against the retailers with our own eCommerce sites. So that was very much in the background a secondary thing. We were never focused on the econ part of the aden + anais because it was just a different time back then. And we didn’t want to piss off the retailers by competing against them with our own website and sales, and everything. And then of course, Amazon entered the picture and all games were… all bets were off at that point.
Nathan: So talk to me around 2010, what happened next? You got your first investor. Who was that person? Why did they believe in you or you had traction by then, right? Was it easy to get investors?
Reagan: Oh, I don’t think. I wouldn’t say it was easy. And our first investors who assigned their equity partners, they’re a decent-sized fund that where our business was… aden + anais at the time was a rounding error to them. And the reason that I ended up being introduced to them was because one of the investors, one of my girlfriends, her husband works for Credit Swiss and he had worked with these guys in that capacity at Credit Swiss. And he just said, “Look, they’re really great people. I think you’re going to be way too small for them, but they might be able to point you in the right direction.”
And we met and just hit it off. And so, they ended up investing in aden + anais despite the fact that we were and still remain the smallest investment they’ve ever made. But prior to that, I’d been talking to a lot of VC companies, but in 2010, we went from a $1.7 million, I think it was in 2008 to about $4 million in 2009, and then in 2010 we closed the year at just under $10 million.
Nathan: Yeah, well, good growth.
Reagan: Yeah. So it was a rocket ship in the early stages for sure.
Nathan: Interesting. So, you wrote this book called What It Takes; How I Built a Hundred Million Dollar Business against The Odds. So what compelled you to write this book?
Reagan: Well actually, I was approached to write the book and my initial reaction was, “Yeah, no way. Not writing a book,” for two reasons. One, I had a pretty full on day job because when I started this process, I was still the CEO of aden + anais, and two, because I just didn’t think that I had anything to say in a business book. Because to say I’m the antithesis of the MBA educated business mind is an understatement. I said a to my agent at the time who had approached me about doing the book, there’s no way I can write a book, a business book outlining the steps to being successful.
I said, because, one, the first four years of running aden + anais, I taught myself with common sense and Google. I just worked it out as I went along. And then as we got bigger, it was until I would go as far as to saying to $50 million, we were still primarily running the business on common sense more than anything else, more than very specific experience. And she said to me, “I don’t want you to write that book. I just want you to tell your story and show people that you don’t have to tick all the boxes as an entrepreneur before you dive into the world of that.”
And then I thought, “Well, if I took the stance, that, well, if I was able to create $100 million revenue global business and build a global brand from scratch, without any kind of prior training or business experience beyond sales, then maybe if other people read my story who are doubting whether they can do it, it will motivate them to know that they can, if they’re prepared to work hard enough to achieve it.” Because I really am a huge believer in common sense and work ethic are the two keys to building of a successful business. I would say they’re the two most important things.
Nathan: Interesting. So I’d love to delve deeper and unpack both those two important things. Common sense, like what does that really mean if you really think about it and isn’t that something that people either have or they don’t?
Reagan: Well, that is true. And I’m sure my electronic engineer husband would attest to the fact that he has two MBAs, he’s an electronic engineer, he can do quadratic equations, but I have way more common sense than he does. But I think what I mean by common sense, it’s your willingness to learn. It’s your willingness to unpack things as you’re learning about them and go, “Okay, well what would make the most sense here and what would the best way to achieve this be?” And just being able to think through situations to get you to the right outcome.
But yeah, I guess you’re absolutely right, Nathan. Not a lot of people, not all people have common sense, but really what I’m trying to say is you don’t need to be an expert really in anything to, I believe, to start and build a successful business. It’s your willingness to know what you don’t know, your willingness to learn, to listen, to challenge. And ultimately at the end of the day, it’s how much work you’re prepared to put in to be successful.
Because I could never ever have estimated how much work had to go in to building a business from scratch to a multimillion dollar global business. So it was just I’d never worked that hard before in my life. And had I known, I might have hesitated before I dove in the deep end.
Nathan: Yeah, I really understand what you mean around the common sense piece. Like one thing I’ve learnt amongst being privileged and lucky enough to interview incredible founders like yourself, is it’s quite often naivety, often the people that disrupt these markets like you have in the baby industry, they have no prior background. So they are just running off common sense like, “Okay, it makes sense to do this. Why does this exist?” And it’s really naive really, because if you knew how hard it was, you probably wouldn’t do it.
Reagan: Absolutely, 100% spot on. And you’re also not constrained by preconceived ideas and notions of how things should be or what’s right, and what’s wrong. So I think you’re more willing to just take a chance and see where you end up sort of thing, because you don’t know. Whereas I guess if you’d been in the industry and you’d seen statistically what other businesses had done, and their struggles and failures, maybe you’d be more reluctant to throw everything you had at it. But yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that point.
Nathan: So talk to me around the work ethic, it sounds like you’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. What have you had to sacrifice? What have you had to give up?
Reagan: Well, it was just time really. And to be clear, it was my conscious decision to choose sleep deprivation over any kind of financial pressure on my family and on the business in the early stages. I could have quit my day job and just put all my time aden + anais, and normal waking hours, but I didn’t want to put that financial pressure on my family or aden + anais in the early stages because I never wanted to be anxious about when I was going to be able to take money out of the business, because in the early stages, everything that we made just went back into the business to grow it.
So that was a very conscious decision on my part. But when you’re building a business, it’s all consuming and you lose friends, people don’t understand why your so committed to what you’re doing and it takes its toll. There were definitely times where my hair was falling out or the stress was… yeah. But again, my situation was a bit different in that I was the mother of three small children. I had a day job and I was building a business that was growing incredibly quickly in the middle of the night. For a few years, I was basically getting by three to four hours of sleep every night. So it was obvious that eventually that was going to catch up on you.
Nathan: Did it catch up?
Reagan: Well, it did in that, yes, there were definitely periods of time where my friends and family were like, “What are you doing? You don’t look well, you’re stressed,” but I’d come so far that I wasn’t prepared to give up on it at that point because all the work up until then would have been for naught if I had have gone, “You know what? Yes, I have bitten off more than I can chew and this is ridiculous.” And I had those moments along the way, but I’d allow myself to wallow for a day if that, and then I’d just pick myself up and shake myself off, and get on with it. I did that because I ultimately believed so much in the business and its potential, and I just wanted to see it through.
Nathan: Yeah. And do you believe that… I know this is a hard question to answer, but do you believe that that’s what it takes, like just insane, relentless work ethic, 80 hours, 100 hours a week in the early days to really build something of true worth and significance?
Reagan: I think that that is the truth if you’re a nobody like I was who didn’t have money to put behind it, and you had to do the work yourself. I think it would be very different if you came to the table with $100 million like some of these tech start-ups and everything get where they can… And I’m not saying that they still don’t tend, wouldn’t have to work extremely hard to make sure their business is a success, but I think the reason that it was so intense for me is because there was really… well, Claudia and I did it together initially, but even that, two people trying to build a business, it’s a lot of work.
So I think, yes, there is absolutely no getting around that if you want your business to be successful, you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before if you’re not in the position of having some serious money behind you out of the gate where you can actually hire people to help you from the get go.
Nathan: I see. So, what happened next? How long did it take to get to $100 million in annual revenue?
Reagan: So that in fairness, like we acquired business in 2016. So it was 2016, we got to the $100 million. So it was a very short period of time really for a consumer products business. Again, I know tech businesses and things like that, $100 million sounds like a rounding error to them, but we experienced pretty exponential growth for a lot of years at aden + anais.
Nathan: Yeah, no, that’s still very fast growth. So, what happened next? Because you said eventually, you stepped down as CEO.
Reagan: No, I didn’t step down, I was fired. So what happened was my first investors who came in in 2010, Seidler Equity, who were just the most incredible partners you could ever need or want, so they were a minority investor in aden + anais, and they exited in 2013. And in 2013, I sold the business to another private equity firm and they bought the majority share of aden + anais, and that’s when the whole thing started to go downhill for me. We did not agree on the way forward. I don’t think they really understood me.
This is where the whole Stanford, Harvard, Yale backgrounds coming up against the crazy opinionated Australian girl who has no education on a piece of paper to show. We didn’t see eye to eye on very much at all and it was sort of the beginning of the end, to tell you the truth. And so, then in 2000, because I also was very vocal about how I didn’t agree with them, so that didn’t help. But I was doing it not to be antagonistic, I was doing it because I wanted the best for the company.
So in 2016, they moved me out as the CEO. Well, actually in 2016, I got told I was being moved out as CEO. Then in 2017, they brought in a person who didn’t work out, he only lasted six weeks. Then they brought in another guy, also didn’t work out. And in 2018, they fired me completely from the company. So it was a pretty awful time, but it was at the end of the day, we just didn’t agree on the way forward of the bit for the business, and they had the controlling interest of it. So they were in their right to walk me to the door.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Do you still hold the minority shares?
Reagan: Boy, yes. That is the most painful part of it because I’m still the single largest individual shareholder in that company. So I still have many millions of dollars invested in it and it’s a horrible position to be in when you no longer have any say over your family’s money. Had I known there was ever going to be a possibility of not ultimately running the business, I would never have invested that money back into it. But you live and learn, right?
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. So, when it came to funding, were you looking to sell to private equity at that point in time in 2013 or they approached you?
Reagan: That’s a good question. Actually, what happened, it was the Seidlers, my current private equity firm who came to me and said, “You know what, Regs, you’ve worked your ass off. You’ve built this incredible business. On paper, you’re worth X, but you’re still only taking a minimal salary out of the business. And despite the fact that we know that you will continue to grow it and scale it, we think you should probably take some chips out now because you just never know, God forbid, there’s another terrorist attack or the factory burned. You just never know. Right?”
Reagan: So they were thinking of me and my family. So, and in my naivety, I didn’t realise back then, I just thought that when you decided to sell your business, that was that. I had no concept of the fact that you could sell your business and then buy back in at whatever percentage you wanted to remain in at. So that was how we structured the deal so that I could take a whole lot of money off the table and then write the check back in for whatever I felt comfortable with. But as I said, I wrote that check back in believing that I was going to continue to be the CEO, and it would be my vision and leadership that would continue moving the business forward. And that didn’t work out.
Nathan: But you’re glad you sold down still or not?
Reagan: Look, I’m lucky in that you hear the horrible stories about entrepreneurs who have had incredibly successful businesses and hold too long, and end up with not very much at all for all their hard work. And so, I’m grateful in that I ended up making a very nice amount of money from aden + anais and… but it’s definitely a bitter sweet. If I could do it all over again, I would do it differently. I would never have sold the majority share to a private equity group knowing now that them telling you that you’re going to stay on as CEO and that they have no plans to move you out is not true.
So yeah, I would definitely do things differently. And I think what I would’ve done is I would’ve kept going, not sold when I did. I would have held onto it for a few more years because it did get to the point where I wasn’t having as much fun running a big business as I was running the business when we were in that growth stage and the very innovative stage, and everything. It’s once you get up to the $60, $70, $80 million mark, you just become the person that all you’re dealing with his shit every day.
Nathan: What do you mean?
Reagan: All the fun stuff, the fun stuff everybody else’s handling. The only time you’re really needed is when it’s too hard for somebody else or they don’t want to make the decision and deal with it. So it was just a most of my day was taken up with trying to solve problems and fix things, which can grate on you after a while. So I preferred it when I was more in the thick of the business, building it with everybody else rather than being the one that, as I said, I only got called in when there was a issue or a crisis.
Nathan: I see. Interesting. Yeah, I thought when it gets to those stages, yeah, I’ve heard that people say that, yeah, you pretty much handed down most parts of the business, but you can still do like special projects and fun stuff, I thought.
Reagan: Yeah, you can when everything’s going smoothly, but when you’re needed to put fires out, that’s where you have to spend your time. And there was always something going on, so it was just… and to be clear, I was still very much driving all the innovation and the design, and that was still very much me. So there was that, but the lion’s share of my work was dealing with the stuff that nobody else wanted to deal with.
Nathan: I see. So, by the time got to that stage, how many people did you have? Did you have just one office or?
Reagan: No, what we definitely had over a hundred. I think at our peak we had about 130 employees globally. We had an office in Tokyo, an office in Sydney and an office in London. We had warehouses in Japan, Belgium, Canada, the U.S., so we were all over the place by that stage. And then obviously our head office was here in Brooklyn.
Nathan: Yes, I see. Interesting. Well, incredible story. So, we have to work towards wrapping up, but I’d love to hear what are some of the lessons that you’d like to share with our audience? And then, yeah, I’d love to hear also what’s next on the horizon.
Reagan: Okay, well, definitely, the number one lesson and I speak to a lot of entrepreneurs now who reached out and ask given I’m a few years ahead of them, they want my advice and guidance. And obviously, the biggest thing I tell them is never ever sell the controlling interest of your company if you’re still passionately involved in it and dedicated to it. If you sell the majority share of the business, even if you’re being told that you’re going to be staying on as the CEO and the leader of the company, you have to emotionally detach to some point because my story is actually way more common than I think people realise. It’s just not everybody is as candid and willing to talk about it as I am. So that would be 100% my biggest regret, my biggest mistake and my biggest piece of advice to any entrepreneur out there.
And then the other thing I would say is that you have to stay very true to yourself, I think, to be successful because everyone’s going to have an opinion. And once you start being successful, there’s always the people out there who want to come in and tell you to do it differently, like my investors. And I just think that you have to be prepared to stay the course and fight the fight. Because, again, the only other regrets I had was when I gave in to what they wanted to do despite knowing that it wasn’t the right for the business or really believing it wasn’t the right thing for the business. And whenever I did that, it always ultimately beat me in the ass and the business. So I would say stand your ground and fight the good fight.
Nathan: Amazing. And talk to me about Saint Lunar Spirits, as your new company.
Reagan: Yeah. So it’s quite the departure from baby blankets. We joke and say that gone from babies to booze. So we have created a high end premium moonshine where… moonshine, I don’t think Aussies are as familiar with moonshiners Americans, but came about during prohibition. And it’s a very high alcohol content liquor that’s usually… most people would say it tastes like rocket fuel, but we have found that is really just designed to get people wasted. But we decided that the category was in need of disruption, and so we went about creating a contradiction, I guess, in that we wanted to create a high end moonshine that was served in five-star restaurants and the best cocktail bars out there.
And so, that was the impetus for Saint Lunar, and so far so good. We’ve literally only been on the market a few weeks and we’re already in some of the best bars and restaurants in New York City, on George’s, employees only. We’ve won gold and silver medals at World Spirit Competition. So, so far so good. And it’s just, as I said, it’s super fun to be back in the trenches, building something and creating. It’s a lot of fun.
Nathan: Awesome. Oh, well, look, it sounds like it’s off to a great start.
Reagan: Yup, touch wood. So far, so good.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, we have to work towards wrapping up Reagan, so yeah, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself, your work and also grab a copy of your new book, What It Takes?
Reagan: Well, the ever faithful Amazon. It’s available on Amazon. Then my website is just Reaganmoyajones.com. And for anyone who’s curious and interested in trying some premium moonshine, you can go to Saintlunaspirits.com and check that out there.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. This is an incredible conversation and yeah, thanks so much for sharing and being so open.
Reagan: Pleasure. Thanks for having me, Nathan.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Raegan Moya-Jones
- Learn more about Moya-Jones on her website
- Get a copy of Moya-Jones’ book on Amazon
- Try some premium moonshine at St. Luna Spirits