September 22 is Business Women's Day, which celebrates the diverse talents and accomplishments of influential female entrepreneurs in the U.S. To give you the opportunity to learn more about the crafty businesswomen behind Happy Pak, this week's blog post is a Q&A with co-founders Karen Melbert (KM) and Karen Lafnitzegger (KL). Keep reading to learn about who and what inspires them and the challenges they've encountered in the first year of their entrepreneurial journey. If you're lucky, you might just get some free gifting advice!
Q: How do you define happiness?
KM: Happiness is achieved when feelings of warmth, love, gratefulness, and peace intersect.
KL: Happiness is how I feel when I dance!
Q: What inspired you to co-found Happy Pak?
KM: Sending funny care packages to my college daughters to relieve their final exam stress was a big hit with them. Instead of just a big box of food, I sent gifts and snacks they personally loved along with silly toys like squirt guns or slinkies. These packages not only made them feel better, but they also brought me joy, knowing that I brightened their days. I started to think, Why couldn’t this concept work for other occasions too, and for more than just family? I knew Karen L. would be the perfect partner-in-crime because she shared my passion for being creative.
KL: My main inspiration was the opportunity to work with my friend in a creative business. While volunteering together at our children's school, I was amazed at her ability to creatively bring fun and happiness to otherwise ordinary school days and functions. She's a master at creating a theme and confidently bringing a fun idea to concept. I often joked that if she ever started a business, I wanted to work for her! When she presented the idea of Happy Pak, I was all in.
Q: Happy Pak's mission is to "Bring on the happy." What does that mean to you, personally?
KM: "Bring on the happy" is near and dear to my heart. We all know life can be wonderful, when you celebrate engagements, new babies, new jobs, or new homes. But it can also be challenging at times, if you’re battling an illness, having surgery, getting over a break-up, etc. Our job is to spread joy to both the gifter and the giftee every step of the Happy Pak process--from the design, to the gift exchange, to the unboxing, and beyond. When our customers are happy, we're happy, too, because we know we've done our job! It's truly gratifying.
KL: What she said! Our original concept has always been to bring joy, a smile, a chuckle to Happy Pak recipients. One of my favorite things about Happy Pak is the inclusion of humor in every gift. Even in a challenging situation, humor is a powerful tool. Charles Dickens said, "There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor." With every pak, we take great care to curate fun, quality gifts to bring on the happy for the gift giver and recipient.
Q: What is one valuable lesson you've learned in the first year of running your own small business?
KM: We've learned so many lessons and continue to learn everyday. Both of us took a leap of faith in starting this business. Luckily we have wonderful moral support from our families and friends. If I had to pick one valuable lesson, it would be the importance of perseverance. It’s so easy to get scared, second guess, overthink, and want to throw in the towel, especially when you've really stepped outside your comfort zone--and trust me, I've experienced all of those thoughts. But you have to turn off the negative noise in your head, focus on your passion and goals that fueled the business idea in the first place, and keep working to learn, make adjustments, and get better every day.
KL: Karen and I love to create and learn. We were both science majors in college with no business background, so we've spent many hours researching and learning about best practices for starting a business. A valuable lesson we've learned is when it's time to seek guidance or outsource a project. When the budget is limited with a start-up company, it's natural to try to take on as much as you can, but there are smart people and great resources to help you.
Q: Are there any strong female business leaders or successful professionals you look up to?
KM: The story behind SPANX is fascinating (look it up), and I admire the inventor and founder, Sara Blakely. She had a clever idea to solve a problem and never gave up even though she was rejected by so many individuals along the way. All it took was for one person to give her a shot. I'm inspired by her passion for her product and her drive and ambition to be successful. She's a fantastic role model for anyone starting a business, but especially women in business. I find myself re-reading her story periodically simply when I need a pep talk!
KL: We buy several products from local women-owned businesses, and I truly admire these entrepreneurs for their hard work. I love that each one started with a passion for a product or hobby, and I draw inspiration from their stories. To name just a few, Kristy Klinger started Vanilla Bean Bakery from her passion for baking; Kate Wilson imagined gourmet pretzel yumminess and created My Pretty Little Pretzel; Carly Swift and Mandy Selke took inspiration from making popcorn with their grandfather and started Just Pop In!; and Carrie Abbott put fudge and brittle together to create Frittle and launch Newfangled Confections. We love their stories and products, and we appreciate their willingness to work with us.
Q: What can Happy Pak do that no other company can?
KM: We pride ourselves on making sure each pak is festive and fun with personal touches, like the funny little tags that adorn some of the goodies. For custom orders, we work with the gifting customer to learn about the recipient’s interests and hobbies so the contents of the pak cater to them. If a customer doesn’t know much about the person they're buying for, we can work with them, too. All we need is one or two fun facts or a theme to start with, and then our creative juices help us design something attractive and fun.
KL: I couldn't have said it better than Karen M.!
Q: Give the people one piece of gifting advice.
KM: I love the convenience of gift cards, but they aren’t exactly personal. I've learned that going that extra mile to add a personal touch to a gift generates more excitement, a deeper appreciation, and greater sense of joy for the recipient.
KL: People often buy gifts that they enjoy themselves, which is great, of course, but the best gifts are the ones are chosen personally for the happiness of the gift recipient.
Q: What's the best gift you've ever received?
KM: Aside from a fantastic husband and four great kids, I'd have to say, my big stuffed teddy bear, Pinkston. When I was little, one of my brothers won the big pink and white bear at a 4-H fair. He gave it to me, and it became my favorite toy. I would sleep with it every night until I was a pre-teen. We had to sew parts of it back together over the years because of wear and tear, but I loved that bear!
KL: Okay, ditto again on the first part, but make it three great kids for me! For my 40th birthday, my husband secretly planned a trip to Paris for the two of us, even arranging for my parents to stay with our three young children. I was floored! He was going to wait to tell me until the week of the trip, but a friend of mine advised him that it might take a little more time for me to pack (ha!). The gift of togetherness was the best!
*Some answers edited for clarity or length.
If you're interested in learning about more female entrepreneurs, click here. Happy Business Women's Day!