Dad-Owned Companies Inspired By Kids: Ella's Kitchen
This Father's Day, we're celebrating dads who started businesses based on gaps in the market — which their children helped them realize.
By Megan Hess
Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Paul Lindley embarked on a journey with a clear mission for kids and parents: Engage children in an enjoyable and creative eating experience, and remove the stress of feeding for adults.
Company name: Ella’s Kitchen
Kids: Ella, 12; Patrick, 9
Launch date: About 8 years ago
First office: My kids’ playroom and my kitchen. I got my kids and their friends together, and we sat around our kitchen table and taste-tested our first few products. My son said he liked “the red one” best, so we kept that name for the smoothie made with strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and apples.
Current office: Seventeenth-century barns in Oxfordshire, England; offices in Montclair, NJ
Inspiration: I’ve always been an active father, and I'm really interested in how my kids develop and grow into little people and then bigger people. I also worked at Nickelodeon for 10 years, so my professional life was all about children, too. When Ella was around 18 months old, she began rejecting foods that she’d been perfectly happy eating for the first few months of her life. As a first-time parent, I became worried that she wouldn’t eat anything. I’ve since learned that it’s an evolutionary thing that all children go through, but I used it as the first spark for starting Ella’s Kitchen. I also began to understand a bigger problem in society: About one-third of children are overweight or obese.
From idea to action: When preparing for a vacation, we couldn’t find the type of healthy foods we wanted to take with us for Ella and Patrick, who was a new baby at the time. I began to think: Nobody seemed to make healthy, fun food for toddlers and preschoolers that was convenient for busy parents. I thought about it for three or four months, then handed in my resignation at Nickelodeon and gave myself two years to set up the business.
Setting the business apart: We differentiate ourselves by three things. We think about the child’s point of view first and foremost; we use flexible squeeze pouches that make it easy and exciting for toddlers to feed themselves; and we use a very personal experience to tell our brand’s story. Ella and I write on the back of the squeeze packs.
Hardest part of starting a business: It doesn’t leave you; it’s impossible to switch off. But in a way, that’s good, since it requires the discipline to compartmentalize and say, "I’m with my kids now, and this is our time for play."
Real change: When I started Ella’s Kitchen, food existed in very functional ways, in glass jars that had not been changed for many years. I saw an opportunity to introduce kids to food that sets them up for the best habits that they’ll keep for the rest of their lives. We’ve seen tremendous growth: We have 71 products and more than 50 employees. We’re at a point now where every second of every day, someone around the world is eating one of our foods; our products are sold in Target, Whole Foods, Stop and Shop, Food Emporium, and other locations.
Favorite product: The mango baby brekkie (slang for breakfast), which is a mix of mango, natural yogurt, and whole grain rice.
Advice to entrepreneurial parents: If you have a good idea, test it from your bedroom. There’s never been an easier time to set up a business; it’s stressful when you’ve got a young child, but you can work from home much easier than you ever could before. You just need to think of creative ways to succeed, like conducting market research and testing using online databases. But don’t do something just because you think it’s going to make money. You need to passionately believe in your product and care about the difference you’re making in the service of your product — not just counting the cash.
Life lesson that stuck: Something I remember from my Nickelodeon days is that kids laugh 20 times more than adults each day. If we were all a bit more childlike, the world would be a happier place.