“Founder Friday” is a series that profiles founders and entrepreneurs connected to The Ohio State University. Today, we are featuring Eric Osman and his company, Mockingbird. Read what inspired him to go out on his own.
Tell us about your business or organization.
Mockingbird is a new baby gear brand that aims to empower parents and alleviate some of the stresses associated with entering parenthood. We launched in February 2019 with a premium full-size stroller and a variety of companion accessories. And while our features, aesthetic and safety rating put us pretty cleanly in the luxury stroller category, we’re priced at about half of most of our competitors since we operate purely as a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, bypassing the 40 to 50 percent markup that traditional retailers place on baby products.
Why did you decide to take a leap and become a founder? How did you reach that decision?
For a while, it was honestly not my intention. But I was working at Harry’s, the men’s grooming company, seeing how our direct-to-consumer model was shaking up and improving a whole industry, and I started wondering why there were DTC brands in grooming, mattresses, glasses, sneakers, luggage, etc. — but not baby gear. I felt like parents arguably have the most to gain from the benefits of the DTC model, yet no one was offering it. That became kind of an obsession, and the more people I talked to about it, the more the idea started coming into full form. For a while, thinking through it and talking about it is the most fun part, but then you start asking whether you might actually want to execute on this. After a good amount of anxiety, self-doubt and lengthy pro/con lists, I decided to take the leap.
How have you had to develop your leadership skills as a founder? What leadership lessons have you learned through leading your organization?
It’s an interesting new feeling to be responsible for setting a company’s vision. In my prior roles, even those where I was managing others and trying to be a leader, the vision was pretty determined for me, and my job was to try solving problems to help bring that vision to reality. I think the problem-solving piece is actually quite similar now to before — maybe the problems feel more complicated and stressful, but the skillset to solve them isn’t fundamentally different. However, the skill set of setting the strategic vision — including getting input and buy-in from the team and empowering each part of the organization to pursue that mission — that’s totally new for me. I’m not sure if I’ve learned major leadership lessons yet, except maybe that I still have a long way to go in developing that skill.
Describe a success that has been made possible through your leadership skills.
Launching a new website takes a ton of work, hours of last-minute tasks, spot-checking and troubleshooting. I was really thrilled with how smooth our launch in February was, and when I say “smooth”, I don’t mean easy or error-free. But at least from an external perspective, it was about as smooth as it could have been. And all of the work that happened beneath the surface in preparation and during the launch was a huge undertaking from the team that required everyone to be emotionally bought in to what we were doing and excited enough about the prospect of what we were launching to put in those extra hours and dedication to make sure we did it right. I credit my other team members immensely for this, and I’ll say that hopefully at least a small part of that buy-in came from my ability to rally everyone around the vision for what we were accomplishing together.
Based on your experiences as a founder, what is the most important leadership trait that founders must possess? How did you foster that trait in yourself?
It sounds a bit backward, but I think the most important leadership trait is actually to be able to ask for help. As a founder, it can sometimes feel like you’re supposed to instill this image that you always have everything under control. Your employees are putting their trust in you, so there’s a natural insecurity that makes you want to show them that you deserve to be in this position, that nothing can faze you and that they can always look to you for unfaltering direction. But I think it’s so important to realize that there’s strength in weakness, and asking those around you for help — your employees, other founders, advisors — ultimately leads to better decisions and therefore makes you a better leader.