Motherhood lasts and this job as a mother lasts but a business can only run for so long. … We hope that this can just really take off and fly but we don’t know how it will end. But motherhood never ends, and I think that is an explanation as to why it's important and why you prioritize it first. —Jeni Awerkamp
Two young LDS mothers have teamed up to create a product that even Kickstarter’s staff recognized as something special. Marilee Killpack and Jeni Awerkamp both grew up in Utah and have been friends since grade school, but have only recently embarked on a business endeavor by creating “The Playground: the mat for park lovers and mess makers.”
While many businesses begin with an idea, originally Awerkamp and Killpack began with only a desire to start a business but with no actual product pinned down. What they did know is that they trusted each other, and they trusted that God believed they were capable of creating a product worthy of their time and effort.
“It was a matter of prayer for me,” Awerkamp said. “Because my husband is a law student and we needed (or I’d like to have) an income. It’s just so expensive so I had been praying for a way to get some sort of income and my answer was to do something myself.”
The two, both Family Life graduates from Brigham Young University, began to think of products they could improve until one day, while Awerkamp was spending time with her daughter, she had a big idea.
“One day I was using an outdoor tablecloth for messy play with my daughter,” Awerkamp said. “We played Play-doh on it and used beads. It contains the mess. Then the thought came to me for the idea of the Playground and it was just an idea to improve some sort of mat to make a ground cover that was pretty and functional and easy to use and versatile. We just ran with that and it just hasn’t stopped.”
They set out to find a material that was soft and comfortable but that was also easily cleaned. They eventually found that bonded leather was exactly what they were looking for. It was even lightweight and had a classy appearance. It was perfect.
A Kickstarter page was created on Nov. 18, 2014, in an attempt to fund the production with a goal of $15,500. In less than 48 hours they had surpassed their goal and as of Dec. 10 have more than tripled their goal with over $47,000 raised. They continued to solicit funding by creating “stretch goals” and promising new colors for the mats for each stretch goal achieved. With one week remaining, they currently have a stretch goal of $50,000.
The duo have been overwhelmed by the success of the Kickstarter but also say that the product is worthy of its success.
“The response to the Kickstarter has been humbling,” Killpack said. “I have been just floored that Heavenly Father is answering our prayers and helping us create something that’s meaningful to us. It’s out of my control now and I can’t control how many people support us but he’s helping us pursue our dreams and that has strengthened my faith so much to see him answer my prayers and Jeni’s prayers and to feel him guiding us in this project.”
They have found the principle of grace to be very real even amidst the challenges of starting a small business. Awerkamp shared that originally the two began praying for a business idea but then exercised their faith by trying their best to create something special.
“We tried to prioritize and put the Lord first and we kept asking for guidance and it has come,” Awerkamp said. “We have to try on our own first to make something work but it’s pretty awesome to see how after we put forth some initiative we get answers back on where to go next or what to do it has taught me about faith in general and about how I should approach life from here on out. You can’t just leave the Lord out of it. You have to ask him for his advice and he’ll give it to you.”
Still, the two believe, as Harold B. Lee taught, that their most important work is done within the walls of their own homes.
“Motherhood lasts and this job as a mother lasts,” Awerkamp said. “But a business can only run for so long. We hope that this can just really take off and fly but we don’t know how it will end. But motherhood never ends, and I think that is an explanation as to why it's important and why you prioritize it first.”
Awerkamp and Killpack hope that their products will ultimately help other moms and bring families closer together.
“One of our pushes when we started this business was to create something where people can play and not have stress,” Killpack, whose husband is also an entrepreneur, said. “If we can enjoy it, then other people can enjoy it too. Other moms will hopefully use it as a product to help them connect with their children.”
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