THE BLOG
12/19/2014 12:20 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Julie Gibbs and Mary Barney, Tubby Table Toys

Like all busy working Moms, Julie Gibbs and Mary Barney quickly experienced the joy and the "Uh Ohs" of bath time. When their twins grew into very curious and VERY active toddlers, the evening ritual of fun, suds and giggles always ended with water all over the bathroom floor. With degrees in early childhood education and business, as well as experience working for leading toy manufacturers Fisher-Price and Mattel, they instinctively began to brainstorm a solution. The Tubby Table gives kids a play surface in the middle of the tub, allowing the water to flow back into the tub instead of all over the bathroom floor. The Tubby Table is not only fun, but educational with 5 multi-colored and numbered, shaped cups to help reinforce key fine motor, cognitive and developmental skills such as counting, sorting, color differentiation, as well as cause and effect with and filling and pouring. It also allows for siblings to play together and share their toys.

How has your life experience made you the leaders you are today?
Mary's mother passed away at a very young age, so Mary and her 4 siblings had to learn to take care of themselves while their single Dad worked. Mary worked as soon as she was old enough, and she paid her way through the University of Massachusetts. Mary survived several rounds of layoffs throughout her career as she worked for several tech toy and software companies. She was always nearly the last person standing when the doors closed, a testament to her value within each organization.

Julie also grew up with a single parent, and her work ethic developed at an early age. She starting working at age 11 and in high school she was editor of the school newspaper, captain of the tennis team and class president. But her real passion evolved as a camp counselor in college. She mentored young girls for 3 summers, and she realized she loved kids and she loved mentoring. The newspaper role in high school led to an assistant editor position at Indiana University so Julie could pay for books. As an adult and while working at her second job, Julie took evening classes to get her MBA and to learn how to run a business. Throughout her career, Julie has managed and mentored sales and marketing teams, and she ran a start-up division within Universal's Music Group where she had to develop all systems and create a sales training program to teach the music enthusiasts she inherited as salespeople how to not just talk about music, but SELL it.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenures at Tubby Table Toys?
We have worked in consumer product sales and marketing at key brands such as Mattel, Electronic Arts and Universal for the better part of our careers in various capacities. This gave us a great understanding of what it takes to succeed in the consumer product marketplace. In addition, Mary's education in early childhood development gave her an understanding of what is involved in young children's social and cognitive development. Sometimes it's the simplest activities that offer the greatest educational and play value. Julie ran sales and retail marketing divisions at videogame industry giant EA, but her best experience that translated to her new entrepreneurial role was at Universal where she ran a new business development division. It gave her the skill set beyond sales and marketing into finance and operations as she was responsible for her own P & L. She had to build a division from the ground up and she built it into a $10M business in just two years.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenures at Tubby Table Toys?
Our most exciting day was receiving our first trailer load of Tubby Tables from China. It was also our scariest. How on earth were we going to unload 900 - 25 lb. cases from a 40' trailer without a forklift? Friends and more friends leant a hand. It was confirmation that we accomplished our first goal - designing, testing and producing the Tubby Table. We had fulfilled our goal of creating a bath time play table for toddlers that promoted fun and learning in the tub, while helping to eliminate the chaos and mess that can ensue when bathing toddlers. We believe bath time can and should be a calming and soothing evening ritual for young families. Tubby Table provides an educational toy that kids can sit and play with in the tub, while they calm down and get relaxed and ready for bedtime.

Many people tell us that they have lots of ideas for products or services and they'd like to venture out on their own, but they would never know where to begin - especially with a product versus a service. Getting the Tubby Table designed and actually manufactured has been the most difficult, costly yet rewarding experience so far. When we saw our idea develop from a pencil drawn concept into a full-color, 3D product, it was almost like giving birth all over again.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Have patience and be prepared to make a lot of mistakes, but most of all trust your instinct, not your friends' instincts! You know why you launched your company; they are there to support, not drive your business. You also need to know your strengths and only hire those who fill in the areas in which you don't have experience. Hiring part-time, consultants versus full-time employees works for many job seekers and it gives you flexibility to move on when you don't need that skill set. It also helps you save on costly overhead.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
We take advantage of the "slow" times and maximize that time with family and friends. When we are swamped, we disappear, but people understand - work is work. We like the flexibility of working early morning or after dinner so we can do what we need for our young family during afternoons. Making our own schedule, for us, keeps us balanced. After all, it was our twins who inspired us to make the Tubby Table and go after our dream of running our own company.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In our experience at major toy and media companies, we found that many extremely talented and capable women brought emotion into the boardroom, at times hindering their success. We also think some women need to work harder at building a network of peers.

We would benefit from a larger network of peers in consumer packaged goods as the efforts we have made by joining networking groups has not been worth the time and has not served our business needs. Most networking groups we have joined are either tech focused or designed for local business networking like insurance and real estate agents.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal lives?
We were lucky to have mentors in our early years: a tennis coach and academic advisor in high school who showed us how to be leaders. The most significant mentor for both of us was the husband and wife team for whom we worked very early in our careers. Jan and Bob Davidson were educator and engineer, respectively, but they had a passion for running their own business. They took the $5,000 set aside for their young children's' college fund, and they built an educational computer software company into a $1B business. That experience led Mary to another software company run by Shark Tank's Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O'Leary. Mary was a top sales manager for his company, and she learned the skills required to negotiate a deal from the master.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many.

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx is one. Like Jan Davidson, she took $5,000, a great idea, and a chance, and built it into a billion dollar business. She wasn't afraid to make phone calls and pitch her idea to Neiman Marcus to launch her business. She believed she had the next big thing - like we do, but our idea "supports" young families. ☺

Arianna Huffington, of course. And we have recently become admirers of Debby Elnatan, a mom who saw a need and invented the Upsee, which allows children with motor impairment to experience standing and walking with the help of an adult.

What do you want Tubby Table Toys to accomplish in the next year?
First, we want to expand our distribution in specialty toy retailers and gift stores since our product ideally fits both target markets. In addition, our intent is to launch additional products under the Tubby Table brand. We have the ideas; it's now a matter of getting the funding to bring them to fruition like we did the Tubby Table. We see different age level tables with different educational, value-added toys based on age range. We also are interested in licensing the table top, so we could have for example a Cars racetrack or a Princess tea set table top.