NJF: You were a prosecutor in Hudson County for six years before you took time off to raise your kids full time. What inspired you to start Morphmom?
Kathleen Butler Smith: I had stopped working after my second child was born. For me, the journey began when I sat up one morning and realized that I’d been home for 14 years. Fourteen years I wouldn’t trade for the entire world, but my youngest was now almost in double digits. I actually had some time to myself. I had a minute to breathe (and a second to think!). I realized that I was ready. But ready for what? I set out to write a children’s book, drawn from my real-life experiences. Finishing it was a wonderful, cathartic process. So now what? Well, let’s get this masterpiece published! But how to begin? There had to be a place where women like me could go for support, instruction, and guidance. Had to be. Right? There wasn’t. I searched and searched. In vain. Sure, there were generic how-to sites that laid out the dotted-line steps to getting your book published. But where was the site for moms who were trying to follow those steps (or take the plunge into any one of a thousand comparable new ventures) after years on the sidelines, and with kids still at home? It didn’t exist. I was stunned. There had to be thousands—no, tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands—of us, right? And then the proverbial light bulb went off. I would create that site. Morphmom was born.
In about a nanosecond, I’d morphed from a mom and would-be author to a mom and would-be Internet startup founder. I knew nothing about starting a website, but I was on a mission. And in a few short months, I’d built it out, with grand designs. An online community allowing actual connection and communication. A blog. And videos. Inspirational videos from the pioneers—the moms who had done it! Who’d made it work! Sharing their war stories, their lessons learned, their wisdom, with those of us just starting out. The very idea of Morphmom itself began to morph.
NJF: Juggling being a mom and having a career is hard and Morphmom helps women achieve a balance through the power of community. Can you talk about how that’s done?
KS: It’s a built-in community with like-minded women all dealing with the same challenges. Many times your friends and family are not in the same situation and, although wonderful, may not be as supportive in this specific journey as they are in a different place at the time. Although they may not be ready to take this leap, there are so many women who have gone through this and are thrilled to share their steps, experiences, challenges and guidance. In addition, there are many other women also about to take their first steps and they support and encourage each other. That is Morphmom in a nutshell!
NJF: You recently held a sold-out conference in Westfield and have another planned in June in Montclair. What can moms get out of these in-person gatherings?
KS: I would say our conferences provide ideas, guidance, support, community, and courage. A large part of taking that next step, or searching for that next step, involves community. Conferences are a great platform for bringing like-minded women together to share ideas and develop a supportive group. There are millions of conferences out there but I believe many of them are geared to specific fields thus excluding many of our Morphmoms right out of the gate.
It becomes very difficult to fit in, especially for those just beginning the process to search what is next for them. So, I came up with the concept of a “non-conference”—a day filled with panels covering a wide array of topics from work-related subjects to health and wellness. This way all could find a topic of interest and once inside the door they would be exposed to a wealth of stories sharing possibilities, ideas and an immediate sense of community.
I also felt an important part of these conferences was for speakers to share not just the good but also the challenges, “failures” and obstacles they faced along the way. We always hear about the successes in life but sharing the challenges can be uniting and empowering as well. I believe that if we can see that others have fallen along the way and overcome obstacles, we are empowered—not afraid—to go beyond our comfort zones.
NJF: Can you share an example of a mom you worked with and how she was able to successfully morph her career and thrive?
KS: Ann Sisto is a certified KonMari Method Organizational Consultant. She attended a KonMari Consultant Seminar in NYC, worked with clients, submitted tidying reports and passed an exam to become a Certified KonMari Method Organizational Consultant. To help her figure out how to turn this to a business, she attended a Morphmom class. Morphmom provided her with the support and encouragement to start her own business. Morphmom provided her with marketing and social media tools and the moms in her group provided her lot of emotional support to push her into this new phase. Everyone helped and encouraged one another which I think is so important. Morphmom also really helped her explore her interests and strengths and confirm that she was on a career path that would make her happy and that she would succeed at.
Nancy Mignon founded Prim Design, an interior design company focusing on project management, design and staging. Nancy always loved interior design but did not know what she wanted to do with this passion. She attended a small class and we encouraged her to start the business and she did! She attended the class in my living room and during the class, she actually re-staged the furniture in my room and I have kept it that way ever since! The company has really taken off as she is now traveling and working in different states and incredibly busy! We encouraged her to really begin her new venture through social media which proved to be incredibly successful!
NJF: How did being a mom and a prosecutor help shape your next chapter as founder and head of Morphmom?
KS: I learned a great deal from both but I would say what helped me most was the power of listening. As a young prosecutor, I would have to interview many people. I would make my list of questions and sometimes I was so concerned about asking the questions that I forgot to listen. My father always said, “Be interested and you will be interesting” and I believe by learning to really listen, I began to understand the true power of storytelling and how sharing an experience can truly help to change another’s life.
As a mom, I learned from day one that nothing ever goes as planned. Mistakes happen. A set plan is nearly impossible but a mother is resilient and will always get the job done. I learned to accept change and to brush off the little things. Missing a practice or serving cereal for dinner, although not ideal, would not end the world. But the big things like listening to my children and showing them that is was ok to fail and to make mistakes and to roll with the punches was the true lesson. By trying to instill in my children that if they fell they could stand up again I embraced this message as well. And at twenty I may not have had the fortitude to continue after such a fall but at fifty I am empowered by the “failure” and ready to get right back up and try again. And every mom learns to multitask!
NJF: What are you most proud of about Morphmom?
KS: I am proud of so many facets of Morphmom, but I guess I am most proud of the fact that we have such a supportive and generous community of women who believe in our mission and movement which continues to grow almost daily.
NJF: What was your biggest obstacle in getting it off the ground?
KS: My two biggest obstacles were creating a business plan and marketing. I had no background in business and no idea how to create an actual business. I had the idea and the passion but not a clue as to the business side of Morphmom.
NJF: What’s your best advice for women looking to transition to a new chapter in their working life?
KS: Nike gives the best advice—Just Do It! Say it out loud—once you do you have committed to others that you are willing to take the chance you are ready to accept the challenge. Do not be afraid of failure. We all fail and we all get back up. Baby steps. Teamwork. I have the best team in the world—twelve women that believe in the mission as much as I do. The next step is not always about work but finding what it is that you love to do. Love what you are doing.