Allison O'Kelly, Mom Corps, Woman Entrepreneur
Being a Mom is hard work. The balance of kids, family, work and self is not easy. Somehow most Mom's seem to figure it out but it is exhausting. I was connected to a woman who was interested in starting a company that helped women, and companies, find Moms who wanted to work but not full-time as well as help Moms get back into the workplace once the kids were at school full time. I started looking around to see if anyone else had built a company on that premise. Turns out there are a few. One of them is Allison O'Kelly, the founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national organization that focuses on flexible jobs for primarily women.
Allison grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC and happened to go to the exact same high school as me, Churchill High School in Potomac, MD. That area of the country is an interesting location because many people/families consider themselves more Southern while others Northern. I went to the Northeast for college, Allison went South. She went to University of Georgia where she majored in accounting. She loved the experience. Stayed a full four years without going abroad because as she put it, Georgia was abroad enough.
After graduating from University of Georgia, she found a job in Atlanta. Many of the kids from Universities and colleges in the South end up in Atlanta as it is the urban hub. She worked for KPMG in the auditing department. She had interned with KPMG in college so it was the perfect opportunity. After three years she found that she wasn't a fan of capturing what other people did in business but wanted to be part of making a business happen. She didn't see her career path to become a comptroller so she decided to make a shift and figured it made sense to go to business school.
Her plan was to get into one of the top business schools, because she wanted a serious return on her investment. Allison got into Harvard Business School. After graduating she went to work for Toys R Us. In high school and college she had worked in retail and liked it. There was something about the basics of that business that turned her on. It was 1999 when she began in the Toys R Us management program. She was supposed to start working in the brick and mortar part of the business but they asked her to join the new dot com department they were working on.
Working on toyrus.com from its infancy was an amazing experience. She eventually got herself back into the store line where she ran one of the stores for about one and a half years. Personally one of my all time favorite jobs was running a portion of a retail store for Macys. There is something incredibly rewarding about being able to see the daily affect you can make on a business. Allison was applying for the district management position when she had her first child....and then everything changed.
Retail is a 24/7 business. She was working out of the Southeast area of Atlanta. Her division had eleven districts that were all run by men. Her regional VP wanted nothing more than to see Allison take over one of the regions, they wanted a woman. They even gave her 3 days a week working 8-4 while she acclimated herself to the job and motherhood. She took that opportunity and worked like that for four months until she realized, this was not going to work.
In order to keep herself working and make some cash, Allison started doing some freelance contract accounting work while she figured out her next move. That was not the long term goal to go back to accounting but it was easy to fall back for the time being. She never wanted to stay home but didn't want to jump into the wrong job and freelance jobs kept coming in the door.
Allison kept getting so many jobs that she started to getting friends involved. She realized there was a market opportunity that was not being met. People were looking to fill short time projects with talented people. She knew all these Moms who were thrilled for the opportunity. Allison realized that for her this was an interesting business opportunity. She started her own contract company and called it Mom Corps. By the time she launched the business she had two little boys, her youngest being two months old.
Originally the Mom Corps was only accounting oriented. Fast forward several years and in 2009 she franchised the organization. When she did it herself, her own Mom Corps, the jobs that came in were mostly around legal and marketing projects. What she found is that each franchise tends to be a little different based on the the owner and their contacts. There are now sixteen franchises across the country in cities such as Boston, Seattle, Texas, NY, Charlotte and SF. They all share one online platform. All of the owners use the same backend. Everyone applies and registers online. The owners use that information to sell into their local markets recruiting staffing for their clients. Mom Corps get a percentage of all the sales that take place.
Allison brings on the franchises by training them, handling the invoicing and payrolls. She has three boys now, 9, 7 and one. Mainly women get jobs through Mom Corps although there are a few men. There are roughly 80,000 people in their data base. They have placed over 3000 people in jobs which doesn't include the online job board that people pay for. There is also content research on the site. Including the years that Allison had her freelance accounting business, she has been at it for nine years.
Like anything else, she wishes it could grow faster and be bigger but I give her huge credit, she boot-strapped the entire business by herself. Many of the franchise owners had the same idea as Allison but decided it made more sense to be part of something she had already built. She is not only helping women work part-time but allowing many of them to dip their toes in the water before making the plunge back to full-time work. She has also changed the life of sixteen women who own Mom Corps franchises.
I love this model. Allison figured out how to make her life balance work by pulling her friends in to jobs that they were happy to get but weren't exactly sure how to get them. Sometimes you just need one entrepreneur, one leader to make it work for the rest. Allison was that person.