Jody Sherman: Living Life in a Groundbreaking Way
Jody Sherman, pictured above, is the Founder and CEO of Ecomom - a service for moms everywhere that hand picks eco-friendly products for use at home. His story is an inspiring one. One thing all of us can learn from Jody is that life has no set track for us - everything is of our own doing and creation. Get ready to be motivated!
TFW: Thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview, Jody! We really appreciate it.
JS: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me to speak with you.
TFW: Tell us a little bit about your childhood. What was it like? Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to be “when you grew up” at that age?
JS: I grew up in Miami to very traditional parents. They’d known each other since they were 14 years old and got married while my mother was in college studying to become a teacher. My father was a mailman and he worked early mornings. I got to hang out with him most of every day. Since my mom was focused on early childhood education, I think I was her test kid. She taught me to read by the time I was two. I think this early access to information made me a very independent thinker. By the time my brother was born when I was 6, in my mind I was ready for the world.
I started selling newspaper subscriptions door-to-door and folding newspapers for other paper carriers when I was 7 and by 9 years old I was working in a pet store on the weekends. I always had a great work ethic – I’m sure I got that from my parents. But the other thing that drove me was that we didn’t have much money so if I wanted something, I had to earn it. My folks were really great about setting goals with me. If I achieved my goal, I earned the reward. That lesson has served me well throughout my life.
I don’t know if I ever gave much thought to “what I would be when I grew up” but I was really great at selling things so I’m sure I imagined that would be in my future. In fact, every job I had prior to leaving school involved selling something.
TFW: You decided to drop out of high school: what was your reasoning behind that?
JS: I was so bored. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to school most days. All I wanted to do was go to the beach. I pretty much aced every test I took but I got terrible grades because they graded us on attendance, conduct, and homework as part of an overall grade. My reasoning was “if I nailed the test, don’t I know the material? How can you give me anything but an A since I clearly know what we were taught?” Needless to say, that didn’t go over well at school or at home – having a teacher for a mom. So I decided to drop out of high school and join the Navy.
TFW: Were you scared at the prospect of not being employable since you didn’t have a high school degree?
JS: I don’t think that thought ever crossed my mind. Remember, I had worked from as far back as I can remember so the idea that not having a proper education would hold me back wasn’t even on my radar.
TFW: After dropping out, you joined the U.S. Navy. How did your time there shape you? That must have been a defining period in your life.
JS: Looking back, I can’t even recall the specific reason why I joined. I’m sure it had something to do with wanting to get away from home and leaving Miami. I was also enamored with the idea of learning about computers, which seemed really interesting to me as an 18-year old kid in 1983. At the time, I’d only ever seen a computer in a movie and even the video game we had was an Atari 2600 so computers just felt like the future to me.
It turns out that the most important thing I learned in the Navy had nothing to do with my chosen specialty. What I really learned was that you are accountable for your own actions.
In the Navy, I attended several computer schools where I did pretty well because I was interested in what I was learning. It was the first time in a very long time that a formal classroom could hold my attention. Little did I know that the refrigerator-sized monstrosities for which I was responsible had nothing to do with the real world. But it wouldn’t have mattered because I was in love with technology.
But being on an aircraft carrier with over 6,000 other men, crisscrossing the Pacific Ocean, gives you a lot of time to think about your future. And I knew my future was definitely not going to be in the military. I’d been fortunate enough to meet a really great man – the father of a woman I was dating – who exposed to my first real PC an AT&T PC6300. I remember going over to their house and spending as much time on that machine as I did hanging out with his daughter. At that time, there wasn’t really much I could do except learn about databases and spreadsheets.
TFW: So, there you were: no high school degree, fresh out of the Navy. What was your next move? That crossroads would be very confusing for most; did you have a plan?
JS: When I left the Navy in 1988, I was stationed in the Bay Area at the beginning of the PC explosion. I first interviewed for a bunch of tech jobs that would leverage my experience in the Navy, but it was clear to me that I was going to be bored out of my mind. I had a really good friend who took me under her wing. It’s been a running theme in my life that people seem to appear at just the right time to “nudge” me in a direction. She was one of those people. She said, “we need to get you a proper suit and find you a sales job.” So she took me to the mall and helped me pick out my first interview suit. We went back to her house and she opened up the jobs section of the Mercury News.
I remember her saying “Here’s your job! Call these guys and go sell computers.” So I called up a company called Computers and Accessorys — their spelling, not mine — and got an interview. I got the job on the spot and my professional sales training began. The guy who ran the company was the greatest salesperson I had ever met. He made everyone feel at ease, except his employees. And he broke down things into their simplest form. I can directly trace my steps from that job to today – everything I did thereafter was a direct result of this first job choice.
TFW: Your resume is full of company after company at which you have worked and been an instrumental part of selling. How long did it take you to realize you had a knack for building companies from the ground up?
JS: I don’t think there was ever a point where it jumped out at me “hey, I am good at building companies.” What I did know what that I was great at “selling what was in stock.” Sometimes that meant the product we made, sometimes that meant the entire company. Being involved in early stage companies is something for which I have a ton of passion – I like being able to feel the impact of every action and decision. Being that accountable fuels me.
TFW: But, aside from all of those companies and jobs, you believe you’ve found your true passion now, yes?
JS: After being very early in PCs, wireless phones, animation software and games, and the Internet, I believe I’ve found the business for which I have the most passion, yes. When I was growing up, I didn’t know one person who suffered from any of the issues that seem commonplace today – ADHD, asthma, autism, and allergies. Many of these symptoms have been directly tied to environmental causes. That means we are doing this to ourselves! That also means that we have the power to change it. Simple changes in consumer behavior can have a material impact on the health and well being of our family, our friends, and our planet. It became even more real to me recently when I saw how my nephew is suffering from some of these issues. I feel like I was meant to do this as the next step in my career. It’s a real problem that needs to be solved.
TFW: Explain the concept of Ecomom to our readers. What is it and where can they find it?
JS: Ecomom helps moms raise healthy families. We believe that healthy choices should be easy choices. But there are so many products that go in, on, and around a growing family and there are so many choices that it is hard to discern what is or isn’t legitimately healthy and safe. Moms just don’t have enough time to read all the labels and know what each ingredient means. It can be overwhelming. Ecomom identifies these products – for families from early pregnancy through late grade school, does in-depth evaluations of these products against a list of over 70 different criteria, and then provides an easy to digest point of view and information that allows a mom to know that they are making a healthy choice for their family. We curate over 3,500 hand-selected products and that list grows weekly. Our customers tell us that we make them feel safe and that has enabled ecomom to become a trusted resource for a growing community of moms. We provide an amazing customer experience – our customers tell us that our service is awesome and they are great at spreading the word to their mom friends. You can find us at http://www.ecomom.com
TFW: You’ve said before that people don’t just “wake up in the morning thinking ‘I’m going to save the planet.’” Did you, though? Seems like you’ve just dived into a great passion.
JS: When I was traveling around the world — my most favorite thing to do besides surfing. I saw how poorly we are treating the planet. I don’t think I went anywhere – even some of the most beautiful places on earth – without seeing our negative impact. Even so, I realized that it’s impossible to do everything right and I don’t know one person who has been able to push “all-in” in terms of living a zero-footprint life. I do have some friends who are more extreme than others and I applaud their efforts. They are really great examples of walking the walk.
What I realized was that when a mom wakes up in the morning, the first thing she thinks about is her family. I don’t even know how far down the list the planet is. But if you ask anyone, no one will tell you “I hate the planet.” What they tell you is that it is hard to be green. It occurred to me that the best way to make an impact was to simply attack it from the perspective of people’s shopping behavior.
I went looking for an audience that had a genetic need to be social, because I want the word to spread, and that had a massive budget that they had to spend — moms literally HAVE TO spend the money because the people for whom they are responsible can not. I spent months speaking with moms about how they made decisions about what they buy for their families. And what I learned is that there was a definite concern about “how do I know it’s safe?” So many companies were slapping the word “green” on their products and calling them safe even though they clearly were not! A great example was the Sigg bottle that everyone was carrying around thinking they were doing right by themselves and the planet because they weren’t carrying around plastic. It turns out that this “safe” bottle had a lining that leached BpA, which is an extremely harmful chemical that was showing up in everything from containers to the lids of baby food. That’s pretty scary. It’s precisely because of this type of situation that we spend so much time researching and hand-selecting products; we don’t want moms to “hope” they are choosing the right thing. We want them to know, based on extensive research & the guidance of experts, we try our best to choose only the healthiest and safest products.
I believe that by teaching people how easy it is to make healthy choices, they will feel good about their purchases and make more of them. ecomom makes it easy for moms by investing in the time consuming research that could overwhelm a mom’s limited free time. The collateral benefit is that - healthy choices tend to be better for the planet as well. The great thing is that we don’t really need to sell the planet, just healthy families. No mom could say no to that.
If this generation begins making healthier choices for their families, the “habits” they form will not even need to be taught to the next generation. They will just happen. Kids do what their parents do. They learn by example. Most parents I’ve met just change one product at a time until they feel they’ve created a safe haven for their family. It doesn’t occur to them to teach their children why – it just is. When their children become shoppers on their own, they hopefully will have this behavior ingrained in them.
TFW: What kind of process do the products on ecomom go through to be certified as “green” enough by your company? Are there certain standards every product has to meet?
JS: If you go to http://www.ecomom.com/ecomom-approved/ecomom-audit you can see the questionnaire we require every company to complete. As it relates to ingredients, there is no grey area. If the product has anything that is on our growing list of off limits ingredients, we won’t consider it. We have gone back to companies and asked them to remove extraneous ingredients and have gotten positive responses in many cases. We also dig into a company’s business practices to make sure they are the kind of company with whom we’d want to be in business. Not every company can answer every one of these questions with a yes, nor could we. But we are looking for companies that make superior alternatives to conventional products and who also are trying to be mindful companies at the same time. Our customers expect that from us and tell us how much they appreciate it.
TFW: Share your thoughts with us on how you decided to market your company to exclusively women. What was the rationale behind that?
JS: Moms control almost the entire household budget. Depending on which study you read, the number is in the several trillion-dollars range. If you want to make a difference in the home, you go through the woman. If you want to make a difference for the next generation and beyond, it seems like going through the primary care taker is a smart decision.
TFW: Some have said that you’re running around in what is a “women’s world”. How do you keep ecomom so appealing to women while overseeing it all through your own eyes
JS: I surround myself with women. My co-founder, Kimberly Pinkson is a mom and an eco-conscious living expert — a practical one at that. Our team is comprised of several moms who have young children. They keep us honest. When we started the company, I picked up the phone every single day and spoke to customers about our business and their experience with us. I learn a lot by just interacting with our community and I’ve made myself front and center in our customer experience so that I always have my finger on the pulse of our community. When I’m out, I’m talking to moms and doing informal research. I was initially surprised by how willing they were to speak with me but I soon found out that since I genuinely cared about what they were saying, they were willing to be very upfront and open with me.
TFW: Do you see ecomom as something you would want to sell in the future, or do you think you’ve found your niche and are sticking to it?
JS: We are building a company that aims to make a huge impact. That means we need to grow to have a very large customer base and community. I don’t spend my time thinking about an exit. I spend it thinking about how to build ecomom into the leading company for healthy families. Certainly having everyone on our team owning a piece of the company and having investors means that we will one day look for a positive outcome from this. Right now I only want to build a company that makes a difference in people’s lives – both our community of customers as well as our team and investors. The exit will take care of itself.
TFW: What has running ecomom taught you that working for all your previous companies/jobs has not?
JS: I have become more humble. I’ve always been able to do a lot at once. I’m a legitimately great multi-tasker and manage to get a lot done in a normal day. But nothing prepared me for the experience of having one of our team come back to work with an 8-day old newborn. Emily, our VP of Products, had just given birth and not only did she come back right away, she was emailing from the hospital and while she was in labor! Now, imagine how you would feel when a pallet of products shows up at your door and you have to unload it. You look to your right and there’s Emily with her little baby in a carrier on her chest, sleeping, while she is helping me to bring these products into our warehouse. That’s a super hero. Nothing I’ve done or will do comes close to how much responsibility and dedication these moms have.
TFW: Any plans for expanding ecomom right now?
JS: Right now our expansion is all about growing our base of customers, products we carry, partners with whom we work, and investors who support us. Focus is key.
TFW: Let’s talk about a little bit about you as a person. Why do you think you’ve been so successful at networking? Is there a certain type of personality that just works for business?
JS: I am not a networker. I meet people through the course of my life – whether in business or otherwise, and I learn about them. I remember what they tell me. I genuinely take interest in them because everyone is interesting. And I try my best not to let people down. I think that’s why I know so many people, because I’ve taken the time to get to know them. Even if we don’t see each other for many months or years, the people with whom I have developed relationships remain and I try to honor those relationships by not treading on them with unreasonable requests.
As for a personality type, I think it takes all types. This company would be a disaster if everyone were just like me. You need critical thinkers, people who are levelheaded, people who are aggressive, dreamers, doers, inventors, and comedians.
TFW: What is the one thing that inspires you to reach you and your businesses potential every day?
JS: For my business, I am inspired by my team and their unwavering dedication to what we are building. I couldn’t do any of this without them and I am so grateful for their belief and enthusiasm about our company. I’m very lucky to get to work with every one of them.
For me as an individual, I’m just getting started in my journey to become a man. Even though I am in my 40’s I know that I know nothing. My father was 40 when I left home. He’s a real man. Responsible, kind, caring. I’m trying to become a better person every single day. And the inspiration for my focus on that is my amazing wife. It’s because of her that I am driven to improve myself every day. Some days I fall short of my goal but I never lose sight of the reason and that keeps me focused.
TFW: Now that you run ecomom, what is the next goal in your life you want to achieve?
JS: I’m really interested in studying for and passing the bar exam. I don’t know why other than that the law has always fascinated me. One of my friends hooked me up with a study app for my iPad and I’m going to use it to study and pass the California Bar Exam. Since it’s not a requirement to attend law school to take the exam, I think it’s an incredible challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it. I love that I can study on my iPad so I can use my time on the elliptical trainer for both cardio and achieving this goal.
My bigger goal is to never stop growing. For a while, I arrogantly thought I had matured and grew as much as I was going to. I didn’t think anyone could teach me anything new so I wasn’t a very good listener. I’ve since learned that I am in a constant state of evolution and I am trying every day to be a better man. To my co-workers, to people that don’t know me, to my friends and family, and most importantly to my wife.
TFW: Finally, what do you want to be remembered for?
JS: I’d like to be remembered for being helpful to others. I’m not sure exactly what that means but it feels good whenever I know that my advice or my time spent with someone was of benefit to him or her. I don’t know that you have to impact huge numbers of people at once – although I am trying to do that with Ecomom. Personally, if I can be of real use to even one person at a time, I feel like I’ve been lucky enough in my life that I’m obligated to pay that forward.
**For more information about Ecomom, please visit www.ecomom.com.**
Any question, comments about the interview can be written below or sent to email@example.com. If you have any follow-up questions for Jody himself, email us and we’ll send them his way!
Thanks for reading,
The First Wire, DC Team