How Boise baby-food entrepreneur Jessica Rolph and a partner started a baby-gym company
If you have or expect a baby, a Boise mother who cofounded a successful organic baby-food business has a new product to sell you, one designed to foster your infant’s development.
Jessica Rolph, cofounder of Happy Family Brands, has partnered with businessman Roderick Morris to found Lovevery (pronounced love-every). On Wednesday, they announced their first product: a $140 baby gym.
The gym’s features are designed to change as a baby’s physical and mental capacities grow from birth through the first birthday. After that, the gym serves a playhouse.
Rolph and her husband, Decker, have three children: Leland, 7, Thatcher, 5, and Beatrice, 2. Rolph said becoming a mother seven years ago gave her the idea for the business.
“I felt I knew everything I needed to know about nutrition,” she said. “But I had a nagging feeling: What could I do for my children’s development? I didn’t know. I was in the dark.”
Her birthing instructor, Boisean Gretchen Vetter, pointed her to a psychologist’s doctoral thesis written in the 1990s on baby brains. Rolph used what she learned to search for baby gyms but found none satisfactory.
The gym she and Morris developed holds four interchangeable sets of tear-resistant cards, the first of which is black and white, since babies for the first few months cannot see color. Later card sets show baby faces (“which they love”), objects of common first words, and mirrors so babies can see themselves. Other features let a baby play with colors, explore textures, bat a noise-making ring to learn about cause and effect, and find and hide objects.
Rolph is Lovevery’s CEO. She enlisted Morris as cofounder and president. Morris helped shepherd Opower, an Arlington, Virginia customer-engagement platform for utilities, from $10 million in yearly sales to an initial public offering in 2014 that valued the company at $1.2 billion. Morris began working on Lovevery last year while Rolph still worked as Happy Family’s chief operating officer. He moved to Boise with his wife, Andrea, and their 9-year-old twins, Ada and Ian.
The company employs five people besides the founders. They work at Trailhead North, which opened in January at 404 8th St. as an extension of the Trailhead coworking space.
Rolph and Morris have lined up investors for Lovevery, including some in the Boise Angel Alliance, whose members invested in Happy Family and saw their investments returned eightfold in the 2013 sale. Rolph declined to say how much investment money they secured. Though she and Morris could have financed Lovevery themselves, Rolph said she values the chance to get a community of investors behind the business and to benefit from their collaboration and ideas. “It’s an important validation process,” she said.
Lovevery also has a 10-member advisory board of experts in child development. Two members are from Boise: Evelyn Johnson, scientific director at the Lee Pesky Learning Center; and Jody Malterre, owner of three Montessori schools in the Boise area.
Rolph cofounded Happy Family in 2006. In 2013, it sold for $230 million to French food conglomerate Danone, the maker of Dannon yogurt. Rolph stayed on through 2016. She still serves on Happy Family’s board.
Happy Family sales have tripled since Danone bought it, she said, though she declined to disclose revenues. The business has more than 50 employees in its Boise office at 3380 Americana Terrace.
Asked if she and Morris plan eventually to sell Lovevery too, Rolph said, “I don’t know, but what happened with Happy Family happened naturally, a natural progression for the business. With Lovevery we don’t know the future now, but we definitely want to expand and grow. We want to help partner with parents to create meaningful development experiences with their children, to feel confident they’re giving their babies the very best.”
The gyms are manufactured in China. They are sold at loveeverybaby.com and Amazon.com.