PJ Jonas, founder of Goat Milk Stuff, is the #1 Winner of the 2013 StartupNation Leading Moms in Business Competition. Goat Milk Stuff makes goat milk soap with the milk from their own dairy goats. PJ’s adventures into soapmaking originated in 2006 out of PJ’s desire to find a healthier alternative for her family to mainstream soaps that typically include petroleum-based chemicals.
In addition to founding Goat Milk Stuff, PJ is a homeschooling mom to eight children, who all help out with the business as well. The company has grown tremendously in the past four years, having made over 350,000 bars of soap and having been featured on PBS, ABC, the "TODAY" show on NBC, "The Doctors" on CBS, and in “O”, The Oprah magazine.
StartupNation had the pleasure of interviewing PJ and gleaning her insights into building a business. Read the interview below and see all that you can learn about the true entrepreneurial spirit from this inspiring entrepreneur and her inspiring family:
What was the catalyst for starting Goat Milk Stuff?
Jonas: I had all of my children (6 at the time) in the bathtub one day. They were just playing around, so I picked up a bottle of the baby wash that I had always used and read the ingredient list. I couldn’t believe that it was filled with all sorts of chemicals, including petroleum based chemicals. I decided that I was going to learn how to make my own soap, so I would have a healthier option to use on their skin.
For several years I just made it for the family and gave it out as gifts. In 2008, we had a budget shortfall, and I decided that since I had extra ingredients stocked up, I would make some goat milk soap and sell it. The response was tremendous, and within one year the children and I couldn’t keep up and we brought my husband on to Goat Milk Stuff full-time.
How is your soap different from other natural soaps?
Jonas: There are many different methods to making natural soap and many different ingredients that can be used. Our soap adds fresh raw goat milk from our farm. We don’t use dry, powdered milk which goes through a lot of chemical processing. This fresh goat milk makes a huge difference in the final bar of soap because it contains many beneficial ingredients. So we can naturally add Vitamin A, and selenium, and alpha hydroxy acids simply by using fresh goat milk.
We make our soap using the cold process method. This produces an incredibly mild bar of soap. We let the soap cure a minimum of 6 weeks and don’t do anything artificial to speed up the curing process, such as heating the soap.
Finally, our formula is unique to us. I say all the time that all goat milk soaps are not created equal. Our customers frequently tell us that they’ve tried other goat milk soaps in the past and ours is superior.
Why is it that large, mainstream soap manufacturers include ingredients in their soap that can be irritating or harmful to skin?
Jonas: My guess would be the profit margin, pure and simple. A lot of those irritating and harmful ingredients are cheap compared to using higher quality ingredients. In the case of products like bubble bath, they require those chemicals (such as SLS) to produce copious amounts of foam. Natural soap will not produce that on its own.
What have been the main keys to your business success?
Jonas: Hard work and integrity and transparency. My husband and I often worked 80-100 hours during the first few years of Goat Milk Stuff. That jump-started the business and helped to put it on the growth trajectory we have achieved.
From the very beginning, we’ve been very transparent in who we are and what we do and what we believe in. We’ve strived to treat our customers the way we would want to be treated. We make sure that we always go above and beyond when it comes to customer service. And we show people that we are a real family and that in today’s age families can still work together to support themselves. That is very encouraging and inspiring to a lot of people.
How have you been able to gain so much media attention (e.g., PBS, ABC, NBC, etc.)?
Jonas: We are always talking about Goat Milk Stuff to everyone we come into contact with. It’s not that we’re being pushy, but it is such a huge part of our lives that we’re always excited to talk about it. Our very first television interview came about because we were at a craft show put on by the high school baseball team. We were talking to one of the baseball moms about what we did. Turns out she was a local anchorwoman (We don’t watch much television, so we didn’t know). She came out and did a story on us. The response to our family and our story was so positive, that we got a lot more local press.
When the business grew to the point that we were supporting ourselves, we decided to budget some money toward a publicity campaign that has been very successful. People tell us that our family business is a credible example of the American entrepreneurial spirit that resonates with the best of what they see in themselves. That inspires sharing of our story by individuals as well as media. The fact that we have confident (and cute) children also really helps.
You have eight children in your family, and all of them help with the business. That's incredible. Can you tell us the types of tasks that each one does?
Jonas: The children’s tasks are always changing based on the changing needs of the business and the children’s individual strengths and abilities. As they grow they are able to assume greater responsibilities, which allows me to focus more time on growing Goat Milk Stuff. Right now it looks like this:
Brett (16) – customer service with emails and phone calls, printing postage, shipping orders, making other stuff (lip balm, lotions, candles, etc.)
Colter (14) – milking the goats, assisting with making the soap
Emery (13) – barn manager (milking the goats, goat meds, trimming hooves, cleaning stalls)
Fletcher (11) – unmolding and cutting soap
Greyden (10) – feeding baby goats, cleaning stalls
Hewitt (9) – making laundry soap, bagging soap
Indigo (7) – manages the retail room (restocks and waits on customers including answering all questions and taking their payment), bagging soap, shipping orders
Jade (5) – bagging soap, making boxes, restocking, fetching and carrying
The children are all capable of doing most of the work, so there is a lot of flexibility if they are needed to assist in other areas (cross-training at its best).
One of the reasons that we chose to package our soaps in the cotton drawstring bags is because the youngest children were capable of bagging the soap. Many business decisions are made with the children’s abilities in mind.
How has working together as a family strengthened your bonds?
Jonas: The main benefit has been the fact that Jim (my husband) works with us. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom before I started Goat Milk Stuff, I was always with the children and there for them. Now that Jim is here with us, the children are growing and learning things that they would not have been able to if it were just me. We are able to share our values with them and teach them what it means to not just run a business with integrity, but to live every moment of your life with integrity. I work hard to build traditions and memories into our daily lives and the children truly are each other’s best friends.
What does the future hold in store for Goat Milk Stuff? What will the business look like 5 years from now?
Jonas: My goal has always been to grow the business to the point where it can support all the children (and their families) that wish to continue to work at Goat Milk Stuff. We’re hoping as the children continue to grow that one of them will want to start their own division making goat milk fudge or goat milk cheese.
When we were still home-based and cramped for space, the focus was always on retail sales. Once construction is complete on our new farm, we will have the infrastructure to be able increase the wholesale side of our business. In 5 years, we’d like to see Goat Milk Stuff products available across the country in many local stores as well as available online.