Jen Moncada wants kids and adults to pursue their interests and express themselves while learning, working and growing as a family.
“It is very important to me that everyone is doing what they should be doing as far as their own personal fulfillment,” she says. “That is something that I’m preoccupied with whether it’s my friends, or my family, or my customer.”
It’s one of the light bulbs that inspired Jen to create Preppy Prodigy as a means to help her son get excited about schoolwork.
“I started making stuff to get him to do his homework,'” she recalls. “Back-to-school shopping for school supplies was my favorite and so to me it was just like a magical moment of ‘Oh my God, this could be everything I love, this could be the work that I’ve been looking for.”
It was around the same time that Jen had been looking to reignite her own fulfilling career while raising her three and five-year-old boys as her husband lived abroad in Europe.
“I wanted to find my life’s work, and the only skill that I had was in the creative arts,” says the art school graduate.
Jen was more excited about school supplies than the typical greeting card foray into the stationary business. Plus, traveling to trade shows in NYC wasn’t in the cards either.
“Once my youngest was three and a half, he started going to preschool, so I had one day a week for like two hours,” she says, echoing what every toddler mom can relate too. “Every year, that he added an extra day of preschool I got to add an extra day of work.”
“It really is little by little, and I hope moms get the message that there are lots of different ways to start,” she says.
“It can be hard to balance the motivation, or the drive to build your business as fast as you can because that’s what the world tells entrepreneurs to do,” says Jen. “I think moms have the greatest amount of potential, especially because a lot of them already have a second income, are educated and already have had careers.”
Family structures are another area where Jen wants everyone to have the opportunity to pursue what’s right for them.
“Every woman I know is doing it differently,” she says. “I wish that what women want in the workplace was more of a universal conversation that we were all having.”
With so much in flux around paid leave and childcare, it’s an ideal time to share the many ways families carve out their support systems and come up with new, creative solutions like taking an entrepreneurial path.
“I think what happened to me is what happens to most of the people in the paper industry that I know that are women,” she says, describing how she drew a monogram for her wedding invitation with watercolors and her dad had it professionally photographed and digitized.
“At the time I was an interior designer and loved my job,” she says. “But I loved doing my invitation and I thought ‘I really want to come back to this,’ and so I knew when we decided to have kids that I was going to stop working and I hoped that I would come back to that.”
Jen wasn’t the first member of her family to join the paper industry. Her dad, uncles and grandfather all worked for a paper company in Ohio going back to the 1950s.
“My uncle was a chemist and he worked for the same paper company doing the chemistry of the paper and my dad’s other brother was their staff photographer,” she says. “My dad was a salesman. I grew up going to the office with him and he’d have all these (now I know) PMS color charts, so I thought they were paint chips and I thought ‘oh, he has the coolest job because he gets to pick out all these colors.'”
“I actually didn’t even realize I was in the same field until years after doing it,” she says.
After selecting envelopes, Jen worked with her dad to figure out where to source paper and she was able to do so from one of two of the biggest American paper suppliers.
“I was lucky that my husband works in IT, because I have a professional printer and most printers cannot take the really thick heavy card stock,” she says.
“I didn’t want to just always be just a hobby business,” says Jen. “I knew that to compete, I had to have the best materials and it was important to me that they were all American made.”
Once Preppy Prodigy was up and running, she shaped her product offering around what her customers were asking for.
“Everyday, I have people coming to me saying ‘hey, I really wish that you had this, is this something that you can make for me?’ and so a lot of my collection started with custom orders that I created for somebody, that I sell now,” she says.
School supplies are just the beginning.
“My dream is that I have a full collection of products,” she says. “An adult, an entrepreneur, a woman, a mom can go on to our website and find products where you feel like ‘hey, I can launch my business, I can get my own business cards, and I can get my own letterhead and stationery and maybe some graphics,” she says.
Jen calls it “the confidence to start” whether that’s as a business or much earlier in childhood.
“I wish that there was a way for five year olds to say, ‘I’m a scientist’ and there’s a line of school supplies that are science related and they can experiment with that.”
“Then a line of products for my teenager,” she says. “He’s excited about going to college, and I’m excited about him going to college and I want to have products that I can give him that keep him motivated.'”
“It’s very important to me that my kids are getting something out of their education that they’re finding themselves that they’re actually learning about the world and that they’re just not memorizing it for a test,” she says.
“I think identity is so important to helping kids and adults,” she says. “You can try on this identity and you can be this person that you want to be. You can reinvent yourself for the season and go back and try again.”
As mothers, we know the art of reinvention all too well and Jen wants to encourage us with “an item that is yours, that is personalized to you, that’s going to somehow motivate you to believe in yourself that you can go to the next step.”
“Business is the most creative field,” she says. “There’s no right or wrong way to do business, there’s no recipe.”
Plus, it’s never too late to figure out what we want to be “when we grow up.”
“My dad never liked his job and I wonder if that’s why I care so much about everybody finding what they should be doing, and so they don’t waste their talent and their time,” Jen says. “It’s hard to fulfill your potential if you’re not even in the right industry to begin with.”
“I just want all of us to be doing what we want to be doing, and should be doing.”