Grenoble MBA Helps Entrepreneur Grow Baby Accessories Firm
Laetitia Thomas combines a full-time MBA at Grenoble Ecole de Management with running her sustainable baby accessories company Chacha Cherie.
It was her family and friends who first inspired Grenoble Ecole de Management MBA student Laetitia Thomas to set up Chacha Cherie, a company that sells sustainable baby accessories online.
“I have lots of nephews, nieces, and god children and I wanted to create unique gifts for them: so I blended my interest in design and textiles, and started doing baby clothes”, explains Laetitia, 32.
And if starting a company wasn’t already hard enough, Laetitia, who is a French and American dual citizen, managed to do it while living on three different continents, between San Francisco, Lima and Grenoble.
After graduating in Sociology from Whitman College, in Walla Walla, WA in the US, Laetitia moved to San Francisco to work as Administrative and Marketing Assistant for William Duff Architects.
While in California, Laetitia started thinking about her venture. After completing a course in entrepreneurship at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, she registered Chacha Cherie as a company and organized her first trade show.
After that, she moved to Lima where she researched workshops and organic cotton: “The idea was that every product would be conceived in a sustainable manner”, she explains.
But she felt she still lacked a business background. “At the beginning, it was a spontaneous action and I thought I could make it work”, she says about her venture. “But starting up a company is really complicated.”
Laetitia decided she needed an MBA to deepen her business knowledge and complement what she had already learned in the field. In particular, given her background in liberal arts, she wanted to acquire analytical skills “to gain a multifaceted approach to problem solving”.
From this point of view, Grenoble was definitely the right place to go. She describes it as “the Silicon valley of France, framed by a very scientific and practical way of thinking.”
For Laetitia, the MBA was crucial to the success of Chacha Cherie. She says it helped her seeing things from a different perspective.
In particular, she learned a lot from classes such as Operation Management, which she thinks will make her much more effective in the future and Strategy.
“Strategy helped me realize who my competitors are, how to anticipate changes in my industry, what forces are involved in the market, and how to work with them. Entrepreneurs have to be able to analyze the different spheres that their business is in.
“At the beginning, I was idealistic and I thought I could make it happen just because I was passionate”, she says, but that she has learned from experience that this isn’t enough.
For Laetitia, the most challenging part of the setting up of Chacha Cherie was the financial one: “People who are creative and idealistic often think that they can build something from scratch. Sometimes it works, but most of the time you need financial backing and to carefully plan your distribution.
“Another difficult thing about my job is blending what I want to create with what customers want”. In her case, this means asking mums what they want from their childrens’ clothes: “I’m not a mum, so I think that baby clothes are cute, but they know what is practical and what can be worn well”.
She liked that the Grenoble MBA class is really diverse: “I enjoyed relying on other people strengths to complement my own ones”.
In the immediate future, Laetitia wants to gain experience outside her own company: “Chacha Cherie is a fantastic venture”, she says. “But the MBA taught me that it takes more to start up a company than the will to do it. It is a real learning process.”
Laetitia has decided to work on other projects in the next few years, while maintaining her company. For starters, she wants to help grow her sister’s business on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. After that, she wants to gain experience working for a company interested in sustainable supply chains and sustainable textiles. Finally, she’ll be ready to launch other products for kids under her own brand.