This 'Big Kid' Momprenuer is Changing the World, One Play Date at a Time

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<p>Jen Quan, Founder & Chief Big Kid, Rec Room Creative, Burlingame, CA</p>

Jen Quan, Founder & Chief Big Kid, Rec Room Creative, Burlingame, CA

Sal Salcedo @salsalhair

The Rockstar Momprenuers Among Us

In every community across the US and around the world, there are amazing women, who are quietly and unassumingly breaking all the rules in business, tearing down barriers and instigating positive change. With the toxic political environment we currently find ourselves in, supporting, encouraging and empowering these women has never been more important. I’ve been collecting and telling many of their stories for years now as I teach a Women’s Leadership graduate course at the Hult International School of Business and have been working in the Gender Intelligence space. It is so important that we not only aggressively collect and share these stories but also distill out best practices and lessons learned wherever we can so that we can pass these learnings on to the next generation. There is nothing more powerful than a woman and especially a Momprenuer on a mission, with a vision and the determination to succeed. Either join her, support and defend her, or get the hell out of her way.

From IBM Exec & MBA to Founder & Chief Big Kid

Meet Jen Quan. Jen is a dreamer, entrepreneur and instigator, half to her better half Eric, mom of four daughters, and chief big kid at rec room Creative, an innovative indoor play space she founded that combines her love of family and community, with her passion for creativity. She earned her BA from Johns Hopkins University, her MBA from The Haas School of Business, and enjoyed twelve successful years in sales and management at IBM before embarking on her current journey. To say she is a force of nature is an understatement. And yet, to meet and know Jen is to instantly feel at home which is exactly how she designed the environment at rec room. You can feel the energy and creativity from minute one and can imagine the next generation of entrepreneurs spending quality time here in their formative years. There’s no technology other than an awesome Lite-Bright inspired wall installation that Jen designed and kids are encouraged to move around, be themselves and gravitate to whatever inspires them in the moment. My three year old didn’t want to leave even after hours of play and would have sacrificed her lunch had I let her stay all day. The other wonderful aspect of rec room which just opened this spring, is that Jen has chosen to feature and support other Mothers who are business owners by selling their innovative products that benefit communities here in the US and globally. Every item has a story and a learning component.

Jen is part of a growing movement of Momprenuers who are sparking positive change in their communities with their businesses, supporting other Mothers who are also forces of nature and kicking ass while they are giving back to their communities and the world. I sat down with Jen recently to learn more about her efforts supporting other Mothers as well as her LOL (Love Out Loud) philosophy that she embeds in everything rec room supports in the community.

One thing you can be sure of, this ‘Big Kid’ Is going to change the world, one play date, one community at a time.

CG: Your founding philosophy for Rec Room Creative is LOL -- Love Out Loud -- and you even have it up on the wall in large, block letters as a reminder to all who come to play. Can you share more about how this came to be and why you feel it is so important in today's toxic political and global environment?

JQ: While I’m humbled and delighted with how the community has responded to our play space, parties and camps, and weekly process art provocations, I’m most excited about how friends old and new have embraced LOL because it’s the lifeblood of rec room creative and greatly informs how we operate and make decisions. LOL even influenced our mascots into existence, achoo the penguin and O+ (oh positive) our non-disease carrying mosquito pal. Hopefully the rationale behind both name’s is evident, but I’ll add that our mosquito friend was inspired by the African proverb -- “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”

I define LOL or Love Out Loud as organized and random acts of kindness and refer to our anchors -- family centered, promotes creativity and creates smiles -- to guide our steps. The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for LOL is to create positive network externalities around acts of kindness and compassion, and to rally families, businesses and non-profits to collectively and sustainably increase our LOL footprints. With respect to today’s geopolitical climate, the vortex of negativity and divisiveness has so much momentum right now, it can be draining and paralyzing especially as a parent to four small children. It can also lead us into the false trap of thinking that what we stand against is more important than who and what we stand for. But in the same way that the smallest flicker of light can overcome darkness, I’m convinced that “doing small things with great love” can alter this momentum, and that it too can be contagious.

CG: This coming Friday you are hosting an event to support female entrepreneurs, many of them Momprenuers. What inspired you to host such an event as well as feature them in your rec room creative space for kids?

JQ: I’ve been inspired by and truly blessed to meet and become friends with amazing female creatives, makers and founders in my current role.

As a connector, I love nothing more than to be able to introduce them to each other and view this event as an opportunity to support and highlight talented women in their endeavors, to bring awareness to socially conscious enterprises and local causes, to provide ways for the community to get involved in these causes, and also to encourage businesses who have not yet pursued a double bottom line, to consider doing so.

Also, if I were to be completely transparent, shopping is my cardio so why not leverage that for the better good?

“I view this event as an opportunity to support and highlight talented women in their endeavors, to bring awareness to socially conscious enterprises and local causes, to provide ways for the community to get involved in these causes, and also to encourage businesses who have not yet pursued a double bottom line, to consider doing so....Shopping is my cardio so why not leverage that for the better good?” — Jen Quan, Founder & Chief Big Kid, rec room creative
<p>In this photo, I have the privilege of handing sweet Johanna rec room creative’s first donation to the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area. </p>

In this photo, I have the privilege of handing sweet Johanna rec room creative’s first donation to the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area.

Jen Quan, Founder & Chief Big Kid, Rec Room Creative

CG: What is different about Momprenuers and why should we all be more aware of them and finding ways to support them?

JQ: My first observation is that while both groups exhibit similar talents and characteristics -- drive, tenacity and resilience, adaptability, passion, etc. -- in contrast to many “traditional entrepreneurs” I know, most mompreneurs I’ve met don’t choose this path because they dislike the bureaucracy or snail’s pace of “big business”, because they love the excitement of starting a business, because they’re serial mompreneurs, or because they have dreams of an insanely successful exit. Rather, the most common reasons I’ve witnessed are to escape the “hamster wheel” to pursue something more fulfilling in life, to build up a part of their identities that may have taken a back seat, to carry out a dream or passion that can no longer stay contained, and/or to contribute to the household while maintaining control of their schedules. With respect to household contribution, I’ve also observed that while some need to contribute financially, many other moms choose to become mompreneurs for a host of other non-financial reasons.

My next observation is that the strive for work-life-balance, coupled with self and societal imposed guilt associated with inevitable imbalances, are experienced and addressed differently. I’ve found that mompreneurs, and working moms in general, experience deeper and more frequent cognitive dissonance because expectations on the life-side of the fulcrum are so very high. And let’s be honest, women can be quite gifted at compounding dissonance by advertently or inadvertently creating exclusive situations to increase their own validation or inclusion. As women, as moms, we need to embrace that motherhood will look differently at different times for each woman and each family, and focus our time and energies on supporting and building each other up, even if others’ choices are different than our own.

As women and as moms, we need to embrace that motherhood will look differently at different times for each woman and each family, and focus our time and energies on supporting and building each other up, even if others’ choices are different than our own.” — Jen Quan

Women owned businesses are outpacing national growth rates across the board -- number of firms, revenues, employment, and ethnic diversity -- so I’d make the case that their success is everyone’s success. It has also been my experience that mompreneurs don’t fully take off their mom hats while operating their businesses. This translates into amazing attention to detail, quality goods and services, and a laser like focus on excellent customer service and experience -- all great reasons to seek them out, enjoy their offerings and support them.

CG: You are a Mother of four, how do you find the time and energy to do all that you do?

JQ: I was tempted to reply with a canned fairytale response of omission -- highlighting all the things that are working beautifully, and leaving out all the things that aren’t working -- but I’m not going to do that, because answers like those contribute to the cognitive dissonance I mentioned above. Rather, I’ll share some of my journey and the learnings I find myself going back to again and again.

About five years ago, I transitioned from pursuing a “resume life” to pursuing a more fulfilling “eulogy life”. One that wasn’t hyper focused on the neverending pursuit of accomplishments and titles, but on relationships, my character, and on the type of legacy I wanted to leave behind. This ultimately led me to launching rec room creative, and I can genuinely say that I’m currently in a very happy place.

However….it’s still far too easy to get caught up in the urgency of everyday.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most people reading this Q&A can and will relate to being pulled in a million different directions. Imagine that your physical, emotional and mental well-being is represented by the water contained in a bucket with many holes in the bottom, and that all the people and “stuff” that require your time, attention and energy are represented by the spouts of water leaving your bucket.

This leads me to my first learning -- to actively and proactively fill my bucket, and to never allow it to be fully depleted. Through many, many missteps I’ve learned:

  • Filling my bucket isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. An empty bucket leaves nothing...for anyone. I’ve found things that fill my bucket and partake regularly, and I’d encourage readers to do the same.
  • Not to deprive others of their opportunity to be a blessing. We are often as givers allergic to accepting help. LOL by accepting a loved one’s organized or random act of kindness toward you.
  • It’s OK to say, “No.” Try it, people will understand. I try to avoid allowing my bucket to be depleted by discerning what it is that’s mine to do.

The other learning I’ll share is to not allow the salient and demanding nature of business needs and challenges overshadow the people and things that ultimately matter. It’s far too easy to say yes to every business and non-profit invitation, to check one more email, to work on “just one more thing”, to wait until the kids go to bed to work thus neglecting my husband during the evening...

There are seasons and cycles, and balances will likely shift with them, but naming and being relentless about sticking to immutable priorities helps when things get off-kilter, as they inevitably will.

With the recent opening of rec room creative two months ago, I’m going through one of those seasons right now. The highs have been high, and it’s been exciting and affirming, but it’s also consumed a lot of time and energy and focus that would have otherwise gone into my family.

I’ve also got to give credit where credit is due. My husband is a literal Super Dad. I’m talking “head-coach-(simultaneously)-for-two-daughters’-soccer-teams”, and “taking-the-three-older-girls-(who were 6.5, 5 and 3 at the time)-skiing-for-a-week-then-to-Disneyland-for-a-week-during-spring-break-all-by-himself-because-I-was-uncomfortably-eight-months-pregnant-etc” kind of Super Dad.

He encourages and supports me even when I doubt myself, and speaks truth in love even when I’m not ready to hear it. He is an exceptional partner.

CG: Favorite Momprenuers that you recommend?

JQ: I’d recommend all of the businesses participating in Shop for Good because I personally hand picked them, knowing the founders, and being a repeat client myself.

I’d would also light to spotlight Old Skool Cafe, who’s founder Teresa Goines, is affectionately called “Mama T” by her youth. She isn’t their biological mother, but she’s their mother in every other sense of the word. I like to refer to her as the modern day, urban, Mother Teresa.

Old Skool Cafe provides hope, training and employment opportunities for at-risk youth. Their tag line is “Come Hungry. Leave Inspired.” Their food is good. Like seriously good. The performances are moving. And their program works. A 10% recidivism rate compared to the national rate of 76%.

If you live in the Bay Area, dine there. Cater from them. If you live outside the area donate.

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