Spotlight on Flexibility: How a Digital Career Made Way for Selling Granola and Finding Flexibility

WHO SHE IS: Kim Strauss, Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Jolly Oak, LLC.

SUCCESS STORY: Successful Googler turned packaged food purveyor and entrepreneur!

WORK SCHEDULE: When my kids are in school or activities. At night and early in the morning, too.

KIDS: Marissa (8) & Ashley (6)

SANITY VICE: Playing tennis and, yes, on occasion, a bit of Reality TV. I love Bravo, HGTV, Food Network, and E!

How She Got Here (in her own words)

I am a Baltimore native and graduated from Syracuse University with a marketing degree. I spent the summer as a tennis instructor and soon decided to take a promotional merchandising job sales job in the DC area. Six months later, on a cruise with my family, I met my future husband who was vacationing while on winter break from law school.

He proposed within in a year and I was off to Chicago. A friend soon remarked, if I really wanted to effectively sell, I had to join him at RR Donnelly in the Yellow Page division. He was right! My first assignment was to memorize a 22-page sales pitch. Crazy!

After gaining experience there and having refined my sales skills, I entered the digital world with a job at Infoseek. And before I knew it, the company was acquired by Disney as the search engine behind I loved digital — the young and dynamic people, the networking and the innovation. Things changed each and every day. But like many early dot coms, the sales structure was boom or bust — in this case bust.

Then suddenly, a month later, in early 2001, Google came a-callin’. Few people even knew of Google, and at the time, I was anything but convinced in the stability of the digital marketplace. So initially, I was hesitant to accept a position to help build the Chicago office. After some discussion with and persuasion from my husband, I accepted the position. No surprise here, to this day, he loves taking the credit.

Now, Google at that time was a very small and rapidly growing company. I worked 24/7, longer days than my husband’s billing hours at his first law firm. I consistently traveled to the coasts and all around the Midwest. I spent nine years at Google, the majority in sales and account management. I managed over 400 businesses on Google and its partner sites, tracking and enhancing performance to meet and exceed ROI goals, and developing close relationships with clients and agencies. Toward the end of my Google career, I focused on event work, so that I could avoid travel after my second daughter was born.

Two years after leaving Google, my youngest daughter entered full day school. My itch to build something of my own needed scratching. So doing what came naturally, I formed a marketing company and I consulted in the digital space.

Then, over coffee with my friend (and now business partner) Mandy, to discuss expanding the reach of her blog, we hit upon an idea to develop a healthy line of granola based on Mandy’s original recipe. We love to cook and bake, but neither of us had experience in the food business so plenty of work lied ahead of us. We spent months researching, test baking, handing out samples, and developing creative packaging.

Fortunately for us we also have friends and family in the business, whose help as proven invaluable. In December 2012, we launched Jolly Oak “Good For You Granola,” packaged in convenient single servings in three delicious flavors, one of which is gluten free, another which is nut free. More flavors are on the way.

What’s the secret to healthy eating when we as working moms are all so pressed for time?
Mandy and I knew of the need for a healthy granola, conveniently packaged in single servings for busy parents and people with busy lifestyles who sought a good option. Hence, Jolly Oak “Good For You Granola”. For many, life is now all about planning, including finding healthy, fast recipes you know that your kids will eat. Lasagna is a great example. My mom makes the best lasagna and everyone loves it. But her recipe doesn’t call for the most healthy ingredients. So, I tweaked it some by substituting in some healthier and leaner ingredients, and by using wholewheat noodles. And then by doubling it, I end up with two nights worth of dinners from one afternoon of cooking. Take note, the freezer is my new best friend. I’ll prepare two batches of turkey burgers at a time and freeze them individually. In my house, shakes and smoothies are a smash hit.

Have you gained the kind of flexibility you wanted by leaving the corporate world?
Yes, and so has my husband, who provided unbelievable support over the years. We felt it important that one of us be around for the kids during the week, especially at nighttime and while I was traveling. As my run at Google was nearing an end, it was his career’s turn. Flexibility comes from planning. Running your own business takes strategy, hard work, dedication and motivation. We wear every hat every day in this business. Yet, Mandy and I also understand one another’s needs as moms. And, running your own business means making your own rules, too. For example, Mandy’s 3-year-old daughter accompanies us to meetings. You know what — I think it’s great. Get them involved early! She comes with her pen and pad, ready to take notes. We have our first assistant.

What kind of flexibility do you build in for yourself?
I wish more, but I’m passionate about Jolly Oak and focused on making this  business successful. I aim for the most flexibility in the spring and summer as I love playing tennis, particularly outdoors. In Chicago, the good weather comes and goes quickly, so I must take advantage.

What’s your biggest challenge as a working mom and what do you do to address it?
Like many working moms out there, the urge to check my phone is a real problem, made worse from my experience in an industry for years where I and it always needed to be “on.” But, when I love what I’m doing, it isn’t work. I’m always thinking about the business, even when I’m cooking dinner. And regarding the phone, my husband and I have a rule — no business during family time, including meals, whether we are at home or out together. We set aside family time each week for movie night, to attend sports events, visit museums, and do other activities.

What advice do you live by as a working mom?
My father was my role model. A very successful businessman and attorney, his ambition and optimism struck me the most. He told me to reach for the stars and with hard work, I would succeed. I now know I can accomplish anything I set my heart and mind on. I approach each and every day remembering him, and how much he believed in me, and know that I’m able to run a successful business and be a terrific mom.