A Puerto Rican Founder Relies on Grit to Build a Successful Startup

Today, Julixa Newman runs a growing company, Stuff 4 Multiples, that caters to parents of twins and triplets. But first she had to overcome poverty, homelessness and fertility struggles.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

Julixa Newman of Stuff 4 Multiples. (Credit: Stuff 4 Multiples)

Julixa Newman of Stuff 4 Multiples. (Credit: Stuff 4 Multiples)

Julixa Newman proudly calls herself a “hustler.”

Her drive was born of necessity, she says. When she was 16, she was a single mother living in Puerto Rico with family. “I wanted more,” she recalls, but “opportunities were very slim, especially when you start off the conversation as a single mom.” Motivated by dreams of a brighter future, she finished her education and took her child to Orlando when she was 21 — with just $500 in her pocket.

That was just the beginning of a years-long struggle through homelessness, debt and other hardships. But she weathered all of it, finding love and having more children along the way. And in 2009, at the age of 31, she launched Stuff 4 Multiples, a company based in Elkridge, Md., that makes baby carriers, clothing, bath supplies and other necessities for parents of twins, triplets or, simply, multiple children.

Today, her company is a substantial and growing enterprise. She employs 25 people, not including independent contractors, and Stuff 4 Multiples is expected to pull in between $750,000 and $900,000 in revenue in 2017.

“It wasn’t easy,” Newman, now 39, says. But the struggles “made me the strong human being that I am now. When I’m being told ‘No, you can’t do it,’ I say, ‘There’s got to be a way.’”

Rising Above and Starting Up

Newman was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx section of New York City when she was 3. But “it wasn’t the best childhood” — in fact, when she was 13, she was sent to a group home for several months after enduring physical abuse by her stepfather. She soon returned to Puerto Rico — where much of her family, hit hard by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall there on Sept. 20, still resides.

At age 16, she had her first child. But determined to make something of her life, she earned her GED at 17, then a business degree from Interamerican University of Puerto Rico at 21. To find work, she moved Orlando, where she got a job in the laundry room of an area hotel and pulled 12- to 14-hour shifts each day.

At first, Newman and her son lived out of her car. By day, he stayed at a daycare, where caretakers watched over and washed him. At night, the mother and son slept in the parking lot of a local Walmart. Once she found an apartment, she focused on working her way up the ranks at the hotel — from laundry to housekeeping to the front desk to office manager and, finally, to general manager.

During that time, she met and married her husband, who also worked in the hotel industry, and together they had a little girl. His career took the family to Maryland — and a new chapter of struggle began. The couple hoped to have more kids, but Newman had two miscarriages, and ultimately lost both of her fallopian tubes due to complications. Her doctor said she wouldn’t be able to have more children — news that was “excruciating,” she says.

A first round of in vitro fertilization put the family $20,000 in debt, and it didn’t work. But she refused to give up. In secret, she pursued a second round — and was shocked when she became pregnant with twins. That surprising news would prove the start of several new adventures in her life.

Newman’s Bright Idea

Elated but $36,000 in debt, Newman set out to shop for twins on a tight budget — and quickly hit a wall. She knew the financial burden she and her husband were carrying, but she had an idea that she knew would sell: a line of economical products just for parents of multiples like twins or triplets.

She launched in 2009, mere months after giving birth to her twin girls, with a line of t-shirts. To save money, she built her own website and grew her audience by teaching herself HTML coding and search engine optimization tactics. She remembers clearly that her first customer was a woman from New Jersey who bought a set of shirts. Her profit was only $3.99, but “that’s not the point,” she says. “Someone saw what they needed, and I came up with it.”

That one purchase urged her onward, and next she crafted the company’s first twin baby carrier. Because she lacked sewing skills, she glued a prototype together, and then searched for manufacturers who could bring her vision to fruition. She ultimately found a woman in China who would do a small-batch run of the carriers at a price that worked for her. To this day, she is Newman’s go-to manufacturer.

Demand grew swiftly, she says, once word got around about the reliability of her products, whose design reflected an intimate knowledge of her customers’ struggles.

Understanding and Serving the Multiples Market

Newman says that the parents of multiples, like all parents, often have “a really hard time and don’t want to admit it.” But they also face particular types of problems.

For example, one time she accidentally fed the same twin twice, and didn’t realize it until one of her babies kept crying well into the night. That gave her the idea for a twin baby journal for tracking which baby has received what, and when. The same sort of thinking inspired pool floats for twins that won’t sink when you take one kid out, and informed new carriers.

Though the U.S. baby product industry is enormous — consumer data firm Nielsen estimates that baby food, formula and diaper sales alone totalled more than $59 billion in 2015 — its biggest players tend not to cater to parents of multiples, as they are rare. Think tank Pew Research Center says that, in 2014, 3.5 percent of all babies born in the U.S. were parts of multiples — a marked increase from past years amid the rising age of parents, researchers say, but still a small minority.

Even so, the market opportunity is significant, and, to cultivate that opportunity, Newman created an online community for caretakers of multiples that today has 87,000 members — a feat that got the attention of Walmart. Indeed, Newman’s life came full circle when she returned to the Orlando Walmart that she and her son once slept outside of and saw her products on its shelves.

What Lies Ahead

These days, Newman and her products are garnering awards. Last year, she was named a CNN Woman of the Week. The company’s “Twingaroo” carrier was given an Academy Star by child products awards program Cribsie for 2014, Baby Maternity Magazine’s Top Choice Award and Creative Child Parenting’s Product of the Year award.

Now, she is paying her good fortune forward by mentoring other people who are looking to start their own brands — especially other women business owners in Puerto Rico.

She is also trying to help her own family on the island, who are in distress following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria. She didn’t hear from her mother for a week, and Newman says her relatives lack resources like food, water and electricity. “Hopelessness does not begin to describe the feeling when you just can’t help,” she says. “I am hopeful that things will start moving a little quicker now and pray that my family can get the necessities that they need.”

But as she tackles the challenges of the present, she is also mindful of and optimistic about the future of her venture. She is looking to get her products into other big box retailers, develop new items and work on marketing initiatives that emphasize their usefulness to parents with several children who are not multiples.

Indeed, her long-term goal is a simple one: Whenever someone thinks about families with numerous children, “I want them to think ‘Stuff 4 Multiples.”

Posted: October 3, 2017

Candice Helfand-RogersA Puerto Rican Founder Relies on Grit to Build a Successful Startup