This story is part of our 1,000 stories campaign. What’s your story?

Name: Tiffany Ard

Business: Nerdy Baby LLC, science toys for kids

Industry: Children’s Goods & Services

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

Reason for starting: I needed a special gift for a friend. This was before Pinterest; back then you had to wander around craft stores and hope for inspiration. I found 2” blank wooden cubes and decided to make alphabet blocks spelling her daughter’s name. We’re both very geeky moms, so these couldn’t be ordinary letter blocks. Instead of the letter i being for ice or ink, her baby would learn cool things like ichthyosaur and isosceles. They turned out hilariously pretentious and totally adorable. My friend loved them and when she shared pictures online, other moms were excited: Ooooh make a set for me! Can you make ten by Christmas? Exciting, but it was going to take weeks to handpaint that many blocks.

Another friend suggested making sets of flashcards instead. Cards wouldn’t be as awesome as blocks, but they’d be much simpler to produce. I did the artwork, had a small batch printed, put them up for sale on etsy, hit the front page of reddit and hey! All of a sudden I was running a small business. The flashcards have earned their keep, but I held onto the vision of toddlers stacking up Nerdy Baby alphabet blocks and this summer I was finally able to make it happen. 28 blocks inspired by my dorky love for astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, engineering, math, medicine. A is for Atom, B is for Binomial Coefficients, C is for Callisto… oh, they are terrible and wonderful and I love sharing them with young nerds everywhere.

Related: Read about another female entrepreneur creating thoughtful gifts for children here. 

How do you define success? On the internet I’m known as the Nerdy Baby lady. And in real life, if you shadow me around town, sooner or later someone else’s kid will run up and tell me about something she built or ask me a question he’s been wondering about. I’ve overheard kids tell their friends “Miss Tiffany is my science teacher!” – which is funny because I’m NOT. I’m not a teacher, I don’t work in a classroom. I have zero credentials. I was an art major! But all these awesome young questioneers have met me at community events or come to chemistry demos at the library or built rockets with my sons and I at the park until it was too dark to see. So yes, financial rewards are important. But this flexible lifestyle that I enjoy, running my own company based on my interests, talking to kids and parents and getting them excited about science and math – that is my idea of success.

Biggest Success: I’ve had some pretty cool doors open because of Nerdy Baby, and before last month I would’ve listed one of those as my biggest success. But check this out: during my recent Kickstarter campaign, I worked up the nerve to send out an email to over 3000 past customers. I was really hesitant. Nobody likes junk mail, right? I closed my eyes and clicked send…Within an hour my inbox was flooded with kind words. People said they were happy to hear from me and they talked about what my artwork had meant to them over the years. The campaign hit its goal just a few days later.

A company sends out a marketing email and people take the time to write a personal thank you? Something very special has to happen for your customers to be that excited to be part of your story. I’m not sure what I did to earn all that love, but the response to that email was a huge, huge win.

Related: Our Science Inspired Gift Guide!

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Work/life balance is the challenge. Working for myself at home has helped a lot. Yes, I’m still constantly drawn to work on business stuff but it’s easier to disengage when I am here with my dog and my kids and their friends climbing on me and talking to me and asking to go outside. It’s not perfect – I stay up much too late after the kids go to bed – but it’s far healthier than me being away at an office somewhere obsessing over a project that won’t make any difference in the world.

Who is your most important role model? My dad’s certainly been an important role model. Or maybe we have similar genetic wiring? But he never drew lines between art and science. Why wouldn’t an engineer enjoy an art museum? Why wouldn’t a musician want to understand geometry? He has two full-time jobs: airline captain and luthier (violin maker-fixer-setterupper). The company I’ve built and the way I educate my kids, it’s all about blending art with science. I also share his bad habits: we both are okay working in a messy creative space, and we both will work all the live-long day if we aren’t careful.

Meanwhile I strive to be the type of person my mother has become. She had a lot of difficult years when she was raising kids but now she is in her 60s and has made friends with her authentic self. While she is a kind, sensitive, deep-feeling person, she also knows when to laugh and flip you the bird if you deserve it. I’m 40, and in business am still trying to learn the art of knowing when to be careful not to make waves and when to just go for it. 

Twitter   @NerdyBabyLLC 

Tell us your story!
Read about another Children’s Goods & Services entrepreneur here

Edited by The Story Exchange