This Founder Wants Families To Use Toys to Help Their Babies’ Brains Grow — digitalundivided

Image via Mommyfluent

“The most important thing I’ve learned about being a leader and an entrepreneur is that you have to listen to your audience,” says Shay Claiborne, the founder of Mommyfluent — a toy store for learning and development.

Before starting Mommyfluent, Claiborne spent years in child development as a social worker, listening to educators, speaking with parents, and engaging with children. Bridging her passions of social work and motherhood, alongside her educational background in child and family studies, led to an expert understanding of the space, a profound insight into its missing gaps, and an opportunity to start a company to address the missing needs of families everywhere.

Now, Claiborne is using the power of toys and play to bring families together and build essential memories, all while allowing children to develop critical cognitive skills along their growth cycles.

digitalundivided: For somebody on the outside looking in, what is Mommyfluent?

Shay Claiborne, Mommyfluent: Mommyfluent is so much more than a toy company — it’s so much more than a toy store. It is really about family and creating memories. I want to see a host of moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles come together and play with these toys and make memories with their little ones: we sat on the floor and played with a wooden train, or we built blocks together, we read these books together. That’s how our little ones grow in love. In this critical stage of development, infancy, and toddlerhood, they’re learning who to trust and who not to trust. Mommyfluent is about building and celebrating little ones’ milestones through community.

Image via Mommyfluent

digitalundivided: How do toys help children “brain-build”?

Shay Claiborne, Mommyfluent: Toys have the opportunity to allow little ones to explore and brain-build if they give opportunities for open-ended play. Many toys we see on the toy market are only used for one purpose: this toy is singing to my baby, but what else can we do with it?

Parents always need to remember that our little ones are growing — they grow so fast. So, we’re looking for toys that can be used at different ages in different stages of life. If you are searching for a teether toy for your infant, how can that teether toy be used when they are toddlers? How can that toy be used when they are in preschool? Always find a way to use a toy more than once. Because little ones sometimes get bored, and you want to be able to get a lot of use out of it.

At Mommyfluent, the toys are grouped by age and then by social-emotional skills, language skills, and motor skills. Mostly, they are toys that give control to the little one. None of the toys we offer are battery-powered. We want the little ones to explore the way they want to study. If it is building blocks, you can stack blocks on top of each other, lead with the colors, turn them into a train, and use your imagination to build up on the buildable and the imagination plate.

digitalundivided: How did you come up with the concept for your company?

Shay Claiborne, Mommyfluent: My toy story began before I launched Mommyfluent. I have a background in Child and Family Studies, I graduated from the University of Louisiana Lafayette in 2015. Since then, I’ve always worked in the social service field, providing services for parents and their little ones. I started off working with kids with autism. I’ve always seen how toys help in all of these types of therapy sessions with families. I went on to parent education, working inside a nonprofit in New Orleans. I saw how parents were losing that day-to-day interaction with their kids. Commonly, I would hear, ‘Oh, my kid’s favorite thing to do is watch their iPad.’ But it was never like anything toy related.

So when I became a mom in 2020, I browsed online for different toys. I realized the top toy leaders and companies are not even toy stores. They are not offering toys that allow our little ones to brain-build. And they’re not allowing parents to engage with their little ones at home with these toys. That’s really where Mommyfluent started.

I am a founder working full-time, so I take on many roles. But everything goes hand in hand. My full-time job is at a nonprofit organization with a free indoor play space for children to play, learn, and engage with their little ones. I get the opportunity to see the toys that I sell. I get the chance to see families engage in play with them every day, and it just brings so much joy to me to see my company’s impact on my community.

Image via LinkedIn

digitalundivided: I’m sure so many of our readers find themselves in a similar position — or are finding themselves in a place similar to your story — where maybe they want to start a company, but they might be hesitant to do so because they have a full-time job. Or because they’re a mom or both. What did that process look like for you — to start a company after having a baby while holding down a full-time job?

Shay Claiborne, Mommyfluent: When you’re launching your business and still have that full-time job, finding things that align with your mission and abilities is crucial. It can be so hard to take on multiple responsibilities. But it’s also not easy to start a company without money. I am working a job that feeds into the knowledge I need to sustain my business full-time. I’m also very transparent with my workplace — they know everything. They see the work I’m doing with my business and fully support me. Many founders may not have that opportunity, but I’m so blessed to have that experience.

digitalundivided: How did your experience in digitalundivided’s Breakthrough NOLA support your growth as a founder?

Shay Claiborne, Mommyfluent: Being in digitalundivided’s Breakthrough program allowed me to network amongst the cohort. We still reach out to each other today. We still support one another. I have received messages that a new accelerator is coming up, or this program should be on your radar. The people that I have met in a cohort are keeping me busy! I had so much to learn from the women around me, and I think that the digitalundivided team did a great job curating a group of women that wants to see other women succeed and be great. They poured into me, and they continue to support me. I don’t think I would have reached all of the accelerators that I have been able to complete if it wasn’t for the people that I’ve met there.

Are you a Miami-based, early-stage founder looking to understand your customer better, grow marketing strategies, and gain networking opportunities to scale your venture? Apply to digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH Miami program today! Each company accepted into the program will receive a $5,000 grant — applications close August 23rd, 2023.

[Editors note]: This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcription.