On the cover of her new paperback, Found It: A Field Guide for Mom Entrepreneurs (2012, Piggott Press), Jill Salzman, 33, is called a “a spitball of energy and sass.”
This is a befitting descriptor for the seemingly unflappable Jersey girl and Oak Parker who founded her third entrepreneurial biz, The Founding Moms, here in 2010.
It’s her hip hairstyle, chutzpah and pluck, as well as playful humor and storytelling that carries her charisma onto corporate stages and into smaller venues, such as a recent educational forum she facilitated on a Tuesday morning at Eastgate Café in the Harrison Street Arts District in Oak Park.
Gathering steam is her website, www.thefoundingmoms.com, where the Twitter maven is blogging and building the “world’s first and only kid-friendly collective of monthly meet-ups for mom entrepreneurs,” the site proclaims.
“Social media plays a big role in all this, especially since we are using the meet-up platform,” she said.
The Founding Moms began at a time when Salzman owned and operated two other companies, had two young daughters, and wanted to have a cup of coffee with fellow entrepreneurs who also happened to be mothers.
“So I set up a get-together through Meetup.com, hoping that maybe a couple of local women would show up in Oak Park,” she said.
Since then, 2,038 (and counting) female entrepreneurs have joined her group, in-person and online in Oak Park, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and many other locales. These spin-off groups, she says, are autonomous and facilitated by Salzman’s friends who live in those cities.
On this day, at a cabaret-style table, just prior to the meet-up, the mother of girls, age 2 and 4, is casually cracking jokes and speaking candidly about how she juggles her personal and business life.
“I have changed my work schedule, so I’m working full-time in a part-time framework. I feel that is very entrepreneurial in itself,” she said.
Nearby, networking at an oblong table, is a small group of mom entrepreneurs, waiting for a guest speaker to explain the complexities of how small business owners can get the most out of their health insurance deductibles and co-pays.
Michelle Donat, 57, owns a massage therapy practice and says her daughters are grown. She is joining in with the group time and again to meet, mentor and learn from more like-minded moms who live and work in the area.
Dr. Jill Aardema, 33, of Flow Chiropractic in Oak Park, is pregnant and present for the first time.
“This will be a new and interesting juggling act that I haven’t done before, so I am excited to see what other women have done and learn from them, and work with them,” she said.
In support of the local initiative, Viktor Schrader, vice president of the Oak Park Development Corporation, sits at a corner table. From what he’s seen thus far, Salzman “is giving a voice to an area of the business community in Oak Park that a lot of people just don’t think much about.
“Jill is an active, enthusiastic member of the local business community and OPDC, and our mission is to support this initiative because we offer services that some of these local business owners could tap into,” he said.
Just a singer in a rock-and-roll band
Born in New Jersey, just outside of Manhattan in New York City, Salzman considers herself to be from the Big Apple. She headed there after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island, sleeping on a friend’s couch until she could figure out how to become a famous singer, she recalled.
Her break came when she landed her first job as a talent scout for a record label. She saw five bands a night, seven days a week. It was a tutorial, of sorts, on how to make her first record demo.
In 2000 she knocked on a door in search of a band. Opening it was Adam Salzman, a guitarist in search of a new singer. He would become her future husband, and currently serves as an Oak Park village trustee.
“So I walked into his studio in the Lower West Side of Manhattan, and I played with Adam all summer. It was probably the worst music either of us has ever made,” she said. Both are currently in a neighborhood cover band called “Baby and the Tantrums.”
In 2002 in the wake of 9/11, the free-spirited duo drove to Los Angeles to soak up some sun while earning law degrees. On graduation day, they drove to Chicago and tried the music scene there for several years until their first baby arrived. They put down roots in Oak Park.
Several years prior to that, Salzman founded her first venture, Paperless Media, a music management company.
Fast forward two years to 2007, when their newborn was gifted some baby “bell” jewelry and the Bumble Brand was born. That venture took off when Gwen Stefani’s baby, Zuma, began wearing the “audible ankleware,” and People Magazine ran a picture of it.
“We got tons of orders, were out of stock a lot and it felt like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am really running a product-based business, and I was doing it at the same time I was managing bands.’ It didn’t feel stressful then, but when I tell the story now, people say I was crazy,” she said.
Just prior to the birth of her second daughter, Salzman sold both businesses to clear the decks for her next big thing: raising kids while owning and operating a business she hopes will live long beyond her in perpetuity.
“There are so, so many women who are doing this and not being recognized,” she said. “I would love to be the one where people say, hey, Jill is doing this. So can the rest of us out there.”