Erica Harris, CEO and found of Happy Baby Vending, Inc. was born and raised in Compton, Cali. Her love for food was instilled in her by her mother and grandmother. Having been raised in the mindset that she could do anything, Erica became an entrepreneur in the 4th grade and stayed focused on her goal to become successful. She got her first taste of making her own money and being her own boss at 9-years-old and was determined to make a successful career that afforded her these same benefits and the flexibility to have a family when the time presents itself. As a student at the University of California-Davis, she was captivated by nutrition and the idea of “going green”. Her passion about business and unique ideas made her standout among her peers in business courses and the Sacramento Entrepreneur Academy. Erica also founded and led the Junior Investors Entrepreneur group at UC Davis. Erica always had the gift of seeing and filling a need in the community. She had no idea that a frantic mother out of diapers in the bathroom would lead her to founding Happy Baby Vending, Inc. and combining her love of food, nutrition, eco-friendly products, children, and making the world a more HAPPY place one vending machine at a time.
How did you launch your career and get to where you are today?
Well it all started with a funky diaper, a frantic mom with large diaper bag with no diapers in it, and me thinking there needs to be a vending machine for this. I saw a need and decided to fill it, but it became even more than that. I hated the job I had at the time because people talked a lot about helping others but did not take action. I wanted to have a job where I directly helped people and worked toward a cause I believe in. I decided that day to start a vending machine company providing eco-friendly and healthy products for parents on the go. I went to the library from the time they opened until they kicked me out. I studied about the vending industry as well as about children, what they want, what items parents tend to forget, etc. I knew about nutrition and health from majoring in nutrition at UCD so I focused on learning the ins and outs of vending and the habits of children and their parents and choosing healthy, organic, and eco-friendly products I would want to stock the machines with. I also researched free business courses to learn how to actually start my business which led to me writing my 86 page business plan.
My first actual step in launching my business was registering my company and getting my Federal ID number on October 21, 2010. My first two vending machines were installed on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11) and I had made the mistake of scheduling myself to install them both the same day and I also had food poisoning that day and no transport cart. It was a serious challenge that I thankfully was able to overcome in order to put the machines in. I don’t know how I did it but I did. Financially, I was able to start my business because a friend of my significant other at the time saw I was a hustler and decided to invest. My mom of course also contributed as much as she could and I put all the extra money I had saved into my business as well. Between the three of us and a loan I was able to begin my dream of starting a global vending company, Happy Baby Vending, Inc., and helping parents conveniently keep their children healthy while benefiting the environment.
Once I had the funding I decided to start going to pitch my idea at various malls in Southern California since I know many families come to malls and they are easy to get machines into. The problem was I was not used to talking to people, especially about my idea and vision for Happy Baby Vending. Luckily, after many failed meetings, Ontario Mills loved my idea and took a chance on me. One of their employees, in around about way, even referred me to Baldwin Hills where I later was able to install a vending machine. This was officially the launch of Happy Baby Vending, Inc. All my life I have seen problems and created solutions to help myself and those around me affected by these issues. It was very difficult most of the time but I had to stay focused on my vision. It’s my commitment to my vision that has gotten me here.
What have you had to sacrifice along the way, if anything?
My 20’s, going out, friends who did not understand my focus, intimate relationships, and money. I realized launching Happy Baby Vending was going to take a lot of time so whatever job I had needed to be flexible in hours and not be so strenuous that I couldn’t work on my business. I also had to care for my grandmother during this time so I had to pass on good paying jobs and spending time being young, going out, and hanging with friends and meeting people.
How do you define success?
By the “Oohhsss” and “Aaahhhs” I hear from people because that is when you know you have honestly touched their hearts and reached them on en elemental level, not just an intellectual one. Financial freedom is another aspect of success as well as whether or not my network is successful. The people around me should be just as successful if not more so than myself.
How do you balance work and life?
This is still a work in progress. I am learning but I really try to make sure I have” me” time and live life to the fullest. I used to be a hermit and thought my friends forgot about me but I needed that time to focus to get where I am now. I do go out, watch TV and live, but it is still a work in progress for me. There is so much I want to do for me but I am working so I can have the finances and time to really do it.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Personally I see myself married with children, financially free and jet setting! Professionally Happy Baby Vending, Inc. will be a global company and I will be employing at least 50 people in an environment where people want to come to work and feel their talents are being put to good use. I also want to license “Happy” the penguin and his friends through a plethora of products that promote healthiness and eco-consciousness.
Who is your role model or mentor?
I have several who have served various purposes in my life to be honest. Different people have helped and inspired me in different ways . My mom because she gets things done. As a child she told me that I could be anything I wanted, and I believed her then, and I believe her now. She instilled motivation, drive, and the hope that God will honor the work I do because my intentions are good. Oprah because she showed me that a woman with my skin tone from an underserved background can be a successful, respected business titan. Howard Shultz because he’s an innovator. He believed in offering great products, creating a great customer experience and that employees are the heart of the company and should be treated as such. Last is the Ball Family that founded the Ball Company. They successfully created a company where people constantly use their products in everyday life and don’t even know who they are. Fame was not their goal, making products that were inner woven into the fabric of America was the goal. Their products are a staple in people’s lives and I want to achieve that as well.
What advice do you give your fellow entrepreneurs?
Write down all of your ideas, once you get them out of your mind, you create more space for more ideas to come in. Keep a business journal, have all your ideas in one place. Believe in your ideas and follow through with putting in the work. Faith without deeds is dead. Don’t expect people to understand your vision or believe in it. It’s YOUR vision, not theirs. Get your vision clear because it will keep you grounded and sane amidst all the craziness that entrepreneurship brings. Stay positive. It is okay to cry, get frustrated, or even not believe sometimes but ALWAYS come back to that vision and remember that what you want to do is bigger than you. Be open to evolution. Also, haters are not really a bad thing. They give you perspective. Listen to the various perspectives but remember you can take them or leave them. It is always good to hear multiple points of view so you can make the most informed decisions.
Happy Baby Vending, Inc. is also having an Indiegogo campaign so they can provide more child focused vending machines in Southern California: http://www.indiegogo.com/
To learn more about Happy Baby Vending, Inc. visit their site www.happybabyvending.com
You can find Happy Baby Vending machines at the following locations in California:
(In the Hallway Across from Forever 21)
One Ontario Circle,
Ontario, CA 91764
Zimmer Children’s Museum
6505 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
If you’d like to nominate someone for She’s So Ambitious, email [email protected] with the nominee’s name, their email address, a link to their company or website and tell us why you’re nominating them and we’ll do the rest!