Jocelyn Newman is 32 years old. She’s a mom, a nomadic traveler, and the founder of First Peak, a line of sustainable adventurewear for babies and toddlers. Her husband, Gage, is also 32, and the two of them are working together to support each other, their 2-year-old son, and Jocelyn’s nascent business.
First Peak launched in spring 2022, and in the first eight months it had sales in the low five figures. We talked while Jocelyn, Gage, and their son were traveling in New Zealand — and the toddler slept, happily, through the entire interview. The conversation has been condensed.
Jocelyn: My son was born in November 2020. My entire pregnancy, his early days — all of it was in the thick of the pandemic. Getting outside as a family was one of the few safe activities, and we really started to fall in love with adventuring with our little guy.
One of the things that became increasingly frustrating for us was that all of the clothes we dressed him in were really designed for a kid who was going to be sedentary all day. They were also designed with this expectation that you would change your child’s clothes seven or eight times a day, and that it was going to be no big deal.
I remember once we went on this trip to Yosemite, and five minutes out of the car, our son spits up on himself. He smells terrible. An hour into the trip, his sleeves have ridden up and his hands are sunburned. I’m wearing performance athleisure and feeling totally fine — but my little guy hasn’t gotten to benefit from high-quality clothing.
I just got hooked on this idea of, like, There must be something better I can dress him in.
Gage: She kept saying that our clothes were so much better than baby clothes. Why do adults get so much athleisure, she asked, while our child is still wearing, like, cotton T-shirts? She got me a three-pack of quick-drying, odor-resistant, anti-sweat T-shirts, and when the package arrived she instantly pulled one out and dumped a glass of milk on it and left it to sit in the sun. Would it smell? Would it stain? Would we be able to use the same fabric on our son? That was my role during the early part of the process — I was a large guinea pig, and our son was a smaller one.
Jocelyn: At the time, I was working full-time as a product director at a publicly traded tech company in San Francisco. We had both been in tech, and I started the project as a side hustle. Early mornings, late nights, nap times: I would take a couple calls, I would cold-call manufacturers and sewing houses, I would say, “Would you take a chance on me? I have no idea what I’m doing. I build software for a living.”
I launched the business in spring 2022, and I put all of my production and manufacturing in the Bay Area. That was partly out of necessity — if I was going to be running to factories during lunch or before work, etc., they needed to be close by. I have a cutting and sewing factory in San Francisco, I work with a family-owned dye house, and before we started traveling, I was packing and shipping every single order. Now my very kind aunt has pitched in for a bit, and I’ve earnestly promised to take that load off her once we’re back in the States.
The dream of traveling nomadically was a separate dream that happened to come to fruition at around the same time. We’d been saving for a while, we both had senior-level tech jobs, we were debt-free. Very fortunate to be so.
We sold all of our stuff — we even sold our car — and left San Francisco in June of last year. We’ve got a clump of cash, we’re no longer paying rent in San Francisco, and everything we own is in the backpacks we carry. I’m doing some consulting work, and I’m building First Peak. Those are our two income streams.
Gage: I’m not actually a part of the business, and I sort of like to think that I don’t do anything productive, regarding the business. I grew up in Boston, so there was this one guy on the Celtics, when I was a teenager, and his name was Wally Szczerbiak. He didn’t score very many points, he didn’t get very many assists, but everybody called him the Invisible Glue. If I have a role in the business, it’s that. It’s helping with the emotional labor that comes with starting a business. Being a support person, if Jocey suddenly gets a call in the middle of the day. We’re traveling with a 2-year-old, so what’s he going to do for the next 15 minutes? What if it turns into a half-hour call? I give her the space to put her head down and do what needs to be done. When we’re on the road and it’s just the two of us, I’m helping to keep the little guy happy and entertained and safe. That’s the role I play in this business.
Jocelyn: Very often with the story of startups, there’s a founder who’s an innovator and a founder who’s an executor. As a solo founder, I’m doing both! Taking this time to travel has helped on the innovator side and pushed me on the executor side.
On the innovator side, we’re meeting families all over the world. When we road-tripped across the US, I posted to an outdoorsy moms’ Facebook group and we met up with moms along the way. I get to meet real people and hear real needs and stories. The inspiration is totally sparked!
On the execution side, when we left San Francisco in June, nearly 50 percent of my sales were in-person. I was doing farmers markets every single weekend. I had to pivot and be nimble to figure out how to make this a successful online-only business. I build and manage the website, I do social media, I write about the company, I call manufacturers and make sure our production chain is working effectively.
The other thing with our travel is that we do these three-month loops. We go away for three months and come back, which is a great opportunity for the little guy to see his grandparents and family, and that’s when we stop in the Bay Area and I do a two-week production sprint. Then I get all the inventory back to my aunt, and that’s how we make the machine run.
Gage: One of the key things I’ve found about being a parent, and being a partner in a relationship with a parent, is how important it is to ask for help when you need it. To ask for time when you need it. Running a business can be exhausting. Parenting a toddler can be exhausting. Traveling can be exhausting! Sometimes my role is to help Jocelyn, and sometimes my role is to say, “Okay, if you’re not doing anything on your business right now, can you take over for 45 minutes? I need to take a nap, or I need to go for a walk by myself.”
Jocelyn: Gage provides a lot of emotional support. When I do social media, for example, it’s easy to let it become not fun and very stressful. It feels like I’m chatting to the void! He and I will talk through it, and then I’ll keep testing and trying things.
The most fun part of the business is the intentional moving of the goalposts. When I started, I wanted to build one outfit for one baby. Then I wanted to sell it to one friend. Then I wanted to sell it to a stranger. We celebrated our first $2,000 month. Our first $10K milestone. I wish I could say that I had a business plan on day one, but it really was all about chasing the dream a little bit further.
I haven’t invested in advertising yet. One of the things I’m thinking about for 2023 is getting the product into more hands. It’s going to be a growth year. Some of the best advice I got came from an entrepreneur friend who told me not to sweat the margins. I want to have a path to really good margins, but right now I’m in the proof-of-concept phase. Get the product into people’s hands, make sure they love it, and iterate. That’s been my headspace since I launched last spring.
I’d love to see the product in a store or marketplace where people could just stumble across it. A family could think, “I’m so nervous, we’re going to be taking a flight for the first time,” and we could be a brand that could help with that. Or a parent could think, “I never thought I could go camping again since we had a baby,” and then they pop into an REI and we’re there. I want to be the safety net for parents that want to take a little plunge — or maybe they just want to go to the playground and not have to bring a change of clothes! They want to trust that their kid can have a good time and minor messes won’t be a big deal.
With our toddler, we dress him in the morning and that’s it. If I’m being totally honest, he often wears the same clothes for multiple days! I think that’s what’s so cool about our dreams — the travel dream and the business dream started out separate, but our little guy inspired them both to happen. We knew he wasn’t going to be little forever, so we decided to go for it.
I launched the business with sizes up to 2 years. Then there was this day when I thought “Oh, crud. He’s going to size out!” So I expanded to 3T and 4T, toddler sizes, and built myself a couple years of buffer. I have a hunch that it’ll keep growing with him. It’s the way I learn about the clothes best. He wears every sample, and I take notes.
Now we’re on this trip, we have very little luggage, and he wears it every single day. It makes me feel really proud.
Nicole Dieker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew, and Dwell. She is also the author of the Larkin Day Mysteries, a comedy-cozy mystery series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IT IS and WHAT TO DO NEXT, a quarterly zine about understanding reality.