RALEIGH, N.C. — It's a Thursday morning and there is a lot on Rachael Classi's to do list. But she is most excited about her last assignment for the day, her weekly 2:30 p.m. date with her two daughters.
The founder and CEO of Durham-based Tiny Earth Toys
keeps this standing date on her calendar each week. It's her secret to balancing being her own boss, growing a brand new toy company, and not missing out on the the most important moments as a mom.
came up with the idea for her sustainable toy subscription company near the start of the Covid pandemic. She noticed more than ever all the toys were overflowing around her home. She quit her corporate job in part out of necessity to care for her two young daughters. Little did she know then that she would soon embark on an incredible journey as an entrepreneur, product creator, and employer.
I spoke with Classi to learn more about her passion to create age-appropriate toys for children under five while inspiring the next generation to consume less.
Q: What has surprised you the most about being your own boss or owning your own business?
Rachael Classi: Founding a business has been the most challenging thing I've done in my career. It has been exhilarating, lonely, rewarding and exhausting. I have continued to be surprised by how much I love growing every aspect of the business. Whether it is growing our customer base or our team, I love the autonomy, challenge, and responsibility that comes with nurturing the business. And lately, I have been surprised by how much the mission of our business is critical to our continued success. We are building an e-commerce business, but we are also shifting the paradigm of ownership and consumption to help address climate change and that mission has been so important to the team we've been able to recruit, the customers we've been fortunate to work with, and the investors who have backed our business.
Q: What do you hope your children will learn from you as they watch you run your own business?
I have two daughters, Lucia who is 2.5 and Donna who is almost 5 years old. They have been very involved in Tiny Earth Toys from the start. They were my initial inspiration and later became our toy testers and models for photoshoots! They think it is so cool their mom works for a toy company. And it was a special day when my older daughter told me, "I want to work at the toy company when I am older." It is my greatest hope that Tiny Earth Toys helps an entire generation of young children normalize reuse and sustainable consumption. And for my two daughters, I hope they learn to take chances and bring their passion and values to their professions and lives.
Q: What is your biggest fear or challenge as a business owner?
My biggest challenge lately has been to slow down and remember Rome wasn't built in a day. It is so easy to want to immediately want to solve all the problems all at once, but in doing so I miss the incredible journey as it unfolds. I am constantly reminding myself to take it one day at a time and not get too far ahead of myself. It is hard to do when I see so much opportunity to grow the circular economy and improve our business but I am trying to find moments to be more present in the moment.
Q: What are you most proud of in your role as a mother?
Being a mother has been the most transformative experience of my life. Beyond the emotional and physical changes, it has been a gift to be reminded how deeply my own actions impact those around me, particularly my daughters. I am so proud that becoming their mother gave me the courage and initiative to live more deeply by my values. I am proud that I model entrepreneurship, grit, determination and how to react to success and failure for my daughters.
Q: What advice do you have for families that want to cut down on waste? Where do you start? It can seem overwhelming.
Pick one thing that feels natural and normal until you take the next steps. For our family, it was no longer buying battery-operated toys. Next, we decided to get rid of Ziploc bags. It leads to defeat when you start to think of all the things you could do. We are all on a journey and sometimes it starts with the smallest of changes.
Q: Grandparents love giving gifts. How do you let them know about changes you and your family are making?
You don't want to take the joy away from gifting for grandparents. We consulted with a behavior therapist about this. The therapist said that when you prepare to share your gifting values, don't do it right before the holidays or birthdays. One thing our family does is keep a note on the cloud or something we can easily email that has the kids' up-to-date sizes for clothes and their current interests. You also have to accept that you can't control everything.
Talking with Classi was so refreshing. She has achieved incredible success in just two years. She is inspiring families to take better care of the earth while playing together. At the end of each work meeting, she reminds her team "small changes, big impacts." A lesson we can all apply at home and at work.
Tara Lynn is a former WRAL reporter and anchor. She lends her 15-plus years in journalism to tell visual stories through love-filled photography for families of all kinds. The mother of three little humans and one senior rescue dog believes in celebrating magic in the little things, the big loves, and the imperfect moments that make the most remarkable memories. Her vision is to help families celebrate and share their love through photography and curated album artwork that become timeless keepsakes connecting multiple generations...because moments often pass in the blink of an eye, and the photographs we take connect us to our memories and our great loves, forever.