Inventor, Entrepreneur, Author, MULTI-TASKer, San Francisco
We all uttered these words: "My life would just be so much easier if (substitute X product idea or Y app) existed". Most of us shrug and keep going about our day, annoyed. Nicole Bookman thought of an idea and six months later flew to China solo to meet with manufacturers and engineers. After several faux pas moments (read about those below), she negotiated a prototype for that X product idea she wondered about. Well, 谢 xiè-xiè (thank you) very much!.
Several PR firms, web & industrial designers, content creators, social media consultants, quality control experts, product photographers and manufacturers later (along with two supportive kids and a hubby), Nicole's design is available on Amazon. Her product meets every family's travel needs and ensures a smooth flying experience with your kids. As if that wasn't enough, Nicole also authored a children's book to help guide parents to most effectively wind down and bond with the baby before bedtime.
This feature is for all the inquiring minds, who also need inspiration to turn their ideas into action. Please read the interview with the very talented (and very humble) Nicole Bookman.
2. Where is your hometown?
Not sure if I have one. I was born in Kokomo, IN but lived in 4 states before attending kindergarten in Louisiana. I spent my elementary school years in Georgia and junior high through college years in Texas. I was always the “Yankee” because I wasn’t “born and raised” in either state. My family is originally from the East Coast so I visited Philly, Pittsburgh, and Boston often and was always considered a “Southern Belle” around relatives. I finally felt at home in San Francisco, where I ended up after undergrad. Let’s say San Francisco is my hometown.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I have no idea (what title to take on). If we need something more than “just Nicole” for this interview let’s go with — Mom who hopes her new company, Go Happy Kids, takes off so she has something very creative, fun, and flexible to do over the next 5-10 years!
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
A long and winding road (both personally and professionally) but looking back each step makes sense in the big picture. My most recent journey with Go Happy Kids started in February 2017 while on a flight back from Park City, Utah. Legos were flying everywhere, I was tired of picking up fallen toys from the floor. The bending down and up and down and up was driving me nuts. At the time, my second child was about to turn 2 and I was really ready to go back to work, wanted to do something fun.
As we were getting ready to land that day, I looked over at the legos and thought — I really need a tray and a project, just do it...start off small, make the simple little travel tray you have been dreaming about. I immediately got excited about designing the travel tray, of course, then proceeded to have grand thoughts about adding matching food storage containers, and fun art and creative play accessories - all kid safe, simple, functional, playful, open-ended (with regards to play) travel accessories that looked cool and made me happy.
Some small project ha. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, but did know I needed someone to help me build a prototype. The next day I jotted down a sketch of the tray then reached out to a bunch of prototype firms in the city asking them “how do I go from a napkin sketch to a prototype”. Some were helpful, some not. One suggested I take a CAD class. No thanks! One in particular, though, sent me a list of industrial designers and suggested I pick one to help me build a CAD file then come back to them with the file to build a prototype. Very helpful!
I got lucky and found an wonderful industrial designer who agreed to take me on. He was intrigued by the idea and quickly became an enthusiastic supporter of Go Happy. He and his team did a great job working closely with me to help me realize my vision of building the tray, brainstorm the brand name, and design the logo and packaging. He literally walked me through every phase of the design and manufacturing process. For this I am very grateful. I learned so much!
Fast forward a year and half — after meeting with 2 manufacturers, 4 trips total to China/Hong Kong (3 solo!), being the only woman in the room at times during meetings with my manufacturer translating to figure out materials and costs and logistics (everyone was always great, very responsive and on top of things!), a few faux pas on my part at lunches in China with factory owners (like using the table decoration as a napkin or using my chopsticks instead of the serving spoon to grab veggies from the community pot... oops...everyone was very gracious and just giggled), testing and retesting numerous prototypes, consulting with mechanical engineers, working with a brilliant web designer, and an awesome human being, to build the website and digital brand experience, consulting with a quality control expert for months, managing the testing requirements process, acting as a novice art director with a wonderful friend/ photographer to shoot product shots for the website and marketing, quickly jamming out 3 adorable and very fun soft goods/art accessories, and ramping up PR — I finally have a company, brand, and a few really cool products out in the world.
Phew! Quite a process. One that I am very glad I jumped into having no idea where it would lead. I am so grateful everyone involved decided to take a chance on me and my idea to build a simple little travel tray. What’s really neat, though, is how much Go Happy Kids has become a manifestation of me, my life, and lots of things I am passionate about. Throughout this process I have pulled from my past work experience, education and extended learning, and love of travel, kids, play, and connection —everything I have done in my life has brought me to this point. It’s delightful to see it all come together. Fingers crossed the Go Happy Travel Tray sells so I can watch this new company grow.
So what am I most proud of? I am proud of getting this product and company off the ground, and not giving up on my goal to find meaningful, creative, flexible work. But, at the end of the day, I am MOST proud of my kids, and being an engaged mom while not to losing myself.
5. What did you study in school?
Finance but never felt at home working in finance. I went to grad school in my 30’s for my masters in Counseling Psychology. I spent many years during and after grad school studying attachment research, interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB), the parent/child dynamic, and how mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I always pictured myself doing something fun, own my own, running my own thing. I just never knew what the “thing” would be or how long it would take to figure it out. In some sense, my life is finally what I envisioned. I just didn’t know what, exactly, it would look like.
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Not finding a more creative path, professionally, sooner. Keep plugging away with this company and see where things go!
8. Advice for other women?
Always surround yourself with supportive friends and family who help you stay on course, pick you up when you are down, make you laugh a lot, and let you into their worlds too. Don’t feel guilty or selfish when you need to take a break, we do so much — get good at practicing self care.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values”?
Good question. I don’t know. “All that we can be” is probably has many definitions and would look different for each of us, in practice. I can only speak for myself — it takes a lot of work to be “all that I can be” and many days I don’t even know what this really means, I just try to do my best given my current resources. Women need more support from our society, in general. We definitely can’t “be all that we can be” without the proper support network.
I am hopeful more and more women will run for political office and assume leadership roles in business to keep the push for equality and respect momentum going, regardless of their political party. It makes no sense women have to fight for equality and the term “feminist values” is still in use. Why is it so hard to classify everyone simply as “human beings who deserve the same rights as everyone else” vs labeling people and not offering, taking away, or limiting rights for various groups when it comes to equality issues. It’s ridiculous and makes no sense.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I feel “tallest” when I am in a good groove with my kids, when I feel like “I got this, we’re good”, and when exploring new places, especially solo. I really feel alive when I am traveling. I am also very happy by the sea. I feel most at home near a sea with water warm enough for a good swim.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
My mobility and strength — I am proud of not giving up on my physical and mental health. A few bad injuries, a body that has been beaten up from sports, and some personal stuff could have taken me down physically and mentally over the past few years, but I never quit advocating for myself or stopped engaging with people who help me continue to grow and stay grounded. A lot of work but worth it. I feel strong, can still swim and hike, and haven’t lost my mind yet :) I am also proud of still finding time to seek out new music and good movies — I love music and movies.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
A grounded, clear, confident woman in the world. I would love to pack up and move to another country for a few years or start living a more flexible life — check out new cities with my family for longer periods of time each year. I love novelty and a good challenge when it comes to day- to-day living. I am working on how to make this happen, need to get my family on board.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Putting myself out there vs hiding behind the scenes, and being a better mom, not messing my kids up too much.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
I would end up on a more creative path professionally and listen to my gut sooner when it comes to big life decisions.
15. What inspires you?
Kindness, creativity in any form, and not giving up on tough stuff — witnessing friends, loved ones, myself, take ourselves on at the most challenging times and grow, evolve, get through tough times, personal or professional. Being with others who are living the life they want, especially when it means taking big risks. All very inspiring.
16. What are you hopeful about?
Sustainability, saving our oceans and seas, taking better care of our planet. I do have hope.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Build deep connections, never stop learning, be curious, listen to the music, know yourself and what fills you up (and brings you down), don’t take yourself too seriously, exercise and eat great food, value experiences over stuff, travel often, be creative and playful at home and work, laugh a lot, have fun, feel deeply, do your own thing, and always be grateful when no one you love is terminally ill or dying.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Follow the path that is right for you vs choosing a path you think you should do. You are strong and capable and have a lot to offer the world so go do it. Trust yourself.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I have been recommending and gifting Living Like You Mean It by Ronald Frederick lately. It does a great job of helping us get closer to our emotions and using their power to feel more alive and live a more, connected, deep and meaningful life. I have read many similar books — this one hits the nail on the head while being very gentle and accessible. I didn’t want it to end.
Right now I am carrying around Autumn by Ali Smith and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, but don’t have much time to read these days unless I am traveling alone, unfortunately.
I have a lot of favorites but the ones that come to mind are — The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
Suzanna Smith is a WOW Woman in my world who inspires me daily. She is a good friend, mom, brilliant full-time web designer/digital product developer, and a talented self taught Jazz singer who manages to squeeze in gigs after work and bedtime. Her creative mind, ability to organize my thoughts even before I can communicate them, unending curiosity, unwavering calm, incredible sense of humor, passion to keep things real, kindness, and ability to juggle her life with ease and a smile is VERY inspiring. She rocks!
Rebecca Schrag Hershberg is doing amazing work in NYC as a child psychologist and just published a book called The Tantrum Survival Guide. She is wonderful and knows her stuff when it comes to kids and parents!
Deeksha Prakash is a lovely human being and friend, raising two girls while she starts her photography business and works full-time at a non-profit. She has been such a fun, light, calming, supportive presence while helping me get Go Happy Kids off the ground. She is also interested in kicking up a few projects focused on women and their journeys. Go for it!
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Go Happy tray is available on AMAZON!!!
You can also find me on the Go Happy Kids website.