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Mama of Five Marie Tillman Turned Grief Into a $15 Million Foundation and Simultaneously Started a Business

February 7, 2017
Marie Tillman

To say that Marie Tillman, founder of Mac & Mia, a curated children’s clothing service, and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, a nonprofit that provides academic scholarships for veterans and their spouses, is a force, is an understatement. After the loss of her husband in Afghanistan, Marie started her foundation which has invested more than $15 million in educational support to individuals committed to a life of service both in and out of uniform. Then, inspired by her own experience as a working mother of five (yes, five!), Marie launched Mac & Mia, a clothing service that curates stylish looks for kids age newborn to six years old.

Marie Tillman

“I spent hours, weeks, months thinking about the concept and one day my husband said, “Just do it or someone else will and you’ll kick yourself.” And so I did!”

Marie, you are a true inspiration. How has your background led you to starting your children’s clothing service, Mac & Mia?

Mac & Mia is a result of my own experience as a working mom. We have five kids, so things can get a little crazy! When my now five year old was born, I started looking for ways to simplify my life and outsource little things so I could spend more quality time with the kids. Trips to the mall, or spending hours online shopping was something I knew I could live without, and I quickly realized other mothers feel the same way. At Mac & Mia, we take care of the shopping so parents can get a little more time back in their lives.

What was the first thing you did to get your business started?

I spent hours, weeks, months thinking about the concept and one day my husband said, “Just do it or someone else will and you’ll kick yourself.” And so I did! I pulled together a little money for inventory and a website. I moved the cars out into the driveway and set up the garage to pack and ship boxes from my house. It all sort of snowballed from there.

How did you take your business from a start up to today? Can you tell us 3 things that were integral to scaling your business?

Growing can be really exciting but also super challenging. Some of the key things that helped us scale are:

1. Hiring a great team- you can’t do it all by yourself!

2. Learning to let go and trust other people- as a business grows it’s impossible to manage every little detail. Find great people and trust them to execute on your vision.

3. Focus- It’s easy to get distracted but keeping an eye on the core of your business helps focus resources.

Marie Tillman

“Learn to let go and trust other people- as a business grows it’s impossible to manage every little detail. Find great people and trust them to execute on your vision.”

What does being a good boss mean to you?

I’ve been fortunate to know some great leaders and constantly look to them for inspiration and guidance. I think being a good boss means listening first, it’s important to understand where people are coming from so you can meet them where they are.

There are several subscription services for children’s clothing but few have items as high-quality as those brands you include. How do you differentiate yourself from the other companies out there?

Quality means a lot to us. I hate when I buy something for my kids and it falls apart or fades after one wash. Our team works hard to find pieces from both established and emerging brands to offer our customers unique items they’ll love. For us it’s all about delivering discovery and delight!

We love your Instagram! How have you seen social media impact your business? Any successful marketing strategies you can share?

We’re in a digital world and people love to share; social media has been big for us. It’s an outlet that works well with our business and provides a unique, genuine way of interacting, not only with our customers, but influencers, bloggers and vendors, too. Kids naturally bring so much joy and playfulness and that’s what we want to convey.

As for strategies, be authentic and build meaningful connections with your customer and community. It’s important to use these channels to engage and build a loyal customer – not just advertise to them.

You have turned the tragedy of losing your husband in Afghanistan into triumph for others when the Foundation you created has invested more than $15 million in educational support to date. What has been the most rewarding moment through this difficult experience?

There have been so many positive things that have come from my experience with the Foundation but meeting the scholars we support and hearing about how we’ve changed their lives is one of the most rewarding things.

Marie Tillman

On April 22th, you have organized Pat’s Run. What is it and how can people get involved?

Pat’s Run is a 4.2 mile run/walk held each April to celebrate Pat’s legacy of leadership and service. On April 22, 2017, over 30,000 participants, volunteers and spectators will unite in Tempe, Arizona and at Tillman Honor Runs nationwide to honor Pat and raise scholarship funds for the Pat Tillman Foundation’s Tillman Scholars program. Proceeds from the race directly support scholarships for Tillman Scholars who embody Pat’s commitment to service, learning and action. People interested in participating, but unable to make it to Tempe may sign up for one of 30 Tillman Honor Runs nationwide or register as a Remote Runner in their local community at www.patsrun.com

Your memoir, The Letter was published a few years ago. What was that experience like and what advice would you give to people wanting to share their own stories?

I started journaling when Pat was deployed and continued to write after his death. It was a form of therapy for me and so helpful as I sorted through some really complicated times. I never thought those ramblings would end up in a book but as time went on and I met more people working through loss, I realized my experience could be helpful to others. There is something so comforting in knowing you are not alone in your experience. I always encourage people to share their stories; it helps us all realize we are more similar than we are different.

What kept you going during those early dark days? What words of support and encouragement can you offer to women facing this hard situation of losing a husband?

My first husband had an amazing spirit, and really lived life to the fullest. I knew the best way to honor him was to keep living, as difficult as that was in the early days, I kept coming back to that notion time and time again. Losing a spouse was one of the most difficult things I’ve faced and such a personal journey, but some of the best advice I got along the way was to do what works for you. There’s no right way to mourn or live.

Marie Tillman

“Losing a spouse was one of the most difficult things I’ve faced and such a personal journey, but some of the best advice I got along the way was to do what works for you. There’s no right way to mourn or live.”

You are the mama to four boys and one little girl. What are the secrets to your sanity? Do you have any non-negotiables that keep you centered?

I think the secret is to be flexible and have a good team. No day is ever the same and with kids ranging in ages from 15 years to 3 years, things rarely go as planned – so flexibility is key!

When I’m home with the kids, I try to focus just on them and not check email or take work calls. They are my number one priority always, and I want them to feel that.

Do you have any time-saving hacks that you’ve incorporated into your daily life?

Sunday afternoon is my time for planning and organizing. Spending an hour or so before the week starts saves me a ton of time in the long run. Also I love Amazon, Instacart and Bake 425 pizza!

Your home is stunning! Do we spy a disco-ball back splash? Where do you get your design ideas? Any go-to resources we should know about?

I love home design and spend probably way too many hours at night searching Pinterest for ideas. My friend Julia Buckingham is an amazingly talented designer and has helped turn all those Pinterest boards into a reality.

What are your 3 pearls of motherhood wisdom?

1. Savor the good and don’t worry too much about the bad. One thing is certain, everything changes.

2. People offer so much advice and input from the second you get pregnant, but do what works for you and your family.

3. A dance party puts everyone in a good mood.

Marie Tillman

“Savor the good and don’t worry too much about the bad. One thing is certain, everything changes.”

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