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Business Stinks

. . . But that’s just fine with Mychal and Adrienne Connolly, the cofounders of Stinky Cakes, an innovative diaper and baby-goods company

MYCHAL AND ADRIENNE CONNOLLY, you might say, are kid-oriented adults — and by that we don’t mean to suggest that they’re childish or immature. Quite the contrary, in fact: Passionate advocates for the young, the Connollys took in their first teen foster child five years ago, when Mychal was 24 and Adrienne just 22. They’ve since opened their home to TK more.

It’s thus appropriate that the Connollys — now the parents of two sons of their own — would start a kid-centric business: the felicitously named Stinky Cakes, a diaper and baby-goods company the couple founded in 2009 (shortly after the birth of their second son) and run out of their home in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The name comes from the innovative “cake” diaper towers that are the Connollys’ signature product. New parents need diapers more than anything else, the couple reasoned, yet friends, relatives and baby-shower attendees are often loath to show up with a plain old uncreative box of Pampers. “There’s a stigma for some folks when it comes to giving diapers,” Mychal, now 29, says. “We wanted to make diaper giving fun.” Stinky Cakes offers numerous diaper packages: animal, sports and princess themes, corporate gifts, twin-specific items and more, all of it fully customizable. Plaudits have poured in: Adrienne is one of StartupNation’s “200 Leading Moms in Business,” while Mychal is one of BusinessWest magazine’s 40 top regional entrepreneurs under age 40.

Their business fortunes have waxed and waned amid the struggling economy, but the Connollys’ ardor for children is as strong as their desire to turn Stinky Cakes into a lasting business success. “That stems from the values our parents instilled in us,” Mychal says. “It’s one of the things we’ve always had in common — wanting to help kids. There are so many kids out there who just need a little guidance.” And, for the youngest among them, a Stinky Cake or two.

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As an entrepreneur looking to build a business of your own, what’s the eureka moment when you say, “Aha — diapers!”?
I always knew I wanted to own a fun brand, but as far as baby goods goes, that came by out of necessity. We wanted diapers for our second son. Our family and friends wanted to give us stuff we already had from [when] his brother [was born]. We found out that there’s a stigma for some folks when it comes to giving diapers, so we wanted to make diaper giving fun.

It’s a tough economy out there. Diapers are one thing people always need. What about custom diaper novelties, though?
Well, business brings numerous challenges, some you can prepare for and some you can’t. We learned fast not to get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. Our biggest challenge to date has been generating steady sales from our Web site. Some months it’s like, “This is great!” Other times we ask ourselves if it’s really worth it.

Stinky Cakes would seem to be a company tailor-made for the Internet. Whatever the ups and downs of your Web sales, would you ever consider a physical storefront?
At one point we contemplated opening a store, but we realized it would be smarter instead just to have a spot where we can create the cakes and ship them nationally and internationally. This way we could keep the cost of our cakes down and be able to pass those savings onto our customers.

What are your short- and long-term goals for Stinky Cakes?
Our short-term goal consists of growing our business so we can create more jobs. We want to be part of the wave that helps turn the economy around. Our long-term goal is to become a bigger national brand — a household name like Vermont Teddy Bear or Ben & Jerry’s.

Who are your own entrepreneurial heroes and role models?
There are so many, but I always start with Michael Kittredge, the founder of Yankee Candle. He started that company with some old crayons and a string. He was able to turn that into a strong national brand, and that’s what I want to do with Stinky Cakes. He also personally mentored me when I was starting my business and I will always be grateful to him for taking the time to guide me.

I also like Russell Simmons, Diddy, Magic Johnson, [Vermont Teddy Bear's] John Sortino, Lisa Price from Carol’s Daughter, Tiffany Krumins [the inventor of Ava the Elephant], Daymond John, Michael Jordan . . . the list goes on and on. I’m always inspired by people who have the ability to turn nothing into something through sheer will, passion and desire.

You and Adrienne have done a lot of work with local youth, most significantly by being foster parents. What brought that about?
That stems from values our parents instilled in us. It’s one of the things we’ve always had in common: wanting to help kids. There are so many kids out there who just need a little guidance. We’ve been foster parents for five years. I was 24 and Adrienne was 22 when we first opened our home to them. We felt like, “Why wait to do it? Let’s just seize the moment.” We haven’t regretted that decision since. •