Nicole Donnelly is the Founder of AI Smart Marketing, an AI-powered marketing agency that helps brands create personalized and effective marketing campaigns. Through AI courses, workshops, and services, the agency teaches people how to leverage cutting-edge AI tools to create effective AI solutions. Nicole has over 18 yrs of experience as an entrepreneur, having founded and built her company, BabyLegs, into a global brand. By 2009, she had grown it to around $5 million in sales with 24 employees and expanded to 85 countries before selling it.
BabyLegs won the industry Design Excellence award for 12 years, was named one of Seattle’s Best Places to Work, and received a national award for Workplace Flexibility.” Nicole is also the Founder of Emotionality, a former professional snowboarder, snowboarding instructor, and author of Rash to Riches: How I Grew BabyLegs from a Home Business to a Global Brand.
In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Nicole Donnelly, the Founder of AI Smart Marketing, about strategies for leveraging AI in business. Nicole also shares her experience building and selling BabyLegs, the benefits of AI, and how to stay on top of AI developments.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- [02:15] How Nicole Donnelly’s background influenced her entrepreneurial journey
- [05:52] Nicole’s experience as a professional snowboarder and starting a business
- [13:33] What differentiated BabyLegs from other brands?
- [15:23] Nicole’s strategies for overcoming cash flow challenges and why she sold the business
- [23:03] How Nicole started running an online condom business
- [26:24] The early days of AI and how to leverage it in business
- [31:27] Competition among AI software
- [34:33] How to stay on top of AI developments
- [37:17] Will AI replace humans?
- [41:00] The peers Nicole acknowledges for their support
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- AI Smart Marketing
- Nicole Donnelly’s site
- Nicole Donnelly on LinkedIn
- Nicole Donnelly’s AI List
- Rash to Riches: How I Grew BabyLegs from a Home Business to a Global Brand! by Nicole A. Donnelly and Jennie Sykes
- Duet AI
- Microsoft Copilot
- There’s An AI For That (TAAFT)
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John Corcoran 0:00
All right, today we’re talking about how to leverage AI in your business. If you’re curious about AI, if you’ve been watching the news lately, it’s all over the news. And if you’re curious about how to adapt it and adopt it in your business, we’re gonna get into that in a second. My guest is Nicole Donnelly of AI Smart Marketing. I’ll tell you more, more about her in a second. So stay tuned.
Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.
John Corcoran 0:38
All right, welcome, everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of the show. And you know, every week I feel so privileged I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of all kinds of different companies. We’ve had Netflix, Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, GrubHub, Redfin, you name it, check out the archives, lots of great episodes for you in the archives. And we’ve done a number of different episodes, talking with experts about AI, because it’s such a massive impact, it’s going to have such a massive impact in the years ahead. And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, my business, where we help B2B businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And if you’re curious about AI, or Rise25, or what we do, you can go to Rise25.com, or email us at [email protected]. And we’d be happy to tell you about what we do.
All right, Nicole, such a pleasure to have you here today. Now you are the founder of AI Smart Marketing. And you have incredible expertise. You and I belong to a couple of different communities and groups together. And I’ve seen you in action, just incredibly giving with your time and your resources and you watch this space very closely. But you’ve got an amazing, interesting background and entrepreneurship. So she’s been everything from a professional snowboarder, to ski and snowboard instructor started a homepage venture called BabyLegs that turned into a brand with global recognition. And she ended up selling it now it’s featured in different museums in Seattle. So it’s, it’s really cool. We’re going to hear all about that story. And Nicole, I’d love to start with you at the beginning of your journey. So you grew up on a dirt road with a town of 600 people so small upbringing went to a small little private Lutheran School. Tell me a little bit about what that upbringing was like and, and how it kind of shaped your entrepreneurial roots.
Nicole Donnelly 2:35
Oh, man, that’s a good? That’s a good question. I feel like being out there, I had to entertain myself a lot. And so I wanted to be an inventor and I invented things from the sensor that I put in my neighbor’s mailboxes and they probably thought it was very weird. Um, I would just make things I made robots in my room and built a spaceship in the backyard and I had the freedom of creativity because we had nothing else to do.
John Corcoran 3:06
That’s a great thing. Right? You know, I worry now that this generation has got a you know, world of entertainment in their pocket that they just doesn’t you know, when you when you’re not driven by boredom, going great things like you know, why else would you do it? You actually want to your first money-making endeavors was selling telephone wire? Yeah, that’s gotta be a first-year a fifth-grader. It’s an old telephone wire.
Nicole Donnelly 3:34
Yeah, it’s a telephone wire on the inside is really colorful, there’s multiple, there’s probably 10 different strands in there and you take it apart. And for some reason, we had a spool in the backyard and that was when we lived in Utah. And my mom, I remember helping me measure out these yards of telephone wire in the garage, and I took them to school and I had had these little, you know, three-foot-long bundles that I would sell for 50 cents at school. Okay, until, you know, I didn’t know principal or somebody got upset about doing that. And they kibosh that operation.
John Corcoran 4:16
I’ve heard that story many times before you know people are selling something on the side at school and you get you know, the the principal definitely shuts it down but you had an interesting what would you do if someone didn’t pay you?
Nicole Donnelly 4:31
Well, anybody remembers micro machines they were like the small Matchbox cars Yeah. So I ended up with a collection of micro machines because people did not pay so I kind of repossessed their micro machine.
John Corcoran 4:45
I love you’re taking the you know, taking matters into your own hands. Another thing you did is you your family had a hobby of going to this historic, western third trade era town which is nearby I was kind of like, I guess like Civil War reenactment, but in the Utah area and so you would create these cookies that were historically authentic and you sell them there. And that was another thing you did to make money. Yeah,
Nicole Donnelly 5:15
starting when we moved to Utah, my dad got into Mountain Man Rendezvous was pre-1840. The clothes you wore, everything was pre-1840. And so I would bake cookies when we go to these Rondae booths, and we slept in tents, and they were in different places around Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and I would sell the cookies on the weekends at rendezvous. And they were all pre-1840. We also sold crawlers, which were an old-fashioned type donut, and could make three to $500 in a weekend easy and sold them for 25 cents apiece.
John Corcoran 5:48
That’s good money. Yeah. what point did you decide that your dream was to be a professional snowboarder?
Nicole Donnelly 5:58
Well, when I was in university, I took snowboarding as a class. I went to a Weber State in Utah, and I was 1920 years old when I started snowboarding. But I had a background in gymnastics, I did power tumbling, growing up. And so my first season snowboarding, I started flipping off of everything I could possibly flip off of. And that was that was kind of it for me. Once I took those lessons and really learned how to ride. That’s what I wanted to do after school. I didn’t want to do any more school. So I finished up the university when I was just before I turned 21 and then moved to Park City and lived in my car and snowboard Id really,
John Corcoran 6:45
in the winter. Were you sleeping in your car in the winter? Yeah, yeah, I did that. That sounds brutal. That requires some incredible determination. Now what what I imagined you had to be kind of entrepreneurial in order to make a go of it. Like how are you getting paid? Are you getting sponsors? And this is actually a period where snowboarding wasn’t yet in the Olympics. So it didn’t have perhaps the you know, the notoriety, the fame, they claim that it does now.
Nicole Donnelly 7:19
Well, no, it had zero cachet back in that when I was doing it. I was on the very first team, that Park City had snowboard team, which was silly. We built our own jumps, we would go on the backside and build our own jumps. It didn’t work. They did have a pipe. But I had to. I didn’t know anything about sponsorship. But you know, I could hustle so I ended up getting sponsored. I would just ask for gear or whatever I needed. And I ended up being sponsored by Oakley and Scott and Clif Bar and ride snowboards, and I mostly got gear. And I got free Clif bars. So I lived off Clif bars for years, and I was very happy when the Luna bar came out because it varied my diet.
John Corcoran 8:17
Yeah, it’s funny, interesting how just over the last 2030 years, snowboarding has evolved so dramatically. I mean, I’m gonna date myself a little bit. But I remember as a kid having I think it was boys Life magazine or something like that was like, really early ones. And there was a picture of a kid snowboarding on the cover of it. And they had a snowboard that had in the very early days. It had a hole in the front with a rope that came up from it. And they held on to it that way. It was like eventually they got rid of that. But it was very, very early snowboarding. So around this era, sometimes around sometime around here you actually were you even selling helmets out of your locker in order to make make a go of it. Yeah, I
Nicole Donnelly 9:01
would go to a helmet importer in Tacoma. At this point, I was living in Washington, and I would pick up helmets and sell them up at the hill out of my locker at Ski School. And so I was known as the helmet lady, I would sell to the employees and my students and everybody. And it was, you know, it was just a cash job back then. Selling helmets because at that point, you had to have helmets to compete and it became a best practice to wear them when you rode and helmets retail were at $90 and I would sell my helmets I think maybe 30 $40.
John Corcoran 9:41
So you could undercut whoever those they were buying them from. Severely.
Nicole Donnelly 9:45
Yeah. Yeah. A lot.
John Corcoran 9:51
And Now eventually, you actually end up getting pregnant, married and you have a kid around that time. Hear it, which leads to your baby legs business initiative epiphany. What was like your child is crawling around on the on the floor and you had the idea for a business? How did you come about it?
Nicole Donnelly 10:16
My kid had was allergic to every first food, it seemed like that we were feeding them. And so I cut off my snowboard socks, pulled them up over Sarah’s little knees, so that Sarah could have a naked bottom because any parent knows the best
John Corcoran 10:31
crash, you gotta dry.
Nicole Donnelly 10:34
Exactly is that air. And then we got into the whole diaper free lifestyle that way. And I was at the grocery store one day, and Sarah had on their little baby legs, their leg warmers. And this woman just thought it was the cutest thing ever. And she wanted some. Within the first two weeks, I sold 100 pairs out of my diaper bag. How I just had them on me and sold them to mom, friends. People thought they were so cute. And I had a super cute little baby. So had my little model with me. Yeah.
John Corcoran 11:10
Oh, what point did you decide that this is really worth making into a full on business.
Nicole Donnelly 11:16
I don’t think I ever consciously made that decision. I was on a mission to make parents lives better. And if they have baby lakes, they’re going to spend more quality time with their kids, they’re going to have an easier time potty training, easier time diaper changes for boys and girls. And so I was on a mission to let every parent know about these. And we had within the first six months, we were in a handful of different countries, including Japan. And within three years, we were selling into 85 countries.