Strategies for Leveraging AI in Your Business With Nicole Donnelly

John Corcoran 11:49

And so this this is far beyond just another mom at a grocery store. Seeing your kid it’s so there must have been some conscious effort behind it. Are you hiring people? Did you? Did you have investors? What was that trajectory like?

Nicole Donnelly 12:05

I mean, I hired mom friends of mine, I hired my mom I hired my stepdaughter hired my stuff, son, I did a lot of mistakes and just hired everyone that I knew around me to help. And I made the designs myself which the first round were not so hot, and I learned and made better designs. But I was on a mission to make parents lives better. And so when it came to dollar amounts and hiring people, I just did whatever I needed to do. And I made so many mistakes, so many mistakes along the way. And I made some good choices too. Like spending $4,000 for a mariners box sweet to host some Japanese prospective distributors. And my team, my little team at the time, thought I was crazy and spending that much money. And I I just was determined and you know, thought it would be worth it. And that Japanese distributor ended up selling a million pairs of baby legs every year, and they opened baby Lake stores in Japan. And they were such a good partner and it was one of the best early expensive decisions that I made. Now.

John Corcoran 13:35

You know, now we have Shark Tank, right? This sounds like a perfect product today would would be like Shark Tank would would drool over a product like this. But I’m going to channel my inner shark. Because so often when someone comes on with a business like that, they say like oh, you know what, this is too easy to rip off someone else could easily duplicate this idea. Was that true? Or was there you know, quote unquote, a moat? Or was there something that differentiated it, there’s the name, there’s the brand anything else

Nicole Donnelly 14:07

in the end is the brand, the brand is everything. And it’s everything that the brand stood for. And having me and my child behind the brand, our name and little pictures in the store. That was really a real differentiator and also I’m really fast. I get out in front of things before other people do. I knew I probably only had I thought two or three years before people would start coming up and making them and so I ran fast and I you know having been a snowboarder I have a different perspective on risk than most people do. I have a really high risk tolerance I think compared to the average person because I lived in my car before I my sense of loss when it comes to physical things and money is different than You know, most people because I have been, I have been at the complete bottom and been totally happy. You know, and so then the that I was able to put the money in and I kept putting it into the business and putting it into marketing and advertising, which most people are conservative at their spending in that I want us to be everywhere.

John Corcoran 15:24

And now many product-based businesses, one of the big challenges is you have to invest a lot of money upfront, and sometimes you don’t get paid by distributors or retailers until later. So the it can be a challenge to keep up. We even can growth can cause real challenges. How did you overcome those challenges? 

Nicole Donnelly 15:44

Yeah, so the cashflow issue, I started with my mom’s credit card $20,000 limit at the time, I had a $500 limit, I think I was 27 when I started are 26. And so I needed that I paid it regularly, you know, I paid the bills on it. Then my bookkeeper, my accountant told a local bank that they needed to give me $100,000 line. And he knew my business and he you know, sort of helped with the cyclical nature, because we sold the most in December, of all year,

John Corcoran 16:23

the holidays right before the holidays.

Nicole Donnelly 16:26

And so we did need help with that. And then I won an award from home Street bank. And we were at a mariners game again, in a box and I you know, cozied up to the business banker and got to know them and ended up getting a $400,000 line of credit. Now I just got

John Corcoran 16:45

an award from you guys. You gotta give me a bigger line of credit. Yeah.

Nicole Donnelly 16:50

And then it was 1.4 after that, and oh, yeah,

John Corcoran 16:55

At a certain point, this starts getting really scary, right? Did or again, does your sense of fear not kick in? No,

Nicole Donnelly 17:02

I just had a lot of naive optimism at the time.

John Corcoran 17:07

And then I don’t know how much you can get into the details. But how big did you get this business? Is there a proxy in terms of size, the number of employees or number of sales of baby legs per year or revenue or any of those sorts of things?

Nicole Donnelly 17:20

I can disclose a certain amount? I can tell you, we got around 5 million, and we had maybe 24 employees at the max before I sold it?

John Corcoran 17:31

And what did you do? What caused you to decide to sell it? Were you did you feel like you were done? Did you feel like it was an opportunity?

Nicole Donnelly 17:40

Um, I never planned on selling. That wasn’t even something I thought about. But when 2008 hit my bank called the line do $930,000.

John Corcoran 17:54

Wow. Yeah. How much? Was it all drawn out at that point? Well, it was a

Nicole Donnelly 17:58

$1.4 million line and we were in 930,000. And because they went under investigation, they shut our line off and called to do immediately. What do you do? Well, I got a phone call two days later from the CEO of the company that ended up buying us. And I had two options at this point two sort of viable options I could sell. And I had two friends who would give me $500,000 apiece. Good friends, very good friends. One was my business coach. And so he knew my business inside and out and was felt okay, and it was his friend also, that would give me the money. And they were also in the industry. And what ended up happening is I chose the company in New York to sell to them, because they would be able to finance the growth. If I got a million dollars, I couldn’t finance all the inventory and growth that I needed to for the business. And I would have had to lay more people off. So I chose the option that I thought would keep the most employees in their jobs and be able to grow the company because they needed a bigger line of credit than I could get access to.

John Corcoran 19:15

Yeah, so So you end up selling the business and you end up going to work for the new company working for the acquiring company. What was that like?

Nicole Donnelly 19:26

Well, I had 30% in the new company that we formed together, we did an asset sale and so all the assets lived in the new company. And I was supposed to still run it in Seattle. And then they started to tell my staff to do different things than I wanted my staff to do. And my staff decided that the paychecks were coming from New York so they weren’t going to listen to me anymore. No. And it was everything from operations to design. And even though I had an agreement of the things I had authority over, they didn’t uphold that. They had more money than me they were in a better financial position. I couldn’t legally defend that. So after three months, I was rendered completely ineffective. So

John Corcoran 20:17

even though you’d negotiated this agreement that you would have authority over certain pieces, they still stepped in, still acted in those areas. And because they had deeper pockets, there wasn’t anything you could do about it.

Nicole Donnelly 20:32

Yeah. They had deeper pockets and the support of my team, because that’s who was paying them.

John Corcoran 20:41

Hindsight is always 2020. But what if you look back on that? Is there anything that you could have? Or would have done differently? Knowing what you know? No.

Nicole Donnelly 20:50

I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I well, I would have negotiated with the bank, because at the time, I didn’t know this, you know, I didn’t know how bad it was, and that they were getting pennies on the dollar for the lines of credit. And if I would have taken the money the from my two friends, then I could have negotiated that debt down significantly,

John Corcoran 21:13

instead of paying the full 900. Yeah. Well,

Nicole Donnelly 21:16

I didn’t even know that was an option until you know, much later. When that aside, and somebody was telling me about it, and how you could negotiate those down. I didn’t think it was negotiable. I had no idea. So I would have been able to have more money in my pocket. Had I known that and been able to negotiate with the bank on that one. Because they did not want to, you know, they didn’t want to take over my business. They didn’t want to. They didn’t want me to go to, you know, the business version of foreclosure. Yeah.

John Corcoran 21:51

Yeah, the banks don’t want to run people’s businesses. Yeah. No,

Nicole Donnelly 21:54

they don’t. And so it could have been pennies on the dollar, which I learned later that other people negotiated their debts that way at that time.

John Corcoran 22:04

So you end up ego going to work for the company that acquired you. And they ended up telling your staff to do certain things you’re in disagreements, what happened next?

Nicole Donnelly 22:15

I just went home, stopped going in the office and was super depressed for a bit. And I started writing a book because people asked me what I how I did what I did. And they thought it was so amazing, because we got a lot of press, you know, for a company. And I wrote a book, so I didn’t have to talk to people.

John Corcoran 22:39

Because you wanted to be able to say here, go read my book. Yeah.

Nicole Donnelly 22:42

Here’s how I did what I did. So my first book, it’s on Amazon, it’s Rash to Riches.

John Corcoran 22:49

I love that title.

Nicole Donnelly 22:51

And it was it just tells the story of how we built the brand. And it really was about having a brand that people loved and trusted. And part of that brand was designed part of it was just heart of a mother and a child. Mm hmm.

John Corcoran 23:06

So after you sell your remaining portion of baby legs, you end up starting a marketing company. And one little detour from baby products to condoms selling condoms online. That’s quite a shift. So you end up buying a company called condom mania. How did that come about?

Nicole Donnelly 23:31

Well, I started the marketing company. We started as social media training, and then moved into more services to and I got kind of bored with it. And my friend had a condom company and he was looking at, we’re looking at working together and then he just wanted to sell. I thought well, that sounds fun and interesting. And then I can practice all my marketing skills on a product business again, because I love products. So I ran that for three years and then we sold it because it was not it wasn’t the industry that I was meant to be in it was not the keywords I wanted associated with my name. Yeah,

John Corcoran 24:12

I mean, by the way, was there anyone any you know, friends who are like you were like, acclaimed for selling this baby you having the Brady baby product line? And now you’re gonna be selling condos. Are there people that are like what are you thinking, Nicole?

Nicole Donnelly 24:27

Oh, no, most people are just curious.

John Corcoran 24:31

Just curious about it. I didn’t try and talk you about it. It’s kind of interesting. What made it different. What did they do? What did the company do? Wasn’t didn’t just sell off the rack?

Nicole Donnelly 24:43

Yeah, well, we had custom fit. We had exclusive distributorship for North America of custom fit condoms. And that was the big differentiator and then all of the we put together variety packs that were based on size or type and so on Amazon, we could rank really well and sell through. And through some different outlets, we sold directly to Groupon, we sold to universities we sold to the Peace Corps. So we would sell wholesale and we would sell retail.

John Corcoran 25:20

Okay, so this was a, this is a 2012 to 2015 time period, I’m trying to think what the state of the art technology was back there. And I’m kind of afraid to ask this question. But there’s all these different companies now. Like I bought a pillow a while back that you take a picture of your neck and then it and then it might and then it creates a pillow that’s custom to your size. Am I getting close? Or completely different?

Nicole Donnelly 25:46

It was a straight up measurement. We had a tool, we had a little it was paper. It was very basic, high tech at all. Okay, good. measure length and girth, and you would get a number and a letter. And they were non sequential. So nobody

John Corcoran 26:03

numbers and letters are not like random letters and numbers,

Nicole Donnelly 26:06

that no one would feel bad about whatever size

John Corcoran 26:10

because otherwise people would be like, they’d go like, I’m a 12. And then you’d send them to them, and they’re like, they don’t fit.

Nicole Donnelly 26:18

They six be what is that?

John Corcoran 26:22

That’s pretty funny. Your own kind of system for sizing and everything. So okay, so you you do that for a little while. And then I think it was somewhere in here, you start taking interest in AI and you were very early adopter of AI copywriting. Now, I there were a number of different companies that did this. And I had tested it out a couple of different times, to kind of lie, you know, mediocre results, I thought, for our purposes anyways. What was it for you in the early days? And we’re talking like, I think you’re saying like 678 years ago, you were looking at at AI copywriting tools. What what did you see? How did you see the potential?

Nicole Donnelly 27:05

Yeah, we started in 2015, with an AI tool that helped with content, automation, third party content, pushing it out on your channels, because it’s good to send other people’s stuff out. And it was curated, and it was on brand and all of that. So there was a tool that we use for that back in the day, in 2015. And then we were doing coffee, with AI tools. During COVID. When we were at home, I learned about the tool from clubhouse. And we started using it. And it helped save us a lot of time on all of our copywriting. And then we started learning about other AI tools, and you needed a programmer for it. So one of our technical partners would play with this stuff. And we we kind of stayed on top of it because we had technical partners. Even though our core team is not technical, he would show us all the things that you could do with it. And you know what we could do with it. But it was really a programmer had to talk to the API except for in copywriting. And once ChatGPT broke, it broke the dam for all natural language processing tools and LP that is the key that took AI from this thing that was kind of behind the scenes in our phones in Gmail in all the places where the Grammarly. It’s been running since 2009. So AI has been listening to our conversations, and it has all this data on us. But we weren’t able to interact with it until recently, in natural language, not programmer language. And now that’s the big differentiator. And that’s why it’s available and accessible to everybody. No matter how smart and fancy of a degree you have, you know, like that you don’t have to hire a programmer in order to access it. 

John Corcoran 28:59

Yeah, no,

Nicole Donnelly 29:03

And this is a great leveller. And this is why I’m so passionate about it. Because it as you’re growing your business from zero to a million from a million to 10 million, there’s this valley of death 10 million to 50 or 100. There’s this time where you end up with a lot of financial outlay for the technology to scale your business. And you have to get these systems in place. And typically they say businesses fail because they run out of money. Why do they need more money if your product you may need product, and you might need some of that financing, but it’s technology that usually is the spend, sometimes it’s physical locations and equipment. But right now, with the technology and then the people that you don’t have to hire now. You can save so much time and so much money. And I think more businesses that are small now are going to be able to grow like never before. Like when never. 

John Corcoran 30:03

And we’re recording this on October of 2023. What are some really interesting ways that you’re seeing companies utilise this technology today?

Nicole Donnelly 30:14

Oh, I mean, a sales chatbot that can actually sound like a human that’s talking to you. And answer your questions like a human would not an if this, then that kind of programmatic conversation. You can have phone calls with bots that way, like the sales bots are a game changer. There’s also more, there’s AI for dealing with HR issues, for reporting HR issues for finding good employees and for screening them. There. There’s a whole sequence is anything. Marketing. Of course, marketing is an easy one for images and graphics. There’s so many automations that you can create with AI and a few tools where you can automate the production of a lot of content, video, image content, and audio content to tedious tasks. If you think of any tedious tasks, you have to do like spreadsheets. For me, I used to do these budgets. I mean, I still have to do these budgets. They take me like three hours to do one. Now it takes me maybe 30 minutes to do the budget because of AI because of AI. Yeah.

John Corcoran 31:31

And no, you know, ChatGPT came out and I think November or December of last year. So it’s we’re coming up on a year here. But it seems like and maybe I was just I didn’t wasn’t paying attention enough. But there’s Claude. There’s Bard, there’s being there’s all these other ones that came out, some of which you brought to my attention in a post that you made. Were all those kind of sitting on the sidelines. And these other companies felt like they needed to release them. And so they had been working on them for years, because it just feels like it was just an avalanche of all these other competitors. So which, you know, a lot of people are not paying as much attention to but have as much capabilities as chair GBT does.

Nicole Donnelly 32:15

They do, and sometimes they give better outputs to Google’s been working on their AI forever. They didn’t release it before ChatGPT because they didn’t feel like it was ready. That was what their statement was. And none of these API’s are ready, they all break, we were on ChatGPT and Claude today, trying to do uploading spreadsheets and getting insights from this data analysis. And I did it the other day and ChatGPT was broken. Today, Claude was broken there. It is to be expected that these tools will hallucinate, they will give you wrong answers. And for the time that they save you, it’s worth the clunkiness of it all. When this all shakes out. And everybody has these nice smooth tools, I think it’s going to be another year or two before it gets ironed out. But you just have to expect these because the people don’t want to be left on the sidelines, they don’t want to get left behind. Because ChatGPT games so much ground, which then bought Microsoft for it again. Right. 

John Corcoran 33:24

And they did I mean, Microsoft suddenly became super relevant overnight, it seemed like it did.

Nicole Donnelly 33:29

And now Microsoft tools, which still, so Google released Duet, which is inside of all of the Google workspace tools. And it’s really clunky. Microsoft has Copilot inside of everything. Microsoft also has more than 250 ai features in their online version of Office 365. And it can do things that people have wanted to do for years, like take a Word document and turn it into a PowerPoint, you can do that with AI now. And it takes two seconds. It’s not super pretty, because it’s Microsoft. I love Microsoft for what they’re doing. But it’s just not the most aesthetically pleasing brand. And so you get the product that looks like it’s Microsoft, you know, and you get some of these other products, though, like Gamma, which is gorgeous and produces gorgeous presentations in five seconds on any topic that you could want. Like it’s just it’s so amazing that and this is where these new tools and new companies and new brands can come to the forefront and compete with the big guys. 

John Corcoran 34:40

Where should companies, small companies that are listening to this that are having tapped into all these different resources? Where should they be looking? How should they be getting their news? How should you know if they don’t have tonnes of time to keep abreast of all the new developments? How do they figure out where they should be focusing their energies and What’s the latest cutting-edge new change that’s going to affect their industry?

Nicole Donnelly 35:04

I am, I would just say, pick a couple tools, pick a ChatGPT clod combination. And anytime you are faced with tedious tasks that you don’t want to do, and you’re just, you know, sitting at your computer, just think, How can I help me. And there’s a website called There’s An AI for that that has more than 8000 tools listed. And that can be really overwhelming. But if you just take a couple of the tools and see how you might be able to reduce those tedious tasks, that’s a really good first start if you just get in the habit of using them. 

John Corcoran 35:45

And then the other insane thing is that you can ask a lot of times you can, you could say to Chad GBT or whatever, say, like, I need to do X, Y, Z, how can I do it? And it may give you the path forward to what you want?

Nicole Donnelly 35:57

Yeah, it just might also hallucinate and give you some answer that

John Corcoran 36:03

Easy stuff. Yeah, that’s part of that is a little funny, you know, too? Well, you have to be careful before you ship it off to, you know, to your client, or whatever. Or we’ve heard stories of like, you know, lawyers that have submitted things to judges that have completely made up case law and things like that. So you do have to be very careful with it. Well,

Nicole Donnelly 36:26

I was just gonna say our one of our favorites is Jasper. And that’s the one we’ve been using for years. And it was called Jarvis before. And it’s Jasper and it’s gotten a lot of investment money, and you can create a knowledge base, so you can get really good content out of it, you have to know how to use the tools. Well, that’s why we do training. And you know, when I started the marketing company, we started out as a training company. And I feel like I’m back at the beginning again, now doing the AI training. And I’m really enjoying it because the you know, teaching is in my nature, both my parents have master’s in instructional technology. So that’s what they’ve done too. And I love showing people these tools that can save them time, doing stuff that nobody wants to do. So it’s kind of the most boring thing. But it makes it exciting. And I haven’t had this much fun working since I was snowboarding.

John Corcoran 37:19

That’s great. What do you say, though, to people who are fearful of these tools, and specifically fearful that they may, you know, replace what they’ve been doing, what they’ve been, what their vocation has been for a long time. Because people will find some AI tool out there that can do it for free or a lot less expensive. What do you say to those people that are really fearful of that?

Nicole Donnelly 37:44

I would say that AI cannot replace humans yet. We need AI powered humans. And we can leverage it. And then it frees your brain up for more creativity and more fun things and more of what you enjoy doing. Right now, if you don’t learn to use AI, or be replaced by somebody who does? If you’re, then that’s the thing, if you’re afraid of it. I mean, you just gotta get your hands. That’s why get your hands dirty. Download GPT for you got to have no you don’t have to download it on a browser, get the app, whatever, but you need four, because four is 10 times smarter than 3.5. So yes, it’s worth the $20 a month to pay for for because you get an Einstein level IQ almost. It’s 155. And when they come out with their next version, it’s supposed to be 10 times smarter. And it will make a lot of these tedious tasks easier. It is well. And now. Sorry, good. Oh, well, now it’s tied back into search. It’s tied into DALL·E, which is image generation. There’s just so much you can do with it.

John Corcoran 38:57

Yeah, and you can upload a document, you know, PDF or a spreadsheet or something and ask it to give you some analysis to it’s amazing. You know, sometimes Twitter is a place where I get different insights, someone will share some, you know, tweet thread that has, you know, 15 ways you can use ChatGPT. And you know, it gets a lot of popularity and I look through it. And some of the things just kind of blow my mind. Yeah, it’s it’s really cool and exciting, all the different adaptations.

Nicole Donnelly 39:28

Yeah, it is. And we keep a concise list that we keep updated, that has the tools that we liked the best in the moment. But we the ones that we think are good for teams, or they just have a really good, easy user interface. And our list probably doesn’t have more than 20 tools on it. And it’s for a variety of business purposes. And you can get the list for free. It’s And it’s just a Google Doc that I update. And I keep it there for people as reference information. There’s also a security doc attached to that, about how to think about privacy and security and the things to check for. But there’s links to our favourite tools on there.

John Corcoran 40:18

It feels like the early days of the internet when things were clunky, and they didn’t always work. But you could kind of see like, oh, this, this is going to change everything. There’s going to be a whole new world of stuff that we don’t anticipate, and you know, things like Uber, Airbnb or something like that comes along that you never could have anticipated or few people anticipated. Yeah. 

Nicole Donnelly 40:44

And when people ask where we’re going with AI, I don’t know, I don’t know where we’re going to be in six months. I mean, there are all these possibilities. There’s things that I really want to be built, that I think somebody is going to build. But there’s so many possibilities out there. I don’t even think we can imagine what’s coming up.

John Corcoran 41:04

Nikolas has been great. Want to wrap up with the question I was asked, which is my gratitude question. I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude, especially to those who helped you along the way. And you’ve mentioned a few people here. Who would you want to acknowledge? Would you want to kind of publicly call out and just thank them for helping you in your journey.

Nicole Donnelly 41:22

I have to send this recording to him. But Andy French, he worked for me at BabyLegs. And when the bank cut our line off AmEx, shut everything down. That was December 15. I believe. Everything stopped in banking and shipping and everything that stopped that day. I couldn’t pay payroll. And Andy lent me $120,000. I mean, he worked for me, he knew the money was coming in. And when I sold the company, I had to lay him off just before. And he’s still remained a good friend. But I so appreciate him in that moment. Because it was it was a tough one. And he helped us make payroll for a couple of months. Wow.

John Corcoran 42:17

Such a roller coaster, isn’t it? Where can people go to learn more about you, Nicole, and learn more about AI Smart Marketing and all the different courses that you have available for people?

Nicole Donnelly 42:26

Yeah, you can go to That’s an easy one. And for the courses. And Nicole is hosted over there anyways, so you can navigate out of it and go to all the AI stuff. We’ve got a blog, that’s pretty good that we keep up with a lot of the different technologies and we demonstrate and use them on there. So any video tools, we use them in the different blog posts and for any of the image generators, we use those as well. So I think the blog is pretty colourful over at AI Smart Marketing. And if you’re looking to get started, it’s a good place to start digging through. And we try to make it as easy and accessible as possible. So you could be the most beginner non-technical person, and you will understand how to use it.

John Corcoran 43:12

That’s great, Nicole. I’ve learned a ton from you. Thank you so much for your time today.

Nicole Donnelly 43:17

Thank you.

Outro 43:21

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