We sat down with Clare Louise Shaw, founder of the Mini Mozart empire. She offered us a nice Nespresso (the blue decaff one – Vivalto Lungo – everything in this house needs to sound musical!). We loved her enthusiasm and her refined sense of humour.
ParentVille: How did the Mini Mozart project start?
Clare: It all started in 2005 when my eldest, Oliver was a baby. I took him to various music classes, but he was never as interested as when I took out my instruments at home and played in front of him: He would be completely amazed by it. So I started inviting my usual group of NCT mums with their kids, everyone was gobsmacked: we’d never seen a room full of silent babies, completely transfixed by the instruments.
It all grew organically, I started with one class in Highgate and then when my kids got older and I had more time, I put on more classes. It’s been a diagonal growth; there’s such an enthusiasm for what we’re doing I just can’t stop it. When people kindly congratulate me on all the work I’ve done, I want to tell them that I didn’t do much, it carried me!
P:The name is very catchy, how did you come up with it?
C:The Mozart effect was very fashionable at the time: it was the idea that if you listened to Mozart it would get your IQ up. The name also helped indicate that we were going to play Classical music. I was always keenly aware that the class needs to entertain the adults as much as the babies, and singing “The wheels on the bus” and “Row Row Your Boat” for an hour can be too much for even the saintliest parent to bear! Our classes alternate between classical music and nursery rhymes to keep everyone’s attention piqued.
P: What was your biggest challenge when you first started?
C: When I filed for a Trademark application for our name, the first feedback that came back was that it clashed with Disney’s Baby Einstein brand. I had just started and I had no money to spare on fighting a legal battle, but I was so attached to our name. One of my friends advised me to roll over and drop the name if it came to a fight. This was a petrifying time for me, but it was all sorted in the end!
The other big challenge that I had was realizing that you can only go so far with enthusiasm and expertise. As a mumpreneur, you need to juggle so many hats at once: designer, lawyer, marketer, web developer! It was intimidating for me as it took me out of my comfort zone. I could see that the classes were amazing and that we knew what the kids wanted, but the other areas of the business posed a really steep learning curve!
P: How did you design the structure of the classes?
C: The first 6 months were a real learning process. We were trying to figure out how much classical music we could have in a class and we kept tweaking the format to keep babies’ attention the whole way through! We really wanted the class to last for 45 min (most classes only last 30min) so that the trip is worthwhile!
P: What is your biggest achievement so far?
C: I am really happy to have found a solution that balances my professional and personal life and allows me to do what I love – spread the joy of music.
As a business, we don’t enter competitions or seek external validation. What I absolutely adore is going to classes, meeting the children and the parents and seeing the results!
Often, parents tell me: “we were listening to the radio and my child recognised the sound of a violin!”
One of the kids that started with me 9 years ago is now doing really well in music classes at school, opting for the bassoon as her instrument of choice, and going for a music scholarship! These tangible results that the program delivers are my greatest pride.
P: How do you keep your work/life balance? Tell us about a typical day in the life of Clare.
C: When it’s your business, you’re always thinking about it! But I wanted this other identity as a business owner in addition to ‘Oli & Lulu’s Mum’ and love being able to switch caps.
We don’t have a nanny, I do the school runs and I try to always be present when I am with them. Equally when I work from home, I am disciplined about ignoring the washing!
One of the downsides of the business growing a lot is that rather than teaching the classes myself, I’m managing a team of actor / musicians who take the classes for me. I miss being close to the magic all the time, but I get to step in if unexpected auditions or film work crop up, and a big part of what I do is auditioning and training up new teachers which is very rewarding.
P: What are your favourite hangout places / activities as a family?
C: We all love the Southbank. It’s so vibrant! The Imagine Festival has just finished there where we usually spend most of the February half term roaming around The Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Rooms, Hayward Gallery and of course the Royal Festival Hall. There are so many great restaurants that are kid friendly, a farmers market a skate park for the children to admire the big kids and even if you don’t have tickets to something specific, there’s usually some free live music being played in one of the foyer spaces or a workshop to get involved in.
This is what I love about London, and why I would never leave… There’s such a variety of things to do on your doorstep! We have a scatter gun approach to booking events, not necessarily all of them tailored for kids so of course sometimes we’ll see something rather average, but we frequently stumble upon gems.
I believe in not always doing ‘kids’ activities with your children: if you introduce them to things that you love and you assume that they will take something from it, they do! This is the ethos of Mini Mozart.
My hunch is that this fashion for making everything “child-led” can end up making our lives more difficult than they need be. And it’s certainly not the way we were brought up! As a parent, you got to have your own headspace; you can’t spend your entire life at Peppa Pig world! It’s also a great way for kids to learn respect for their parents while realising that there are 4 persons in the family and each one of us gets to choose how we spend our time 25% of the time. I think if you start doing that as soon as they are able to understand the concept of taking turns, you’re less likely to raise over-entitled children.
P: Is there any advice that you would give to a mum or dad who wants to start a business?
C: My biggest advice would be to be careful whom you go into business with! Sometimes the person could be a very good friend or a person you trust, but you just can’t have a working partnership together. Some people will just put more into the business than others.
I would start really small, on your own, it will avoid you falling out with the person later on. Some of my entrepreneur friends spend a lot of energy into managing their relationship with their partners. I like being sole founder, it gives me creative and emotional freedom.
P: What are your future plans?
C: This past year we’ve been through a consolidation process: we now have a story for each teaching week of the year with a class plan and the appropriate tools accessible to all teachers, even from their mobile phones (communication system, booking and registration system…)
We’re in a perfect position to easily scale up. We’ve already started expanding to cover more areas of London and we started a pilot franchise 2 years ago in Hertfordshire. Once this is working perfectly, we will spread across the UK! The end goal being to sell the company when my kids go to Uni, retire and go traveling!
Someone once told me that you only borrow your kids for 20 years, I can’t believe I am halfway through already…
P: You funniest parenting moment?
C: There have been so many!! My kids are really, really funny.
I remember once they were in the back of my car, they must have been 2 and 3 years old. I am a real London driver! I suddenly stopped and they said in chorus (mimicking me of course): “Come on, you could get a tank through there!”
Another time, I took them to Egypt on my own. They figured out that the fastest way to get free biscuits and juices was to run up to the shop-keepers and call them Daddy!! It was so embarrassing and hilarious at the same time…
If you would love to know more about Mini Mozart be sure to check out their website!
You can always download our app : all their classes are listed!