When Sheryll Yu, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, read the same book night after night to her toddler, she began to realize reading wasn’t enough—young children need ways to create connections and gain an understanding of what they’re hearing. Yu believed with the right tools, she could foster learning, but all she could find were ineffective workbooks and time-consuming Pinterest activities. So she set out to create her own easy-to-follow system of learning activities that engaged her son, and when friends asked where they could get them, TigerKubz was born. We chatted with this mom of three who recently moved to Holmdel to talk about how her complete system empowers busy parents to be their child’s first teacher, the ways the pandemic helped her fine-tune her business, and her favorite spots her family goes to get out on the water.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Pinhai Shen
Please tell us a little bit about your family.
My husband, Jimmy Yu, and I have three boys, Jayden, 12, Jaxson, 5, and Jeremy, 15 months. We moved from NYC to Holmdel this past December as part of the Covid-19 mass exodus. Though I grew up in Old Bridge, I am not familiar with Monmouth County and have been enjoying the process of getting reacquainted with the state and discovering all that this area has to offer.
What is your career background and how did it play a role in you launching TigerKubz?
I worked in finance at BlackRock, an asset management company, but took a career pause due to a combo of “mom guilt” and burnout. When I started looking for a new job, I wasn’t feeling the spark and couldn’t justify spending so much time away from my kids, so I decided to invest all of my energy into raising my children until I found the right fit. At this time, my oldest was in 3rd grade, and I had a 2 ½-year-old. I read my then youngest child’s favorite book, The Runaway Bunny, to him every day for a month, and one day I asked him if he knew what a crocus was, and he didn’t know. It made me realize that it’s not enough just to read. Since I’m a type A, I did a lot of research on how young children learn. I realized you need to help your children make the connections to things they’re not familiar with in their everyday lives, so I created extension activities so that he could grasp specific concepts. Eventually, this became the TigerKubz system.
What was your “aha” moment that led you to take the leap to entrepreneurship?
The learning path begins from birth to 5 years of age, and when the groundwork is done, the child’s educational journey falls into place more readily. I focused on my toddler’s learning and found Pinterest activities too time-consuming and workbooks limiting and ineffective, so I did a lot of research and started creating learning kits for him. A friend saw what I was doing and encouraged me to share my system with other parents. The beauty of TigerKubz is that it empowers parents who might doubt themselves and the tools they need to be their child’s first teacher.
What sets TigerKubz apart from other early childhood enrichment programs?
My system helps empower parents who might doubt themselves and feel that they don’t need to have the credentials to be their child’s first teacher. TigerKubz is ideal for ages 2-4, but it’s somewhat flexible age-wise since young children vary in their strengths and needs. For certain ages, workbooks aren’t always developmentally appropriate, and there are only so many sticker activities young kids can do. This system fills that gap in the market. And unlike many other programs, as soon as a parent purchases the program, they can start engaging educationally with their child.
Are there any causes that are particularly important to you?
Giving back is very important to me. One way I do this is to offer apprenticeship opportunities. It gives college students some experience and room to be creative and practice their business skills. I also partner with Women in Need, an organization that provides safe housing and critical services for single, homeless mothers with families. For every TigerKubz purchase, one gets donated to a mother who needs it.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
I began developing my business in November 2019 and planned to launch it in March, but then the pandemic hit. I thought about launching it later, but there were so many parents of toddlers needing guidance with them at home, so I started the business by releasing free printables and storybook activity guides. These are the same concept as my learning kits, but because I didn’t have the physical products ready, these guides gave parents the ability to create extension-based activities at home. I got great feedback which allowed me to figure out what needs I could and should meet and the direction I wanted to go.
Do you have any tips or tricks that help you juggle running a family and a business?
In general, mompreneurs remind me of the tree in the book, The Giving Tree. It’s far too easy for us busy moms to get sucked into the dynamic of taking care of absolutely everything at the expense of our well-being. I’ve found it helpful to work smarter, not harder. My tip is to outsource tasks so that you can focus your time where it’s most needed and be honest about when you’re feeling overworked. Also, keep the lines of communication open with your husband or partner to share the household management and parenting load as much as possible.
How do you reset after a challenging day?
There are a few things that I find helpful, including shutting off all social media and electronics. My best days are when I “lose” my cell phone. Also, since moving back to NJ, I’ve learned to embrace and appreciate being close to nature. It’s crazy, but even weeding our lawn has become meditative and therapeutic for me. And now and then, an end-of-day glass of wine or whiskey is a welcome way to unwind.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
The Turning Point in Holmdel is an inviting, family-friendly place for breakfast and lunch and has become our go-to after soccer practice on weekends. Living in the city, we were spoiled by having access to diverse foods and ingredients. Discovering Fresh Food Mart in Middletown was such a pleasant surprise. Though not too large, this place has everything I need to cook our favorite Asian dishes at home. If you’ve never been to Bell Works in Holmdel, I highly recommend it. It’s like a city with boutique shops, restaurants, businesses, co-working spaces, and more, and the best part is that it’s indoors, so it’s a year-round experience, regardless of the weather.
What do you love doing in NJ with your family?
With three energetic boys, our favorite activity is to go hiking. We like Thompson Park because no matter how active we’re feeling, there’s a long or short hiking trail for us. Holmdel Park is another place we love. It has a paved area and lots of trees that are like natural bridges and lots of play spaces and areas to explore. And we love boating and fishing in Keyport, where we dock our boat. We’ll take it out of the Raritan Bay or take it to Point Pleasant or Atlantic Highlands, where there are so many places where we can dock and dine. Lake Hopatcong is another place we like for boating. For a treat, we’ll rent an Airbnb and dock the boat there.
What do you wish you knew about becoming an NJMOMpreneur before starting your business?
I am one person, not a big corporation. When I first started, I tried to take the corporate mindset that had helped me find success in my prior career —I wanted to plan things very far in advance. I spent a lot of time trying to make things perfect, but entrepreneurship is a very different animal. I now know that it’s okay to move forward without having all the answers, and it’s better to embrace the journey and adjust when necessary since things will change as you go along.
For more information on Sheryll Yu and TigerKubz, check out their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.