LAS VEGAS -- Like other clever entrepreneurs, Jody Sherman searched for a problem to solve and a problem found him.
He was in a Southern California market when he saw a pregnant woman chatting with a mother who had a toddler in tow. Turns out the pregnant woman was the inquisitive sort who was concerned about every product she might buy to raise a healthy child.
Sherman's solution to the woman's problem was to form a website, Ecomom.com, which he co-founded with Emily Blakeney, who owned a children's store close to his former home in Venice, Calif.
Ecomom, which maintains a warehouse in Brea, Calif., but moved 16 employees and the rest of its business operations to 241 W. Charleston Blvd. in January, sells household products vetted for health and safety that target infants and young children and their caregivers.
In explaining the name Ecomom, Sherman said: "We think 'eco' is healthy and 'mom' means family. Every mom wants to raise a healthy family. If it's going in, on or around you, we think a product has to be safe."
For that reason the company won't sell baby bottles made of plastic because of the potential carcinogens that can be released when such containers are heated.
"We sell things that you can buy at a lot of other places but what we offer is trust," Sherman said. "We have criteria for every product we sell and for every company behind the products. We require every company we do business with to fill out an exhaustive audit that includes their business practices and the ingredients they use."
Since launching in May 2010, the website has attracted more than 100,000 customers who are buying products such as organic food, diapers, bath and skin care goods, toys, strollers, cleaning gear and child-proofing solutions. Roughly 40 percent of its customers are stay-at-home moms, about half are college educated, and 25 percent of Ecomom's sales come from repeat business.
The website and the company's Facebook page encourages customer feedback. Ecomom is also constantly on the lookout for new science and third-party testing results that have turned up problems with products after they have reached the marketplace. Ecomom stopped selling a cleaning item after learning that an ingredient extracted from coconuts was potentially carcinogenic.
"We had a vendor who pulled baby food because they had customers who said they didn't like the consistency of the food," Sherman said. "We contacted our customers and offered to take the product back."
The Ecomom Vegas family pose for a company photo.
Sherman, a 47-year-old Miami native, possesses only an 11th-grade education but he became a data systems technician for the Navy and later developed his chops in sales and marketing. An early employee of Internet search engine Lycos, Sherman got involved in tech startups, eventually selling SmartCharter, a private jet booking company, to billionaire Virgin owner Richard Branson.
It was an encounter with another successful businessman, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, at a poker party in San Francisco last year that convinced Sherman to move Ecomom headquarters to Las Vegas. It didn't hurt that Hsieh, an influential force behind the emergence of tech startups in Las Vegas, provided $300,000 in financing to help Ecomom grow.
"We were interested to learn that we could have a legitimate impact on the community, and it also helped that my employees could afford to own homes here," Sherman said.
The company workplace operates in a relatively carefree manner. There are no partitions or walls separating employees. Work stations are on wheels so the office can be rearranged at anyone's whim. And employees are treated to yoga instruction twice weekly.
Jody Sherman does yoga with his employees and friends.
Sherman has big dreams for Ecomom. He wants to raise an additional $6 million to $10 million, money he says will help the company compete for a bigger slice of the multi-billion-dollar industry that infants and young children represent. His goal is to double the company's products from 4,000 to 8,000 by year's end and have 60 employees in Las Vegas by the end of 2013.
His other goal is for Ecomom to help feed at least 100,000 hungry infants a year, and it is already off to a good start by devoting 1 percent of its revenue for that purpose. Last week, the company began distributing thousands of meals to charities and food pantries in Las Vegas, Southern California, New York City and Indianapolis.
Ecomom employees and others volunteer at God's Groceries food pantry.
Today's distribution will include 13,500 meals to God's Groceries at 101 S. Rancho Drive. Ecomom's decision to give back to the community is why it adopted the motto, "It's All Good."
"It's good for you, it's good for your family, it's good for the planet and it's good for someone in need," Sherman said.