Interview with CEO of Smilo Josh Wiesman

You're a first-time parent, and while you are beyond happy, it slowly begins to settle in that you need to buy baby stuff. Then the flurry of questions start racing in:

  • What type bottles do I buy?
  • What are the best pacifiers?
  • What is a bottle brush and why do I need one?
  • What are snack containers?

Not to mention the dizzying selection of brands from Nosefrida to Stokke to California Baby. Making matters more stressful you just read an article on Baby Center and according to their first-year baby costs calculator, “Your baby’s first year will cost: $10,616.”

You ask yourself, “There has to be a better way?” That is in part what drove Josh Wiesman to create Smilo. Wiesman explains, “I saw how family and friends would struggle to find the best for their kids, combing through retail aisles with lots of trial and error. I want Smilo to be the brand we wished we had available when our kids were babies.”

So let’s find out how Smilo under the leadership of Josh is creating products, “we wished we had available when our kids were babies.”

So, Josh what’s your story?

I am a biomedical engineer by background and have been inventing, designing, patenting (creating IP) and licensing or selling products since my sophomore year at Tulane University. My first patent was actually a pacifier, funny enough! The products I have developed range from complex medical devices (stents for cardiac procedures, respiratory devices, DNA capturing and storage devices, and bite impression devices) to baby and child products (pacifiers, feeding bottles, bottle brushes, etc).

My inspiration for creating Smilo came from years of developing category leading products for other brands. The time seemed right to stop licensing products to other brands and instead create a new brand that could have the best products in each category for the many stages of childhood. I saw how family and friends would struggle to find the best for their kids, combing through retail aisles with lots of trial and error. I want Smilo to be the brand we wished we had available when our kids were babies.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Any good leader’s first responsibility is to work with, and influence, the team to work towards a set vision. The main objective is to make the vision reality. This can only be done by working together as a cohesive team that is lead, not directed.

Leaders should lead to implement significant change and drive the team to accomplish its goals and objectives. For a start-up it’s especially important for leaders to put emphasis on vision and creating an environment that promotes creativity, innovation, engagement, and empowerment.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

For a start-up like Smilo, I believe that team composition is much more important than establishing a traditional hierarchy. I believe a team should have strong leadership, but a true hierarchy could be very disruptive to innovation, creativity, and achieving objectives.

At Smilo our main point of differentiation is our technological and innovative ability. Our team mentality allows us to operate in a nimbler manner than in a hierarchy structure. We can also respond to change faster.

Smilo is focused on delivering the most innovative and safe essentials for every stage of childhood. While our teams may have different objectives, this shared company purpose is the common thread that drives us. Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you cite one example you are currently fostering?

Any company rooted in innovation has to be open to nontraditional ways to get work done. For many start-ups non-traditional is actually the new traditional.

Product design and innovation are some of our core competencies. If the key objective is to create a new product, we look to remove creative barriers, open access to resources, and understand the entire process of developing products from concept to customer.

All team members need to understand and observe how the current product is produced from raw material through final inspection and packaging. By breaking down barriers between groups and understanding the entire process we are able to plan, communicate, and produce better products and marketing material.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

Before you can assess talent versus the ability of the talent to scale or grow I think you need to have a good understanding of what the company needs now versus what it will need as it continues to grow. Not every person needs to be on a management trajectory. Within each role you have to understand what is motivating the talent to be part of your organization. What will they need to stay motivated daily, monthly, annually?

Interviews are tricky because they often involve scripted or safe answers and the candidate wanting to present him/herself in the best way. We try and move past the surface and understand what motivates someone and to identify their fundamental strengths and weaknesses. This can give us a better understanding of how they will fit into our organization and their potential for growth.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your “No’s?”

Smilo had a great launch and is now focused on maintaining a balance between customer growth and product development. We have a clear understanding of what we aim to achieve as a brand, as a business and within specific product categories. We use this understanding to assess how an opportunity fits into our plan and how it furthers our objectives.

We recently made the decision to push forward with new toddler feeding and mealtime products vs. expanding into infant health and safety. We feel the opportunity to grow with our customers and offer a product line that is more consistent with our current products is more valuable to our brand now and in the long run.

It’s clear that Wiesman has a purpose and the purpose is part of the company’s philosophy, “We’re a team of parents who double as doctors, scientists, and engineers who find simple solutions to complex problems.”

Infusing simplicity in solving complex problems is a competitive advantage, but it’s the collective goal that allows a company to thrive. Charles Teague, CEO of LoseIt! explains, “To me, leaders are entrusted to be shepherds of a collective goal.”

So focus on product simplicity and never forget to set your companies collective goals.


I am curious about having strategic conversations on how leaders leverage a latticework of mental models to not only make better decisions but evaluate the number of unique scenarios which impact their companies.