Why being teacher (and mom) is secret to success at one of N.J.’s fastest-growing companies

Boll & Branch’s Missy Tannen: ‘What I am doing is simply a culmination of everything I ever have learned in life’

By Meg Fry
Summit | May 18, 2018 at 10:49 am
On the Beat

Missy Tannen, co-founder and head of product design and development at Boll & Branch in Summit, is not afraid to admit it.

There were plenty of times she felt unsure of stepping into that role when she and her husband started Boll & Branch, an organic and socially conscious luxury bedding company, in 2014.

After all, she said, her only experience had been as a third-grade teacher and a stay-at-home mom to their three daughters, now 14 and 11-year-old twins.

“But I feel now that what I am doing is simply a culmination of everything I ever have learned in life,” she said.

What she’s doing is co-leading one of the fastest growing and most dynamic family-owned businesses in the country.

And her background has meant everything.

Scott Tannen, her husband and co-founder, said that, if Missy Tannen hadn’t been a teacher, Boll & Branch products might just not be the same.

“I don’t know if her product design would be as successful if she actually had textiles training,” Scott Tannen, CEO, said.

“Missy always is working on the next product and packaging updates, and I think her training as a teacher has made her perfect for that, especially when we have brainstorming sessions, and Missy inevitability finds her way up to the dry erase board to take down and contribute ideas.”

“I get in there,” Missy Tannen said. “I tear things apart and I want to know exactly the yarn size, the weave structure, the staple length of the cotton, how it feels — I want to know how all those ingredients will affect the end product.”

Tannen was a math and science major at Vanderbilt before getting a B.S. in elementary education and teaching. (She added a master’s degree at Rutgers.)

She said her time in the classroom, however, produced her most meaningful learning experiences.

When you are a teacher, she said, you are an entrepreneur.

“It’s just you and those 25 children, and no one is watching you 24/7 to decide whether you gave it your all or you didn’t,” she said. “You have a supervisor evaluate you every now and then, but ultimately, it is up to you.

“I gave 150 percent every day, working to make every lesson as hands-on as possible so that the children had some sort of tactile manipulatives to help them experience what the topic was. And I did it because I wanted to do it. I wanted to give it my all and think about how I could effectively communicative something important to those children.”

She continues to teach children: her own.

Her three daughters come into the office all the time to see what their parents are working on — and even bring their friends.

“They have business cards with the title, ‘Dream Teamer,’ and their pictures are up,” Missy Tannen said. “They get to feel like they are some sort of celebrities.”

For Scott Tannen, it’s all about combining work with family, something he sees as only a positive.

“They also feel like they are part of the team, and everybody here treats them that way,” Scott Tannen said. “We’ve worked really hard to turn this into an opportunity to help our daughters understand why it is we do what we do.”

Working alongside his wife has been great, he added.

“In my prior businesses, when I was stressed about things, I couldn’t ever truly explain it to my wife, because she wasn’t there and therefore could never really understand,” Scott Tannen said. “But, being that you marry someone you trust implicitly, and we have been married almost 20 years, we’re rowing in the same direction in the same boat now, and that is a huge help.”

It’s especially all worth it when the couple achieves a huge win, both in business and at home, he said.

“There is nothing better in the world, for example, (than) to find out that Gwyneth Paltrow is posting about us on Instagram or that the band Train decks out their tour bus with Boll & Branch products, and then be able to tell our daughters they are never going to believe who purchased from us today,” he said.

This sense of family carries over into their marketing.

If you have Sirius Satellite Radio, you may already have heard of Scott Tannen and Missy Tannen of Boll & Branch.

They might have spoken directly to you while you were driving your car.

“Ultimately, there is no better representative of who and what we are as a company than Missy and myself, or anyone else who works here, for that matter,” Scott Tannen said.

Though Missy Tannen said they originally started with a script and a voice actor to advertise their business, it just didn’t feel right.

“It felt so impersonal,” she said.

Scott Tannen agreed.

“I think our products reflect the care and time we put into our business, and I think our advertising should, too,” Scott Tannen said.

Boll & Branch also is proud to be a New Jersey company, the Tannens added.

“Our office is not in Silicon Valley or in a hipster loft in SoHo,” Scott Tannen said. “We are in Summit. Everybody who works here, for the most part, lives here. This is who we are, and we are proud of it.”

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3