May 13, 2019

Nina Makes a Cradle Which Saves the Lives of Babies and Its Investors are Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johanson

Nina Karp is a technology entrepreneur originally from Belgrade, whose startup is behind the world's first smart baby cradle. Recently she has opened a department of her company Happiest Baby in her hometown.

Nina Montée Karp is a technology entrepreneur and co-founder of a startup that developed the first smart cradle, SNOO, designed to swing and calm babies from crying, as well as to allow babies to sleep safely on their back. 

That it is an exceptional product speaks for itself the fact that investors are some of the leading Hollywood stars, but also companies like Google. Celebrities including Beyonce, Aston Kutcher, Selena Williams and many more, use SNOO for their children. 

Nina’s story is interesting because she is also a director, producer, pilot, activist, and a designer with multiple interior awards, all of which she achieved as a woman who came from Belgrade to Los Angeles 38 years ago. Recently she has opened a department of her company Happiest Baby in her hometown, Belgrade.

Nina started the company Happiest Baby in 2001 together with her husband, Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned American pediatrician and world expert on child development. Two years ago, they launched a product that triggered this story – SNOO, the world’s first smart cradle. In addition to being helpful to people in the most challenging months of their parenting, this product also saves babies from a very common cause of infant death – sudden death syndrome.

Happiest Baby raised a total of $ 38 million in investments from well-known VC investors and companies, among which are Google, Greycroft and Lux ​​Capital, but also received support from many celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Scarlett Johanson.

Serbian engineers will also develop such a technologically advanced and successful product as SNOO. They have the opportunity to learn a lot from people who are already accomplished in probably the most demanding market.

Your entrepreneurial journey started quite early, almost around the time you arrived in America. What did it look like, what ventures did you go through?

In my family, we are all entrepreneurs and we are generally business-oriented. Before I founded Happiest Baby with Harvey, I had two other successful businesses. I started my own production company, and one of the ventures I am most proud of is a breast cancer movie that I directed, shot, edited and produced. The movie was about how to treat a woman and a man with that diagnosis and how to recover from it. In the film I did interviews with leading oncologists and also with celebrities like Cheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Olivia Newton-John, and many other women who have had a fight with breast cancer. It was a very interesting and emotionally difficult project.

Before that, I founded my own company that manufactures medical creams that are sold exclusively to dermatologists.

What was it like to be a woman in the business world at a time when you were just starting out?

It’s a challenging road. As a girl, in Belgrade I was always drawn to some unusual things. I liked to do unusual sports, to drive fast, and also I got a pilot’s license, which was unusual at the time.

It happened in my business that when I meet with a contractor and he wants to talk to my husband, he says “No no, talk to Nina”.

I was very young when I started making my own products in the early ’90s. At that time I almost had to hide my age. I had to put on makeup and dress so that I look older. It’s really sad what we have to do to get people to take us seriously. However, this is true – as women, we have to put much more effort to succeed. While running my own production company in LA, it was harder to find male cameramen because they wanted to work exclusively with men directors. However, that all changed while I was making the breast cancer movie, as I was also a cinematographer, director, editor, and a writer. It was a one-woman show. In a similar way, I directed the best-selling parent video for Happiest Baby on The Block on Amazon.

I think women from Balkan are strong. There is also a kind of pride and spite and a desire to prove yourself. I take that I am a woman as an extra point in my successes, because not only I am a woman in the predominantly male “tech” world, but I am also from Serbia – I have an accent, which is another aggravating circumstance when doing business in America.

As a co-owner of a technology company, the percentage of women here is also very small. But my husband jokes that he is “the pretty” face of the company and that I am the one doing the important things. Because in my company I was in charge of the money, I found factories in China and India for cradle production, I am the one doing business development, going to companies like Google and Facebook and creating new business partnerships, negotiating for investments.

SNOO promotion with Jessica Biel

We split, Harvey travels a lot, he’s an evangelist, gives interviews because SNOO is still relatively new, people are still learning about and getting to know it better. So it’s a big responsibility.

Where did the inspiration for launching Happiest Baby come from?

My husband, Dr. Harvey Karp, is a pediatrician and one of the world’s leading child development experts. He has written three of the world’s bestsellers – ”The Happiest Baby on the Block ”, ”The Happiest Toddler on the Block ” and ”The Sleep Book ”, which immensely helps parents in the toughest times when babies cannot stop crying. His ‘5S’s’ method is being used around the world, both in hospitals and at homes, to help babies calm down and stop crying.

A special problem with newborns is the so-called SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome). This is the consequence of suffocations due to sleeping on the stomach, sleeping with their parents in their bed, or having babies literally forget to breathe because of the underdeveloped central nervous system. I know the families who experienced this tragedy. I believe this is the biggest tragedy that can happen to a parent because those babies are actually completely healthy.

Around 4,000 American children die from SIDS every year.

Harvey has traveled the world a lot over the years and delivered speeches. During one speech, he said that if any country would take 4,000 American babies a year, we would declare them a war. So he wondered why we were no longer working to prevent SIDS. One pediatrician replied, “Harvey, you’re famous in the world, why don’t you do something about it?” That night, Harvey drew exactly what SNOO is now on the napkin and told me that we could make it very quickly, in a year and a half. He asked me if I could work on it with him, to which I naively replied: ” Yes, of course!”. Of course, it took us five years! (laugh)

SNOO the cradle

How has your business been developing since 2000 until you launched SNOO?

It began with Harvey’s first book, ”The Happiest Baby on the Block”, which immediately became a worldwide bestseller. Then we saw that his ” 5 S’s ” method is trained in many hospitals, was even taught by pediatric students, and I heard it is taught in both Belgrade and Zagreb.

After that, we launched over 3,000 certified Happiest Baby educators who teach this method in America. He then stopped receiving patients and began to only educate and write.

Because it was often not clear to parents how to wrap a baby tightly, and one of these methods was swaddling, we have received many questions regarding their concerns and we weren’t able to answer hundreds of calls in a proper time. It gave me the idea to make a documentary that educates parents, which I suggested to my husband since I knew how to shoot and edit video.

That’s a very interesting story. When we shot a thirty-minute video of the 5S’s method, we offered one of the biggest record labels, Random House, to add a DVD to the cover of each book for free. They said they don’t think it would be of interest to the parents and they refused, even though they were the publisher of the book my husband wrote. We then went to Barnes & Noble but they also rejected us. Then we decided to market this DVD ourselves on Amazon – and we sold millions of copies!

This allowed us to retire and devote ourselves only to Harvey teaching Happiest Baby and writing other books so that his ideas and methods would reach millions of patients worldwide, not just the 6,000 – 7,000 patients who could go through his practice within the year. The book is still very popular and has been at number one among books for parents for about 16 years.

What is interesting about our company is that, while it is profit-oriented, it actually helps parents to raise their child in the best possible way, because when the child is OK – everything is OK. Our company is dedicated to helping parents become successful in their most important work, raising healthy and happy children.

Baby sleeps in SNOO

When another pediatrician, to put in that way, challenged Harvey to do something because no one had done anything to help babies with SIDS before, we thought about making Harvey’s 5S’s method easier with the help of technology. That was the crucial moment that led to the idea to bring 5 S’s method into the baby’s cradle.

SNOO is based on science and Harvey’s scientific method. But interestingly, his method is actually what our grandmothers have done for hundreds of years. So we applied what was best and what turned out to be the best for centuries – and inserted that into SNOO. To the delight of happy parents – SNOO really works.

The cradle is the most important thing when a baby is born because it spends 15 or 16 hours per day in it. In our cradle, as soon as the baby starts crying or nodding, the cradle starts to move a bit. The more a baby cries, the more the cradle moves. The cradle is intuitive and thus trains the baby to sleep. The baby has the same feeling it had in the womb. In the cradle, the baby can hear white noises as heard in the belly – the sound of blood flow and it feels the same as when we walk.

It was very challenging to make the cradle. We worked for five years with numerous MIT engineers in order to make everything work: a baby to be safe and sleep safely on its back, enabling cradle to hear baby’s voice, producing various sounds, etc. as well as making everything look nice and not being a repulsive, cold technological product.

Who designed the cradle?

Our friend and one of the world’s most famous industrial designers, Yves Behar. We have already received 16 leading design and technology awards, and currently, our product is on display in four museums. SNOO is currently part of 14 research studies at Harvard University, UCSD, University of Michigan, University of Kentucky, University of Amsterdam, etc.

Why is it important for new parents to have this type of help in the early stage of their baby’s life? Somehow we see this baby cry as an integral part of early parenthood, why is that a problem?

When you buy a product you get a manual, and when you give birth to a baby you don’t get any. (laughs) What you get is a lot of advice from nurses, parents, but when your baby starts crying at three o’clock at night – you don’t know how to behave. 

We solve parents’ biggest problem, which is babies crying and parental fatigue. Studies have shown that when parents are tired, after two weeks of sleeplessness, they begin to react as if they are drunk!

One of the biggest benefits of a cradle is that when a mother is left alone with a baby and when the baby is fed and changed, she can have two, three hours for herself. She knows the baby will be safe. During this time, the mother can rest, take a bath, read the emails, have the sense of normalcy she had before becoming a mother. Because of that terrible fatigue, as well as hormones, about 20% of mothers become depressed after childbirth.

When a baby is happy and sleeps well – parents are also happy and sleep well! That is why it’s very important to help parents in that earliest, very challenging period.

In our case, we are also saving the lives of babies. According to the statistics, 20 percent of babies are found lying on their stomachs when Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has occurred. In our cradle, for that reason, babies cannot turn to their stomachs. They can move their legs up, rotate, but they can never roll.

SNOO found its place in maternity wards as well?

Yes, currently 22 hospitals use SNOO. In some maternity wards, there are 40, 50 babies with only five-six nurses per shift, and that’s where tragedies begin to happen. Last year in America, three deaths of babies were reported. When one baby cries, they all start crying, and the nurses can’t reach every single one so quickly.

That is why it is now the custom in maternity wards that babies stay in the room with their parents. However, there are also accidents, such as mothers falling asleep while holding a baby, and the baby slipping from a mother’s hands. It’s a great tragedy! Hospitals are now looking forward to using SNOO because it is the safest cradle. Nurses can feel the relief because when the babies start crying, the SNOO silence them and it’s a big help for everyone.

How big is the team that you have gathered around this idea?

We have about 60 employees in Los Angeles. I am happy because we have now set up a company in Belgrade as well, hired 7 engineers and a few people for operational and customer service to start with.

At the end of the year, we will launch SNOO in Europe as this time zone is ideal for customer service in this part of the world. Since January 1, we have started renting SNOOs, and we have signed a partnership with 31 companies including Facebook, Google, Snap, etc. They can rent SNOOs to their employees when they go on maternity leave. This will contribute to their satisfaction and, at the end of the day, to the retention of these employees.

But to get back to our employees. We have really great engineers. For example, in nine months our VP of Product made a Nook, an e-book device that was among the first to hit the market. As for the August Smart Lock – when the company couldn’t move from prototype to mass production, he solved the problem. 

He agreed to come from Silicon Valley to Santa Monica and help us because he saw the value of SNOO. He recognized that this is the moment when technology creates a win-win-win situation. Win for babies in the first place, win for parents and win for people working on the project.

You mentioned that there are already seven engineers employed in Belgrade. Why Belgrade, besides you being tied to Serbia by your origin?

I am Serbian and I love this climate and the IT industry development! And because the IT industry is making more capital, it means a better standard for our country and young families who will be able to afford a better life for their children. So this decision to come to Serbia is also a win-win-win situation for everyone.

I was born in Belgrade, which I left 38 years ago, and I am so happy that some things have changed here. I can see that the IT industry is somehow reviving the city. Our engineers have always been well known, but now when we’re interviewing them, I’m really proud. They are smart, talented and speak excellent English.

The entire IT industry has brought good energy and has a positive domino effect on society, and I want to give at least a small contribution to this growth.

I am fortunate to have a reason to come back here, and not feel guilty about coming only on vacation, but also to contribute. (laughs) I’m glad to bring some new knowledge to Serbia, both in terms of products and technology, but also management skills and business culture. In our company, culture is very important.

People don’t leave the company because of the company itself. People leave the company because of the management and how you treat them. That is why we foster a culture of respect, freedom and responsibility, and we want to bring that here. When employees know you care about them, then they will take care of the company.

A lot of celebrities have supported you in previous projects, especially now that you have developed SNOO. I know that among your investors are Justin Timberlake and Scarlett Johanson, who else supported you?

There’s also Kate Hudson, who opened her house to the media to show people SNOO in her bedroom. This rarely happens. Ashton Kutcher and his wife had a tremendous experience and he shared it with the media. Then Beyonce, and also Serena Williams who showed off her bedroom in the HBO special – and there was SNOO right there. Also, as you mentioned, our investors are Justin Timberlake and Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Bill, Leonardo DiCaprio. These are really big names and people who want to help just because they have a global influence and want to help other parents and their babies.

How did you get to them? Or did they come to you?

Both. My husband is a world-renowned author and pediatrician. He has had patients who are children of leading CEOs and film studio presidents to Madonna, Spielberg, Michelle Fifer, etc. We have also worked with celebrities through our non-profit environmental organizations because their voice attracts the masses and it is easier for us to broadcast an important message through them. There are really many wonderful and enlightened people out there who want to use their voice to make a change and create a better world.

Throughout our work, we have met truly imposing individuals who know that we are people of integrity and who trust us with their money and their name, and that is a huge responsibility. Likewise with running the company itself. Integrity and passion are the foundation on which we built the company and I think it means a lot to our employees. We are the first to come and the last to leave the office. Every moment is dedicated to working because it is no longer a job, but it has become our life mission and passion.

It is very important for our mission that the voice of SNOO spread around the world. The more people know and use it, the faster the price will go down. SNOO is a very complex and complicated product to produce. We are also a software, hardware and robotics company. Production is also logistically demanding, as SNOO has more than 400 separate components that eventually merge into one product.

What are your next big steps?

One of the problems that we will work on in the coming period is the further prevention of the already mentioned SIDS. When the baby stops breathing, it is enough for a doctor, a nurse or a parent to just shake the baby slightly and the baby will continue breathing. However, it often happens that no one is there. We plan to incorporate a sensor into the SNOO that will identify when the baby stops breathing and activate an alarm for anyone nearby to arrive. In the meantime, the SNOO will start swinging the baby at its highest speed to start breathing again.

The baby spends the most of the time in a cradle. We made SNOO, the first smart cradle that helps babies stop crying and sleep safely on their backs. All the other components of a baby’s room such as a smart humidifier or a projector that creates stars on the baby’s ceiling are accessories. The goal is to “own” a smart nursery in a connected home.

What would it look like in practice?

Say it’s Saturday morning, parents are asleep. Baby Sofia starts nodding, crying and SNOO calms her down. Then our application reports: “baby Sofia has a stuffy nose, SNOO put her to sleep, activated Nest and now the temperature is higher and the humidifier is activated.” This may seem ridiculous, but when parents are tired, it is a huge help and value proposition that is valuable.

On our application you see the whole history of how a baby sleeps. This is also convenient when you go to a pediatrician, because on that basis he can make a lot of conclusions about the baby’s condition and habits, and determine whether the baby is healthy. The average baby sleeps one to two hours longer in the SNOO which also affects the baby’s immune system. Of course, the rest of the household, too – because when the baby sleeps, everyone sleeps!

Technology is entering all segments of our lives. Someone might say “I grew up without it and I missed nothing”, but a lot of other things around us have changed since then, including our jobs and habits in general.

The name of our company, Happiest Baby, is very important because if you have a happy baby, then you have the happiest family. This is a product that everyone works on with a lot of passion and a lot of pride. However, this is a product that helps babies every day, non stop, and makes the lives of tired parents much easier.

This is our most important mission, and Harvey and I live for it. We work a lot, but the quality of life of both us and our employees is important to us.

Everything we’ve done in our lives – Harvey’s pediatrics experience, his patents and the popular 5 Ss method, my experience with business, branding, production, etc. – has come together at this point. All of these things help us to achieve our mission, which is making a huge number of babies and their parents happy.

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