Michelle McDaniel understands how important play is to kids—and parents. Not only is she a mother of six (including two sets of twins!), she’s a registered nurse and the creator of We Came To Play, a traveling soft play rental company that caters to infants and toddlers. The company’s mission is to provide kids with a safe place to explore, have fun and learn through play while also making parties and events as stress-free for parents as possible.
What inspired you to create We Came To Play?
The idea came from my children. I had two sets of twins less than two years apart. While they were at different car seat levels, it was hard to get them to other people’s parties or hold parties for my own kids anywhere but our house. I had seen a similar concept outside of St. Louis, but there was nothing like that here. Then in 2020, I saw how difficult the pandemic was on mykids. Our house used to be full of other children on the weekends, but then people couldn’t come, and we couldn’t go anywhere. I’m a nurse, so that made things even more difficult. I wanted them to be able to do something. We Came To Play was the perfect option.
How did your experience as a mother help you develop your business model?
I know what parents want for their money. They want their kids to have fun and be tired by the end of the event. I named my services after how tired the kids will be after playing—from Yawning to Exhausted. When your child is a baby or toddler, they can end up in your arms, even at birthday parties. I wanted to create something where mom’s won’t have to worry about having a hip rider all day. Kids can crawl and have fun while developing skills, and moms have to worry less than they might at places like Chuck E. Cheese because everything is age-appropriate.
Did you kids help inspire the packages?
Definitely. Even though some of them are twins, all my kids are so unique. From how they walk and talk to even how they brush their teeth, none of them are the same. I knew I had to create play systems that could be more inclusive. If a child can only crawl while their peers are walking, they still need to have options to play even if they can’t do everything. In the ballpit, I can add textured and sensory balls if there’s a kid who needs that. The experience really can be customized to fit the child—whether it’s adding a bigger ball pit, including soft climbers for crawlers or bringing soft balls that can be thrown without worry. My children’s own differences really helped me think about individual needs children may have.
How did the launch go?
Our soft launch was in May of 2020 with a party for my twin girls, but in June, my foot got caught in a mole hill in my yard, and I broke my ankle. It was a bad break, so I couldn’t focus on the business while I was recovering. However, I knew I had to continue and show parents what we could offer them. I was able to really get started in December of that year.
How do you balance being an entrepreneur with family?
It’s challenging. As a nurse, I always scheduled my shifts around when my kids would be home. For We Came to Play, I strike a balance by getting my family involved in the process. Whether it’s helping with the party favors or creating coloring books, they love to help out. They often ask me if we have a party this weekend. I also document and schedule everything, including family nights. In my line of work, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.
Do you have any advice for mom’s who may want to launch their own business?
Never give up because you’ll always wonder what could have happened. What works for one person isn’t going to be a perfect fit for another, so do what feels right for you. As a nurse and an event planner, I never feel like I am just doing a job because I love taking care of people. It’s also important to understand that just because someone else can’t do it, doesn’t mean you won’t succeed. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so make sure you’re planning in both the short and long term. Understand how much you can afford to give to a project, both in terms of money and your time. Don’t worry if you encounter competition. It’s OK if others are going the same thing because it’s impossible for you to serve everyone. If you have passion about what you do, you’ll bring your own unique spin. I’m all for moms starting small businesses. That’s how we enrich St. Louis and Missouri.
Photos courtesy of We Came To Play