For mom Angela Stephens, necessity became the mother of invention when her son Drake was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To help him focus and get organized, she took matters into her own hands.
When Angela Stephens’ fifth grader son Drake tested at a high level for ADHD in 2010, she ached for him. The diagnosis provided a small sense of relief for the former single mom who also ran her own executive candidate search business—now there was an explanation for why he constantly forgot his lunch at home, forgot to turn in homework, and was easily distracted. But, it was just the start of their journey, as she tried to find resources to support him.
“As a mother, it broke my heart, and I wanted to figure out how to help him,” Angela remembers about her son who is now 22. “We had tried everything. We tried counseling, biofeedback, everything. Medication worked, but it wasn’t enough.”
Her “lightbulb” moment came when she decided to try and experience life through her son’s eyes. She observed Drake as he got ready for school, taking note of the various steps in his morning routine.
One big challenge Drake was dealing with was forgetting to turn in his homework. Angela looked in his backpack and noticed that, while the assignment was done and ready to turn in, he couldn’t find it in the moment because his folders were all the same color.
Angela started creating color-coded files for her son—red files for art, yellow for history, and green for math. Her system worked, and it was a turning point for Drake. With additional help from medication, tutors, and counselors, he went from being a D-student to an A-student within a few months. Angela then started to think up and design new products to help him become even more successful in daily life.
Time to RE-Focus
Things came full circle when Angela herself was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 45, scoring just as high as her son had back when he was tested. She had sought help because she was having memory issues and missing deadlines.
“I thought I was getting dementia early on because I would go somewhere and I’d forget why I was even there,” she says. “I got on the right medication, and I was fine. But during that time, I had to work harder. And so then, I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to start a business, and I’m going to start doing it on ways to refocus because if I’m struggling with this, I know other people are as well.’”
It was during this process of discovery that Angela’s new business, RE-Focus, the Creative Office, was born. Launched in 2019, RE-Focus, the Creative Office creates products that help make work, school, and life easier for those who may struggle with ADHD, attention deficit disorder (ADD), dementia, or other ailments that can affect a person’s attention and organization.
Fueled by her passion for helping others, the now 54-year-old seeks to emotionally connect with, and empower, her customers. Inspired by her own experience as a single mom for 10 years, Angela created guided anxiety journals, which she describes as being an alternative for people who do not have social support groups. Her colorful pill boxes feature positive, inspirational phrases that can create a bright moment for a customer. Other products include calendars, to-do list legal pads, and designs specifically for left-handed people. Angela shares how each product is designed to help her customers:
All of our products are created through the eyes of a child with ADHD...That child is my child. I’ve been an entrepreneur for years, and I saw a need. There’s plenty of calendars out there, so, it has to be something that has a meaning behind it. We have a mission statement that says, “Once a person (whether or not they have ADHD) is focused, organized, and finds their ‘calm’, they can be brilliant!” I’ve seen that with my own son, because today, he’s in his second year of college. He’s a co-founder of the company, and he created our first suite of products.
Initially, RE-Focus sold its products on its own website and in retail stores, but soon the company turned its sights to Amazon. “Amazon is such a valued partner to us. When you first start selling in the Amazon store, it’s a learning curve, but now I can do it blindfolded,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, if I create this product, I’ll be so wealthy.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to put in the work. I look at Amazon Seller News every day. I’m a self-help junkie. So, when Amazon has the Seller University webinars, I listen again because I think there’s something that I could have missed [the first time]. Or I’ll have my staff listen, because Amazon is constantly making adjustments to help business owners and brand owners.”
Growth spurs new product ideas
Hearing from grateful customers who have family members with ADHD or just need help managing their focus, has helped fuel Angela’s entrepreneurial spirit and inspired additional ideas.
“I started getting emails from people saying, ‘I’ve always gotten onto my son. He was always disruptive, but then I got your password book—or calendar or to-do list legal pads,” she says. “They say, ‘Where have you been? I wish I’d known about you years ago.’”
Having been an entrepreneur for 30 years, Angela is always coming up with new ideas for ways to help people. She continues to run her executive search business, and in 2020, she created a podcast called RE-Focus with Angela Stephens where she interviews CEOs, ADHD coaches, teachers, surgeons, professors, and disability educators on how they focus and refocus when they face adversity. For the podcast’s 100th episode, Angela interviewed David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, who also has ADHD.
More recently, when Drake was getting ready to apply to college, she noticed that in spite of her numerous reminders, he wasn’t submitting college applications or chasing down scholarship opportunities. “I thought, ‘I’m a mom, I love him, I’m going to help him,’” Angela recalls. She made a list of colleges and started visiting their websites. “After the sixth link back and forth, I was overwhelmed. I thought, ‘If I’m overwhelmed, as a mom, how can I ask my son to do something if it’s overwhelming for me?’”
Angela created a cardboard timeline of sorts and pasted it up on the wall in Drake’s room. It had a place for college names, their deadlines, and notes. On the other side was an area for scholarship names, early application deadlines, etc. Her idea not only worked like a charm, it is now a fully-developed product called College Scholarship Timeline Sheets that helps applicants organize and plan out college and scholarship applications.
“I tell parents to put this in front of their video games,” she says. “Put it in their bathroom. Put it in their car. Put it in their bed. By the third time, Drake was filling this out, and now he has a scholarship and he’s in college, and it’s the only thing I can say that worked.”
Angela continues to travel the country, speaking at conferences and pitching RE-Focus products to retailers, sometimes accompanied by Drake, who has made a few successful pitches of his own. Her experience has taught her many lessons along the way, and she has some words of advice for new entrepreneurs.
“Just keep going,” she says. “It’s not a race. I never knew that I was creative earlier in my career. It was truly in my 40s that this creativity was inspired through the journey of loving my son and helping him be the best at whatever he desires in his life. As a recruiter for over 30 years, I thought that was the toughest sell ever. But getting a product into retail and to the consumer? That is a journey. I had no idea how difficult it was, and I’ve learned it, and so I would just say, keep going.”