Discover the creation and journey of Joan Barnes and Gymboree

Play It Forward is a poignant tale told with fearless truth and transparency that details the remarkable journey of Joan Barnes, founder and former CEO of Gymboree, and how she learned to align her inner life with outward success. By evoking the differences between being in business and being your business and honoring your core self in the process, it seeks to inspire those who desire an entrepreneurial run, want to reinvent themselves or build their own table.

Forty years ago, Joan founded a play center in a church basement with $3,000 in Northern California. Determined to enable women to achieve personal and entrepreneurial success, Barnes grew Gymboree into a trailblazing leader, forging an innovative franchise program for women to operate a business while raising a family, which she later merged with company-owned retail stores that grew Gymboree into an iconic global billion dollar household brand.

Her path, however, wasn’t all rainbows and fairytales; her journey is a cautionary tale. When Gymboree had a historic IPO, Joan was nowhere near Wall Street, as she had earlier stepped down as CEO to battle a debilitating eating disorder that threatened to destroy her and everything she built.

She overcame her demons, charting a new path with an enduring sense of worth and hope. She resumed her entrepreneurial calling on healthier terms with a group of innovative yoga studios, which she eventually sold to national chain Yoga Works, an inspiring example of how midcareer women can triumph through reinvention.

For any entrepreneur or creator who dreams of creating “the next big thing”, is amid the challenging, chaotic middle part of building, or thinking about building something, Play It Forward provides an honest perspective of the challenges of building a business and seeking work-life balance in tune with personal values.

The authors hope that Play It Forward resonates on many levels, business and personal, shines the spotlight on the importance of self-awareness and self-honesty, and generates much-needed attention on the myths of a balanced life and to “have-it-all”, so as to help more women blossom, at any age!



``Joan Barnes's story of entrepreneurial achievement and personal struggle is both inspirational and very informative. You get a feel for how to really start a business with little money and you see that it is possible to have the courage and determination to confront major personal challenges in the midst of building a successful business.``

Phillip Moffitt President of Life Balance Institute and author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity

``Joan Barnes blessed my family with a magic carpet ride. Successful franchisees for 25 years, my parents raised me in Gymboree's joyous environment, living balanced lives. Now, my son is blossoming there too. As a guiding light and role model, Joan's dynamic entrepreneurism inspires me to build my business and grow my family. Her story is one for the ages.``

Rachel Pally Founder and CEO of

``Joan is an inspiration to all entrepreneurs, and her enthusiasm, passion, and wit are contagious and her intellect razor sharp. She has gifted us a thoughtful book that will encourage and educate women of all ages.``

Karen Behnke Founder and CEO of Juice Beauty

``A beacon for us all, Joan Barnes' indelible odyssey is a riveting read delivered with humility, refreshing vulnerability, uncommon transparency, and compassion.``

Susan Griffin-Black Co-Founder and Co-CEO of EO Products

``This book is a fascinating read for entrepreneurs and businesspeople of all types, not just women. Joan Barnes is a force of nature and her incredible journey inspires us to value heart, soul, passion, authenticity, and family as we navigate the interplay of our work lives and personal lives.``

Yvonne Hao COO and CFO at PillPack and former acting COO of Gymboree