Time Out for a Lesson from a Mom with a Mohawk

My son has a big personality.

The kind that got him sent to the principal’s office five times that first week of kindergarten.

The kind that caused the bigger kids in the neighbor to pick on him when he was six. “Because,” as my neighbor told me in front of him, “he’s obnoxious.”

In 2nd grade, his big personality led to rounds and rounds of testing. ADD, he’s not. A frustrated, highly intelligent, spatial learner, he is. Given that schools traditionally cater to verbal and linear learning, his frustration in school is continuing to grow.

Now he’s finishing up the 3rd grade. This year, I spent considerable time and energy trying to get my sweet, happy but frustrated boy to restrain himself. I’ve prayed that he’ll finally grow up and there will be no more notes from teachers about how he’s a disruptive class clown who just can’t sit still for very long.

I’ve told him to try harder to be quiet, to fit in, to stop being so troublesome. You know, to be like everyone else.

Then today happened.He strummed too loudly, stuck his tongue out, and slid across the stage on his knees.

My son had his year-end guitar performance. While the other students had their eyes trained to the music sheets in front of them, my son donned a red wig and hopped all over the outdoor stage. He strummed too loudly, stuck his tongue out, and slid across the stage on his knees to rock it out as he’s seen real rockers do in videos.

 
He strummed too loudly, stuck his tongue out, and slid across the stage on his knees.

He had the time of his life.

I did not. I noticed some of the other parents sitting at the picnic tables shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. I could feel my body shrinking as if I were trying to hide. I turned my head in embarrassment and accidentally caught the eye of another mom. She looked a lot like me and was dressed similarly, too.

She could have been me. Except that she had a Mohawk. Her bright, beautiful blonde hair was shaved at the sides and the remaining strands were sticking straight up in the air.

What struck me more than the unexpected Mohawk was that her son who was waiting for his turn on the stage sported the exact same haircut.

Then, that beautiful rock star Mom who was so perfectly in sync with her son, smiled at me.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Years of struggling with my son and for my son all faded away into that one moment of clarity. My job isn’t to make my son fit it. It’s to help him stand out.

And my son’s job is to grasp life and shake it up. Hop around on its stage and live beyond its fullest—just as he is, not as I want him to be.

Instinctively, I know it’s not going to be easy or quick. We’ll have to work together to figure out how to make his bigger-than-life personality coexist in a world that values fitting in and behaving as expected.

As an entrepreneur, I fully understand doing what is easy or expected in the business world isn’t always the only way, or even the best way.

But it took a Mom in a Mohawk to make me realize that lesson is true in raising kids, too.

It’s likely my son will never be easy or quiet or expected. And while I doubt I’ll be shaving my head any time soon, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Funding: Plan B

I allowed myself some time to be dejected after being rejected for a bank loan.

High Risk, Small Business--Yep That's Me!

High Risk, Small Business–Yep That’s Me!

My dream of creating a stylish base to extend the performance and looks of my popular product, the Stikitty, wouldn’t die though. I had heard of crowd funding at that time, but my eyes were set on angel financing.According to many experts, angel financing is perfect for high risk, small business entities that need funding but are too small for the venture capitalists and too risky for the banks. Yep, that sounded like me!

So what are angel investors? Think Shark Tank, but for the real world. These are typically wealthy individuals who like to invest in small companies, but are first and foremost business people. They’ll take a chance on you but want a return for their money–typically in the form of a percentage ownership, and they often want a return of 5-10 times their investment within 5 to 7 years.

In Austin, TX, where my company is headquartered we have several networks of angel investors. The advantage of a network is that entrepreneurs can pitch to several investors at one time.Before approaching any of the networks, I did my homework–literally. I took Kim Lavine’s Academy Course on “How to Raise Angel Financing.” I dusted off and refreshed my business plan, perfected my pitch sheet, and prepared my pitch presentation. Then I practiced, practiced, practiced.

The network I chose to pitch to had several phases of the funding process. I made it past the video pitch. Then the screening pitch and even the general pitch. My cat litter mat, the Stikitty, and I even made it to the final pitch phase with three other hopeful entrepreneurs.

I admit I felt a little ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great story. The Stikitty was doing well with online sales and had been picked up by three of the top 6 US pet distributors and was in retail stores throughout the US. I had generated just over $50,000 in retail sales for 2012. And, I had a new idea that could be patent-protected.

However, I was up against three technology entrepreneurs; two had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in earlier rounds of funding and were asking for millions of dollars to continue their businesses. In a tech town like Austin, it’s hard to find an investor that gets excited about a cat litter mat over the latest tech gizmo or mobile app.

In the end, the angel network chose two of the tech entrepreneurs. They invited me to come back, though, when I generated more than $100,000 in sales and needed “real money.”

Did I have it in me for a Plan C?

Advice for Mompreneurs: Motivation to Launch Your Company

YoAdvice for Mompreneurs about Launching Your Companyu’ve done your market research, set your time and dollar budget, and are ready to launch your company.

So what are you waiting for?

It’s scary, isn’t it? All entrepreneurs have been where you are right now. Eager and excited to take the plunge; deathly afraid of failure. When writing my book, Think. Create. Sell., The Insider Secrets Your Best Friend Would Tell You About Entrepreneurship, I asked other entrepreneurs what advice they’d give their best friends about launching their companies.

Here are a few of the best responses; I hope they help you gain your motivation:

What would I tell my best friend if she were thinking of launching a product? I would first ask her three questions: Is there a need for your product? Is there a market for your product? Would you use your product? If she can answer “Yes” to all three, I would encourage her to move forward.

Kathy Baker
Founder
Vanity Fixes, Inc.
http://www.bralief.com

My best friend is also my pastry-chef, so she has heard all of this already, but what I would tell her about launching a product is: Go for it! Take every skill you have and figure out how it can help build your business, come up with an amazing, unique idea and get out there.

Mari Luangrath
Founder
Foiled Cupcakes
http://www.foiledcupcakes.com

7 Mompreneur Tips for Market Research on the Cheap

[tweetmeme]Especially if you’re boot-strapping your business, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can’t afford market research.

Don’t fall for it.

Before you go into production of your product you need to understand your market and how it will respond to your offering. Market research can help you answer many critical questions such as who your target audience is; what needs do they have; whether competing products are solving their problems; if not, how will your product do a better job;  how much will your audience pay for your product; etc.

If you can afford to hire an advertising or research agency to test your product or service idea, go for it. But if you can’t, try some of these inexpensive tips to get important insights before you spend your first dollar:

1. Get your hands on an industry report.  

Industry monitors provide critical information about whether your industry is growing, how big your segment is, the key players, and more. Some of these monitors can be quite expensive but you may be able to find full reports or snapshots of your industry online. Your local library or alma mater may provide free access to subscription services that carry these full reports too.

2. Read reviews of competing products online.

Online reviews are goldmines of information because they’ll tell you what real buyers like and find lacking in current offerings. Often, they’ll tell you customers’ perceptions of the product’s value for the money as well. And you’ll know which retailers carry products like yours.

3. Conduct your own focus group.

If you’re creating a product based on something you need and can’t find it’s a good bet that the people you associate with may be in the same boat. For example, if you’re a computer programmer who sees a need for an ergonomically correct armrest, your coworkers are probably computer programmers with arm strain too. Get a group of friends, family, and co-workers together in person to talk about your idea. Sure, in the beginning they’ll all say it’s a wonderful idea, but dig deeper and ask specific questions. Be sure to listen with a critical ear–you’ll be surprised by what you learn!

4. Facebook your friends.

With the new features of Facebook, you can easily limit the views of your posts. Share your product idea and ask for genuine insights from your friends.

5. Ask the social world for feedback.

Several sites like LinkedIn and WordPress let you create online polls. If you’re comfortable sharing your idea, ask your connections to give you specific feedback, including how much they’d pay for your product. You can also mask your idea by asking what your connections like or don’t like about what’s currently available.

6. Check out SCORE or other startup associations.

SCORE started out as the “Service Corps of Retired Executives.” The organization counsels small businesses and their mentors can help you put a magnifying glass on your idea and examine it from an experienced businessperson’s perspective.  And, if you make the decision to move forward, they’ll provide you with inexpensive training on starting and growing your company.

7. Visit an industry trade show.

While displaying in a trade show can be quite expensive, attending one is usually a lot cheaper. This is especially true if you don’t have to travel to the show and just have to pay the price of an entrance ticket. There are a few types of trade shows; some target end customers and others target retail buyers. By attending either of these, you can gain a lot of information about what types of products are hot and what consumers or buyers are looking for right now.

In the next post, we’ll talk about the dreaded B word — the business plan!

Excuse Me While I Digress: A Typical Day

A Typical Day

I’m taking a break from the Gazillion Steps to share something that made me smile today. A blogger asked me to describe a typical day in my life as a mompreneur.

Your schedule is probably a lot like mine so you can guess why I smiled. I was game to try, though, so I thought back over this week.

Each day of this week started with me racing around to get the kids off to school. Most ended with me falling asleep while reading my daughter her bedtime story. Everything in between was as random as can be.

One day earlier this week — was it Monday? Tuesday? I don’t know, but I remember negotiating ad space for an upcoming Stikitty campaign and having lunch with my daughter at school. Then I responded to some customer emails and fulfilled orders. I picked up the kids at school, dropped my son at tennis lessons, and went to soccer practice with my daughter. After dinner, we all sat down to do homework. Then I got back on the computer to answer emails and chat with an overseas partner.

Yesterday I spent most of the day on the phone with my bank getting an international wire to the intended beneficiary.

Today, I’ve spoken to two new vendors, threw in a load of laundry, checked updates from Twitter, accepted a request from an old friend on Facebook, and made two new professional connections on LinkedIn. Then I talked with my husband about our crazy schedule for this weekend.

That’s the way it always is.

I guess it was that way when I worked in the corporate world, too. For me, the difference is that I could more easily separate work time from family time when I had a corporate job. Oh, and I had people to delegate to when things got too crazy.

I miss delegating.

Vetting the Big Idea

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The best mompreneur advice I’ve received so far came from a veteran entrepreneur. He told me not to fall in love with my idea.

I didn’t get it back then.

Vetting the Big Idea

Since “my big idea” was consuming all of my waking thoughts, how could I not be seriously attached to it? And why shouldn’t I be?

I get it now.

What happened to me is very common among entrepreneurs. I was so enamored with my idea that I put on blinders and intentionally disregarded nagging doubts. I pushed full force on an idea that I knew in my heart was going to succeed–despite what my head said.

When I finally let go of my original product concept (read more about it), I was able to see a much bigger, better idea.

Vetting your idea is a critical step in launching your product or service. You need to determine if there is a market for your idea, how much a customer or client will likely pay for it, and how it compares to competing products. 

So take your $100,000 and invest in the best market research firm you can find to put your idea in front of potential customers. Don’t have $100,000? Well $20,000 will get you a pretty good market research firm. Don’t have even that much?

No worries–you’re in great company! Most entrepreneurs boot-strap their fledgling companies and prioritize spending on product development and advertising.

There are creative ways to assess your product or service idea without spending a fortune and I’ll share some that worked have for me in the next post. 

Next post: Market Research on the Cheap

The Big Idea

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There are a ton of incredibly innovative, brilliant ideas out there that never become a reality.

There are a ton of not-so-extraordinary ideas that go on to make millions of dollars.

The Big Idea

What’s the difference? While there are many factors involved in the long-term success of a product or service idea (such as financing, the grit and determination of the mompreneur, etc.) let’s stay with the idea for now.

Ideas that solve real problems win.

It sounds simple enough but what does that really mean? The key word is “real.” And real is in the mind of the consumer, not the inventor. For example, imagine you’re a mompreneur who is an amateur tennis player. You’ve come up with this phenomenal idea for a new tennis racquet for beginning tennis players that replaces the nylon strings in most amateur racquets with a brand new material that improves performance, reduces injury, and increases durability.

These sound like great problems to solve, right?

The question is does the average new tennis player see these as problems? Amateur tennis players often buy their racquet based on which brand they know or on price. Even tennis experts recommend that amateurs focus on head size and length to maximize their early command of the ball.

To sell your new tennis racquets to beginning players, first you would have to convince them that they need to be worried about performance, injury, and durability. And then you’d need to compete with bigger brands on price.

It’s infinitely harder to create a market than to solve an existing problem.

A good place to start vetting your product idea is to ask yourself two questions:

Is there a better way?
Does anybody want and need a better way?

We’ll talk about creative (and inexpensive!) ways to determine the answer to the second question in the next post.

Next: Vetting the Big Idea

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