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.

I Gave Myself 15 Minutes to Be Upset

When I received the notification from Kickstarter that my crowd funding project didn’t meet their guidelines, I put my head down and cried.

Yes, I admit it. I very unprofessionally cried. For 15 solid minutes.

I need funding for my new project, the Stikitty Base. It’s a product that completes my Stikitty System and it’s something that I know millions of cat owners around the world need and will love. After being rejected by the banks, the angels, and now Kickstarter, though, I thought I was out of options.

Every successful mompreneur I’ve ever met is tenacious. She has to be. I had to be, too.

Every successful mompreneur I've ever met is tenacious. She has to be.

Every successful mompreneur I’ve ever met is tenacious. She has to be.

After wallowing for as long as I would let myself, I wiped away my tears and started to get mad. I couldn’t be the only project to be rejected and they didn’t give me an explanation. Maybe they just don’t like pet products, I thought. So I Googled, “why did Kickstarter reject my project.” I found a really cool biomedical company that was creating a product that could help millions of patients. Their project was rejected by Kickstarter and then ended raising over $50,000 on Indiegogo.  The more I looked, the more “rejected” projects I found. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason–all of what looked like really innovative projects and companies were from different industries, had different funding needs, and were from different parts of the country.

Feeling much better about my new pet product, I did much more research on crowdfunding platforms this time. I realized there were many more options than I thought. I chose Indiegogo because the platform gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of how and whether I would receive funding.

I have been live for four days now! http://igg.me/at/stikitty

It’s been fun and hard and exhausting. I’m getting hundreds of referrals and even more site visits so I know people are interested and following the campaign. We’ll see if that translates into funding! Wish me luck…

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

Mompreneur Example: What I learned from “Negative” Market Research

[tweetmeme]Those of you who have followed my Stikitty journey know I didn’t listen to my head, just my heart when I first launched my entrance mat product in 2009. 

That’s why when it came to the Stikitty, I was adamant I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Instead of trying to convince myself and others that the Stikitty was a good idea, I started from the opposite perspective. I told myself that the world didn’t need another cat litter mat. I did full-time research for weeks and used inexpensive market research resources to see if I could prove my negative hypotheses. I knew if I could prove them, that my idea wouldn’t stand the test of time–or a limited budget!

Market research provided guidance for the Stikitty's retail packaging.

Below are examples of my hypotheses and what I found through research:

The Pet Industry is Saturated & There’s No Room for Growth

Through my alma mater I was able to gain online access to industry overviews, articles, and snapshots on the pet industry. I found the Datamonitor reports especially helpful. In addition to industry information, I looked at the strategic and financial performances of key companies.

I found that the $45 billion pet industry has grown for the last 7 years and it is projected to grow for the next 5, albeit at a slower pace. There are extremely large competitors but the industry is fairly fragmented with the top companies commanding only ~35% of the market. New companies are able to thrive with strong branding and good sales strategies.

People Only Spend Money on Dog Products

Through networking, I connected with a retired high-level executive from a leading international pet company. He told me it’s true that the biggest chunk of the ~$10 billion pet supplies sub-segment goes to the dogs; specifically to dog toys, collars, leashes, and more. However, when cat owners spend they spend big on litter and litter supplies–to the tune of nearly $1.9 billion annually.  

No One Wants a New, Different Kind of Cat Mat

This hypothesis was critical–if I could prove that no one needed or wanted a more advanced cat litter mat, I would have to stop right there. Because I knew direct customer insights were crucial and I couldn’t afford formal customer research, I used what resources I had available to “hear” from as many cat owners as possible. So, I:

  • Conducted dozens of in-person focus groups with family, friends, and neighbors with cats; I asked them about their current litter mats and what they’d like in a new solution
  • Visited large and small pet retailer Web sites to read online reviews of cat litter mats
  • Lurked on pet forums to learn of frustrations about cat litter tracking and possible solutions
  • Polled contacts in my LinkedIn pet groups
  • Asked friends on Facebook to ask their friends about cat litter mats and how they’d make them better

What I Learned from Being Negative

I learned that the pet industry is more recession proof than others and it is projecting growth; that cat litter products are a strong segment within this very large industry; and, that cat owners are eager for a lighter, easier to clean cat litter mat that is the right size for their specific needs. I found that cat owners were open to something different and if it solved their issues with traditional litter mats (e.g., too heavy, too hard to clean, not large enough), they would buy something innovative. Additionally, I found a lot of practical information such as how to price my product, which retailers carried competing products, and how to package and display the Stikitty.

Though I wasn’t able to completely fool myself, looking at my product idea from a negative perspective allowed me to listen to my head. I was able to step aside and bring my future customers’ needs and desires to the forefront. I was able to look at things from a business perspective.

I wish you the very best of luck with your venture. If you’re ready to share, please let me know what you’re up to, too!

The next post will be about the 5 Things You Should Do Before Launching Your Company

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

[tweetmeme]

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

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