Updated: Nov 12, 2018
It was nearly four years ago when I had a major problem and didn’t have a solution. My husband and I were visiting my parents for the winter holidays and needed to share a room with our then 18-month-old daughter. Because the room wasn’t as dark as her bedroom at home, she kept waking up in the night, seeing us across the room and refusing to go back to sleep. There were lots of tears (from at least two of three of us). Sleep deprived, we went home a day early.
I couldn’t find anything on the market that would create a visual barrier and provide additional darkness so, like many others, I resorted to ineffective, cumbersome and, bordering on unsafe, homemade solutions.
In late spring 2016, my mom and I were spending a lot of time together while I was on maternity leave with our twins. We decided to get serious about creating a better solution for my baby room sharing-on-the-road challenge.
That’s the day I became an entrepreneur.
My mom and I went on to invent SlumberPod®. It’s been more than two years in the making but we’re excited to share it. We launched via Kickstarter in July 2018 and pre-sold $45,000 of product, which we fulfilled in August and September. Our website is live and accepting orders as well.
While we still have plenty to learn, it’s an honor to share a few key lessons and takeaways from our journey here on the LaunchPad2x blog.
1. You can’t and won’t have time for everything, or know everything. We learned quickly that the daily and weekly tasks add up, not to mention we don’t have expertise in all areas of entrepreneurship. While we haven’t totally solved for it, we’ve implemented a few practices to help with not having enough hours in the day.
We took a hard look at where we have expertise and where we’re out of our comfort zone and hired experts who could help with financial planning, safety testing and navigating manufacturing overseas. We also are leveraging intern programs: giving eager marketing interns real-world experience and course credits in exchange for them helping 10-15 hours a week per semester with more tactical (yet still critical!) marketing responsibilities. For select tasks, such as coding closed captions into a video file, we’ve tapped into Fiverr and Upwork. (As with anything, buyer beware! Be sure to read vendors’ reviews.) Lastly but far from least, I highly recommend having a co-founder. We divide and conquer on the many responsibilities we have each week, not to mention pick each other up morale-wise on tough weeks.
2. It’s critical to have a sense of humor when things go wrong (…and they certainly will). For example, recently my business partner and I realized our inventory count at our warehouse was about 100 less than it should have been. We panicked as we tried to figure out what happened. Then a customer reached out saying she received two pods in the mail instead of one. Then another customer said the same. Turns out a batch feature in our shipping software allowed the warehouse to print 94 labels twice. We quickly penned an email to customers in that batch of shipments, reminding them that companies make mistakes. We cited Pepsi Clear, New Coke, and Lay's Wow Chips in our opening line, reminding our customers that even big companies make mistakes or missteps. We asked for their help in returning duplicate packages and took the opportunity to remind customers that unlike New Coke, our product is still fantastic. We included a few recent [super positive] customer testimonials, too. The email and its balance of humor and important customer information were received very well. Beyond this example of incorporating humor, every team meeting with my mom has at least a few giggles. Grateful we have each other to keep each other laughing, motivated and trudging forward. (As for the inventory, we’ve tracked down at least 75% of it and hope the rest will be returned in the coming days.)
3. Marketing will account for about half of your day-to-day, especially if you’re in the business-to-consumer space. Your customer acquisition strategy will depend on the type of product or service you’re offering and who your target customer is, but I suggest you get familiar on a high level with the following aspects of Marketing so you can prepare yourself and be as efficient as possible: branding, advertising (on social media and Google) email marketing, influencer marketing, social media, website presence (and ecommerce, if you have a physical product) and trade shows. One highly recommended book is Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. A few of the tools we use are: Canva (graphic design for social media assets), Kickstarter (as the platform for our pre-sale) and Mailchimp (for email marketing), Sendible (for social media posting and monitoring). We’re currently using Squarespace as our website and ecommerce platform but may switch in the coming months to Shopify. One of the best pieces of marketing advice we received was to recreate a micro influencers community on Facebook and find ways to attract your target market to join and be active there. So we created a group called “Little Travelers: Gear & Hacks for Wee Ones” on Facebook and invited people in our network, who invited people in their network. When someone mentions the challenge of sharing a room with a baby while traveling, we mention SlumberPod or ask one of our beta testers to comment. The group has about 1,500 members (growing by the day) and is mostly self-sustaining.
4. Take intellectual property seriously while keeping in mind it requires patience. Okay, maybe not forever, but it’s not uncommon for a patent to take three years to be processed. And many products never receive a patent because they’re not novel enough to be granted one. We were counseled to file a provisional patent, which is a placeholder of sorts, before we went public with our idea, then we had a year to convert that provisional patent to a utility patent. If you think you have an idea that could be patent-worthy, I encourage you to talk to a true pro about the process (as I’ve only scratched the surface of intellectual property with my experience to-date). As a start-up, we want to protect our intellectual property on a small business budget. A company’s brand—which includes the name, logo and company personality—is just as important as a patent, so it’s important to work with a copyright attorney as well to ensure your name isn’t taken and work toward staking claim on it. Our registration for the name SlumberPod moved much faster than the patent has.
5. Join reputable programs where you can learn about entrepreneurship. (And be wary of programs that ask you to sign over a stake in your company in exchange for participation.) Female entrepreneurs are fortunate to have access to Launchpad2X: Rocket Fuel for Entrepreneurs. I was fortunate to go through the Atlanta three-day core program in October 2018 class along with 24 rockstar women, where we got crash courses in accounting, intellectual property, marketing, product development, leadership, pitching to investors and more. Another critical component of the core program is female empowerment, as, unfortunately, women are statistically less likely to take risks even when they are as qualified or more qualified than their male counterparts. According to this 2017 Fortune piece, only 2% of venture capital dollars in 2017 went to female founders. We can and will make this statistic extinct!
Thank you for the opportunity to share these learnings. Are you new to being an entrepreneur? What have you learned so far? What are you still trying to figure out? Tell us in the comments.
Katy Beck Mallory is co-founder of SlumberPod. Inspired by the challenges of being a new parent, Katy and her mother, Lou Childs, developed the product together.