With a tagline like "Snot Your Average Wipe," Boogie Wipes is clearly not a company that takes itself too seriously. But despite the gratuitous booger jokes, founders Julie Pickens and Mindee Doney have turned it into a serious business -- expected to bring in $10 million in revenue this year.
Boogie Wipes are hygienic wipes with saline, created to soothingly scrub out the nasal passages of flu-riddled babies and young children. Founded in 2008, Little Busy Bodies now sells Boogie Wipes in Target, Walmart and Walgreens, has 18 employees and is gearing up to launch its second product, this time for adults: Saline Soothers, which will compete in the tissue aisle.
So how did Pickens, 44, and Doney, 35, create such a thriving business in a relatively short period of time? Sure, strong business backgrounds didn't hurt (Pickens owned several Wetzels Pretzels and Cold Stone Creamery franchises, while Doney owned her own marketing agency). But perhaps just as importantly, they have six kids between them -- and no one knows a runny nose better than a busy mom.
So, Mindee, I read that your youngest daughter got the ball rolling by refusing to let you apply saline drops to her runny nose. Do you thank her now?
Doney: She's on some of the packaging. All of our kids are so involved with the business. But I do think I remember the moment even more than her first steps and birth [laughs]. It was such a defining moment when I think of how many people's lives have been affected and where the business has come since then. So I have a little soft spot for that moment.
And how old was your daughter when this happened?
Doney: Six months, I think. She had a stuffy nose, so I started the process of trying to clear her nasal passages up and tried to put the saline in her nose, and it was clear she didn't like this, and I thought, "I need to get the saline in there somehow. Maybe this will work." And I put it on a wipe and cleaned her up, and she kind of looked at me strangely. I thought the look was, "Why did she put something wet on my nose?" And that stuck in my head, that she let me do it and wasn't traumatized by the experience, and it didn't take long before I mentioned it to Julie. I felt like it was a substantial idea for a product.
So it sounds like you had been thinking of business ideas already?
Doney: We had.
Pickens: We decided we had to invent a sock that doesn't fall off a baby's foot. We couldn't stand it when that happened.
That actually sounds like a good one.
Pickens: I think a lot of mothers who have an innate business sense wind up starting businesses involving children's products because there are so many moments where we think we need a better way to clean out sippy cups, for instance. Moms need a third arm, and we have a lot of moments of, "There's got to be a better way."
Boogie Wipes is pretty catchy. Were there any other potential names that you rejected?
Doney: It was actually the first one we picked. We didn't take it out for a vote. My kids had called them Boogie Wipes, and right away, we thought it was fun, silly in a good way. Everyone we told about them, we could see the look in their eyes: Why didn't I think about that? The name and the concept just grabbed everyone. And so right away, of course, we thought about what it would take to develop the concept. Like, we had had to figure out how to make it work. What's in a Boogie Wipe? How do we figure out what's in it? In our research and development, we had about eight or nine different smells, and we lined them up, and had about eight or 10 friends, all with a glass of wine in hand, smelling everything, and that's how we decided on our first scent.
Pickens: High-level research.
Doney: Yeah, we've advanced a bit since then.
Pickens: We still drink the wine, though [laughs].
Your business has grown pretty quickly. How long did it take from having the idea to actually getting the wipes in the stores?
Pickens: It was fast. When we tell people the timeline, they're pretty shocked. In January 2008, Mindee came to me with her idea, and we took about 24 hours to decide, that, yes, let's do this, and by May, we had formed a corporation and began looking for a manufacturing company and hired a chemist. And we did this like anyone would. When we looked for a manufacturer, we Googled and found a manufacturer, hoping we'd find someone who could give us the best terms we could get, and a guy who would take a chance on us, and we found that guy. We got our first orders of Boogie Wipes through the website before we even had them manufactured, and we had to tell our consumers, "Sorry, they're coming." But we were in stores in late November and December.
Which is amazing. Your backgrounds, though, seem to have really given you a leg up.
Pickens: It did help. A lot of entrepreneurs starting out don't understand that a million people have ideas, and ideas aren't really worth a lot unless you can put the marketing and sales and finance behind it. But Mindee had the marketing background, and I had the sales and finance background. And it just snowballed. When we were in Pennsylvania, talking to Rite-Aid, we came out of our meeting and Mindee was very excited, saying, "We've got Rite-Aid, this is so great!" And I'm looking at her, white as a ghost because I understood right away that we were underfunded.
Doney: I remember Julie saying, "We don't have the money to produce all of these orders. We've got to find investors." And so she did. And I think the biggest thing on the marketing side that really worked for us right out of the gate was not getting ahead of ourselves. Often we run into people who think they need to buy an ad or go to a trade show, that mentality of, "If I pay $5,000 for this ad, they'll buy our product." I've worked with a lot of grassroots campaigns and social media, and had a pretty good understanding of what we needed to do, so right away I dove into PR efforts, playing up the story of two moms in business and trying to target our consumers and figuring out how I could reach them. It was easy to get discouraged. We'd tell our story on a blog, and we'd look at those four comments and wonder if we were really reaching anyone, but later, I could see how those little trickles add up to a wave.
So has this been as easy as it looks?
Doney: As we've evolved from a startup corporation to one with employees and advertising campaigns, there have been a lot more responsibilities, and it's been a big strain at times where we've had to work through difficulties. So many women think, "My best friend and I are going to go into business, and it'll be fun and awesome," and it is definitely is, but there are moments where things are tough.
Pickens: There are times where her marketing ideas aren't lining up with my sales ideas, and vice versa, but we have an innate ability to realize that we are better together than we are apart.
Doney: Yeah, it's very much like a marriage, where we don't want to go to bed mad, and if our partnership is like a marriage, then we're raising the business like a baby. We're finishing writing a business book that covers a lot of those parallels, in fact. A business, like a baby, has a birth and then takes on a life of its own, and you watch and help it grow, and hope that someday it can run on its own.
Name: Julie Pickens and Mindee Doney
Company: Little Busy Bodies
Ages: 44 and 35
Location: Beaverton, Ore.
Projected 2011 Revenue: $10 million
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 4/14/11.