One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hold on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there's always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about two women who found a way to answer the million dollar question on every pregnant mother's mind: is it a boy or a girl. --Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
Rebecca Griffin knew from the time she was a child, that she wanted to have children -- lots and lots of children. One hundred, to be exact. At least that’s what she told her mother when she was 10. And while her husband may not have agreed on the number, he was all on board with having a big family. So first came Joe, then Nick and Luke, and only three months later, she found out she was pregnant again. And each time, Rebecca’s curiosity led her to try anything she could find, that might give her a clue as to whether she was having a boy or a girl, long before she was ready for a sonogram.
“I’ve never been able to keep a secret and I’ve always peeked at my Christmas presents,” Rebecca laughed. "I tried the pencil test, where you tie the pencil to a string and hold it over your belly. I tried the Chinese gender chart which, by the way, was right all four times. I even went to an internet site that has you fill in where you conceived and what you had for dinner and it promised 99 percent accuracy!”
Her pregnancies, particularly the fourth time around, were the talk of the little cul-de-sac where all the neighbors would gather at night. After having three sons, Rebecca was eager to add a little girl to her family. And she and her friend Teresa Garland would spend the evenings chatting about the latest gender detection gimmick Rebecca had discovered.
“We were amazed that there wasn’t something on the market that could predict whether you were carrying a boy or a girl,” Teresa said. “And we thought, Whoever fills that niche is going to become a millionaire, because what a great product that would be.”
It was one of those conversations we all have in which we say, "If only someone would…" But the difference this time, was that Rebecca and Teresa decided not to wait for someone else.
Rebecca worked in real estate and Teresa in accounting. Neither of them had any knowledge of science, but they both knew how to Google, and step by step they found not only what it might take to create a gender test, but they discovered that women had been trying to find this piece of the puzzle since the 17th century.
“Our real epiphany,” Rebecca explained “came when we saw that women used to go out into the field and pee on wheat and barley. If the wheat grew, they believed they’d have a girl. And if it was the barley, then it would be a boy. This is an answer women have been searching for, for centuries.”
So that’s when the pair went to work. They started calling friends and colleagues to see who might be able to help them develop a gender test and by the fourth phone call, they came across a lab right in their hometown of Dallas, Texas. And the owner was intrigued by their research.
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“He told us we had to start finding pregnant urine,” Teresa said, “which turned out to be the hardest part! We took the day off from work and went to the mall and thought we’d hang out in front of a maternity store. We’d written up a survey and brought cups and money, thinking that women would be willing to give us samples if we paid them $20. Security didn’t think that was such a great idea. I think we got three samples before we were thrown out.”
"But then I found a good resource through a mom-to-mom group at my church,” Rebecca added, “and that’s when the calls started coming in. Women wanted to know if they could leave urine samples in my mailbox! I was sure the neighbors would think I was dealing drugs and the mailman wouldn’t deliver my mail.”
Samples started arriving in just about anything the expectant moms could get it into. Rebecca would come home and find a mailbox full of water bottles and sandwich bags.
“Even when you go to the doctor,” Teresa continued, “it’s not easy to get it straight into that little cup, so we kind of wondered how they managed to capture it, but they did! It’s hot in Dallas, so it would get kind of stinky, but eventually we became immune to it. We’d just lay out newspapers on our kitchen islands and test the samples with a chemical solution the lab had helped us put together. We must have gone through a gallon of pee a week!”
The women tested a variety of samples, both in their kitchens and at the lab -- from women who were still weeks away from their sonogram and others who had already received their results. And what they found was that if the urine turned a dark smoky green when the chemicals were added, the baby was going to be a boy. If it turned orange or there wasn’t much change in color, it would be a girl. And 90 percent of the time, their gender test was right.
That million-dollar moment -- the one that everyone thinks about but rarely pursues -- was closer than they thought.
“Really, we thought it would be mailbox money,” Rebecca said, “that we’d keep our day jobs and this would just be an extra source of income. We’d put up a website and run the company through the mail.”
And that’s exactly where the two friends began. There was no need for FDA approval, because gender isn’t a medical condition and the results wouldn’t require any sort of change in behavior. So they built a website and named their gender prediction test IntelliGender, and within five days the orders started coming in. It wasn’t long before maternity boutiques began ordering the tests in bulk and the ladies were ready to take their show on the road. They began at a trade show called Mom To Mom.
“We really weren’t prepared,” Teresa said. “We hung up a banner and put out pink and blue M&Ms. We didn’t even have a mechanism to take orders. We just wrote down what they wanted, shipped the tests and invoiced the boutiques electronically. That was a big lesson. When you’re dealing with small Moms and Pops, get paid up front. We’re still trying to collect on some of those orders.”
But it was an accidental meeting that took the little idea that they had cultivated in their neighborhood cul-de-sac to the shelves of drugstores around the world. Rebecca had made an appearance on a television show and a sales rep, who happened to share office space with the producers, noticed their product sitting on a desk. He called the fledgling inventors and convinced them to bring their product to the Global Market Development Center, a trade show where drugstores look for new products to fill their shelves.
“Buyers signed up to meet with us,” Teresa recalled, “and when I saw Walgreens on that list, I was as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rockers! But when their buyer said that it was the first new thing she’d seen in a long time, I was absolutely giddy. Then I called Rebecca and said, ‘Oh my gosh, now what are we going to do?’”
What they did was move into fast forward. With a commitment from Walgreens, the women were able to get a 60-day line of credit in the midst of the recession. They ordered custom-made manufacturing equipment and partnered with the lab owner who had helped them with their initial research. And four years from the time the two women first conceived of the idea, they were delivering 25,000 gender prediction tests to be distributed to every Walgreens in the country. Today, Intelligender can be found in drug stores around the world, and brings in more than two million dollars in revenue a year. And that fourth baby Rebecca was so curious about, her name is Olivia and she’s now 7-years-old.
“We’re giving moms and couples the opportunity to bridge the curiosity gap,” Rebecca said with a smile, “giving them another aspect of their pregnancy to enjoy. But we also hope that women will see what we’ve done and know that they can take an idea and make a career out of it.”
“We didn’t set out with great big aspirations,” Teresa added. “We just thought this was something that would bring in a little extra money. But it was like a carpet rolling out in front of us: it would roll out a few feet and we’d walk, then it would roll out a few more feet and we’d walk further. We just took it one step at a time.”
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