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 hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a woman who was tired of chasing after her toddler's sippy cup that he repeatedly hurled across the room. She took a leap of faith and set out to solve this dilemma for parents everywhere -- and wound up inventing a wildly lucrative product. Problem solved! -- Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
For one-year-old Jake, life in a high chair was all fun and games. He'd throw his sippy cup as far as his little arm could, and Mom, Sari Davidson, would quickly retrieve it, putting it right back where it belonged -- within her son's reach.
"It didn't take him very long," Sari laughed, "to figure out that every time he dropped it, I was going to pick it up -- not just in the kitchen, but everywhere we went. So it became a game. And this kid had an arm. He was like a baseball pitcher!"
So Sari set out to find a solution -- one that would keep that sippy cup in a retrievable distance. But not just for herself. The young Mom had grown up surrounded by entrepreneurs and she was determined to help parents around the world.
"I went online," she continued, "and I couldn't find anything, and I just knew I had to create something. If I was having this problem, millions of others were too. So I went to Target and bought an $80 sewing machine. I didn't even know how to sew! And then I started experimenting with materials."
"I really had no idea what was involved. If my future self would have sat me down and said here's what you're going to go through, I might have paused -- but I didn't know and I wanted to do it. Ignorance is bliss."
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At the time, Sari was running a recruiting business in San Francisco, so she would use the hours when Jake was sound asleep, to perfect a product she called the SippiGrip -- a strap, that when wrapped around a cup or bottle suctions to it. So even if you're raising a future athlete, their drink will never go further than the short strap it's connected to.
"I was 31 at the time," Sari explained, "and all my friends had kids, so they became my test market. They'd tell me if they wanted it shorter or longer, which materials were gripping and which weren't. And I had them take an online survey to see what they thought of the name and what they'd be willing to pay for it."
Just as Sari thought she had all the answers, there was suddenly a new question she had to consider. The successful recruiter was being recruited herself -- for an exciting new job at Microsoft. She was at a fork in the road, and she knew that if she took a full-time job, the only shelves the SippiGrip would see would be in Jake's nursery, at least for the first year.
"It was an incredible opportunity to begin a new division and work with a really talented team. So I put the SippiGrip on hold, but I did create a little website, just to see what would happen -- and every once in a while someone would buy one."
"But then a friend, who I'd been encouraging to follow her dream of becoming an actress, called me. She said she'd heard about a contest Oprah was conducting with QVC and thought it would be great for the SippiGrip. I told her how busy I was with work and she said, "So you're telling me that I should follow my dream, but you can't make the time to come to Los Angeles for the day and follow yours?"
That was enough to convince Sari to buy what some might call the golden ticket -- the plane ticket from Seattle to Los Angeles that would put her back on the path to SippiGrip success.
"There were lines wrapped around the building," Sari recalled, "and we each had five minutes with someone from QVC. The woman that I met with told me that my price point was too low for them, but she confirmed what I always felt, that I had something that belonged in the cash register aisle at stores like Babies R Us. And that's when I decided it was time to go for it."
But Sari didn't quit her job. She vowed to stay with Microsoft until the company she named BooginHead -- a name her family calls one other when they do something silly -- made its first million. So, as she continued to work full-time, she also got serious about finding a manufacturer who was willing to take a chance on an inexperienced entrepreneur. Then she bought a small booth at the ABC Kids Expo.
"My booth was so pathetic looking, it was comical. I had three packaged samples and maybe 50 extras. There was a booth next to me that had custom furnishings! I literally went out and bought a red shower curtain just to add some color."
What set Sari apart though, was something she did long before she hit the trade show floor. The mompreneur sent emails with information about her product to the buyers she hoped to meet there.
"Two women came up to the booth," Sari explained, "and I heard one of them say, 'This is the product I was telling you about. This would be really good for the new program.' As they came closer, I was able to read their badges and I thought I was going to pass out! They were from Target and they told me they were interested in my product for their parent-invented program."
One week later, Sari received an email inviting her to the company's vendor program, where she would learn how to work with the enormous retailer. And within six months, SippiGrip, was on Target's shelves.
By that point, the enterprising entrepreneur had also landed deals with Buy Buy Baby, Burlington Coat Factory, Amazon.com and small boutiques around the country, and she had given birth to a second baby.
Soon Sari delivered two more products -- the PaciGrip, which acts like the SippiGrip, keeping pacifiers close at hand and a fashion forward SplatMat. With those additions, she reached her goal -- BooginHead became a million-dollar company.
"I was still doing most of my shipping out of my garage. Once a week my porch would be lined with packages for UPS. It got to a point where they had to do separate pick-ups because there wasn't enough room in the truck!"
"My boss at Microsoft was incredibly supportive. He always said, as long as you get your work done, I don't care what you do. And my colleagues, many of whom had sold businesses before coming to Microsoft, became so interested in what I was doing, they actually mentored me quite a bit. Finally, several of them came to me and said, 'You need to go do this -- your window of opportunity is not going to last forever.'"
So, in January of 2011, Sari left her full-time job and opened BooginHead's headquarters in a small loft space, with just enough room for herself and two part-time employees. Her mission: to create products that solve problems for parents. And today, she has six of them, including a Squeez'Ems pouch for kids on the go, a PaciPouch, which keeps baby supplies close at hand and a line of customized pacifiers.
Sari Davidson's company is projecting 3.5 million dollars in sales by the end of this year. And the manufacturer who was willing to give her a chance? Today, Booginhead is one of their biggest customers.
"There were a lot of people," Sari recalled, "who simply saw me as a Mom who had an idea. They didn't give me credit for having the business acumen to make this happen. But I saw an opportunity. I saw something unique and different that solved a problem."
"I think that's the question every entrepreneur needs to ask themselves -- what problem am I solving? People may not buy all the things they want, but they will buy the things they need."
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