Joining me in this episode is Beth Fynbo - the Founder of Busy Baby!
Busy Baby is the company behind a nifty thing called the Busy Baby Mat and was born out of seeing first hand how difficult it can be when your baby is old enough to start grabbing at things on a table.
Beth was a new mum at 40 and looking for products to help her and her friends as new mums, but struggled to find exactly what she had in her mind. She started creating a prototype for her product at home and then set about finding someone to help her bring this idea to life.
We’re talking about the specific steps she took to validate her idea - which was pure genius, how much of her savings she needed to get started, the problems she faced when she started the patent process, what it’s like going through the target accelerator program and the exacts steps she took to grow from 100k in yearly revenue to $1m in sales all the while being a one-woman show.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
00:02:29 I am Beth Fynbo, my company is Busy Baby. And as you alluded to, you can see in the background behind me is my son's walker with a busy baby matt on it and the busy baby matt is the first ever placemat to stop babies from dropping and throwing their toys. So it's a placemat that sections to a surface and it has a tether system that allows you to attach toys so babies can't constantly drop them and throw them over and over again.
00:03:38 So it basically sounds like every mom's little dose of magic that they can carry around with them. Yeah, it's a problem literally every parent of every child that has ever existed has totally actually sent it to my best friend before we helped on this call and I was like just so you know, because she has a new book and I was like, I'm pretty sure you're gonna need this. And she was like, oh my God, that's such a great idea. So yes, I imagine everyone feels the same. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, oh my God, that's genius. Where was that? When my kids were little, I wouldn't have to work at all. I love that I want to go back to life before busy baby. And what kind of led you into this mode of starting a business and that light bulb moment that went off for you, oh my gosh, which one of my lives would you like to delve into first. I mean I grew up, I grew up the daughter of an entrepreneur. So my dad is a welder. He always had his own business. He works very hard and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur like him not welding but to just be in control of my own fate, my own schedule.
00:04:44 And I never really knew what that was because you know I learned from him that entrepreneurship is hard and there's lots of ups and downs and if you don't have the passion for what you're doing, you're not going to get through those downs. And so when I got done with high school I didn't have anything. I was really that passionate enough about to start a business And so I joined the army and I was in the US Army for 10 years and I traveled the world and it was an amazing experience. Um so that was kind of like another life and you know it feels like a past life. And then when I got out of the army I did all the things you're supposed to do, you're supposed to go to college and get a degree and get a corporate job and pay your bills and pay your mortgage and I did all that. Um for another 10 years and then at age 40 I met the perfect person for me and we started our family and so I had my first baby at age 40. So the kind of light bulb moment came three months later when I went back to work from my maternity leave and a couple of my girlfriends took me out for lunch and just going to check on my mental health, you know, being with your baby 24 7 being in your mom and then just like slam back into work, long days away from your baby, you know, only see him at night to nurse him.
00:05:56 Uh so they took me out to lunch and they brought their one year old daughters with them and the entire meal was spent with like trying to keep things out of the baby's reach or give them something to play with that. They then threw on the ground and one of the moms was kind of a germophobe. So she was wiping everything down every time. It was just a complete distraction. And I thought, oh my God, I need to go. Like I literally went on amazon to look for something that I could buy for my son. So when he was big enough, he wouldn't be that kind of distraction out to eat and it wasn't there, I couldn't find anything. So the next day driving to work. Um, I was again thinking of, I really need to start my own business. Like this time away from my son, I'm not going to be there to see his first steps, all that kind of stuff. I need an idea to start a business. And then, I mean literally within that commute an idea came to me and three years later, Here we are. Oh my gosh, I'm curious to know when you are actually googling looking on amazon searching for the, for the product. What were you looking for? Like, did you already have an idea in your mind of specifically what you needed?
00:07:00 Yeah, So the kind of, the funny story I had in my head was, and I joked with my girlfriends, I was like, we should create a little dinosaur costume, like a T rex costume where you can like chain their elbows to their back so that they can't reach them up. And so I was looking for like, I don't remember what terms I actual google, but it was, I needed a place mat because my germophobe friend was talking about all the germs on the tables and that, you know, they're using the same rags to wipe down everything in the restaurants and you don't know what's on that table, even though it looks like it's clean, it's probably not. So I needed a place mat and then I needed something to attached toys, so that's kind of what I was googling and I came across lots of placemats um and I came across a couple different like pacifier clip type tether systems. That was just a clip. Um and then there was another cool product that has a little heather system, but no matt. Um so yeah, that's what I was finding nothing that would do the entire job. And so in that car drive the next day, you were really kind of like clear on the idea, pretty, pretty early on on what it could be.
00:08:02 It's kind of a funny story and I think I can tell it here because of your audience is other females and other moms. I was actually pumping while I was driving. And so I had a hands free pumping bra on and then you, you kind of slipped the flanges for the pump into this broth so that you can pump hands free. And I thought, oh what if there was a place mat where you could like slip something in like that and like it's got this like kind of suction shape and it would stick to the table and then you could just put different attachments on it. So that night when I got home I actually took like silicone cock that you used to like seal around your sink or windows. And I squirted it into one of my breast pump flanges and then also into like a little baking dish. So I made a silicone mat and a silicone thing and I cut the slot into the placemat to put the flank thing. It stunk so bad because I mean this is like, do it yourself house, silicone, it's not say for anything or anybody, but that was kind of my first prototype that first night.
00:09:05 Oh my gosh, that's so cool. I love that. And so like what happens next? You have this idea. You've kind of made a prototype where you're like, okay, well this is obviously it. What's the next step? Do you go and validate the idea with your girlfriends? What happens next? Yeah. So I, at the time I still didn't think of it as a business. Um, I really was just trying to solve a problem for myself and I mean I kind of thought of it as a business, but I had no clue how you would go from taking this idea to something you sell. So you like to people who are going to pay money for it. So I just really wanted to perfect my idea and see if it would work. And so I bought stuff off of amazon like silicone mats to hold your pet dishes from sliding around and different kinds of tether things like for fishing, like men, when they go fishing, will use a tether to attach a tool to their belts so that it's always just kind of attached to them. And I would buy these pieces and cut and glue them together. And then suction cups. And I made a like a better prototype for myself. And then one of my best friends had a baby eight days after me.
00:10:10 So I made one for her. And at the same time, I actually registered an LLC because that's when I knew I want to make this a business, I don't know how, but I know that I have to have something to hold myself accountable and something that exists that I paid a little bit of money for, it wasn't expensive, but it was a couple $100 and just to make it a thing. And so that's what I did. And then for a couple of months I just kept trying to perfect my idea, figure out what do I do next. Because what I had created was definitely not something you could sell to people. And my friend called me and said, oh my God, I forgot this last night and it was the worst. I had no idea how useful this thing was until I didn't have it. Like you seriously need to make this for real. So then I kicked it into gear a little bit more of like, okay, now, how really would I do this? And it was, you have to hire a product developer and you also have to know how to start a business, which I didn't know how to do.
00:11:12 So I started taking entrepreneurship courses and being an army veteran, there's a resource in America called bunker labs and it is a non profit that helps military veterans, military spouses who want to start businesses, teach you that, they teach you how to start a business. Um, so I took a 12 week course where they kind of walk me through the steps and one of the first steps was to validate your idea. So I took my little flimsy prototype to target and I walked the aisles of the baby section and I found moms with babies and ask them, you know, like I have this idea, This is what I'm kind of my prototype. Would you buy this overwhelmingly? It was yes. Oh, might I have that one? And it was, you know, it was really, it was not a high quality prototype. And I had people like stopping me when I used it saying, where do I get that? And it was, it was nowhere any of the product I have today, but I knew it was going to be a winner. So then I, I decided to move forward and start investing money and making it a real thing. Well that's crazy, overwhelmingly positive validation.
00:12:15 People wanting to give you money for you even made the idea how much money did you need to invest to get started and what was that early product development phase like and you know, finding a manufacturer and being able to place that first order. Yeah, first it was a lot more money than I thought it was gonna be. And I thought I had really vetted out how much it was going to cost and it was probably twice that I first went to the toy fair in new york city, which is like the biggest industry event for kind of kids baby products each year and I walked the infant and baby, I'll and I talked to other companies that were there other brands and got recommendations from them on, you know, things that they did to get to where they are. And I got a couple recommendations from two companies to use professional product developers and they passed along my information, those product developers called me after the, the event was over and they said um they'd be happy to chat and see what I have and and when we chatted, they put together a really brilliant proposal.
00:13:16 That was three phases. All the costs were lined out. The timeline was lined out um the delivery bals were very clear and you know, you pay one phase at a time and you pay half upfront and then half when they complete the face. And so at that time I had just got my tax returns and the amount of money I needed to pay for that first up front payment was within dollars of my tax return. And so I kind of thought it was just a sign from above that I should put this money towards that and give it a go in the end just doing the development was $28,000 For all three phases of a phase one for all three phases. And I actually did multiple products, you know, I have a set, so I have on the market, I have the mat with these tethers but then I also haven't developed a few other products that I just haven't manufactured yet. But it was a big investment. It's and it's really like okay I've got to commit to this and and do this. It was so scary.
00:14:17 But I thought you know with that first there was no obligation to move forward through those phases. So if I got through that first phase and didn't have the money or didn't have the desire to go further, I didn't have to go on. And I thought well for that amount of money I think at the time it was maybe $2,500. I thought I'm always gonna wonder what if I don't do it. So if I go in I do it, I spend that money and it doesn't work out. At least. I know totally and if I do go in and spend it and it works out and I keep going well now here we are. So it worked out obviously worked out I'm interested to know at what point did you need to start thinking about protecting your I. P. And thinking about the pattern side of things. I know you have a pattern. Um And I'm wondering did that have to come in at that early phase? Like we're also worried about sharing your idea with these people who were going to be developing a product. Yeah I kind of way back and forth. I use a lot of resources.
00:15:19 So I've done lots of pitching at just different events for business and entrepreneurs that are trying to start up and I got a lot of different feedback from patent attorneys, retired patent attorneys, current patent attorneys, A lot of people told me this is not a patentable product. You need to just be first to market flood the market, Don't waste your time, energy and money, which is a lot of money to do patents. Um so that was kind of the advice I followed for a little while and I was about $16,000 into product development when I talked to another patent attorney who said, well you've at least at a patent search, right? And I was like, what's that? You know, I haven't done that. What what is that? He's like, he's like, how much money have you spent so far? And I was like, Oh, like $16,000. And he said okay, don't freak out, but we need to do a patent search because if even if it's not created, it's not on the market yet. If somebody has a patent for this item and then you created and you sell it any funds you earn from those sales goes to that person, they own the rights.
00:16:26 And I was like, oh my gosh, my heart dropped like I swear to stop beating because I was like, I didn't even check to make sure no one else had a patent on this idea and so I quickly went, you can google, there's google has their own google patents so you can google google patents and type in kind of keywords and there was patents out there that had like a similar concept and I was like oh my gosh, what have I done? It was like my first really big freak out moment um but as we move forward, we, we found that those patents hadn't ever been completed, they were never written so I freaked out a little less. Um so then we filed a provisional patent so that at least my idea was protected because now that I had talked about it and had been seen publicly. Yeah and then I ended up switching patent attorneys. My new Pat attorney had some interesting strategy and I will say that he is brilliant because within nine months he had filed a patent and it was written which is almost unheard of with no office actions now I have two written us patents, a third one pending and a written chinese patent so that's kind of important because that's where a lot of the knockoffs are going to come from is in china.
00:17:36 So if I have a pattern in china but at least I have some ground to stand on when they start creating knockoffs Yeah, that's so interesting. I've never thought about that needing to get the patent there, I just kind of assumed you know you just get a patent, but that makes total sense. Yeah. When you were having like the product and you were speaking to people who are like, you don't need a pattern and then some people were being like, you do need a pattern. What actually is the bit of the product that you patented? So it's really the system and it's the fact that there's suction cups that are embedded into a mat and then a bended into an attachment point so that like there's this whole like spot on each part of the mat that helps it to stay suctioned better and that you can attach toys too. So that utility of it, the functionality of being able to attach something to a mat and have it suction to a surface is kind of what patented generally got it. Yeah, I didn't even know you could do that, that's so cool. How interesting. I want to talk about your launch strategy and like when you actually had the product and then you were like, okay, now I need to sell the product.
00:18:43 How did you go about finding your early customers and spreading the good word? Right, so before I even launched, I tried to do a Kickstarter and fortunately for me that failed. Um, I was trying to launch with like all five products that I had developed. Um, and I said a low goal, so that was, I would hopefully achieve it, but it wasn't gonna be enough of a goal to pay for all the manufacturing. But you see all these Kickstarter success stories and I thought for sure this was going to be one of them. Yeah. Um and it wasn't, unfortunately, I didn't, well, I think baby products don't do well on Kickstarter and I think it might have been me a little bit, my own dream world of thinking this thing is so genius. Of course it's gonna go viral instantly. Like people are going to be sharing it with every other mom that they know that that doesn't happen. Um that's pretty rare, So Kickstarter failed, which was fine, it was good and then I was in a startup competition where I won um some money, a significant amount of money, I won $25,000. Um so I used that money towards production And got some products here.
00:19:48 I, I did 5000 units in my first run and I set up a website. Um I tried to set up amazon, It was so hard, I'm on amazon now, but as a one person owned company to try and do all the things amazon is a beast and I just couldn't, I could not get it. So it ended up taking me seven months I think to finally get everything done that I needed to get done to be on amazon, but I had my website and then I would go from expo to expo from street markets, I would set up a booth I have, you know, a 10 by 10 tent that I can take in my car and take mats with me and my little posters and as people walk by, they come in, I give the demo I've given, I think A Gem, Oh, probably a good 10,000 times given a demo Of, you know, I have a little white high chair that the map barely fits on. And I do the whole spiel in like 45 seconds. But they see, you know, they see what it is because a lot of people like, well what is that? I don't even know if that's for, and then when they see it, they're like, oh, okay, that's good.
00:20:52 That's the, they're like, yeah, I get it now and I need that right? In every color, right? Right. So that's why we did the first year. Um the first year I was doing that, I was also going through fertility treatments, trying to get pregnant with another baby. Um and I did get pregnant and then I was having a high risk pregnancy. So I was trying to balance everything as much as I could. Plus I was still working a full time job. So there was a lot going on. Um but I was really proud of the year. I think I almost had $100,000 in the first year in sales, which I thought was really great considering all the other things, you know that were going on and I was doing it by myself totally, that's amazing and well, like all three of those elements sounds so hectic alone and then you just pop them all together and You know, had all this crazy stuff going on. I think it's amazing. I actually read a statistic recently that said, I think it was something like 2% of female entrepreneurs ever reached $1 million $100,000 to this year will be $1 million dollars in sales.
00:22:04 And I want to kind of dig into like what you attribute that success to and what you really did to scale your brand the way that you have. Yeah, I think the key for me was hiring a professional to do social media marketing. I had tried to do it, facebook makes it really easy to create an ad. If you have a business, you can very easily create an ad account, you can click the buttons to select an audience to select a location and and set your budget and and off you go. And I did that when I was doing the Kickstarter and I spent $1,000 on ads with zero conversions. So I thought, oh well maybe facebook ads just aren't right for my product. And so I didn't really consider doing them again. And then uh an ad expert reached out to me and he said, I think you've got a really incredible product. I think we could do some amazing things on facebook ads. And he told me what his cost was and it was over $1000 a month just to create ad and I thought, oh God, there's no way there's no way I'm gonna be able to spend $1000 to pay you to do it and then add spend on top of that.
00:23:16 And then the budget. Yeah, no. And I was very pregnant at the time and I was like, well let me just get through this pregnancy and check back with me next year. Maybe I'll be in a better position because right now I'm just two pregnant too stressed. It's the holidays. I just checked back in with me in like three months. And so he did he check back again? Um He said, I hope you know everything went well. Um Just checking back in, I said, yeah, I'm still not not there. And then the pandemic happened and my sales went down to almost nothing And my entire marketing plan and marketing budget was to be going back to those expose. So I was, I had already pre paid for, I don't know, 10 or 14 expose. I hadn't bought the travel yet, but they were all over the United States. So I would be flying in hotels and obviously with a pandemic, you're not traveling and the exposed, some of them were canceled. Some of them shifted to virtual. So I thought, well I'll take my travel budget and give this guy a shot. And I did.
00:24:18 And immediately the first day I was up to 20 orders the next couple of days, it went up to 30 orders a day to now. It's over Facebook and Instagram ads. That's amazing. And I really, I had a look at your ads actually and I love how they feel really native. Like the content doesn't scream high polished campaign imagery, high polished campaign video. It is like, this is actually what your life would look like with this product and this is a real baby throwing stuff around. Yeah. And I think that's why they work. One of my two top most successful ads is one of my best friends baby at a restaurant and she honestly just took the video and sent it to me because she's like, look how cool it's working because she's my friend and she had it. And then the other video that's doing really well as my own son and it's just him trying to sell feed himself because you can attach a spoon to the mat. So he's like learning how to eat and not dropping the spoon on the floor over and over again. And I think as people are scrolling they're thinking maybe this is like their friends baby.
00:25:23 Like it just because it's just cell phone video and it's like oh whose kid is this? And they stop and look at it and then they see what it is like oh nifty. I get it. Was that the kind of content that you were trying on facebook ads when you were doing it at the beginning or were you trying to run a professional imagery and that kind of thing? Oh my gosh! My first ads were so horrible. I I know how to do like a tiny bit of video editing. Very very tiny bit. And so I am I made my own version of what I thought was a professional looking at and they were just so horrible. Um So it really did. Now, looking back it looks like someone from from like china would have made to put on a U. S. Platform, you know like they don't really know what they're doing but they're trying to make it look like it's something and that's I think how my first ones came across, Oh my god horrible. And so going back to you know you're insane growth. Is that pretty much all attributed to facebook and instagram ads or are there other elements to the puzzle?
00:26:31 I would say it's almost entirely the ads and now that there are more mats out there being used. It's a lot of word of mouth. So now that people are getting it, I'm seeing a lot more comments on the ads now that are saying, hey, this is what, you know, tagging a friend, this is what I got for my kid, so that they're tagged in the ad and then they can just click on it and go get it. But yeah, there's a lot of word of mouth, but mostly it's the ads. That's amazing. I want to shift topics a little bit and talk about your current Target accelerator program that you've been part of, which sounds so exciting. Do you want to share a little bit about why you wanted to get there in the first place and how it's going. Sure. Um from the very beginning, I always pictured my product on the target shelf. I actually took pictures of like an empty shelf and then kind of imposed my own product on it just as a visualization kind of thing. I love that. And earlier this year, Target announced that they were doing an accelerator program for baby products. And so I applied for it and then I never heard anything for a long time.
00:27:34 Well maybe the pandemic change things or maybe they just didn't think my product was interesting. But then I finally got a call in an interview and they selected me to take part with 10 of the brand or nine other brands. There's 10 of us total. We did a five week program and they just kind of helped mentor us through what it takes to get into a big box retailer. You know, we're all small companies, we've not done something like this before and there's a lot to it. I never approached it before because there's so much to it that I thought there's no way I can do this on my own. Like that will happen someday when I have investors and somebody on the team that's got experience. Um, but now I feel confident that I could totally go into target on my own. Um, and I had actually my first talk with target buyers yesterday and I think it went pretty well. So that's so exciting to be continued indeed by getting into the accelerator. Does it actually guarantee that you'll get into target or it's kind of like might get you there? No, there's no guarantee at all. It's really just target, making an effort to help support small businesses.
00:28:38 You know, they have everything set up for all the big companies, which, you know, big companies have huge budgets and huge staff and, and can do that where it's hard for small, small peanuts like me to get into that kind of arena. And so it's there, their effort to help support small business, love that, but no guarantee there's no, no guarantees. Well, my fingers are crossed for you. Thank you. What are the kinds of things that you learned in that experience about getting into these kind of big retailers? Um, I think the key things that I learned where a lot of the lingo, so retailers have lots of different acronyms and departments and people that do different things and if you're not inside you don't know what these things all are. And then there was a lot, we have to learn about all the additional costs that go into going into a big retailer. You know, you, you as the vendor have to cover a lot of promotional costs or you have to also contribute to marketing the product if to get people to go to the store and buy and stuff like that.
00:29:44 That we just don't even know what the thing totally, it sounds like a really great resource to fast track that learning curve that you need to go through if you want to be stopped on those kinds of shelves. Yeah, it's been a huge, huge educational opportunity for me. Well, I hope to see you on the shelves of Target? S up. Me Too. Me too. Obviously growing so fast is super amazing. Great, great opportunity. But it also brings on new sets of challenges with things like inventory and cash flow issues. What are the kinds of challenges you faced as you've been able to scale to the size that you are so quickly. Um, for me and it's still the challenge is I need another me like I literally just need another me to do all the things that need to be done Financially? I've been able to, I've taken part in a lot of, like I mentioned earlier, business competitions and I've won nearly at this point now, almost $100,000 in prize money, wow. So as I'm looking at right now, the expense of really increasing my inventory to get through holiday season and to prepare for some big things coming up next year, that money is really going to come in handy.
00:30:56 And then as I've grown and, and I work with a small bank, which I think is key. They see my transactions, they are, I can walk in their door and talk to the people. Um, they've extended a really huge line of credit to me so that I have access to funds to grow my inventory. So that's not the problem. It's really the expertise and the people. So one of the things I'm working on right now is actually convincing my brother who is essentially another me with the opposite skill sets to quit his very high paying secure job and join me on this crazy adventure. And I think I've got him on board. So really, really hoping to add my first like full time yeah, Staff to help, really crush the next level. He's been in retail for 10 years. He's run, he's actually run target stores before. Um, so he will take over all the retail relationships and help me really grow in that arena. Um, and then hopefully I can get him to bring his wife as well to help with marketing. Oh, nice. And is that something you'll kind of incentivize with equity in the business or will he be like, Yeah, Yeah, amazing.