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Implementing a Million Dollar Idea on a Dollar budget

Implementing a Million Dollar Idea on a Dollar budgetMy name is Mia Hunter. I am the CEO/Founder of NPS USA, LLC and creator of the FunSpunge www.thefunspunge.com. I started the company in August of 2010. Many nights I would sit on the side of my bath tub trying to wash my son’s hair. Every event would lead to my son screaming about needing a washcloth and water in his eyes.

My son was well over 2 years old at the time. Every night he would scream to the top of his lungs when I tried to wash his hair. He hated having water and soap dribble in his face. I went to all the big named retailers and I found a couple of products that I thought would solve this problem but none of them worked.

As I was sitting on the edge of the tub one night, a light bulb went off in my head. Hey, why don’t you create something for him to play with in the tub that would distract him from the hair washing process? There are plenty of toys that he brought in the tub from his room to distract him but I was thinking something “bigger”.

As the wheels started to turn, I realized that I work full-time for a non-for profit agency and my salary would not be able to support this kind of project. So I called my brother who works on Wall Street. He is an MBA graduate of Wharton; I figured he can give me some ideas. He immediately jumped on board.

He opened a business credit card at his bank and I started development on our first product.

Unfortunately, our first product was put on the back burner. I cannot disclose specific details about our first product because we will be launching it in the future. But during the development stage I realized that this product still did not stop the water from dripping down his face. Not only that, it would cost a small fortune to make a prototype for the original product so we laid that to bed.

What I thought was a headband that would soak up the water so that it couldn’t drip down the child’s face. I thought this would be a better fit for our budget, so I started gathering raw materials and putting together my first prototype of the FunSpunge.

To save costs, I filed for a provisional patent myself. My strategy would be to save as much money as I could to pay an attorney to file the utility patent which is more in depth and complicated. What people don’t realize is that it is very easy and cheap to file the PPA and it protects your product for at least 12 months.

All the raw materials, research and development, contracting an advertising agency to design our website, packaging and logo was all funded from the credit card from my partner/brothers bank. We had a multitude of other expenses such as testing the product, making sure that we were in compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s rules for safe children’s products and minimal advertising on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We are so thankful because if we did not have that business credit card, we would not have been able to bring my idea to life.

After a lot of work behind the scenes, the product was launched in July of 2011. We did a soft production run of 500 units.

Because we don’t have a budget for marketing and advertising at this point we are marketing and advertising the old grassroots way. I have to work full-time in order to provide for my two children. I am a single mother so first and foremost I have to make sure that they are taken care of. I also made an agreement with my partner that I would pay the monthly credit card payment for our expenses because he stepped out on a limb and believed in my idea.

This means that in addition to my personal expenses, I have to support our business expense until our product takes off.

I don’t live to far from my job so on my hour lunch, I either drive home, or sit in my car in the parking lot and make sales calls to the local boutiques in our area. Doing this on an hours time landed us in 8 boutiques.

I entered into a contest for the “Next Great Inventor’s Infomercial” sponsored by Telebrands and Z100 NY radio station. The FunSpunge was chosen by public to be a finalist to pitch our product to A.J. Kubani, the CEO of Telebrands. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the contest, but we got great exposure from the Daily News. My daughter modeled the FunSpunge and I did a demonstration. The next day she was on page 16 of the Daily News with a picture that took up the whole page. It was the most exciting day of my life. That same day the producers of Fox & Friends called my daughter and I to be on their live broadcast because they thought the product was so cool.

We were mentioned in a couple of different articles all stemming from that one contest.

You can find our YouTube video here

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWWCZF2dTCw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Currently we only have 2 employees, myself and my brother. We have contracted a company to bridge the gap between major retailers and the FunSpunge.

The best advice that I never got, was to do the provisional patent myself. I was always told to have an attorney handle the process of patenting and trade marking. Don’t get me wrong, depending on your product you just might need an attorney for more in depth inventions, but after doing the research, at least the provisional patent application was easy enough for me to do myself. Legal Zoom was an awesome help with completing the trademarking process. The USPTO even contacted me shortly after submitting my trademark application and said that I did very well without the help of an attorney.

The thing that almost killed my business was being scared of success. I was thinking that I should stop before I start because this might not fly. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to manufacturing a product. All these voices in my head were telling me that I didn’t have what it takes to stick with it until the end. But when I looked around this small one bedroom apartment that I live in with my kids, I decided that I was going to go as far as I could go and make it work. There are two goals that I wished to accomplish and one was to buy my children a home where they had their own room and could run around in their own backyard, and the other, was to make a product that every parent could use for those children that hate to get their hair washed. I know that my neighbors are happy that I invented this product because now, they don’t have to hear my son scream as if I were murdering him.

What I did right was believe in my dream. I didn’t give up. I have no idea how this is going to work. I have no marketing budget, no advertising dollars, I don’t really know how to publish myself and get traffic to my website.

The biggest transition that I had to make was managing my time effectively. In the past, I just went to work, and took college classes online and came home to take care of my two children. I had to make a fast adjustment to CEO of a company. I had to make decisions that I knew nothing about. I quickly had to learn how to negotiate and understand the jargon of the manufacturing world, almost overnight. Now I can have a conversation with a vendor or boutique owner and understand what I am being asked and give an answer without stuttering or mumbling. Having confidence in my product and sticking with it.

Currently we are in the red. Our product is being sold in 8 locations through out the East and West Coast. We have some dismal internet sales and a small inventory left. We just don’t have the manpower, marketing resources or advertising dollars to take this to the next level. We do have a company that is supposed to be showing the product and building partnerships but we are in our 3rd month with this company so we have a long road ahead of us.

In my spare time, I try to watch shows on how inventors and entrepreneurs catapulted their businesses from nothing to multi-million dollar cash cows. What I am realizing is that they have spent a lot more money than what we have spent and it has taken them at least 3-5 years to work magic and get results. It seems we have a far way to go.

What I feel would make my business more successful is if I could reach more people. Every person that I talk to loves my product. People that have older children admit that if this product was around when their child was of age, it would have saved them a lot of time and heart ache. If we could advertise more and market our product it would be much more successful.

I would love to partner with a larger company that has distribution channels in place to catapult the FunSpunge to the next level and work full-time for my company so that we can develop our product line.

Unfortunately, quite recently, my full-time job was in jeopardy because I was wearing too many hats and my focus was not were it should have been (at least from my employers perspective). At heart I am an entrepreneur. I want to partner with a larger company so that I can resign from my full-time job, while still being able to support my children and develop more products that will make parents and children’s lives much easier.

My projected annual income will be over 1 million dollars by the end of next year.

I know one thing, I know that I have a great product and eventually the right doors of opportunity will open. The right people will cross my path that will enlighten me on the steps to take in this business. I just can’t loose faith.

 

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