What does it take to go from business idea to lady boss?
This new column features an entrepreneur, who happens to be a mom, each week—walking us through the process of how you too can take your ideas from dream to reality.
If you missed the article featuring Rachel from Rags to Raches, a crazy-popular kids clothing company, on how she got her big idea, you can read it here. This week, we're discussing the second step every entrepreneur needs to make on her journey: Testing and prototyping.
Testing and prototyping a new product can be a grueling process.
Yet designing a product that people love—and more than that, a product that people buy—is one of the most important parts of creating your business.
One entrepreneur who owes her success to prototypes and testing the market is Lorene Mah, founder of Glitter and Spice—a baby accessories company that makes stylish teethers for both mom and baby to wear. A stay-at-home mom turned entrepreneur extraordinaire, her products have been featured in Vogue, Glamour and Harpers Bazaar. She's also attended the Academy Awards and the Emmys, gifting her products to celebrities, and been awarded 2016's Award for Best Small Business in British Columbia.
Her prototyping process is one that any new business owner can learn from—testing demand in small batches through social media posts and then measuring the interest against real product sales.
And it all began when Lorene's youngest child started teething at just two months old.
After growing frustrated with the lackluster options available, and on the hunt for stylish teething jewelry, Lorene decided to make her own—by starting small, at home, with 100% food grade silicone that she initially handcrafted herself.
Her instinct—to combine an elegant aesthetic that appeals to moms with a much-needed product to help baby, turned out to be the key to her success. But it's her openness to trends, iterations and feedback that has helped grow the business.
Lorene's commitment to early prototyping and testing paid off: in the span of a single year, she's grown her monthly sales to over $25,000 per month with minimal spend on marketing and advertising. In fact, within one month of business in 2016, Glitter and Spice exceeded the entire previous year's worth of sales. “Word of mouth is so important in the baby industry. Moms really talk to one another so if you get your product right, you won't have to spend much on advertising."
I sat down with Lorene recently to chat find out what she can share with her fellow lady bosses and aspiring lady bosses. With a huge generosity of spirit she dispelled some profound insights about the importance of testing and prototyping, what life as a lady boss looks like and how motherhood shapes the way she does business.
What did the first iteration of your product look like?
They were very simple teething necklaces. I had two styles, one used geometric silicone beads and one used round beads in a gradient pattern. They were very simple and classic; I wanted to focus on the colors. It was a monochrome and more modern than other teething products, and then we started adding wood to it.
How did the production process go at first?
I'm a stay at home mom, so I started working at night after the kids went to bed. It started out as a couple of hours doing it in my bedroom. There's this little ledge where the window is and I literally had my beads and string set up there by the window. I literally stood there, made necklaces and watched TV. It was very casual—nothing serious.
We definitely started small!
What were some challenges you had in creating the initial set up for production?
After a while I realized, okay, I can't stand for hours on end. Little by little it started taking up more spaces of our house. It just kept growing and growing!
Would you say to start a business that you need to embark with a lot of overhead like an office or a storage facility?
Honestly I never invested more than $100 into the business, and that was for the initial supplies.
I said to myself, “If I don't sell anything at all I still need to be happy."
Turns out it took off! Other moms were looking for teething jewelry that didn't force them to abandon fashion. I reinvested what I'd earned back into the business as opposed to using it like a salary and I was able to place larger and larger orders for our materials.
Everything grew organically, even our logo! I held a contest on Instagram for a free necklace, and what came of it is the logo we have today. Making it work is about being resourceful and asking people for help. I'm thankful that we have so many generous and talented people and that I didn't have to spend very much to get things going.
If you can, I would recommend growing organically. It's not necessarily always possible though, I understand that. Depending on your business sometimes you do need to invest to get everything set up.
What did you focus on in terms of differentiation?
For me, the way I see it is that everyone has a different style. So my goal was to be able to have as many styles and colors as possible, and even to have the option to customize ,so anyone looking for teething jewelry could find exactly what they were looking for. I wanted to have a large breadth of products to meet as many customers' needs as possible.
Testing new product categories became very important for us.
What really put us on the map is when we started offering the teething necklaces that toddlers and children could wear. When we started testing those we were quickly approached by Harper's Bazaar. They wanted to feature our children's teething jewelry in their magazine because it was different, it was something new.
Look for that when you're considering how to design your product. Stay unique, stay creative.
You always have to be innovative – always keeping on your toes.
Have you tested a product that has failed?
Absolutely! We had a teether that held three different teething toys. It was funny, it had a great response on social media but the sales weren't there to back up the hype. So it ended up being one of those things that just died out. It was one of the harder products to make as well, so the lack of sales coupled with the difficulty of manufacturing made it an easy one to mark in the “failed" folder.
When you're testing new products you really need to be attention to whether or not its generating revenue.
Creatively, what were you inspired by next and what came of it?
We are constantly looking for new inspiration. We strive to be original and have something that's exclusively ours.
When we added in wood to our teething necklaces it was because we wanted something a bit different. And the response to that was really great. So we are riffing off of that success and creating custom wooden teethers—not necklaces—in a few custom created shapes.
When you find something that works, design-wise, it can be a good idea to test out other iterations of a similar product. It's a great way to get existing customers to come back too.
Did you do any consumer testing or focus groups?
Yes—I highly recommend running small focus groups—even if it's just a group of your friends. I'm the type of person that I always need someone with me when I'm shopping because I just can't decide—I want everything!
Fast-forwarding to now, what new styles or products are you working on and how is the prototyping process going?
I mentioned we were prototyping our new wooden teethers, and testing out a new manufacturer at the same time, which is always hard. There's a lot of back and forth trying to convey the vision you have in your head. To transform that idea into a final product, a perfect product, there's just so much work that goes into that.
For example, the first prototypes I got back of the wooden teethers were two times too large! We ended up finding a new manufacturer because there were just too many things that they let slip through the cracks. When you're choosing a production facility, attention to detail is so important. And always trust your gut. If you don't think your current manufacturer is a good fit, spend the time to find someone who is. Your brand will benefit hugely in the long run.
Don't rush through this process. People have the tendency to rush because they want to get the product out there. But that's your reputation on the line. Do you really want to send out something that's not perfect? A lot of people make that mistake.
How important would you say confidence is in creating a product line and starting your own business?
You have to believe in what you do. And how you view your company makes all the difference. Perception is reality. If you are confident about what you do, people pick up on that.
I always dream as big as I can, and so far it's all happening according to how I envisioned it.
How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?
It does in a big way. Everything in my life revolves around my kids. Everything I do is because of them. So it's hard to imagine what it would have been like without them to do this. I mean, I probably wouldn't even have done it at all.
The whole reason I started Glitter and Spice was because of my son, my second child. My first baby, Emma, was super good teething-wise. But when my son was born, he started teething at two months old. I went on a hunt to see what I could find for him and to my surprise there wasn't a lot out there. Noah also had problems focusing while nursing—he would be all over the place. So I wondered if I could create something that would address both problems.
A necklace could function as entertainment as well as something that soothed his gums.
I mean, I didn't invent teething necklaces by any means.
But I knew that other moms would want something they could wear that was stylish.
And now, many of our customers don't even have kids and they still buy and wear our necklaces. That's the biggest compliment to me.
I work a lot harder than I would without my kids. There's more on the line.
Part of it is chasing balance. It makes you work harder. It pushes me to do more so I can get more. More time with the kids, more success with the company, more everything.
And I want to make something that my kids are proud of, something that they can take over one day.
Is there any one piece of advice you'd give to aspiring lady bosses?
Human nature is about perception. If you've got 50,000 followers on Instagram versus a brand with 3,000, people automatically think, “that must be the original" or “that must be the highest quality brand." So that's the mindset that I approach everything with. Whenever we were featured in a large media publication I would use that notoriety across all our communication channels.
Look at the big picture. It's not about instant results. Think big, dream big, and you'll get there.