My “ah-ha” mommy moment came when my daughter’s ice pack was failing miserably at keeping her beloved daily yogurt cold to her (and my) satisfaction. I scoured stores and the web for an ice pack that would stay in place in a jostled lunchbox and keep individually-packaged yogurt truly cold. As a teacher for 12 years, I’ve also seen far too many yogurts, pudding cups, and Jell-o’s get tossed for being too warm. (There’s nothing quite like watching melting yogurt drip off the end of a spoon onto an afternoon math paper! Yuk!)
I set off for Home Depot to get some duct tape, my pantry for some storage bags, and I set to work making the first YogiWrap prototype. I putzed around with it for a few months trying to get the basic shape right for my new yogurt-encompassing ice creation. And then, the worst day of my life happened.
I was 8-and-a-half months pregnant with my second daughter when I found myself in the midst of a school shooting at my beloved Sandy Hook School. I joined the staff at SHS right out of college and have been privileged to work with some of the best educators and support staff around. After living through scenes from the worst horror movie imaginable, I came out of that day with a lot of grief, questions, and anger. PTSD sure is something.
In the immediate aftermath, my body and mind were absolutely out of control (something this type A personality is not accustomed to). With hormones and adrenaline reeling, I went into early labor the night of 12/14. I remember being in the hospital saying to my husband, “I don’t want to have a baby. Not today. Not on this day.” Thankfully the doctors and nurses were able to calm down my uterus, and “little a” as we call her, stayed put until her due date a few weeks later.
I worked hard in those first months after the event to focus on my family and my trauma recovery. I participated in talk therapy sessions regularly, tried meditation (which wasn’t for this never-sit-still kind of gal) and discovered Bikram Yoga, which I still practice to this day. I went right back to teaching and needless to say, my little ice pack endeavor was put on the back burner.
That is until I realized I needed something new, something challenging, something I could really sink my teeth into. Because for me, post-traumatic growth (positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event), was going to be my highway to trauma recovery. I was not going to let this event negatively define me. Love always wins, it must, and I decided to make the most of my every day from then on. In the summer of 2013, I set back to work on my yogurt ice pack project.
So, for all of you out there with your “big idea” or “next big idea,” and undoubtedly an obstacle or two in your way, here’s a little to-do list that I hope offers you a bit of insight into the creation of a market-ready product.
Step 1: Is there a niche in the market?
Do your research! I worked with a market analyst friend of mine to survey people about their feelings, opinions and preferences regarding my new ice pack and yogurt consumption in general. From this we set: the product name, the price point (not too cheap where quality is questioned and not too expensive where it wouldn’t be purchased or later replaced), and learned important information about our target audience. We also began thinking about how to market beyond yogurt-eaters!
Step 2: REACH, reach, reach! (I sound like my Bikram instructor!)
When I say I reached out, I reached way out! –To presidents of companies for advice, to family members for start-up funds, to a business attorney and patent attorney (more on that later), to a website designer to teach me the basics, and a graphic designer for a nifty logo. I had to leave my comfort zone time and time again, admit when I didn’t know something, and then find the answer or at least someone else who could teach me!
Step 3: Find your miracle worker!
My product would not be on sale today if it weren’t for (drumroll please…) my sourcing agent! This godsend-of-a-man fell into my lap after a game-changing phone call with a CEO of a major ice pack company. (He’s their sourcing agent, too.) From prototyping to actual product materials, to maneuvering the world of product molds, to choosing the final manufacturing facility (we had to go overseas to be even somewhat cost-effective), to actually visiting and communicating with the production facility to check protocols and arrange trans-Atlantic shipment. He was never more than an email or phone call away and truly brought my ideas to life!
Step 4: Protect Yourself!
Provisional patents are a wonderful thing. They were created for new inventors who are looking for intellectual property protection but are not yet ready to file a full utility or design patent. A provisional patent lasts one year and is far less costly than other patents. I am currently operating under my second provisional patent since vast product changes were made between prototype #1 and #8!
Step 5: Be ready for new learning!
This step can really go anywhere in this timeline. It’s the most exciting part, but can also be the most frustrating and nerve-wracking! How about the time I was almost fined $5,000 for not filing proper transit paperwork to clear customs? Or when I learned how to design a website, manage web transactions, ship orders, and file business taxes all in the same week (while teaching full-time and mothering 2 girls). Fortunately I have the same thirst for knowledge that I attempt to cultivate in my young students.
Step 6: Never. Give. Up.
Find your cheerleaders and keep them in your corner. Every time I was ready to throw in the towel, someone would cross my path who knew just the right thing to say to keep me going. Keep those kind of people in close company.
Every year my elementary students read biographies about people who followed their dreams to achieve, create, or be something special. My students look for common threads between these figures. What could Frida Kahlo and George Washington possibly have in common? Michael Jackson and Cleopatra? Amelia Earhart and Derek Jeter? Through their discourse, year after year, I’ll hear them come to the inevitable realization that they all had to overcome struggles and obstacles to achieve their dream. This is true for ANYONE creating a new product or starting up a business.
We’re part of the daily reminder that the American dream is still alive in well in this great country. There are dark days, no doubt, but there is also so much potential and promise with each new day we are blessed enough to enjoy.
Here’s to crazy ideas and bringing them to life!
Teri Alves is the founder of Bala Enterprises, LLC, inventor of the YogiWrap flexible ice pack, school shooting survivor, and mom to two beautiful girls. You can find out more about Teri and the YogiWrap here.