8 Min ReadBusiness 06 March 2020
It's absurdly difficult to launch a product for women, by women.
When I moved to NYC, I was bright and full of dreams, my hopes pinned on a colorful career and exciting new friends. Within one year, exciting new friends in tow, I was fully engaged in learning the ropes and climbing the ladder at a global investment banking firm. It was an exciting time of learning new things and my capacity for growth was enormous.
While living the daily grind of corporate life, I often had a seven-minute walk from my apartment to work and/or the subway. As a self-respecting NYC pedestrian, I walk with purpose and who among us isn't always running a few minutes behind once we finally dash out the door? This accelerated pace often led to sweating around the 6.5 minute mark which means I would be blooming into a full sweat right as I arrived in the office or (worse) dove into the sweltering depths of a muggy subway to await the sweet yet fleeting blasts of crisp AC, like a soldier in the desert but more humidity...
This became increasingly annoying during our long and stifling city summers. Eventually I began to use a variety of different absorbent solutions from paper towels or bandanas to premium (yes, premium), baby diapers! That's when I decided there was a giant gap in the market — I'm not the sweatiest person I know, but I do sweat. It's normal, and I knew I couldn't be the only one with this problem. So I began to do some research.
Eight years went by and this brilliant idea burned — an itch left unscratched. How could I ever forgive myself if I didn't take a leap of faith on such a great (insane) idea? Swoobie began to lurk in my mind like an oven I'd left on.
Finally, in 2017, I purchased all known boob sweat products and took a week off work to run gym sweat tests while researching established patents, patent law, intellectual property and the general feasibility of launching such a product. I was astonished to discover patents for boob sweat products going back to the 1980s! Some I even recognized as products I'd purchased. It was both concerning and reassuring to see that I wasn't the first genius with this plan. But, thankfully, none were like mine.
That was the week I discovered the cost of properly defending an infringed patent against copy-catters STARTS around $300K. That dampened my spirit but didn't stop me from thinking about it.
But WHO is so crazy as to leave their job and launch a boob sweat product? Not me baby, that's crazy talk.
So while I kept my full-time job, I worked on designs and researched companies that make prototypes. I was careful not to provide any images or clear product concept without a signed NDA. Some people may think me over-cautious but better to be safe than sorry. Once they understood my product concept, every prototype maker turned down the project. Soon I found out why.
I spent $7,000 on months of "design" during which a college dudebro completely revised my design and removed the adjustable feature that made it valuable. They submitted two burnt left sides that were an embarrassment and I realized I could make my own better and free. That made me feel really stupid, and I will die lucky if it remains the most expensive of my mistakes. As it turns out, reputable prototype makers rejected my project because nobody has massive absorbent-hygiene machinery laying around. Machines can be the size of multiple trucks.
I was still working and hired a product consultant who helps entrepreneurs and inventors bring their visions to life. By working with her I was able to see a clear roadmap of what would be required to get my product launched and selling. We discussed costs, strategy, and timelines. Thanks to her experience, I was pointed toward an industry group for nonwoven materials, which includes absorbent hygiene.
Joining this organization was one of the best steps I could have taken, and I was thrilled to have their directory of industry contacts. I called their head of training and development and spoke with a kind and generous man who shared my frustration over flushability ignorance. He sent me starter materials and encouraged me to fly in for their three-day workshop on absorbent hygiene products. I immediately booked the trip!
Their training was fantastic. I met many warm and interesting people from the nonwovens industry, many from production giants like Proctor & Gamble or Kimberly-Clark. Others were product engineers or independent consultants. I met machine specialists, wood pulp experts, chemical engineers, and one truly generous man from Velcro. Using these new contacts and the member directory, I began cold-calling third party and independent contract manufacturers to develop my bra liner.
I quickly discovered the nonwovens industry in the USA developed from the collapsed cotton trade and is predominantly run by, you guessed it, old white men. As a result, it was an uphill battle to not only convince them I had a viable product idea, but also explain what it even was. Most had no qualms informing me boob sweat isn't "a thing" (because they would know) and if it were, it's not problematic (or a product would, of course, exist) and if it's problematic, women could use nursing pads (an amusingly frequent suggestion).
Men who would never use my product, told me it wasn't needed. Meanwhile, 80% of women would light up when I'd explain my idea. One facility stopped returning my calls after receiving my pitch deck, while others found reason to stop replying. It was disheartening to say the least. I felt stupid. At the same time, cold calls who were unable to help would also take the time to explain things, providing a better understanding of who I was calling and what their priorities were.
Ultimately, the reason nobody would make my product was because it's outside an established product category, with no guaranteed market. Due to the size and expense of these great machines and the non-square (custom) nature of my product shape, customized equipment and processes must first be developed and then products are produced at such high speeds that there'd better be someone buying them or you'll be real sorry to own that big machine.
One potential partner provided a long list why my bra liner for boob sweat would fail like all its sweaty sisters before. I noted his reasons and did my due diligence, responding with facts and figures to support my claims. Later I applauded the addition of a woman (to their all-male team) and he grew angry with me and compared my appalling (anti-male) sexism with racism. In the same discussion he rejected my research and data because he "didn't think so." I came away from that discussion very angry and confused.
I spoke with another potential resource, an abrupt and somewhat argumentative gentleman, for about an hour while he trashed my ideas with his concept of "reality." He wasn't mean about it; he had started a number of endeavors, which had gone poorly and was eager to share how things can (and do) go wrong. When he ended our discussion by saying there was no way he was making my product, I felt I'd received an education and thanked him for his time. One year later, I needed more no-nonsense advice, and again he provided valuable insight into my process. Although many men challenged me on my idea, there were a good number of male contacts who were generous and willing to provide details, resources, explanations, suggestions, and more. The reality was, in order to make Swoobie come to life, I needed to find men who would see my vision and partner with me.
Early on I thought I'd found a facility to make my product, but after several months of verbal intentions (but no contract) they reversed course, and I found myself back at square one. I was absolutely crushed and started looking again when a European fellow I had previously cold-called reached out via LinkedIn. He remembered my unusual product and had recently met a facility manager in India with the skill and motivation to develop new products. A brilliant stroke of luck! Through his facilitation, I was relieved to meet a modern and ambitious young man who saw the opportunity in my product.
We met in March of 2019, and one year later I have boxed products for sale. I can't believe it! They are really amazing, and I didn't have to compromise my vision. My product developer listened to me and created an excellent product — it turned out great. I was recently looking at our final product and realized it's happened! Two years of staying true to my vision and believing in myself and suddenly I have Swoobies! It was a little mind-blowing, and I may have allowed myself to feel just a little smug very briefly. It was a great feeling.
Yet as I continue to climb, the next peak lies ahead. Each achievement levels me up to new obligations, expectations, and commitments. Equipping myself to meet these goals is a constant exercise in unlocking the next level, and I love it.
Three tips for starting a new business:
- Get involved with your local startup community by attending inexpensive topical discussion panels and informative events. Learn as much as you can and make genuine connections. Always try to contribute or offer value rather than just requesting help. Become familiar with the community and build inroads among similar founders; it is important to realize there are no superheroes.
- Join relevant trade or industry organizations — many have consultant or private rates for individuals far below the corporate rates billed to big players. Utilize their membership directory to make connections and don't be afraid to cold call knowledgeable experts. Many people are eager to speak about topics on which they are experts. Acquire relevant training materials. Learn as much as you can about the industry/product/market/service you are considering.
- Focus your time on becoming equipped for next steps. Keep your eye on the horizon and always remain aware of what's coming around the bend and what you need to be prepared for. A can-do attitude is crucial but also know when to outsource and what you should rely on others to manage. Focus your time and skills in areas of strength while delegating the rest as much as possible.
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Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.
Read with a Purpose
Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.
Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.
When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.
Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.
You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.
Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.
Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.
If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.
Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.