All small businesses have a couple of things in common. First, they’re run by a dedicated, determined, passionate entrepreneur. Second, each one of those inspiring self-employed folks had an idea for a product (or a service) and figured how to transform it into something they could sell. We know – and you do, too -- the process of turning an epiphany into a business is never easy. Here’s how some folks in QB Community managed to do it.
Katharine Huber, founder of Wit Design, creates stylish, functional, durable furniture for kids:
“I did a ton of research online and asked everyone I knew for manufacturer recommendations. I found someone to work with nearby. We were all set to go, but some new equipment created problems in the factory. The plan fell through. Then I found a factory in Vermont, and everything was back on track. Just as production was about to begin, another client gave him a huge order, and he couldn’t make my chairs.
I reached out to more than 35 different manufacturers that seemed big enough to handle my production size but not so big that my orders wouldn’t be worth making. Finally, I found Fancher Chair in Jamestown, NY, one of the oldest furniture manufacturing companies in the country. Production dates back to 1807.
The owner liked my chairs, he liked me – we were back on track! Fancher Chair uses digital laser-cutting equipment. It’s high-tech but still a slow process. Each single sheet of plywood yields either six chairs, ten stools or three tables. All the pieces are assembled and then sanded and finished by hand.”
Alexia Burke, founder of Izza Pops, makes “clean” ice cream and popsicles made without additives or fillers:
“[When I was following the Paleo diet] I realized processed ingredients, stabilizers, sugar alcohols and "protein isolates" were in practically everything we eat. I felt like I shouldn't have to compromise on quality just because I was buying pre-made food.
Ice cream stuck out to me because all the dairy-free options at the grocery store contained ingredients like “guar gum” that I'd never even heard of. I started making my own ice cream at home from coconut milk and cashews and sharing it with friends for feedback. Then I turned the mixture into popsicles so I could make more units at a time. My Cuisinart was small!
I brought some popsicle prototypes to a dinner party at my now co-founder's house. She loved them! Within a month, we’d both quit our jobs to build a company and create a product we couldn't find on the shelves.”
“I suffered from debilitating morning sickness throughout both my pregnancies, so I was basically sick for more than a year. I decided to createPsi Bands, a medical device you wear on your wrist that's FDA-cleared and made with medical-grade materials. They’re also stylish, drug-free, adjustable, comfortable, waterproof, affordable and reusable!
I knew [this product idea would work] right from when we had the idea. I’m very driven by research — I did a market analysis and lots of homework, looking at selling, margins, marketing opportunities and the percentage we could take from existing competition. I struggle with how much research you should do before you take the leap into developing a product. How much time should I spend on this? Should I focus my resources on new products or my existing line?”
Erica Liu Williams, founder of gr8nola, makes delicious granola from “clean” ingredients and superfoods like flaxseed, turmeric and organic virgin coconut oil:
“I wasn’t inventing a new product category, so I just went to the store and researched other brands to see how they packaged and priced their granola. I used Amazon, eBay and Uline for sourcing food-grade packaging, and I asked a friend to design my label. My first versions were pretty scrappy – it was just a clear bag with a sticker on it, and they looked very homemade.
When I started out, I was a ‘cottage food operator.’ This allowed me to bake gr8nola out of my home kitchen, and I didn’t need to provide a detailed nutrition label, but I still had to list out my ingredients and allergens. Once I started doing my second farmer’s market and selling online, I needed other certifications and of course, an official nutrition label. It took me tons and tons of phone calls and networking with other food entrepreneurs to figure it all out. There’s no step-by-step guide.”
Sandee Ferman, founder of No ToxLife, produces all-natural, toxin-free, vegan home- and body care products:
“I’d always been interested in using safe, “clean” body- and home-care products, but I didn’t have any professional experience making products from scratch. When I first started making bath and body products, I did thousands of hours of research and testing. I spent thousands of dollars on supplies to make test batches. Now we make about 150 different products for bath, body and home.”
Dirk Franklin, inventor of Drink Daddy, designed a lightweight, portable drink caddy to use outside:
“Turning a concept into a product is a huge undertaking! I became an expert in all areas of my business. I learned how to set up a company, find investors, choose materials and design a product that was easy to manufacture. I kept a product-design notebook and created mechanical drawings for every single part of the product.
A friend who makes prototypes for medical devices helped me develop a proof of concept. I also hired an industrial designer and mechanical engineer. From there, I had to figure out how to scale up and create a product people could buy.
I took a few trips to China to explore different factories and meet suppliers. I was very involved in the design and manufacturing process, as I wanted an affordable, high-quality product.”
Adam Wegener, founder of Trash Amps, sells portable amps made from Mason jars, cans and more:
“Back in 2010, when I was still in college, a friend bought a kit to make a guitar amp from an empty mints tin. It didn’t sound great, but it was a really cool concept.
As an electrical engineer, my friend was interested in circuit boards and electronics. I’m a manufacturing engineer, so I was interested in how to make the amps. We were both musicians, so we’d plug our guitars into our homemade amps and try to impress girls when they'd come over to hang out for a party.
People wanted to buy the amps, so we made ten for our friends. Soon, we’d made 50, then 100. There was clearly a demand for what we were creating.
I raised about $25,000 through a small round of funding with friends and family. I invested in an injection mold since our original models made from PVC pipe weren’t great quality. With an injection mode, I could improve the products and scale up.
In the beginning, Trash Amps strictly sold amplifiers, but I soon realized speakers that connect to a smartphone were also in demand. Plus, more people listen to music than play the guitar.”
QB Community members, once you had an idea for a product or service you could sell, what first step did you take to turn your inspiration into a business?
Want to weigh in but not yet a QB Community member? Click HERE to sign up in a flash!
I’ve been self-employed for most of my career as content specialist, so I know how much discipline and determination it takes to run your own business. As QB Community Content Chief, I love sharing the stories of people committed to doing things their way. I hope you’ll join our community and share your inspiring story!