Entrepreneurs who appear on Shark Tank usually pitch only a single product. Mompreneur Brenda Lee Feldman one-upped them all with two children’s products that she invented plus a retail website. Her Orbit Labels, MyDrinky — a patented juice box holder — and Inchbug.com average $2 million in annual sales.
Feldman started working on her first invention, Orbit Labels, in October 2004 and launched them on her website, InchBug.com in March 2006. Orbit Labels® are non-adhesive, reusable, elastic bands customized with your name and made to order. They fit tight around baby bottles, sippy cups and pretty much any round container about that size such as shampoo bottles. They’re a smart alternative to peel-and-stick labels or permanent markers, which wash off or fade. The bands retail for $12.95 for a pack of four.
Feldman developed MyDrinky, a two-piece adjustable juice-box holder, in 2013. She rolled it the following year for $9.95. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded her both a design and utility patent on MyDrinky in April 2015. Aside from her website, Inchbug.com, MyDrinkys and Orbit Labels are sold at 180 boutiques. She’s working on getting MyDrinky in a handful of Buy Buy BABY stores.
Feldman, from Austin, Texas, appeared on Shark Tank in April 2016, offering 10% of her company for $400,000. She didn’t cut a deal with the sharks because they disagreed with her plans to take MyDrinky into retail.
Feldman explains how she came up with the idea for her inventions and scrambled for a last-minute audition for Shark Tank.
Ky Trang Ho: Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you started your business?
Brenda Lee Feldman: When I first had the “light bulb” idea for Orbit Labels, which later led to launching InchBug, I was a very busy full-time mom. My husband had just accepted a job transfer to Houston. I was blessed to be able to stay home with our two very young children. Before starting a family, I had a successful career in business development for Fortune 500 companies.
The Birth of An Idea
Ho: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Feldman: My daughter was attending a Mother’s Day program. At the time, she was 18 months old. I quickly learned that labeling was a mandatory requirement for every item that she brought to school. I found myself writing on the sides of her sippy cup with a marker only to find that the permanent marker wasn’t so permanent in the dishwasher. The name would fade. I also tried using masking tape, which wouldn’t last through the dishwasher either.
My big “Aha!” moment came when I was driving over to a friend’s house and decided to remove my hair tie and looked in my car for a place to temporarily place it. I stretched it around a sippy cup that was in the cup holder and then the light bulb went off in my head. The Orbit Label was born at that moment. I knew I could use some dishwasher safe, elastomeric material and personalize it, solving my labeling problem.
The core market is parents of infants, toddlers, and young children. There are nearly four million babies born in the United States yearly.
Ho: What made you think it could be a successful product?
Feldman: I was my target market. I had just solved a problem that would make my life a little easier. I knew in my heart that others would feel the same. Every day, I had to find a way to label containers, using either a marker that wiped away or tape that came off.
I like to think of myself as very practical. I knew I would buy Orbit Labels without a doubt. It did not take a big leap of faith to imagine that Orbit Labels would be on sippy cups and bottles around the world one day because I knew it was a useful product and solved a need. As far as competition, there was nothing like it on the market.
Still, before my husband and I took the big plunge and invested hard-earned money, I did plenty of research. I wanted to confirm that other parents were also facing the same issue with labeling. I did surveys of parents at local schools and churches. I talked to teachers and caregivers.
Satisfied that I was on the right track, I had a prototype made and then went to the next step, demonstrating Orbit Labels to real live potential customers.
A local Babies “R” Us allowed me to set up a table near the entry on a few Saturdays to demonstrate my invention. It was a lucky break, as I was able to show my product to real life potential customers for the first time. I still remember the phone call I made to my husband not long after the store opened. I said, “It’s going to work!” From then on, it was go-time to figure out how in the world I was going to bring a product from idea to market.
Ho: How much did you invest in your business? How did you get the money to start your business initially?
Feldman: We launched InchBug with $60,000 that was obtained from selling a home that my husband and I had purchased as an investment. I also obtained a Small Business Administration loan. That loan was paid in full within our first year of business, six years early.
Ho: How many hours did you work on your startup per day?
Feldman: My days were full as I still had my full-time mom duties. I made sure I did all I could to keep that my top priority. When we launched, we were fortunate to get a break and were featured in Parents magazine, which got us moving in the right direction.
There were many nights that my husband and I took turns waking up and running the equipment throughout the night, to keep up with demand. We even slept in the warehouse on weekends to keep the production going throughout the nights. Our kids learned early what it is like to be an entrepreneur. They went with us, to the warehouse on nights, weekends and played games while we packaged.
Ho: How many employees did you have before Shark Tank?
Feldman: InchBug has an incredible staff; many have been with us since the very beginning. We have a team of usually seven to 10 at any time. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them. I have learned over the years to treat employees well and reward them for doing a great job. My team is like a second family to me.
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Feldman: For both of my products, extensive research was done to locate a reliable manufacturer who could produce a quality product up to InchBug standards. A lot of the process was trial and error, as I had no prior experience in designing or manufacturing a product.
Ho: Where is your product made?
Feldman: Orbit Labels are made overseas. We attempted to locate a supplier in the U.S. but were unsuccessful due to exorbitant costs of molds and production. We are happy to say that MyDrinky’s are manufactured in the great state of Texas.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Feldman: I had no experience bringing an idea through all the stages of design, patent, trademark, manufacturing and finally to market. The entirety of it all, while managing a family, was challenging. Also, raising the capital to initially funding InchBug was a challenge as I was met with resistance from a couple of male bankers who could not grasp the concept.
I did not give up. On my third attempt, I met with a female banker who had children and her response after I demonstrated the product and provided by the business plan was “I totally get it!”
Last-Minute Shark Tank Audition
Ho: When and where did you first audition and appear on Shark Tank?
Feldman: I auditioned on May 30, 2015, at an open casting call at Rice University in Houston, Texas. It was a last-minute audition as we were visiting relatives and had no product with us. I had no idea Shark Tank was in town until my husband saw an article about an hour before the audition started in the local newspaper.
Not wanting to waste an opportunity, we quickly hopped in the car and drove to Rice University, with no planned pitch and no product to show or demonstrate! Luckily, we promptly contacted one of our awesome retailers, not far away, and were able to get product samples for the audition.
Ho: How long between when you taped the show and when it aired? What was that time in between like?
Feldman: I taped the show in September 2015, and it aired in April 2016. We were all informed on numerous occasions that there were no guarantees that taping an episode equated to it being televised. Therefore, I had to continue moving forward with growing InchBug as if nothing had changed.
It was a surreal moment when I received the notice that InchBug’s episode was going to air in April. I looked back on all the hours and sweat equity we had put in to grow the business, and the hard work our dedicated employees have produced over the years. I was so thrilled to get the amazing opportunity.
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance?
Feldman: My husband and I watched every episode of Shark Tank it seems. I knew my numbers inside and out. We tried to have a plan for anything the Sharks may throw my way. We compiled a list of questions that had been previously asked of entrepreneurs in the tank and tried to have an answer for each.
At one point a few days before the show, I had five chairs with the photos of each Shark. I would answer question after question that was asked by my husband.
Ho: What about being in the Tank (or whatever happened before or after) surprised you the most?
Feldman: I think I was most surprised by the enormity of it all. From the number of people working behind the scenes to the size of the set to the number of cameras everywhere. I was impressed and pleasantly surprised at how professional and genuinely nice each shark was on the set. I have gained a true appreciation for those folks who work behind the scenes.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Feldman: I think most viewers don’t realize that entrepreneurs are actually in the Tank for much longer than what is televised.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience? What are the secrets of a successful audition and appearance?
Feldman: I am not sure I know any real secrets other than enjoying the moment and be yourself throughout the process. I am proof that even with a last minute audition, if you have a product that fulfills a true need in the market, and if you tell others about it, you have a fighting chance of making it through the process.
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