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October 2008: Mom Inventors


In less than two years, Julie Pickens and Mindee Doney went from a bare-bones idea to a multi-million dollar business. Even they didn't anticipate such rapid growth. But their hard work and business smarts inevitably paid off, and their invention - Boogie Wipes - is already being sold at major retailers including Wal-Mart and Babies "R" Us. Julie and Mindee share lots of helpful details on what it's taken to build the business - and how commitment to the business, helpful families and a great friendship has helped them achieve success.

Describe your company and your product (or product line).

At Little Busy Bodies, Inc, we are, "Wiping up kid's messy moments one smile at a time." We currently produce Boogie Wipes (saline nose wipes) in fresh or grape scent in 30 count-packages or individually wrapped. This winter we will launch Minty Magic Boogie Wipes (great for grownups) and Boo Boo Wipes for Little Owies.

Why did you start this company and when?

We formed the company in May, 2007 and delivered our first order in December, 2007

What were your initial goals?

To see if the product idea we liked would also be received well by other parents. To make sure the formulation we decided on worked and was gentle enough for kids, and to determine if we could build a business out of it to support our families and the lifestyle we wanted as moms. We are also good friends and wanted to work together on something. We had a lot of fun in the beginning brainstorming and playing with ideas and concepts.

Describe yourself and your family. What is your background and how does it relate to your company?

Julie Pickens - Co-Founder & Director of Sales
Julie graduated from the University of Oregon and worked as a sales manager in the beer and wine industry for a Gallo and Miller distributor. After 12 years in the business, she moved into the franchise business, opening and developing for two franchise chains -Cold Stone Creamery and Wetzel's Pretzel's. Julie has been married to Dean, a Mortgage Broker for 4 years, and has three girls Gabby (4) Molly (10) and McKenna (13).

Mindee Doney - Co-Founder & Director of Marketing
Mindee managed West Coast consumer marketing programs for Procter & Gamble for 5 years and worked in the restaurant industry serving 3 years as a Community Marketing Manager for McDonald's Corporation. She also owns and operates BRiTE iDEA Events, Inc, an event marketing and PR firm. She has a Marketing Degree from Western Oregon University. Mindee has been married for 10 years to John, a pilot and has three kids, Aidan (6), Avree (2) and ? (Due in November)

Have you ever experienced an epiphany that changed the direction of your life?

For the business, the idea of the product itself was definitely a big one and then we have had many little ones along the way. We both keep notepads by our beds to write down the crazy ideas that keep us up at night.

Regarding our families, there was a point for both of us early on when the business really started to take off that we thought we had to make some tough choices about our family time and the "pace" that we wanted to keep with the business. I think we both thought we would have to choose one or the other but then we realized we really didn't. Neither of us have any sort of full time child care for our kids, we want to be a part of their everyday lives and raise them alongside the business and accepting that it was OK to do them both was a big turning point. Our kids are in the office with us and sometimes heard in the background of business calls. We are both usually out of the office by 2:45 each day to pick kids up from school and get them to practices etc...Granted we start most days at 5am and are back working after bedtimes every night but that's the life we want and it works for us. The epiphany was realizing that we don't have to work 8-5 in a business suit to have a successful business.

What process did you follow to develop a prototype?

After testing the idea in our kitchens with ziploc bags and nasal spray, we hired a chemist and started researching formulations for the lotion on the wipe with saline added. Once we had one, we hired a manufacturer to test it on a wipe in approved, scientific environments and the Boogie Wipe was born.

What process did you follow to determine your product's marketability?

We asked our kids, friends and family to try it, and googled, googled and googled some more...not finding anything else out there like it. We have also held a few focus groups with local moms to get their opinions, which has been invaluable.

What process did you follow to find a manufacturer for your product?

We researched what licenses and qualifications a quality wipe manufacturer should have, and then we put the idea out there to a few of them (after signing non-disclosures). In the beginning it was hard to find one to do the minimum run that a start-up can afford, but persistence paid off and one we liked agreed to do it for us.

Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?

UPC codes - we discovered after already producing 300,000 units that the code on the product was not accepted by a large retail chain we were trying to sell too...oops. Also just making sure that the marketing messages on the package communicated to consumers what the product was, how to use it and why it worked. We did not have a lot of money upfront for marketing so we needed the product to sell itself on the shelf.

What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?

Making sure to understand each country's laws regarding what's required on a pack of wipes, such as country of origin, dates of production, languages, sizes, recycle info, patent info etc...

Through what markets are you selling (retail, wholesale, internet, specialty sales)?

We sell to all these markets, We are currently sold on about a dozen websites from Amazon to diapers.com, and also in about 25,000 stores and specialty boutiques nationwide.

What secrets have you learned in terms of publicity and marketing your product?

Ask for what you want, be creative and persistent in your pitch and highlight why you are different from all the other widgets on the market.

Another secret is that you can do a lot yourself. You will be hit up by tons of companies offering you PR but you can do a lot for free if you know where to get resources (press release template, media contacts etc..). Also - most of your marketing budget in the beginning should be in product samples - GIVE IT AWAY TO PEOPLE AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN AFFORD TO.

What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?

Communicating how Boogie Wipes are different. There are thousands of wipes on the market and we underestimated how many consumers would think they were just another baby wipe. We had to go back and develop slogans like Snot your Average Wipe and call out Saline more on the package to get people to understand they were different. You have such a small window of time to get your message to a consumer, the simpler the better.

How long did it take to get your product from idea to market (conception to product launch)?

7 months (testing was 4 of it)

How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom? What falls by the wayside (laundry, work-out, etc. etc.)?

Everyday something falls by the wayside but overall we try to keep it all in check - it is just an overall balance, NOT a daily one. We have both learned to let the little things go, too.....it's OK if every once in a while the kids have Mac and Cheese for lunch and dinner because we have not been to the grocery store and it's OK if they have to occasionally wear a shirt out of the dirty clothes. We focus on the bigger things like being there to tuck them in at night and cheer them on at their games. This also applies to the business. As motivated as we are, we do not have to respond to every email within a few hours and it's okay to ask for a few more days to get a project done. Our overall sanity depends on it. Trying to do it all every day only makes for a grumpy, tired mommy and that makes things worse for everyone.

What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?

We have each other and that has been a huge blessing. The empathy we get from each other keeps us both moving through the tough days. Our husbands are both absolutely amazing. They are proud, helpful, humble and our best friends. They remind us of the women we are and want to be vs. the mom and the business owners we play for the rest of the world everyday. We also both take time to work out, eat right and get an occasional pedicure. There was a time when the guilt and the "I should be's" overcame us and we stopped taking time for ourselves. That passed when we hit rock bottom and realized the ship ain't goin' nowhere if the captain is passed out on the floor! We also both ask for help when we need it and delegate things that someone else can easily handle for us.

How did you finance your business (personal contributions, loans from friends & family, loans from bank, credit cards, outside investors?).

Initially from our own family savings, credit cards etc... and then reaching out to friends and family. After that we had to seek out investors. It went fast.

How much money have you invested so far? How do you feel about that?

Julie and I dug into our own pockets and begged from friends and family to get started. We did a Series A round of funding from investors in July. It was more than we ever thought we would need, and it was also gone very quickly. We are continuing to borrow and factor purchase orders (PO's) to keep up with the retail demand of the product. This time we have some accounts receivable (A/R) on the books so it feels much better to sit with the debt. The best part for us was that through it all, Julie and I have maintained controlling interest in the company. This is important to us because we always want our passion, vision and integrity in the company. We want to set the tone and feel for how the business is run.

What is your company's current financial picture and what are your projections?

$2.9 million in sales in 2008 (first full year in business) and $9 million in 2009.

What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?

It was great to be on CNBC with Donny Deutsch early on. We also both love seeing the pride in our families and especially our children's faces when they brag about Mommy's little business. We were recently featured on the front page of the business section in Oregonian and that was also a nice pat on the back for us. Many people know we had this great little idea and worked on it but when they read stories about our investors, retail doors, employees etc, they get an idea of the fact that we are more than just two moms with a cute idea -- we are truly running a million dollar company which is not an easy thing to do. We even impress ourselves some days with the questions and knowledge that we come up with in meetings with some of the best in the business!

Have you experienced a "low point" and if so, how did you rally yourself to get back on track?

When our money was gone and we had no investor, there were a lot of frozen pizzas being served at our houses and wondering if it was worth it to spend our kids' college funds on this company. A lot of faith in each other and our higher power kept us going and eventually it started to come together. We never want to forget what that felt like, though -- we learned a lot and it makes us appreciate where we are now.

Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?

Each other and our families, without a doubt.

Did anyone in particular help you along the way?

Many, many people offered their advice and help at no cost, simply because they believed in what we were trying to do. We remember that every time we are asked for advice. We always make time to answer an email or give an hour of our time to others starting a new business. Boogie Wipes is proof of Karma in action.

What advice would you offer other moms developing their products/ideas?

Make sure your rocket ship can fly before you shoot for the moon. It is so easy to get wrapped up with how great your idea is -- but your idea alone is not worth anything. Don't start calling Wal-mart to sell your product until you have done everything necessary for success there. Trademarks, patents, branding, manufacturing, business plans, shipping and logistics, marketing, pricing, product testing....there are many things to think about. Start small, sell in a local boutique or online for a while to build the business, and get the processes in place to handle the bigger accounts. Take it one step at a time and always trust your gut! Never be afraid to ask for help and what you want; everything is negotiable and remember you have assets to offer besides money (your time, your product, your knowledge.) Also, CHILDCARE IS A BUSINESS EXPENSE! It is okay to have someone else watch your kids for a few hours a week to be able to focus and get your business off the ground. Don't feel guilty about it. We all do it. It is just a balance. The time you spend with your kids will be much more quality time if you get the time you need to work on your idea. A babysitter is just as important an investment in your business as a fax machine and computer.

Is there a resource that proved to be invaluable that you would like to share with other moms?

Do at least one tradeshow in the first few months of your business, whether for consumers or retailers - the lessons you learn from talking to people about your product are invaluable. When they decide not to buy it - ASK THEM WHY!!

What surprised you about this process?

How long it took to get investors money, how much we did not know about running a business like this, and how quickly it took off. Also, selling a product in chain retail stores is a really complicated and costly process -- not as simple as deliver it and they pay you. We never thought it would take 12 people helping us to have our product in stores. The systems are very complex, and they take time to learn and implement.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Don't underestimate the power of positive thinking. On days when we feel discouraged at home or with the business, we try to imagine future moments of success and believe in our purpose, not just for ourselves but for our kids and our community. We really believe we are on this journey for a reason, and try every day to enjoy the scenery.

Return to: 2008 Feature Stories