Leverage Your Networking Skills to Compensate for Weaknesses as an Entrepreneur - BusyBabyMat.com
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
The saying, "Show me your friend, and I'll tell you who you are'' may be a cliché but it still rings true within the business space. Being able to connect with people in an honest, helpful, and valuable way is the x-factor for both first-time entrepreneurs and seasoned business leaders.
"The main key (to our company's success) was networking," says Beth Fynbo, today's guest on the podcast. Beth is the Founder and CEO of Busy Baby Mat, and has overseen the growth in sales from $1 million in 2020 to nearly $5 million in 2022. Yet, Beth says she was a novice at the beginning, "I had no experience doing any of this. I'd never developed a product, never started a website, never marketed before. All these things were new to me. I had to ask for help."
To take a deep dive into Beth's journey from a first-time entrepreneur to a Shark Tank alumni and savvy business leader, join us on the podcast now.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
The importance of "humility" in business leadership.
Coping with the challenges of fast business growth.
Dealing with product imitations and copyright infringement.
How to pivot during tough economic situations.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, watch the full video interview here!
Visit Busybabymat.com to learn more about why parents love the unique placemats and use code “harvestgrowth” at checkout for a 15% discount off any purchase.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: Today's guest had no experience in creating or marketing products, and then grew her business from zero in 2019 to $5 million in annual revenue in 2022. This interview is jam-packed with advice and stories that can help propel the growth of your business.
Speaker 2: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon: Welcome back to the show. Today I'm really excited to have on with us Beth Fynbo. She's the founder, inventor, and CEO, and many other titles that she's built this business from scratch. It's called Busy Baby Mat, and you can check it out at busybabymatt.com. Awesome baby product. We were chatting briefly before the show. I have four kids. As many of my listeners know, they're a little bit older. They're no longer babies, but I would've killed for this, but whether you have kids or know people that do, great gift for others or to bring into your own life.
I'll let her describe it and really explain what the product is as we get into this, but you're going to love this interview, I think, to talk about the product, but also her success story, which has been fast and and short. It has only been a few years that she's grown this business into a great success. We're going to talk about that journey and give some pointers along the way as well. Beth, thank you so much for joining the show today.
Beth Fynbo: Hey, thank you so much for having me.
Jon: First question for our audience sake is, what is the Busy Baby Mat and how'd you come up with the idea?
Beth: The Busy Baby Mat is really my first invention, we now have a full product line. It was a solution that I came up with to a problem after my first son was born. I went out to eat with some of my girlfriends, they brought their one-year-old daughters, and the entire meal was spent either stopping the babies from reaching to grab everything on the table or picking up the things that they were given that they then dropped on the floor. One of the moms was a germaphobe, so everything had to get wiped down.
I went on Amazon right away. I was like, "I need to get something for my son so when he's old enough to join us at the table, he won't be that distraction." Nothing really existed that would be a clean surface for food and to keep their toys off the floor. I came up with the idea for a silicone placemat that suctions to smooth surfaces and it has a tether system that you can use to hook up baby's toys so they don't end up on the ground over, and over, and over again.
Jon: Again, great product. I wish I would've had it, but we'll definitely get it to some of our babies. As I mentioned to you, I got a niece having a baby very soon, so perfect timing for this, and I encourage others to check out the website too. Again, busybabymat.com. You talked about the product a little bit. Let's talk about your backstory. You were not always a product inventor. Although you've been very, very successful with this business, what'd you do before this?
Beth: I had none of the skills needed to do this business. Literally, none of them. Prior to coming up with this idea I had been in the military for 10 years. I was military intelligence, I did electronic warfare, and then after the military I went to school, got some degrees in general business and project management, and then had a corporate job doing nothing very exciting. It was on my maternity leave from that corporate job that I came up with the idea.
Jon: People talk a lot about their experience in marketing, because your corporate job was in marketing of some sort, is that correct, or no?
Beth: No, I was actually an account manager for a major healthcare company and I managed the relationship with our Mayo Clinic here in Minnesota.
Jon: Oh, very cool. So very, very different from what you're doing currently.
Beth: Nothing relatable at all. [laughs] Other than I got really good at Excel, which has helped me in my business.
Jon: Oh, absolutely. Got to understand the numbers. Let's talk about numbers for a second. I love this story. Your first year was 2019. What month did you launch, the website was live?
Beth: We had pre-orders that I had taken. I had 100 pre-orders that I had taken over a four-month period that arrived in January of 2019, then the rest of my inventory came in March, so our first real push of sales was in March, 2019.
Jon: Got it. Sales were pretty small that first year, but in 2020, your second year of growth, you hit almost a million dollars, just under a million dollars. Consider that your first year, a lot of times you're learning, et cetera, in 2019 to 2020, your first full year in business, that's phenomenal. Then on top of that, you grew in 2021 to $4 million in sales, and then this year, obviously we're still in 2022, but you're going to not or get around $5 million in revenues, which is phenomenal.
We've talked to a lot of product marketers that had big jumps in revenue in 2020 and maybe 2021, and then if they weren't doing the right things with their marketing, they started to see a decline. Whether it's because of overseas issues with manufacturing, or some general supply chain issues, or demand is down, advertising costs are up, all these problems everyone talks about.
Hey, you've got a great product and you're managing the business well. The proof is that you're continuing to grow. The pace is a little bit slower than from year one to year two, that's normal, but still growing, it's phenomenal. What would you say, what's been one of the keys to the success that has driven this amazing growth of your business over the past three years?
Beth: Oh, gosh. There's a lot of things, but I think the main key is networking. It is meeting people, asking for help, asking questions, being willing to learn, being able to set your ego aside and admit you don't know something and asking somebody who does know. If I had to narrow it down to something that's-- I mentioned in the beginning, I had no experience doing any of this.
I've never developed a product, I've never started a website, I've never manufactured, I've never marketed, so all these things are new to me and I had to ask for help. I think asking for help, especially in the areas where you are not knowledgeable or you just don't like the topic, you have to do that. You have to be able to set your ego aside and say, "I need help."
Jon: Again, as I mentioned, a lot of my interviews I've talked with successful business owners like yourself, a lot of them started out with no experience or at least direct experience with the business they're running currently, and my belief is it goes back to you come into it humble realizing that, "Okay, I don't know everything, so I need to bring in some resources, talk to people and make this a team effort to some extent along the way," as opposed to some others, business owners I've talked with, that they've been doing this for a long time, and then they start their own business in the same field, and they struggle to get along because they do think they know everything. It's hard to get over.
It's that entrepreneurial "you need the energy, confidence, desire, et cetera," but we also need to let ourselves get out of the way sometimes and be humble and realize we need some help, and sometimes coming into a new area like this, a new product, a new business may be helpful for that.
Beth: I think another thing that's difficult, as an entrepreneur, especially a first time starting entrepreneur, is in the beginning you feel like you have to do it all yourself. You don't have the funding, you don't have the experience, it's your passion project, you need to burn the candle at both ends, you need to just try to do all the things yourself. It's very hard to spend money, especially in the beginning, to pay someone else to do something. The thing I've learned is I should have paid the professionals to do some of the things earlier than I did. It probably could have launched my growth even sooner.
Jon: Sure. As you said, obviously in the very early days when you're rounding up money, it's hard to do, but as soon as you can, work with people. We do that. As our business all the time, we bring in experts in different fields that we're not experts in. We've done a lot of product launches over the years, but there's some things we don't do, so working with experts in different fields is a very helpful endeavor, for sure.
I guess, let's talk about your first year of growth, so let's go back to 2020, your first full year when you hit almost a million dollars in sales. What was the biggest driver of that initial success in your launch itself?
Beth: Well, what a weird year 2020 was.
Jon: Yes, true.
Beth: I did the digital pivot where I went from doing in-person events to doing more online marketing because I was forced to because of the pandemic, but it was also a year of incredible growth for pretty much any e-commerce business because everybody began shopping online. It was obviously a combination of those things, but really it was reaching people where they're at online and finding ways to market my product to the new way of life that we were experiencing at that time.
Jon: Absolutely. People weren't going out for a lot of that year, so it's a great amount of sales obviously for in-home. I wonder if that was maybe part of the growth the following year as people start to get out more, and at least in my life with babies, that's where you feel like you need it more. At home, if they drop it, you can pick it up. It's a pain, it makes it so much more fun to use your product and avoid the mess, but it's even more of a need when you're out in public, on dirty floors you don't even know, it's not your home anymore. In your opinion, what drove the big jump in growth then in 2021, the next year?
Beth: Well, I think it started in 2020 because at the beginning of the year I had launched a product for use in restaurants and I was just getting ready to move into retail stores, and then all those things shut down, and I was in a moment of, "Crap, what do I do? I invented this product for restaurants and now no one's going to a restaurant." I started getting emails and messages from customers about what a lifesaver it was to use to keep their baby busy while they were on a Zoom meeting for work or while they were homeschooling their other kids.
I started to see all these other uses for at home, and began to just completely shift all of my marketing from restaurant use to use in the home and all the different ways you can use it at home. Then we started learning more about how the product helps with baby's development. We started just learning and learning and learning more from our customers, what they liked about the product, how they used the product, and then incorporating that into our marketing and helping spread the word.
Another reason for the big jump in '21 was also, obviously I aired on Shark Tank, so that was a huge marketing moment. It wasn't as life-changing as an experience as I thought it was going to be but it sure was great sales for a couple weeks there.
Jon: Have you seen a lasting effect of that? Obviously there's a big burst of sales that typically comes around a Shark Tank airing. How do you think that's helped you since then?
Beth: I always get to say I was seen on Shark Tank, I still do a lot of in-person events now that we're back to being around each other again. It shocks me that no one has ever heard of Busy Baby. They're like, "Oh my gosh, you were on Shark Tank? I love that show. I've seen every episode." But they don't remember me. Shark Tank was a cool marketing event and I can always say I was seen on Shark Tank. It's a great conversation starter or interesting conversation piece.
More importantly, I've met a network of people who have also been on the show. We have this Facebook group where everybody who's been on the show, we contribute to each other. We give referrals for businesses that we enjoy working with or warnings about businesses we've had bad luck with. If I have a question about safety testing I can put that out to the group and someone else in the group will have an answer for me because they've already been through that. The resources and network of people that I've met from being on the show is probably the biggest gain that I had from that experience.
Jon: Oh, fantastic. The growth is what everybody on the outside sees, like, oh, that's amazing. Go from a million to 5 million in sales in a couple of years. what they sometimes don't realize are the challenges behind it. Every business has challenges. What challenges have you faced?
Beth: Oh my gosh. There's all the things I don't know, and I didn't know that I needed to know. When you have such fast growth, having an online business, for example, we'll talk about sales tax. When I sell my products online in Minnesota, I'm only required to collect and remit Minnesota sales tax. Once I start getting my products in Amazon warehouses now I'm required to collect and remit in those states. Then once I reach a certain amount of sales or a certain volume of sales in other states, then I have to collect and remit in those states. It's very complicated. It's very expensive to have someone manage that for you, to know and understand how that works.
I think for a while I put my head in the sand thinking, "Oh, we don't sell enough to have to worry about that yet. We're not big enough to have to worry about that yet." Then I woke up one day and took a closer look and I was like, "Oh crap, we are, and we should have been doing this." Having to go back, pay someone to go through, audit everything, figure out how to fix it, how to pay back those states that we should have been, we lost a little bit of money there.
We learned a hard lesson, but now we do it correctly. At the point when we decide to exit the business, the books will be straight and we will have done everything right, but I didn't know. I didn't know. Learning the hard way is never fun, but that's one example of a challenge is when you grow so fast there's things that you have to do that you may not fully understand.
Jon: Absolutely. That's a question I get a lot. We talk with inventors and entrepreneurs all the time, not just in the podcast but, of course, in my day job in working on these product launches and there's a lot of confusion around sales tax. Have you found a good resource that's been helpful for you now that you're over that hump of figuring out the past issues but something that's made it simpler for you going forward?
Beth: Yes. We use an agency that specializes in it. There's digital companies that use automated software to do this. They're very expensive. I actually use one called Sales Tax and More. It's real people. They specialize in staying up-to-date specifically only on state taxes and state tax requirements. I've found them to be great to work with.
Jon: Oh, fantastic. That's a good resource to share as well. As I understand it, over the years you've had some copycats come along as well trying to copy your product. How has that faired for you?
Beth: I was expecting, fully expecting the knockoffs to come after I aired on Shark Tank, because that's just what happens. I was really shocked when a month before I aired the first knockoff showed up on Amazon, which I feel is almost something I could pat myself on the back for because I made a product that was worth copying and it was copied before it was even nationally televised on a major TV show.
Fortunately, I did take the financial risk of applying for patents and doing a lot of intellectual property work in the early days which was really, really hard because it's expensive. At that time I had no idea if my product would work out, if it would be something people would buy, if it would be a success or not, so to spend thousands of dollars on patent work was not a fun thing to do.
It didn't feel great but it's not a quick process. Fortunately, I have a great patent attorney. We got our first patent through in nine months with no office actions. I already had a written patent. I joined Amazon's Neutral Patent Evaluation program. I think it's called something else now. We were able to take down the copycat. I think we've taken down more than 200 different ASINs of not only mats that were almost exact duplicates of ours but have tried to design around our patents. We now have nine patents, so it's going to be pretty tricky for-- [chuckles]
We have multiple products now. We've gone beyond the mat, but in total we have nine patents. We have one in China. So far we've been able to do a good job of keeping our product front and center and getting rid of the knockoffs.
Jon: That's great. Congratulations. That's such a problem with good products, right? [chuckles] You do all the work, come up with the idea, take all the risk and then these copycats come in and it can be so easy, especially if we're not prepared in advance. Good for you for taking the other risk right of paying for patents upfront. It can be so important to get that, as you've proven. It's tough to do after the fact, two years after you launch it gets pretty difficult but in those early stages it can really pay off. That's fantastic. Did you mention you have a patent in China as well?
Jon: Has that helped you? On Amazon US, a US patent's going to help you here. How has the Chinese patent helped you?
Beth: We had other factories who started making. Our two factories, I'm almost positive they didn't have anything to do with these knockoffs. I did see an order through Amazon to China of one of my products that I'm assuming was reverse-engineered. Having our patent in China I was able to hire a Chinese attorney who took my patent to the factory that was creating it. In China it's a different culture. It doesn't work the same way as it does here. We could have gone through a long litigation process or we could threaten them to, "If you don't stop we'll burden on your facility." That's how it can work over there sometimes.
We were able to politely interact with them and say this is legitimate and written and enforceable so we would advise you to stop. At the same time I got them taken down off of Ali Baba multiple times. When they can't sell on a Alibaba they can't sell on Amazon there's really no motivation to continue to create the product when there's no one to sell it to.
Jon: Right. Absolutely. Yes, those become really the two key sources for almost everything coming from overseas, at least for consumer products, for sure. That's fantastic. Good to hear you've had a success. It can be a mix with dealing with Chinese patents what I've understood. Kudos to you for making that success-
Beth: So far so good. It's a continuous game of whack-a-mole.
Jon: Yes sure, [laughs] which comes with success unfortunately. Another interesting part of your story that I understand is that your brother now works for you. I think, do you share the same birthday or you're within a day of each other? Four years apart, of course, but-
Beth: Yes, we're July 9th and 10th. We've always been pretty close. We joined the-- well, I joined the military then I convinced my brother to join the military. We served in Iraq together. We went to military training schools in Germany together, which is really unusual. Then when we came back to the States we've continued to stay close and do things together. When it came time for me, when I really needed help with the business, I convinced him to quit his very stable job. He also has four kids. He is the sole provider for those four kids. He had a very stable, secure, great job supporting his family with a bright future. He left all of that behind to join me on this very unstable venture of entrepreneurship.
Jon: Again, it speaks to the success you've created out of this. I think that's a dream for many people is to be able to help out but also really work with a family member, a friend or whatever it might be and as you create such a successful enterprise they never feel stable. We've been running this business for 16 years and it's part of the nature of running a business, they never feel stable even though we've been growing a lot, same like you, but it's great. Kudos to you for making such a successful business along the way.
Beth: Thank you.
Jon: Is there a resource that's been really helpful for you? You mentioned a couple already on the podcast interview but is there anything else that comes to mind that has been helpful for you in your business?
Jon: There's been so many for me. I think a lot of first time entrepreneurs who have an idea and want to start a business don't know where to start, there's a lot of people like that. I found, in my area and I think it's in a lot of areas is any local Small Business Development Center, the SBDC, there's a lot of economic growth. In Minnesota it's the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. They're responsible for the economic growth of our 11 county region.
I think there's those places in a lot of states and they have financial resources, they have classes. You have to look for those things, but there's a lot of them out there. I always encourage people who have an idea for a product or a business to look because I didn't know those things existed either. Then as soon as I found one then I got referred to another one and I keep asking everyone, "What else is there that I don't know about that might help?" There's definitely a lot of local resources in a lot of places.
Then I have some resources I've used along the way in the form of books and podcasts and stuff. There's a book called Disciplined Entrepreneurship, it's a 24-step roadmap of how to start a business. It's a fantastic book, Bill Aulet, A-U-L-E-T is the author of that one.
Then for me, this was an accidental business I want to ultimately exit, I want to sell this business for as much money as I can so I can go on to do other passionate things I'm passionate about in my life. There's a book called EXITpreneur's by Joe Valley and it talks about how to position your business for an exit and how to run your business with that exit in mind so that you can maximize the value when you do decide to sell. Those are two things, I actually go back to those books quite a bit.
Jon: Thank you for sharing, we'll put the links to those or at least the titles, et cetera, in the show notes for anybody who might be driving and listening and can't take notes right now as well. I do want to go back to, I love that you mentioned the classes because that's a part where in the early days. like you talked about, in the day one you've got no money in a business typically unless you got VC backing, which our audience is all about, hey, let's do this ourselves and figure this out, get some investors maybe but we start small. To hire experts to help you with everything in the very early days, on day one is impossible for most people.
These classes are in almost every market, especially in any decent size city but even a lot of smaller cities will have them. Just take best recommendation, search it out in your local area. It's a free wat to get started if you're really in your infancy with your business. Then as you grow it and can have some money coming in, that's where the experts can really help you propel that growth even further, so I'm glad you brought those up and the books as well, we'll put in the show notes.
Beth: Another one I want to mention real quickly, if you have any listeners who are military veterans or families of veterans, an incredible, incredible resource is called Bunker Labs. It's a non-profit organization that exists solely to help veterans and their families start and grow businesses. They offer residence programs, they offer online classes, they offer contests where you can do pitches and earn money. For me, in the early days, I did a lot of business pitches, I won over $100,000 in prize money, so that helped get me started. It all started right there with Bunker Labs teaching me how to start my business and how to apply for these things.
Jon: Fantastic. Thanks again for sharing that. I think you mentioned the Shark Tank network as well, which isn't open to everybody, you have to be on the show first, but there's so many more of those like a Bunker Labs. Or again, if you've got some affinity group that you might work for your local area network and meet with other people to help you along this journey, for sure. Well, Beth, is there anything I didn't ask in this interview that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Beth: One thing I like to just ask every chance I can is as a small business, yes, I may have four or five million in sales but I still day-to-day am struggling with cashflow, struggling to market my products and get people to know who we are. Ways that people can help support businesses, startups is to interact with us on social media. If you see an ad on Facebook or Instagram or you see a TikTok or if we pop up on your feed somewhere, just hit the like button, throw in a comment, share it with a friend. That helps the algorithm, helps our marketing dollars go farther, helps spread the word that our company and our products exist.
Jon: Thank you for saying that. That's so important. Everyone or most people certainly want to help other small businesses out and that's a great way to do it is by spreading the message when you find a cool product. Realizing that these are not, for the most part, big conglomerates with multibillions of dollars in revenue and spending behind them but it's oftentimes the best products. The Busy Baby Mat is one great example of that, so the way to support Beth and other businesses like her is to check them out and follow them on social media. Thank you for saying that, I love that.
I do want to tell our audience too, also please go to busybabymat.com. Beth's been nice enough to share a promo code is you can get a 15% discount. Also be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode and you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business, you could set up a free consultation with one of our product launch experts right on our website.
Beth, I really appreciate the time. You've been awesome, this has been a really fun interview.
Beth: This has been fun, thank you so much for having me.
[00:26:35] [END OF AUDIO]