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She Got Lori Grenier’s Golden Ticket on Shark Tank, Here’s How, with Kelley Higney, Founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing

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When you first start a company or launch a product, you always have big dreams. You picture the massive deals, the millions in revenue, the corner offices and hiring a huge team. But before any of that happens, you have to tamp down those dreams and live in the real world, doing the hard, often year-long work on the ground proving your concept, talking to anyone who is willing to give you feedback, and knocking on doors to try to make a single sale. Kelley Higney trodded that path — in fact, she got her start selling her product at her daughter’s bake sales. Her fellow moms were her beta testers and, but they were also the wellspring of feedback and proof of concept she needed to bring her product to the next level… and to those great heights most people dream of.

Kelley is the founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing, a safe, chemical free solution for stopping a reaction to bug bites in their tracks. Today, Bug Bite Thing is available in more than 25,000 stores and has the backing of Shark Tank shark, Lori Grenier (who even gave Kelley her famous “Golden Ticket” when Kelley appeared on the show). On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Kelley broke down all of the hurdles she had to overcome to reach that point. She discusses the strategies she used to protect her brand before even going into distribution, and she talks about the importance of community and feedback. Plus, stick around to hear about how she and Lori work together. Enjoy this episode!

Main Takeaways:

  • Any Feedback is Good Feedback: Even when you are just starting out, you should be pitching your product and accepting feedback from anyone and everyone. The early users and beta testers will guide you through your initial iterations and highlight some problem areas you might be blind to that you can address before going more mainstream.
  • Distribution is a Dangerous Game: It’s not a matter of if, but when copycats will come after you. When you start to distribute widely, copycats will come out of the woodwork and you have to be prepared. Do the work beforehand to learn how to protect your brand and fight against knockoffs. Even if you think you don’t qualify for a patent or other legal protection, reach out and try because it’s better to have any kind of legal backing than none at all. 
  • Find a Mentor: You don’t need to go on Shark Tank to find a business mentor. There are people in your network or on the periphery who you should tap into and who can guide you through the highs and lows of business. Doing it on your own is a pipedream. Every successful person has had a team behind him or her, and the truth is, having help will get you to your goals faster. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’m like, why is this not here? This is helping me. There’s other families that are dealing with the same thing.”

“The first phase was testing my proof of concept because I couldn’t go all in. At that time, I was still working part-time, so I ordered very, very small, like I’m talking 500 units. They were samples at this point. I was testing them. I was selling them at my daughter’s bake sales. And that was so monumental in gathering information for what I now know for the growth of Bug Bite Thing. By being there in the trenches, listening to the consumer feedback, how was I pitching it to them? How was I explaining the concept behind the product? How I just explained it to you, that was four years of compiling information to be able to explain it in a way people understand that there’s science behind the product. And so that was monumental for me to really get the feedback I needed. And when I started getting tracked down in the parking lot during non bake sale days, that’s when I knew I really had proof of concept.”

“Our company has been consumer focused since the beginning, because I didn’t have a lot of funds or money to invest in mainstream marketing. So for me, my angle was how do I build a community of people that can tell other people about this and educate the market that there’s a new product. That’s chemical free, that has science that eliminates the problem instead of masking it over and over with creams… So there was a lot of educating that went into place.” 

“Distribution is a dangerous game, especially if you’re not prepared, it’s not a matter of if it happens. It’s a matter of when it happens. If you have a successful business model, you’re going to get the copy catters, you’re going to get the knockoffs. And it’s your job to figure out early on, how do I protect my brand? How do I protect the pricing integrity? And there’s programs available. Amazon has many free programs that you can enlist in and enroll in project zero, a brand registry. So do your research at the beginning to, to protect yourself.” 

“Right when I got inventory back and I was starting to sell, that ended up catching the attention of a Shark Tank producer, who then reached out via email and encouraged us to audition for the show. I was terrified. I flip-flopped, at least a hundred times — I was not going to go on the show cause I was doing well already on my own. And I was so terrified that if I went on the show and had that many eyeballs and that much publicity all at once that I was going to lose my baby or lose my business, or a bigger dog was going to come and take over and everything I had worked my tail off for was going to be gone. And in turn, what ended up happening was our community, that strong community that I had built not only gave me credibility when I went on the show, after the show, all those people were so excited to continue to follow our journey and support. So I will emphasize till I’m blue in the face, building a community is so important when you’re building a brand and not just looking at bottom dollar and bottom line.”

“Even if you don’t have a lawyer near in your back pocket, find somebody that can help you. Because business is not for the faint of heart. It is so stressful. There’s so many rollercoasters it’s so up and down. When you’re a business owner, it doesn’t turn off. You can’t  just say, ‘Oh, it’s Sunday, taking the full day off.’ If something happens with your business, you’re stopping everything and you’re still going to your business. It’s like another child.” 

“Our model has always been about creating the demand. So I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. If our customers want a certain product, that’s what we’re going to create. It has nothing to do with the big box stores. If I can prove my concept and consumers want it, and I have that proof, it makes it much easier to pitch it to a big box store and say, ‘Hey guys, guess what? Here’s my proof. Here’s all the consumers talking about the product.’ So our focus has never been about that. It’s been about how do I, how do I gather as much information from our consumer and do something with it?”

“I want to be able to showcase that what are we doing live almost like a really exclusive behind the scenes of our brand and what we’re doing. That’s unique. I’ve been a huge believer of, there’s not a one size fits all in business. Every business is unique, their customers are different. Their products are different. Their vision is different. So why not share with people that are starting off little snippets of our behind the scenes.”

Bio

Kelley Higney it the founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing. Kelley is a member of the Forbes Business Council, Fast Company Executive Board, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2021 Stevie Awards for Women in Business ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year.’ The award-winning insect bite relief suction tool, Bug Bite Thing, eliminates the itching, stinging, and swelling caused by insect bites/stings by removing the irritant. It is reusable, chemical-free and Amazon’s #1 selling product with over 40,000 reviews.   

In 2013, Kelley and her family relocated to South Florida. Kelley was unprepared for how mosquitoes would impact her family’s quality of life. Her daughter suffered from constant mosquito bites. After many failed attempts using creams and home remedies, Kelley discovered a little-known tool from Denmark that uses suction to help remove insect saliva/venom from under the skin. Kelley was amazed to find that the product worked and also offered instant relief.  That product is now known as Bug Bite Thing.


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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone. And welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at Mission. Today on the show we have Kelley Higney, who’s the CEO and founder of Bug Bite Thing. Kelley, welcome to the show.

Kelley:

Thanks so much for having me on Stephanie. I really appreciate it.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I’m super excited because I’ve now been using Bug Bite Thing, which is something I had not even heard of. But I’ve been using it now for about two months, I think, since you guys sent it to us. So I have three boys that are under the age of four. And literally getting eaten up in Texas all day long. When you sent this, at first, I was like, it was like a plunger. I didn’t know what to do with it. And now it’s like an everyday use whether the kids have bug bites or not, they walk around with suctions all over their cheek and arms. It’s like a toy along with actually very, very helpful.

Kelley:

We’re finding a lot of common uses for it that our customers are telling us the feedback from.

Stephanie:

Yeah, my three-year-old was going to bed with it for [crosstalk]. I was like, okay, that’s fine. But with that, I’m giving all the kudos. I want you to kind of explain what is Bug Bite Thing, because I’m not sure if my explanation was good enough.

Kelley:

Yeah. So Bug Bite Thing is a suction tool and the science behind a bug bite is when an insect bites are stings you, what they’re actually doing is they’re injecting their saliva or venom just under the surface of the skin. This is in the case of certain insects like mosquitoes, bees, wasps, and ants. In turn your own body produces a reaction to that irritant under the skin, which causes the itching, the swelling, the uncomfortable symptoms. So our product, Bug Bite Thing, is a little light weight suction tool, fits in your purse, your glove box. And when you get a bug bite, you literally place the tool over a bite, apply a little pressure and you slowly pull up on the handles. And what that does is creates a suction or a vacuum effect. And that irritant is brought to the surface of the skin or into the removable end cap. You hold in place 10 to 15 seconds, release those handles by pushing them back down, and you’re ready to go. You can repeat as necessary until you get the relief you need

Kelley:

Essentially we have the feedback that we get from our customers who react so severely to bug bites golf ball size welts, which was very similar to how I got involved in this was my daughter personally suffers. And it’s a game changer for them. Something that they deal with. I’ll give an example for me, how I even got involved in this, my daughter, we had relocated it from San Diego to South Florida and didn’t even realize how bad the mosquitoes were going to affect our quality of life. We were literally avoiding the outdoors because my young daughter was six months old at the time. One bite would turn into a golf ball size welt. And we would be at the doctor by the end of the week on antibiotics because of the skin infection from the bite. And when we weren’t, I was literally pasting cream, and cream, and cream on her.

Kelley:

She’s a baby, she’s putting things in her mouth. I almost started to feel guilty for how much cream I was putting on her just to keep the swelling down. So I didn’t have to take her and get her on antibiotics, which wasn’t any better. So we were avoiding the outdoors. And so I started doing some research because nothing here in the United States was working and I stumbled across a suction tool that was being sold through some industrial first aid kits. And I said, the science and the premise behind it was again, it removes the irritant, so you don’t produce those reactions. Didn’t think much of it. Because if it worked, it would be here everywhere mainstream. Ordered one in, and literally got a bite on the way to a mailbox, tried it, and all the itching, all the pain, all the swelling was completely gone. And I was shocked. And it was a personal thing for me because it was me having to see my daughter suffering. So I started trying it on her and all of her reactions were just being eliminated.

Kelley:

So I’m like, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’m like, why is this not here? This is helping me. There’s other families that are dealing with the same thing. So I come from a long line of entrepreneur women, my mom and my grandmother are business owners. So I enlisted the help of my mom, who I was actually working for at the time through her distribution company. And we ended up tracking down the factory who was producing the product through the industrial first aid kits. And I said, “I want to launch this here in the US. The product is amazing. It could help so many people it’s chemical free, which was really important to me and my family.” So we pitched him and he gave us a shot. So I branded it. At the time, I was able to land the exclusive distribution rights for the United States. So I branded it and I literally started in my own backyard selling them at my daughter’s bake sales. So that’s yeah.

Stephanie:

How many did you order, and what did it look like in those early days? I mean, I’m guessing you had to educate, convince, really kind of like, this is the way.

Kelley:

My early experiences with the product and the brand and when this all kind of came to fruition, I kind of take it in two phases. So the first phase was testing my proof of concept, because I couldn’t go all in at that time. I was still working part-time I ordered very, very small, like I’m talking 500 units, they were samples at this point. I was testing them, I was selling them at my daughter’s bake sales. And that was so monumental in gathering information for what I now know for the growth of Bug Bite Thing. By being there in the trenches, listening to the consumer feedback, how was I pitching it to them? How was I explaining the concept behind the product? How I just explained it to you is that was four years of compiling information to be able to explain it in a way people understand, but there’s science behind the product. And so that was monumental for me to really get the feedback I needed.

Kelley:

And when I started getting tracked down in the parking lot during non bake sale days, that’s when I knew I really had proof of concept. And at that time is when my husband and I, this was my crossroads, made the very difficult decision. I backed out of my mom’s company and I decided to go all in. We sold our house because I wasn’t going to risk our stability and our nest egg that we had worked our whole lives for. And I purchased 10,000 units with the money from the sale of the house. And I had a little teeny cushion left over in case it didn’t take off the way I had hoped. And we moved into a rental house and I launched it. I created a .com. I started teaching myself social media marketing. I took Udemy courses. I had virtually no background in digital marketing, but it was the consumer. The whole time, it was the consumer.

Kelley:

Our company has been consumer focused since the beginning because I didn’t have a lot of funds or money to invest in mainstream marketing. So for me, my angle was, how do I build a community of people that can tell other people about this and educate the market that there’s a new product that’s chemical free. That has science that eliminates the problem instead of masking it over and over with creams. If you remove the irritant and it’s out, then your body doesn’t produce those reactions. It’s different than masking the symptoms after the fact to keep you comfortable. So there was a lot of educating that went into place and I just started going and we started getting a lot of traction on a smaller level. I’ll never forget I had launched it. It was about a month. I had ordered my first batch of inventory and I had created so much buzz around the mom groups and somebody ended up talking about me in a mom group, in a local mom group.

Kelley:

And it caught the attention of a producer, not a producer, somebody, a show, somebody at the news, I think it might have been a producer. It was CBS 12 News. They ended up coming out to my rental house and they did a whole story on me and my product. It was just a local news station. It was mother’s day weekend. And the next day about 30 news stations from around the US picked up the story and they all syndicated it. I sold out of all of my inventory, the 10,000 units in a week. And that was my first taste of okay, people just needed to know, understand what it is, what it did, and the science behind it. And then it became almost like an impulse purchase. So once I got a little bit of that feedback, because again, I’m paying attention to our consumer. That’s when all the feedback and the reviews, and the testimonials, and the questions, we got a really good taste of that all at one time.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Oh, that’s really awesome and exciting. So when you were building up the company, I also read that you were kind of staying out of distribution. You’re creating this brand protection program to protect the brand. You didn’t want it to become the next copycat or have a bunch of copycats. What did it look like? Like how did you even know to think that way? And what did you do to really protect the brand in those early days?

Kelley:

Yeah. So again, I feel very thankful that I grew up in business. I mean, my mother was an entrepreneur, my husband used to work for a larger consulting company. And so just being in the mix of all of it, I grew up watching all the issues that happen with distribution. And it was really important because I didn’t have a lot of funds to start the business. And it’s a little bit of a different situation. So I wanted to make sure that the price integrity, because it was an under $10 product our products made in Europe. We have crazy regulations, CE certifications at the factory levels. Our products made out of medical grade plastic, it’s recyclable. There’s so many different components when you’re dealing with medical device that I wanted to make sure that we could keep the integrity of the pricing consistent.

Kelley:

So distribution is a dangerous game, especially if you are not prepared, it’s not a matter of if it happens. It’s a matter of when it happens. If you have a successful business model, you’re going to get the copycats, you’re going to get the knockoffs and it’s your job to figure out early on, how do I protect my brand? How do I protect the pricing integrity? And there’s programs available. Amazon has many free programs that you can enlist in and enroll in, Project Zero, Brand Registry. So do your research at the beginning to protect yourself and some of these programs. So for example, for us, we have unique barcodes on all of our product. We’re able to whitelist sellers on Amazon. So we don’t have that additional competition on our ASIN, which has, I believe now over 43,000 reviews.

Stephanie:

A lot of times when a brand launches, it can have a barcode that’s share with others, and you can’t really protect who’s launching under there. Tell me a bit more about that.

Kelley:

So Amazon has multiple programs. One of them is called the Transparency Program. And this really has to do with counterfeiters and people that are knocking your product off and confusing the market that they’re buying your brand, your product, and it’s not your brand or your product. So they have programs for that. And there’s unique bar codes that are custom to the company that you can track. There’s things like lock tracking. So literally if our product is being sold anywhere under MAP pricing online, I’ll be able to do a test purchase, purchase the product in. Number one, find out if it’s authentic product. And if it is authentic product, who did we sell it to, so that way we can cut off the bleed and talk with them and say, hey, you have a leak. You’re not supposed to be selling on Amazon. What is happening?

Kelley:

There’s multiple things you can do by protecting your product up front. It’s very difficult to reverse it, if that makes sense. So it was really important for us to keep that under $10 pricing, but not dip lower because our product, there’s components in it that make it a quality product. So it was important that we maintain that pricing structure and that’s really helped us for big box stores. We were Walmart, CVS, Home Depot, Lowe’s. They look at the brand’s pricing, if we’re consistent across the board, that is more enticing for a big box retailer to bring on that line or that product. They’re not having to compete with online pricing.

Stephanie:

Yep. Is there anything else that you’ve done to protect the brand in those early days? I haven’t heard too many people talk about this so far on the show. So keep digging in on this piece.

Kelley:

Yeah. IP, trademarks, whatever, even if you think you don’t qualify for a patent, reach out, look for design patents, look for any type of protection that you can get on your product and build your case. Again, I will say it till I’m blue in the face. It’s not a matter of if it happens. It’s a matter of when it happens. It’s part of business and when you’re going into business, you have to be prepared for that. If all of a sudden you’re selling and you’re having a successful model and somebody’s knocking your price off by $5 and there’s a steady feed and your customers are start to go over to that brand. How do you fix that? So thinking proactively in that mindset of protecting your brand right from the get go is I think so important and missed a lot.

Kelley:

It’s very enticing to take a really big PO from a big distributor who thinks they can blow this up. What happens when that distributor sells it to 6,000 stores and all those stores have Amazon accounts and it’s not selling because they don’t know how to market it. And then they start discounting the product. And now you have 6,000 stores and your pricing ranges at all price points. That’s a problem for brands.

Stephanie:

Do you give them guidelines on like, you cannot discount it or if you do-

Kelley:

Yeah. So we have contracts. We actually have contracts with all of our big partners. I believe we have a threshold on the volume, so we don’t do it for everybody because if they sell through and we catch it, we can just decide to not sell to them or let them know this is not acceptable at that time. But the big box stores, the bigger retailers, mass merchant, we definitely have contracts in place to protect us. The other thing that’s important that kind of piggybacks off the brand protection program is at the retail level for the the brands that are selling consumer goods, what is your end game? What happens if the product doesn’t sell through? Do you have a contract in place for that? Are they going to send back the inventory? Are they going to discount it? Are they going to dump it on their .com? So making sure that you have the appropriate after the fact things too in place is really important that I think a lot of people don’t think through.

Stephanie:

Yeah. How do you see brands setting it up right now with retailers and what do you think they should be doing? Like, should they be asking for their inventory back so they can try again somewhere else? Or what do you-

Kelley:

I think it’s a case by case basis. So for us, some of them, depending on the relationship and knock on wood, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to support our retail partners with sell through. So we haven’t run into this issue yet. But our plan would be either to market down in store or take back the inventory, not to ever allow them to blitz it to a backdoor third party company who’s got to get it all up on Amazon, not to destroy the product because we would also take that back and donate it over, being destroyed. So I think it’s unique for every store. Some stores they’ll order weekly where they’re not overstocking the product, where they’re not going to have an issue with having to do markdown. So I think it’s a little unique for each store.

Stephanie:

Got it. So after you got the 10,000 orders completely sold very, very quickly. What did it look like after that? Was there a point when you were very focused on moms or you’re like, let me expand to a different customer profile or have you stayed focused on selling to moms this entire time?

Kelley:

So the funny thing that happened was actually, if you back up a little bit, right before I launched and I got that mom media hit, which took off, which proved my concept. I launched it into the mail outdoorsman demographic. I thought the was a home run for them. I thought they were going to carry it with them, fishing, camping, hiking. And I got hit with a giant brick wall of skepticism. They weren’t even willing to listen to the science behind it. They weren’t willing to listen to the concept. I got told so much about there’s a snake bite kit, which is not the same concept, or science, or same product as ours. So we got hit with skepticism. That’s what actually prompted me to create a 100% money back guarantee because I was just trying to get consumer is to want to try the product. And I knew it worked because I had enough feedback on a smaller level. So it didn’t do well.

Kelley:

And I could have quit at that point because it was a really big wake up call when I was all in. But I stopped, and I said, what was working at those bake sales? What was working for me. Why was I so excited in my friends and family? And I said, I had a tool now that I could help my child who was uncomfortable. And that was my demographic. And now that we’re four years into this, now the male demographic is starting to very much open up to the idea, but the moms take the cake all day long. They’re the ones who are purchasing for the family. They’re setting their husbands off or spouses off with things.

Stephanie:

We’re convincing their husband like here-

Kelley:

Exactly. Just try it, or they’re watching their wives and children use it for years. And they’re like finally, okay. And the only reason I can say that is because I get the reviews and the testimonials that say stuff like that. So it’s been interesting to watch the journey, the customer journey.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s very cool. So then, I know you also had an appearance on Shark Tank and I want to hear all about that because it’s fun thinking about you get this quick demand 10,000 units out. And then thinking about you going to TV where you’re going to have quick demand again. So I’m going to hear, what was that experience like and how were you kind of prepping for it after what you had maybe seen when the 10,000 units sold out, like in a day.

Kelley:

It was nuts. So pretty much you picked up right at a good point. So I was teaching myself social media marketing. I landed the PR, that big news situation that made me blow through my inventory. And then at that point I was really drilling in on the social media marketing again, when I got inventory back and I was starting to sell. That ended up catching the intention of a Shark Tank producer, who then reached out the via email and encouraged us to audition for the show. I was terrified. I flip flopped at least a hundred times. I was not going to go on the show because I was doing well already on my own. And I was so terrified that if I went on the show and had that many eyeballs and that much publicity all at once that I was going to lose my baby, or lose my business, or a bigger dog was going to come and take over. And everything I had worked my tail off for was going to be gone.

Kelley:

And in turn, what ended up happening was our community, and that strong community that I had built not only gave me credibility when I went on the show, that after the show, all those people were so excited to continue to follow our journey and support. So I will emphasize till I’m blue in the face, building a community is so important when you’re building a brand and not just looking at bottom dollar and bottom line. So anyway, back to the Shark Tank story. So when we got the situation where we were able to go on the show, I needed my mom, my mom’s 30 years experience. So essentially, we had a long talk. She was living in Jacksonville at the time because I had quit working with her to pursue Bug Bite Thing full time. And I said, “I really want to go on this journey with you. You’re my mentor. You’ve helped me and guided me this thus far.”

Kelley:

So sign mom. In the company, and we decided to go on Shark Tank to get other, she’s still our president of the company. She keeps things she’s my sounding board and she’s got that 30 years experience. So when I’m bringing fresh new ideas with data and social media and innovation, she’s helping balance that other experience side. So anybody going into business enlist in a mentor. I will say that again-

Stephanie:

Your mom.

Kelley:

Or your mom, if she has that. I feel very blessed and lucky for that, but not everybody has a mom that’s in business like that, especially that randomly aligns with the field that you’re in. So I would strongly suggest enlisting in a mentor. So, anyway, mom and I go on the show, and it was surreal. We studied so over prepared, every question, it was terrifying. Shark Tank is so real. It’s just like a business meeting. I pretty sure I blacked out half of the time though. Because it was very, it’s just, you’re on Shark Tank and it’s happening and they’re in front of you and the adrenaline, and the nerves, and it’s hard. But for us, we were very fortunate. All five sharks were interested. We got offers from everybody. And then they all started going in with each other. And then Lori broke out her golden ticket. She gives one of those out once a season. She didn’t give one out the season prior to us and it’s essentially, it’s a little token, and it just says golden ticket. And it’s a promise for a product that she thinks is going to be a home run that she’s really excited about that she really wants to get behind. So when she did that I had already gone in wanting Lori in my head, in the background, her demographic aligned perfectly with our brand and our products. And then when I heard that Lori was a mosquito magnet, I knew that I really, because you have to understand like my husband, he doesn’t get bit by mosquitoes. We’re literally standing in a room of 10 people and I’m getting all the bites. He doesn’t get bit. So some people just don’t react like some people Lori’s a mosquito magnet like myself. So she immediately related with the product, the brand. And then again, when we showcased the testimonials and we showcased that we’re the number one best seller in Amazon for years, that gives credibility, I think. And I think that helped.

Kelley:

So we ended up going with Lori and she’s been phenomenal. I can speak the world of her. She’s been a phenomenal mentor. She’s there if we need her. After Shark Tank aired, things obviously exploded. And so she really helped us kind of make that transition with that crazy growth again. We renegotiated our contract with our factory after Shark Tank aired because they were contacted a ton by a bunch of people wanting to sell Bug Bite Thing. But our factory obviously didn’t own Bug Bite Thing, that’s my brand. So essentially we entered a partnership with them. They’ve converted their factory to Bug Bite Thing Europe. We only sell Bug Bite Things out of the factory. We have global distribution rights. So now they’re our partner and we’re working on making this mainstream globally. So she helped us with that. Obviously after Shark Tank aired, we were contacted by so many retailers, which I’m now finding out that’s a little bit unique. And so we’re in over 25,000 stores this year. We were-

Stephanie:

Congratulations.

Kelley:

Thank you. Yeah, it is really big. It’s still a little surreal thinking about it. But so that happened after Shark Tank. And then we were fortunate enough even with a little bit of setback with COVID because a lot of our retailers backed out because of the unknown in 2020. We ended up getting an update on Shark Tank, which was super exciting. And that happened April of this year. And that was just kind of showcasing the retailers that jumped on board with us. And we launched in 25 countries this year. So that’s been really exciting. And our goal is, our consumers are so much a part of this journey. So they really love hearing and seeing and being a part of it. And their feedback is what is bringing on our next byproducts. They wanted colors, they wanted a key chain hole that we just added. We’ve got our new black unit, our new pink unit, we’re working on some other really fun accessories and other products that fit under this category.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’s awesome expansion and growth and yeah, super cool to hear all about that. What’s the best maybe piece of advice Lori’s given you throughout working with her this whole time? Something that sticks with you every day.

Kelley:

Lori, she’s a firecracker. I love her so much. For me, I think the biggest thing is the comfort of knowing that we can do it. She’s so motivating. And who’s holding you back, who says you can’t do that. And just that cheerleader and that encouragement from somebody who’s launched, I think, 600 products or something crazy. And has that experience. She’s got so much consumer goods experience and she’s so in tune with the consumer, that’s how our whole business has been built is based off the consumer. So hearing her in the back of our ears rooting for us saying, you guys have accomplished it. You’re living everybody’s, people’s dreams, you’re doing it. I think that’s been the most impactful for me. Just having your mentor, give you credit.

Kelley:

So sometimes, that’s why I stressed. Even if you don’t have a Lori Greiner ear in your back pocket, find somebody that can help you because business is not for the faint of heart. It is so stressful. There’s so many roller coasters, it’s so up and down. When you’re a business owner, it doesn’t turn off. You can’t just say, oh, it’s Sunday taking the full day off. If something happens with your business, you’re stopping everything and you’re still going to your business. It’s like another child. So creating a balance, both for yourself, self care is so critical to keep going. The most successful people in this world, they can’t do it without help, delegation, mentorship, education, continuously educate yourself. So all of those little things, I think, she’s instilled in the back of my head.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Oh, that’s great. I love that. So you’re getting all these offers to go into retail now, which is crazy exciting. Are you also focusing big on digital still like Amazon and new channels to explore, or is retail kind of taking over where you’re like, well, mine is in the Walmarts of the world kind of like, get the word out.

Kelley:

No, I’m hitting it just as hard. So from the beginning, our model has always been about creating the demand. So I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. If our customers want a certain product, that’s what we’re going to create, has nothing to do with the big box stores. If I can prove my concept and consumers want it. And I have that proof that makes it much easier to pitch it to a big box store and say, hey guys, guess what? Here’s my proof. Here’s all the consumers talking about the product. So our focus has never been about that. It’s been about how do I gather as much information from our consumer and do something with it? What actionable things can I do with it? What new colors can I launch? What new products do they want? What feedback are they giving me? What is the pushback? So really, really listening to your customers across the board, I feel like is so important. But by saying that where I was going with that is follow your customers.

Kelley:

So for example, social media has been really critical for our business. Half of our customers went from Facebook to TikTok. So what are we doing? We’re shifting our strategy for TikTok heavy in 2022. So again, just follow and listen to your customers. They kind of tell you your outline, what they want.

Stephanie:

Yep. How are you encouraging so much feedback? Because I went and I looked at your guys, Amazon, everywhere I go, you have tons of reviews, very authentic, great ones. And you don’t see many brands who have that many, I would say. So how do you go about encouraging your customers to give that to you in a way that you can go and present it to-

Kelley:

Yeah. So we have a few different ways. I want to say it carefully because we don’t really push anything. The reviews come back because people discover the product for the first time and it’s life changing. I’ll start by saying that our product is really, really unique and it’s really helping people and helping their quality of life. So I think that’s where you’re seeing the authenticity. People don’t think it’s going to work. If you read the reviews, half of them say, there was no way I thought this was going to work. I was super skeptical, but it was $10. So I tried it anyway, and it was life changing. So that is the majority of the reviews if you read through them. So we use email marketing programs, Klaviyo where we’ll send automatic triggers that will encourage people. If they liked our product to leave a review, to help other people learn about it.

Kelley:

But I really pride ourselves in our customer service. We’re very personable with our customers. All of our customers get answered. We’re there to help troubleshoot if people aren’t using the product correctly, which even though it looks so simple, 9 out of 10 times, the negative reviews that are coming through is because people are just, they don’t know how to use it and they think they’re using it right. But there’s actually science. You want to use the product as soon as you notice the bite, not the next day. So by helping our customers with our customer service human really giving that one-on-one relationship with our customers, I think has really helped educate. And when they use it right and it works. They’re going to tell 10 more people about it because they want to also help people that are suffering. So I think the community was really important for us, right from the get go to focus on our customers. So they could be our cheerleaders. The other thing that was… Yeah, sorry, go ahead.

Stephanie:

Yeah, go for it. Go for it.

Kelley:

The other thing that I think we really did differently was, I launched Bug Bite Thing kind of at the same time, the influencer craze took off. This was back like 2018, 2019 time. And I enlisted influencers, a ton of them, micro influencers, people that were just normal people that were starting or just getting their feet wet in this world. And I just wanted feedback. So it was almost like a test because I wanted feedback, but then they would get really excited and want to share the product with their followers because they genuinely thought their audience would be interested in it and they wanted to help. And I think we have a whole custom influencer program that I’m finding out doesn’t match almost anybody else’s influencer program.

Stephanie:

Oh really? What are y’all doing?

Kelley:

Just, we do things in bulk. It doesn’t work with every brand, but our product is under $10. So we have the ability to be able to send out a vast amount of samples to influencers if they meet a certain criteria. So we focus on relationship building and micro influencers over major end celebrities. Because again, it’s the community and our product, it applies to everybody, an influencer, celebrity. Have you seen the show Outer Banks on Netflix?

Stephanie:

Oh, yeah. Yes.

Kelley:

The cast was using the product. They posted a story a month ago and they’re all using the product on set. And I’m like, this is so amazing.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Because they are in like the swamp areas.

Kelley:

That’s what I’m saying. So I think it’s starting to catch on by itself anyway. But there’s so much we need to do still. I have so many big plans and I think every founder and entrepreneur has that in their head and you can only execute so fast and you have to keep things in the right order.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Oh, that’s exciting, also Outer Banks, brings back. I haven’t watched it in a while. Because I think the season’s been-

Kelley:

I think it’s over.

Stephanie:

That was like one of my favorite shows.

Kelley:

Yeah. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Fan girl moment. Because I watched all the seasons and I was like, “Oh my goodness. They’re using it.” Even when Lori posts, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, she just posted it on her pages about our pink unit.” And having Lori go on there and say, this is the best thing for mosquito bites, and it’s changing lives, and it’s chemical free and it feels good to keep pushing if that makes sense.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. And I also think it’s smart that you all mail out a couple of them. I know when it came to us, my kids were playing with it. I was like, okay, where did the one go? I see the pink one. Where’s the black one. And it was pretty perfect because when you get it right away, you might not need it. I was kind of like, okay, looking around, like, do I have any bug bites or anything to try on? Not yet. But then when I did with the kids, I was like, oh thankfully I have more than one because Grace lost the one. Other one I think is somewhere, and here’s the third. Thank goodness.

Kelley:

Yep. Most of our customers who try it, who are skeptical, we literally have data. They come back and buy multi-packs because they need one for every… They’re like eyeglasses, keep one in your boat, keep one in your glove box. I always tell people if you’re out and about, and you’re stung by a bee, or your child is stung by a bee, what do you do? What do you do? Your kid’s screaming, you load them in the car. You run to CVS to go get some type of cream. And then you deal with it for what, three days of pain, and itching, and swelling. It’s like, now take the Bug Bite Thing out of your bag, suck out the venom and let your go on with their day. And that’s the feedback we’re getting. So it’s hard to turn your eye when that’s the consumer feedback.

Kelley:

So I think that even when I was being told, no, this isn’t going to work. No, no, no. It’s like the customers on the other side with life changing testimonials. And I think that’s where I got stuck, where I’m like, I have to listen to what they’re telling me.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. And you also, I mean, it was your problem you were solving and I think that’s so nice about your company is like the best founders are the one who also had that problem and they’re solving for it. So then you can have the confidence to be like, no, I know you’re telling me no, but actually I am my own customer.

Kelley:

Well, I was just going to say that I’m probably my biggest own customer. My daughter too. Even still today, like this is going to sound hilarious. And I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, but she’s at school. She gets bit, she reacts so severely still, so that never went away. But she got bit by a red ant and she didn’t use the Bug Bite Thing right away. She waited until like 45 minutes later, she reacts really severe, like blisters, almost like a water blister. And she didn’t use it in time and her foot swelled so bad. We couldn’t even get a shoe on her. And once it’s past that point and she’s in full blown reaction, the Bug Bite Thing is not going to be effective on her. And we actually encouraged don’t use it if it’s that swollen and inflamed until you get a fresh bite. So anyway, we dealt with that for two days, this was recent. And then she gets bit by another red ant. About two weeks later, has the Bug Bite Thing on the playground

Kelley:

Uses it right away, no reaction. Same ant pile, same bug, same thing. And I’m like, Leah, you have to carry it. So even me as a mom, not even a business owner, I’m still educating and saying and she goes, mom, I learned my lesson. We have so much educating to do and it’s my goal. And it’s my passion now to bring awareness to bug bites and bring awareness behind to the science behind it and offer solutions that are safe for your family, that are chemical free that really can help ease the quality of life for us that are mosquito bite suffers. Because it’s no joke.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I was thinking it needs a little clip to put on my kids’ backpack or like his pants so I can just like [crosstalk] every day.

Kelley:

Well, we’re working on a line of key chains, but essentially that’s what we made this little hole for. So you can literally pop it on a key chain, throw it on their backpack and they’re good to go. So they always have it around.

Stephanie:

Yep. That’s what I was thinking. I was like, that’s exactly what I need. So okay, you were talking about how there’s a bunch of things on the horizon that you want to work on. You’re super excited. What are a few of the biggest bets you’re taking or the biggest ideas that you’re excited that might play out over the next, one to two years?

Kelley:

Yeah. So definitely more colors. We have some tricks up our sleeve. If you follow our social media accounts, beginning of January, there’s going to be an announcement that involves our customers and gets them involved in our process. So stuff like that. And like I said, we’re really being particular of what products we want to bring on under our brand and our line. We have a great opportunity with our platform and Shark Tank to really help and make an impact. So I want to get more involved with the American Mosquito Association, fundraisers, where we can possibly do exclusive colors for them to do give backs. And then again, like I said, any products that we’re working under this realm we want to bring in and a big part of this is going to be education. I had mentioned earlier, we’re shifting a lot of our strategy to TikTok. I want to be able to showcase that. What are we doing live? Almost like a really exclusive behind the scenes of our brand and what we’re doing that’s unique.

Kelley:

I’ve been a huge believer. There’s not a one size fits all in business. Every business is unique. Their customers are different. Their products are different. Their vision is different. So why not share with people that are starting off little snippets of our behind the scenes. I’m also launching a Kelley Higney. I launched my Kelley Higney entrepreneur page. So then I can also show how do you deal with running a successful business as a mom. Because I think, I get a lot of emails and a lot of feedback. how do you do it all? How do you still have that balance of juggling being a good mom and running a business, and loving them both. And I do things different. I have a huge community of my team here at the office and home, and we’re all in this together.

Kelley:

And you can’t do it by yourself and bringing in like-minded entrepreneurs into our organization has been really monumental for us. People that are willing to think outside the box and not follow industry standards or trends all the time. Use them as guidelines and then figure out what works that’s unique and custom to our business. So I think that’s really helped us.

Stephanie:

I love that. That’s great. I had TikTok idea for you. So if you had a clear Bug Bite Thing, and then you pulled it out, you could see the venom-

Kelley:

The venom coming out through. I love it. I’m jotting it down. I love it.

Stephanie:

Everyone loves a good pimple video, that’s gross. Why not actually show something that’s cool.

Kelley:

You know, what’s crazy. We’re getting so many, so we didn’t realize even when we started this, just the suction alone, we have children who have sensory disorders where their parents are writing in saying they they’ll sit here and just do this all day. And that helps them focus. And that helps them. And then on the other side, we have people who discovered that this is an amazing tool at pulling out splinters. Yeah. So instead of children being terrified of tweezers, it’s like here, they’re already using the Bug Bite Thing, flip the cap around to the smaller area and then use it on your finger. And it brings the splinter right up to the surface. So we’re constantly finding new uses for it. And again, listening to our customers has given us the playbook of what they want.

Stephanie:

Yep. I love that. All right. Let’s shift over to the lightning round. The lightning round’s brought to you by Salesforce commerce cloud. This is where I ask a question and you have a minute or less to answer.

Kelley:

Oh boy, I’m ready.

Stephanie:

The first one, what’s one thing that you don’t understand today, but wish you did?

Kelley:

I really want to get more in depth with our international business. My mom has a lot of experience in international distribution. That was her business model for 30 years. This is new to me. And because we have such an interest overseas, every country acts very differently. There’s different laws, and rules, and regulations, and approvals. So I’ve been working really hard at educating myself on that subject matter to really take Bug Bite Thing to the next level on that global scale.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. And you guys are already in one of the hardest areas in Europe. So I think your standards are already way higher than a lot of others.

Kelley:

Yes. Yes. Yeah, but I think there’s always room for improvement. I will recommend the app Blinkist. I live by that app. It’s like cliff notes for business Blinkist. It’s literally like a bunch of business books and they’re the short version for people that don’t have time to read a whole book and they want to continuously educate themselves on certain subject matter. I love Blinkist great tool.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Okay. That takes my next question. So I was going to ask, I was going to say what’s an e-commerce tool or a piece of tech you’re most excited about. So outside of Blinkist, what else are you most excited to be using day to day in the business?

Kelley:

We’re right about to launch an ERP, which is going to, I think really, I mean, we were running our business out of QuickBooks at this level. So bringing everything with an ERP, I think we’re using SAP to bring all the inventory and the accounting. It brings us to that next level of infrastructure. I’m really excited that the departments will be able to communicate with each other better and the data will be seamless and we’ll have better visibility. That was a big investment for us this year. So I’m excited about that for our brand.

Stephanie:

That’s a great one. If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about and who would your first guest be?

Kelley:

That’s a good question. I think my podcast would have to do with entrepreneurship and it would have to do maybe with people that started grassroots because I really, really… It’s personal for me. I started with nothing. I sold my house to invest in inventory. That’s a huge risk, people thought I was crazy. And I think that there’s not enough. I did it smart, if that makes sense. I wasn’t going to risk everything. I did it in a smart way because I wasn’t going to jeopardize everything we had worked for our entire lives to launch a business. So I had a nest egg, but in order to launch it the proper way and go all in, we had to sell the house. I wasn’t going to be on the hook for the mortgage and my family’s livelihood, if this didn’t take off. So I think there’s not enough resources. Like how do you do it? If you want to go the grassroots round and you don’t have a lot of funding to invest in anything, how do you market? How do you reach out to the community? How do you use your own local resources? There’s a lot of them out there that are willing to help root for you. There’s farmers markets, there’s bake sales. There’s your local news station.

Kelley:

I remember after the CBS 12 News, I started grinding. I’m like, okay, if CBS 12 News was going to feature me, I need to contact every news station I can so they can learn about our brand and our products. So I started reaching out and sending tips.

Stephanie:

Wow, did it work?

Kelley:

It totally worked. I landed two more people that ended up coming out to the house. One was the rental, one was my other house that we had moved in temporary. So I would bring more awareness around that because I didn’t know. I felt lucky to have a mentor like my mom, but she also doesn’t have any experience in e-commerce business. Her distribution is a totally different model. So how do you do things with no money at a low budget? And if you have big goals and big dreams, I would want to talk to people who’ve made it and try to gather all those little snippets and understand how it worked.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. That would be a very successful show. So, yeah.

Kelley:

Well, I think there’s an interest. I think what I’m learning now after I launched my Kelley Higney entrepreneur page is there’s so much interest of how did you do it? How do you get verified? What criteria are they looking for? What are good benchmarks when you’re starting out? And I was putting $10 a day in ad spend and reinvesting it back in like. But I didn’t know. You have to learn along the way. So when you’re not getting funding at the beginning, or you’re not going that route, and you don’t have endless amounts to launch a new concept or a new product, it would be great to hear more feedback on that.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I agree. I agree. Well, Kelley, thanks so much for joining me today here and sharing all your stories and advice. It’s been really awesome, your product’s awesome. So thank you very much. Where can people find out more about you and Bug Bite Thing?

Kelley:

Sure. You can follow our story on our social media pages, it’s Bug Bite Thing or some behind this scenes with me and my journey at Kelley Higney, CEO. Kelley, spelled K-E-L-L-E-Y. Thanks, mom. And website to find our product, they make phenomenal stocking steppers. We just launched our new pink unit. If this doesn’t air in time, it’s a great gift under $10 gift for anybody that enjoys the outdoors and doesn’t enjoy bug bites and yeah, follow us. I appreciate everybody, all my customers, all the people following our journey. It’s just been incredible.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Yeah. Thanks so much.

Kelley:

Thanks so much for having me on.

Episode 177