Mary Anne Amato has deep empathy for parents who are taking care of their babies in the middle of the night.
She's channeled that empathy into a great product that helps parents take good care of their babies and themselves.
Mary Anne, tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
At Innovative Crib Designs, we are manufacturing Quick Change Cribs and selling them. We also market and advertise (and do everything else needed for a successful business!!).
Our business is predicated on the health and safety of babies. In the middle of the night, parents are so tired, they can often make poor decisions about what to do when a baby soils the crib sheets.
Some parents brave the task of spending the next 10 minutes cursing and fumbling to untie the bumper pads, remove all the toys and the mobile, lift the mattress out of the crib, change the sheet and then put it all back together again (of course, while the baby is up and crying). But, some parents put a blanket or towel over the soiled sheets; others take their baby back into the bed with them.
Both of these options are not ideal -- a baby needs to sleep in a clean environment and sleeping with your baby in the same bed can be dangerous (e.g., suffocation). So, I set out to create a crib that would make it easy for parents to choose the cleanest, safest option when it came time to change those sheets.
The quick Change Crib has a patented "door" cleverly hidden into the headboard that opens so that parents can slide the mattress out horizontally, change the sheet, and slide it back in without ever having to remove toys, mobiles or bumpers; it literally can be done in 30 seconds.
And, for all those "day-time" sheet changes, our crib allows parents to spend all that extra time enjoying their baby, instead of getting all frustrated.
When did you start the business and where are you located?
We got on the market in April, 2007. But, the background work started about 2 years prior, with research, fund raising, and patent process.
We are located in Los Angeles, California. Personally, I am in New York.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
No, this is not my first business. I am also cofounder of Research for Strategic Management, a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of Talent Management. The consulting firm was established in 1995 and is still in operation.
Where did you get the startup money?
In 2006, The Quick Change Crib won the Grand Prize in Whirlpool's Mother of invention Grant. That provided us with $20000. Specifically, we used the grant money for travel for manufacturing; translation expenses; safety testing; insurance premiums; and trade show expenses.
After winning the award, we put together a business plan, raised additional funds, and formed the LLC. The additional funds came in the form of private equity share sales in Innovative Crib Designs.
Wow, that's impressive that you won that prize. So, who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our main competitors are mid-market cribs sold by a variety of manufacturers through traditional retailers and through the Internet.
We compete through distinction (we are the only crib that has the Quick Change Technology), word of mouth, the value proposition we offer and the incredible customer service we have.
We offer a safety certified, sturdy birch wood crib (weighs 120 pounds!) that comes with the patented Quick Change Technology. And, we offer it at a very reasonable cost ($299 with a $50 downloadable coupon from our website).
Since we have been on the market, we have been recognized with several awards/certifications:
- JPMA safety certification
- NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Award), 2008
- Fit Pregnancy, Best Parenting Products 2008
- iParenting, Most Outstanding Product, 2007
- Best Products for Parents 2007 (Best Product Media Guide)
- Top 10 Best Baby Product of 2007 (Georgia Family Magazine)
- Parenting Magazine, Top Pick (July 2007)
- Whirlpool Mother of Invention, grand Prize Winner 2006
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
In some ways it is the same and in other ways it is different. In both, it comes down to understanding what people want and need and delivering. I think coming from a service business (consulting) and going to a manufacturing business has been a real difference. The knowledge set is completely different. We had to get up to speed on international shipping, safety standards, etc. Things that were out of our skill base. In addition, I think consulting lends itself to getting to know people as individuals more. In the crib business, transactions have more of a "distant" feeling to them. You hardly meet people in person and it is harder for you to get their attention.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I think our decisions were good all along, especially in light of what we knew along the way. In hindsight, I think we should have raised more start-up funds.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Be choosy about who you work with. And, we are extremely honest with our customers, suppliers and vendors.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Here's my advice to new entrepreneurs:
- Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about your proposed business; the competition; consumer reactions; etc.
- Make a plan and be prepared to change it. No matter how much homework you do, you will learn an enormous amount in the process and that means you need to re-assess the plan, taking into account the new information. I could not have known or anticipated a number of things prior to starting ICD and once we had some experience under out belts, we adjusted direction.
- Financing cannot be under-estimated and should be given a lot of attention. Manufacturing, sales, marketing, etc. all add up to very big dollars so a plan for funding must be made and enough must be raised to give the business an adequate chance of succeeding.
- Take risks. It can be scary to take on such a new adventure, but a business can't succeed if you are not willing to take some risks in order to help it. I put a lot of my own time and money into the company, traveled to China to negotiate deals, became a student of safety regulations, and did a lot of other things I might not have ever dreamed of doing if I didn't start this business.
- Believe in yourself and in your product. You really do have to make a good, high quality product that adds value. When you do that, you then have to rely on your own confidence and abilities to make the dream become the reality. There is no guide book that you can follow that will tell you the answers to all the different questions you need to answer or give you advice on every different issue you have. So, you have to be able to rely on yourself and know that the decisions you make are the best ones you can make given the situation and information you have at the time. PERSEVERE.
Those are great tips. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in growing your business.