Jill Leech, one of the women quoted in Women Incorporated, is the founder of Potty Tots, potty training kits for boys and girls.
In the book, Leech advises: “Allocate enough funds for advertising and marketing right from the start.” We caught up with Leech recently and asked her to talk about starting her business, and some of the challenges she faced getting it up and running.
Mom Incorporated: I understand that you came up with the idea of Potty Tots because of problems your own daughter was having. But what was the “ahah” that made you decide to create a company and take it to market?
Jill Leech: When I was having difficulty potty training my youngest daughter I took a parenting class, and one suggestion was to make charts with pictures so children felt secure understanding what you wanted them to do. I thought I would just look up an illustrated potty chart online and buy one. To my surprise, when I searched online there weren’t any such charts. I decided to draw one and make the little girl look just like my daughter. She was very motivated because she loved that the chart looked like her and could see what to do next. She felt so proud of herself when she was independent and successful. It took the power struggle out of potty training by helping her to be more independent. The “ahah” moment for me was when I made charts for family and friends who had toddlers and found the same success. I knew then that this could be a product that could help other parents with potty training their children. And I started to imagine a whole company with a line of products for potty training toddlers.
Mom Incorporated: What were your first steps? And how did you know what to do?
Jill: My first step in creating Potty Tots, LLC was to create an entire program for potty training. With a background as a teacher, I wanted to create an educational and fun program that would teach toddlers this very first task in taking care of themselves. I decided that a storybook would be a great way for toddlers to identify with other children learning this for the first time. I created the Potty Tots characters with diverse ethnicities, personalities and interests so that toddlers would feel they were not alone in the process. Since children learn best when they are having fun, we created an animated DVD with music videos so children could sing and dance to learn the steps of potty training. In addition, I created a fun little football-inspired progress game called “The Toilet Bowl” so that toddlers could keep track of every little success, clearly see their goal and know when to expect a reward.
As for starting the company, I began by reading a book called Start Up Nation, Open for Business. I was really inspired to build a brand and a company rather than just create a product and sell to other stores. I read every book I could find on business and looked up every website I could that was related to starting your own business and having an online store. I reached out to other moms in business and asked questions on business-related forums. I was really amazed at how many women were willing to help a fellow “Mompreneur” just starting out. I will always be grateful for their advice and assistance.
Mom Incorporated: How long did it take to go from concept to launch?
Jill: From the time I had the initial idea for the potty chart to launching the company was about a year and a half. After creating the program I had to hire an illustrator, animator and musician to bring the Potty Tots to life. Then I had to find a printer, manufacturer and developer for the website. There was a lot to learn in that relatively short amount of time, but it was also very exciting.
Mom Incorporated: What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Jill: I would have to say the biggest challenge that I faced was getting the product out to the consumer. You can have a great product and website, but the orders are not just going to come flooding in overnight. You need to have a lot of capital to launch the marketing phase. Even in this day and age of the internet, you have to spend money on advertising and be open to many different marketing strategies. Lesson learned: It takes a lot of hard work, money and time to build a brand.
Mom Incorporated: How did you find your manufacturer and how did you fund the project?
Jill: I love the internet! Not only did I find my manufacturer online, but I also found my entire Potty Tots team online (illustrator, animator, musician, web developer, company attorney, game developer — and the list goes on!) With the internet I am doing business with companies and individuals not only here in the U.S. but also in China, India, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Two websites I utilized and highly recommend are Alibaba.com for finding manufacturers and iFreelance.com for freelance artists and other professionals. Of course you always have to do your homework when hiring anyone. Make sure to check out their work and references. Ask for samples from manufacturers and call their references and ask how prompt they were in responding and about the quality of their work. It is also important to have a great relationship with your team. Make sure to hire people you trust and enjoy working with.
As for funding my company, my husband has been really supportive, and we have invested our own money in the initial product development, website design, production and the day-to-day expenses of running the company. We continue to invest money in new product development.
Mom Incorporated: What was your marketing plan? How has it changed since then?
Jill: Initially my marketing plan for Potty Tots was to advertise in parent publications and on the internet with Google Ad Words and similar pay-per-click (PPC) programs. I reached out to mom bloggers to review the program to build product credibility. We also participated in trade shows for retail stores and parent events.
My marketing plan has changed quite a bit. Print advertising and many of the PPC programs were expensive and didn’t give much of a return on our investment. I have shifted to the social media realm of advertising through Twitter and Facebook. We launched during the period when mom bloggers were the up-and-coming way to market to moms. Knowing that moms are our primary target consumer, we are now focusing on marketing to moms by marketing with moms. We are starting a Mom Ambassador program, and we’re advertising on mom blogs that have influence in the blogsphere and who have tried the Potty Tots Program and love it. Word-of-mouth advertising is the best endorsement we can get. We also have videos on YouTube and are working on a campaign for our first commercial. Videos are one of the best ways to show your customers your product. Getting customers to tape a video review of your product is also a great way to add credibility to your product. Best of all, YouTube is free!
Note: A fantastic book on this subject is Mom 2.0 Marketing with Moms by Maria Bailey. I met her at a conference and she is the expert on marketing to moms and using social media.
Mom Incorporated: What are your future plans for the product?
Jill: We have so many big plans for Potty Tots! We have a whole product line in the works. This last year we had sample dolls made, and we are just working on fine tuning those to bring to market in 2012. We also have a mobile app being developed as this goes to print! There are so many other products that relate to potty training that I know I will be busy for years to come creating and launching new products. I am really excited for the future of my company.
Mom Incorporated: What advice would you give other women interested in developing a product?
Jill: The first piece of advice I would give anyone interested in developing a new product is to research if there is a similar product. You really want to be innovative and develop a unique product that will either solve a problem or is just so darn cute that everyone has to have one!
Second, it is so important to network. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. I wouldn’t be where I am today without advice or creative input from other successful men and women.
Last, keep on learning about every aspect of your business and the industry. Be flexible, and don’t be afraid of change. That is what learning is all about.
Once you start on this path, keep moving forward and never lose the sense of excitement that got you started on this journey. Never give up, and always believe that you can succeed. One of my favorite quotes from Walt Disney hangs on the wall in my office: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”