Out With The Trash - Learning from our Mistakes

This post is by Innovation Accelerator’s Talent Scout, Kelly Minton.

Kelly Minton, IA’s Talent Scout

Kelly Minton, IA’s Talent Scout

Thirteen years ago when I shared a laugh and business idea with my very good friend about motherhood I never thought I’d be putting that idea out on the curb with the trash. Brenda and I had gone through pregnancy together. I had one son, she had twins, a son and daughter. Back all those years ago as our pregnancies progressed, both growing larger and larger bellies to accommodate the babies within us, we’d take a few minutes when we got together to appreciate the wonder and absurdity of it all.

Once our children were born, the laughter continued. Breastfeeding, going back to work, sleepless nights, boys peeing in perfectly clean bath water, all became material for the greeting card company we would launch. We had an idea, did some minimal research, and found a very talented artist to bring our ideas and experiences to life on on paper.

We discovered quickly that at this point the mommy market had not been represented in this way. Most, if not all greeting cards at the time talked about the miracle of life, and how very precious it is and above all how lucky you are to be a mom. True as these points are, (I adore mothering my son. Truly nothing gives me more joy) motherhood is also very hard! Raising a human on little to no sleep, while trying to care for yourself and your relationship is a challenge. Enter, our business, we’d take all that and make it funny on greeting cards. Our simple goal was to share our experiences with the weary new mom in your life. It was easy way to say “I get it!”

The three of us, Sean, Brenda, and I forged forward. We created a business and marketing plan, we created the cards and printed the cards - investing both time and money into the business. We went to the National Stationery Show and won an award for one of our designs. We thought we were amazing! Our first business idea, a national award, what could possibly go wrong?

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A lot.

At the show we were visited by representatives from the two major greeting card companies in the U.S. The representative from one of the major players took time to get to know us a bit, commenting that he loved that our ideas came from “real life experiences”. What never occurred to us (and yes, as I am writing this down, it seems silly to say) that major greeting card companies would take our idea and create their own line. They would not only tap into the mommy market, but they would do it with the knowledge and market research we simply could not have done at the time.

When I reflect back on this experience, I know that we would have invested less money and time if we had just understood our customer and what they wanted. We created cards that were funny to us. We targeted small independant brick and mortar stores, which turned out to be a mistake for a variety of reasons. Had we taken an accelerator course to get to the heart of our customer segment we would have discovered countless things that would have made us take pause, question and improve our line and planning. We would have looked outside ourselves and our families for advice and I believe would have been much better for it.

Today when I go out into the world and see all the greeting cards on display - I am not sad or the bitter. I just understand that to have success in business you need much more than just one good idea - you need to test that idea, connect with business leaders who are much smarter than you, ask questions and above all learn and apply those teachings to create success.

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As I watch the waste collector, pausing to look at each card before loading the boxes into the hopper, I do wonder what he must be thinking. For now though, I am grateful for the many lessons this FAIL (First Attempt At Learning) has taught me, and I look forward to sharing my experience with others, so they can find success within their business ventures.

Innovation Accelerator helps nonprofits increase their financial sustainability by building a culture of innovation within their organizations. Alumni pilot programs are generating revenue, securing funding, and promoting key employees. Learn more at www.unrestrictedrevenue.com