March health update: I’ve stopped fainting

I haven’t passed out in over a month! All that quiet non-jinxy woo-hooing paid off. I even went to the store last week and was able to walk (albeit leaning on a cart) without using the beep-beep cart! When the checkout person asked me how my day was going, I was hard pressed not to jubilantly shout “SUPER GREAT, I AM WALKING ON MY OWN, HOW ARE YOU?!”

apologies-to-allie

(Apologies to Allie.)

POTS can go into remission and then come back without a lot of warning, so I’m not holding my breath that the fainting episodes are gone for good, though I sure hope they are.

My hives are also getting better, though still very much around. I hadn’t been swelling in the face much, but last week made up for it. I think I woke up with some facial area swollen every day, and on one day it meant that I had to go to the pool to shoot some underwater footage with a face that resembled a chimpanzee, no offense to chimpanzees.

This video has that footage. My swollen face is not in it, though. (You are welcome for that.)

When my upper lip is swollen, it makes the space between the bottom of my nose and the top of my lip longer. It completely changes the way I look and it’s pretty alarming. It’s something I noticed celebs who get lip injections get… a longer upper lip:

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 2.21.20 AM

I can’t understand why anyone would do it on purpose. Anyway, the swelling seems to be calming down quite a bit, so quiet hooraying!

So… let’s see, in my last health update I told you we were investigating female hormonal imbalances, but everything came back normal.

However! We did find out my pituitary gland was not doing so hot. Despite my T3 and T4 thyroid levels being quite low, my pituitary gland was not secreting any TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to tell my thyroid gland to produce more. Remember this guy?

po-ed-pituitary

Yeah, he’s just decided to take a nap instead of shout.

So I’m on some new supplements that are supposed to nourish my pituitary gland (This is a thing? That is possible?) and also a new iodide / iodine supplement in an attempt to bypass the tired pituitary and stimulate the thyroid gland directly (This makes more scientific sense).

It’s been a month or so on the new protocol and I am about to go in for more thyroid tests to see if it has helped. I certainly have felt more energetic, so I hope we’re on to something. If it hasn’t helped, it’ll be time for thyroid medication again.

My iron and potassium levels are finally up in the normal range, so that’s also helping my energy levels. It’s so hard to know what might really be working / helping, and what’s just voodoo, but I’ll just be grateful for the upswing.

So, that’s about it. No more bed rest, and I’m pretty functional. I think being happier with my work situation helps a lot. I continue to make good progress with my exercise protocol (largely Yoga with Adriene), and should be greenlighted to try swimming laps again soon. Fingers crossed!

How I made my landing pages plus a blooper reel

Hey guys! First of all, thank you for all of your support and kind comments about our new project. Y’all helped get the ball rolling, and it’s been really exciting to watch the entries to the contest and sign ups roll in! Here’s a little thank you if you’ve got some kiddos that would like to color a mermaid:

better-cta

Hey, you know what that button is? It’s a CTA. A call to action. I’m asking you to do something (click) and I’m offering something in exchange (a coloring page). Landing pages are all about CTAs, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today.

I knew I wanted to tell you guys about my mermaid project, but my store wasn’t open yet. I needed somewhere to send you, so I started building kind of a splash page that would go on the store home page. Something that said “Coming soon, sign up for our newsletter.” I pulled up a splash page I made way back when:

very-baby-splash

Aw. Anyone remember that? It was actually really successful back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and Netscape was still a thing. My little CTA form was generated by Yahoo Groups, a service that is amazingly still around. I sent out an email using the subscriptions I collected through that form, and three hours after we opened, we’d sold out of all our inventory.

Well, we’ve come a long way since I built that site with nested tables in HomeSite. Splash pages are way cooler now.

I found some services that will help you build landing pages in minutes and have a bunch of sweet features. After researching several (Optimizely & LaunchRock among them), I finally decided on Kickoff Labs.

(This isn’t sponsored, by the way. I just really liked the service.)

I can write my own code, but you don’t need any HTML/CSS or programming knowledge to use Kickoff Labs. Their page builder system offers A/B testing, opt-in forms you can use anywhere, virally boosted campaigns, demographics on those who sign up, ways to program auto replies and incentive emails, analytics, and really great support. Like, super great.

One of the services I used right away was the A/B testing. A/B testing is something I did a lot of as a web designer. I’d create two separate pages for a client that essentially did the same thing, but in different ways. We’d run page A against page B and compare the results. Did more products sell / did more newsletter sign ups occur with page A or page B? After a period of testing, we’d publish the winner. With Kickoff Labs, I was able to easily build two totally different landing pages and then, without bothering with special codes, they displayed both of them, weighted evenly at 50% on my website, and measured the results.

Here are screenshots of the two pages I tested. You can click to embiggen.

lead-page-a

lead-page-b

If I’d had to make a wager, I would have guessed page B would have done best. People like videos, and the three CTAs are clear and easy to see, and the 1, 2, and 3 steps seemed fun. Plus that page was overall cleaner and more simple with less text (customers don’t read, they skim). But page A won hands down.

ab-test

I was really surprised! Page A had way more text, and no video. But users seemed to like the simple, single call to action better. I’m sure nobody read all the text, though, so I started a second A/B test. I retired the original “B” page, and duplicated the winning “A” page easily inside Kickoff Labs’ interface. The new page is similar, but has much less text, and a clearer headline, and made it clear that people would get something cool for signing up whether they won the contest or not:

a-b-shorter

The test has just started, so I don’t have full results yet, but the shorter page with the bigger, clearer call to action is already doing better.

A/B testing lets you figure out what the users like, and what will work best for you. I wish we were able to utilize this idea more back when we were running Very Baby.

I’m really pleased with Kickoff Labs; they aren’t exactly cheap at $49/month, but I feel the value is worth it. They have a lower priced plan too, and there is a free trial for the Premium account (which is what I’m on right now). Check them out. You can use lead pages for tons of stuff; they’d be great for an e-book release or sign ups for an online class you might be offering. The customer service is super, and they’re willing to help every step of the way.

Anyway, I’m working on more videos, and I’ve got some silly bloopers up for you. I think you’re supposed to release a blooper reel after you release the real video, but we like to do things backwards and upside down over here. Besides, this was practice for my newly developing video-editing skills, right? Check out the fancy new opener thingy, though I’m still working on getting some better lead-in music.

I would pay someone piles and piles of pennies to duplicate a me that is comfortable in front of the camera. ALSO, please note how much gray hair I can disguise when I part my hair differently. It is a WONDER.

Big thanks to my sister Mandy, her daughter “Jane,” and my daughter “Sophie” (stage names for the win), and my mama for letting us turn her living room into a studio for three days.

The terrifying thing: part three

Part one and part two, if you missed ‘em.

You know what? It’s not even terrifying anymore. I should rename the whole series “the super rad thing.”

Seriously.

I’m so excited about this, you guys.

YOU GUYS.

(Is the ‘you guys’ thing a Utah thing? I think it might be.)

Heading up a start-up is stressful and exhausting and nerve wracking, but it’s also really fun.

I’d forgotten what this was like, and it’s exhilarating.

Why did I ever think I could be an employee? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I’d do whatever was necessary to feed my family. But it’s okay to want something different. It’s okay to recognize that you’re better suited to a different type of work if you can get it.

I won’t apologize for that.

Even if this particular project bombs? Even if my Kickstarter flops and our big launch opens to crickets? I feel ALIVE again.

It has been worth it just for that.

I could talk so much about this. And I think I will. I want to tell you all about starting something from the ground up; how to do it. I want to talk about learning curves and the stretching, wonderfulness that is learning something new. I want to tell you about all the incredible resources I’ve found. I want to inspire you to leave fear behind and try something wild.

Here’s my wild.

mermaid-tails

Some of you guessed, and some of you got a little sneak preview on Instagram. But here it is, world. (Or more accurately, “Here it is, my dear six dozen blog readers!”)

I have drawn, sewn, tested, tweaked, drawn again, sewn again, tested again, hired seamstresses, graded patterns, and created my own line of swimmable mermaid tails and tankini swimming suits for girls ages 2 – 12 (with older teen and adult sizes on their way).

swimmable mermaid tails

I didn’t reinvent the wheel here. I’m not the first mermaid tail designer and I will not be the last. I’m even using (to start) the sparkly spandex that everyone else uses. But oh the process was fun. It was another thing I’d forgotten. Drawing shapes from scratch on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor on brown Kraft paper, turning them into wearable items, fixing fit, grading sizes — this is stuff I know. How did I forget I knew? How did I forget I loved it?

mermaid tails packaged up

The monofin (mermaid swim flipper) was even more fun, though. My daughter loved her mermaid tail and monofin from the company I worked for previously, and their monofin was a huge improvement on what was out there, I will totally give them that. But it kept breaking, and the replacement inserts aren’t cheap. One insert broke on the first day it was used in the pool. The second broke just a couple of days later, even though we were following all the proper-use instructions. Serious bummer. We tried another brand next, but it was made out of the same clear polycarbonate and was cracked and rusted in a month.

My nieces and my daughter’s friends had other monofins and there were problems with all of them. Stiff rubber pockets left huge blisters on my niece’s feet, and a friend’s monofin had to be worn with thick neoprene socks and it still hurt their feet dreadfully (It was gorgeous though, rubber. So pretty. But ouch.). A scuba-type monofin that a lot of mermaid retailers purchase and cut into a mermaid shape seemed promising, but it also hurt, and then the straps broke. And then the heavy duty plastic fin part broke.

classy

In the midst of all these monofin shenanigans, I was dragging my feet reluctant to involve myself with another mermaid company (see also: my broken record of “I was so burned out.”) But I was tired of buying replacement monofins; I could definitely see there was a need for a better monofin, and this funny little market is growing in leaps and bounds. There was definitely room for me, but I was intimidated, could I do it?

I traveled south to meet with some respected inventors and engineers I know, and at first it was discouraging. “You can’t improve on this,” they said. Or, “This one is already made, it’s available for super cheap overseas, it even comes in a cute box! Just order this one.” But I wasn’t down with that. That cheap overseas one was cute, but we already knew that it hurt little feet and broke.

I drew. I sketched. I dreamed. I polled professional mermaids (yes, they exist), and I checked out all kinds of plastics and rubbers and composite scuba materials. And slowly a plan started to form. My dad (another awesome inventor) got excited too, and we started getting somewhere. I found an engineer who didn’t think my idea was completely nuts. I made the first prototype out of wood and a weird sort of foam fabric, and I knew I had a winner when the engineer’s eyes lit up. We tweaked it countless times, met with plastics companies, and formulated a special sturdy, yet flexible plastic that would hold up to everything kids could throw at it.

We had a mold made, and soon I had a working prototype in my hands.

monofin prototypes

Filing the utility patent was a nail-biter, but only because I’m a weirdo. The patent will be public by November, and that means my first and last name will be out there in the eternal and infernal intertubes. I’m okay with it now. Just don’t make fun of me when you discover my real name is Bertha Widdlepants Butt. Just kidding, I don’t have a middle name. Bertha Butt. BB for short.

With the patent filed and the design perfected, we ordered our first batch, thrilled to have the fins affordably injection molded here in the states. Go USA.

New monofin

Shut. Up.

Aren’t they rad? They totally are. I’m so thrilled with how they turned out.

It’s comfortable to wear. Like for REAL. There are individual foot pockets for each foot, so they don’t slide around on slick plastic. This gives you more control when you turn or do flips in the water, and I have my engineer to thank for insisting I find a way to make that happen. He’s a scuba diver and knew kids would appreciate a more secure feeling, and he was right. It was a challenge, but I’m so pleased with the results. Kids ADORE this thing. (It’s made to fit kids ages 6 to about 12, but I can get my size-9 feet in it, and it is mega fun.)

The foot pockets are lined with mesh so it doesn’t get water logged when you’re swimming, and it dries fast. The whole foot pocket comes off easily with a simple velcro attachment. The foot pockets are made out of a high performance neoprene fabric, and it is very stretchy, which is great because it accommodates a wide range of foot sizes, but it also posed a problem.

When the fabric stretches out, your feet lose contact with the plastic, which is a common problem with other monofins made with neoprene covers. Your feet are too loose and you start dragging the fin rather than using it to propel yourself through the water. Granted, a lot of kids won’t notice, but why not make something functional? Kids deserve something well built, you know?

This is a terrible graphic.  Do not judge me for I am very tired.

This is a terrible graphic. Do not judge me for I am very tired.

I solved this by adding a simple adjustable strap. It minimizes stretch where it’s not needed, and doesn’t interfere with the feet. Kazaam. Now this thing propels like a pro scuba fin, feels SO much better, and the fin! THE FIN! It doesn’t break, doesn’t crack, has enough give so that it’s flexible, but isn’t so floppy like a rubber fin, so it looks good on dry land.

I could go ON and ON.

Okay. Okay. So.

I have thousands of mermaid tails, swimming suits, and these GORGEOUS monofins in stock, but we thought it would be super fun to launch the new company with a Kickstarter. We’ll offer our current stock as super awesome backer rewards (such deals, you guys, I can’t even), and hopefully generate some buzz while raising funds for our larger monofin that will be better proportioned for older teens and adults. (The older one has additional straps so those of us with bigger feet, ahem, will be able to customize the fit perfectly without compromising comfort… and we’ll get more propulsion / speed out of the thing, too.)

Awesome, right?

mermaid monofin kickstarter

Right, so a Kickstarter is yet another one of those learning curve type things for me, and one of the things we need to do is get the word out for the Kickstarter so that the Kickstarter can get the word out about our products and company. Clear as mud?

Statistics are something like you need to contact 50,000 people to get 1,000 backers. OY. So, to generate the initial needed buzz, we’re giving away a free mermaid tail and monofin! Should you have a kiddo who might love one, you can enter to win at Sun Tail Mermaid or Mermaid Tails for Sale (I’m doing some AB testing, so the pages might look the same, there are two different pages, though.)

mermaid tails and monofins!

If you enter to win, you get your own unique link to share so I can track how many referrals to send to me! The more referrals you send? THE MORE ENTRIES IN THE DRAWING YOU GET. Fun, right?

Also, I hope you sign up and share the pages just out of the kindness of your heart, dear readers, because 50,000 people is a lot. (Seriously, help me. I will kiss your face.)

While I am still working on our (hopefully better) Kickstarter videos (LEARRRRNING CUUURRRVVE) I’ve uploaded my first attempt at a video just to introduce Sun Tails to the world of YouTube; a place I am not altogether familiar with. The video, I’m afraid, is a bit on the ‘aw, she made it herself / homemade’ side, but fist pump, y’all. MY FIRST VIDEO. You know, that required some editing and stuff. Radcakes.

I’m annoyed that my start image isn’t showing up for me (is it for you?) It’s supposed to look like it does on Google +. I’m gonna get better at this. And possibly hire voice over talent. I sound insane to my own ears. I know I probably don’t sound insane to yours.

So! How is that for a long awaited, somewhat rambling conclusion to my long drawn out series? I will never do a series again. Pinkie promise.

To thank me (for never doing another to-be-continued blog series, to be clear), won’t you enter/join and share here or here? And I’d LOVE your feedback on the landing pages, and the products, and the video, and everything else. I am ALL EARS.

Squee!!! <– Totes profesh.

In the studio…

I owe you part three! I was hoping to get it posted today, but we just got home (11pm here) after a very long weekend in the studio with these two amazing girls.

studio

(Miss K. does not have her arms put on backwards. She’s just double jointed / very bendy.)

They’ve both decided that they do not want a future in movies or television. Take after take is exactly zero fun, though periodic breaks for Taylor Swift or Katy Perry dance jams help a LOT. So does post-shoot ice cream. They did amazing though, and I’ll be up to my eyeballs in editing for the next several days.

Anyway, pinkie-promise part three is coming soon. And if you’ve emailed me, I’ll dig my way through my inbox ASAP.

The terrifying thing, part the second

Here’s part one if you missed it.

Okay! So let’s back up a little. It was around this time last year and my main gig and I had agreed to part ways. It was such a relief to be free. I’d enjoyed a lot of the actual work I’d done for the company, but after such a stressful period, waking up to an empty work to-do list felt wonderful.

nothing

It wasn’t exactly restful though, the sale of the house was settled very quickly and we needed to be out in a short few weeks. Moving was insane as moving always is, and before we’d even unpacked the bath towels in the rental we started looking in and out of state for potential properties to buy. And, as most of you know, my remaining good health packed her bags and headed to the Fiji islands for a vacation. I get postcards now and then. She’s doing great. Doesn’t miss me at all, and swims laps every morning.

post-card-from-fiji

During a stressful point the previous year I suggested to my main client that we begin to make an exit plan. I wasn’t happy and didn’t think they were either. I updated my resume and began interviewing with design firms that offered remote (work at home) positions.

One interview became somewhat candid. As I discussed my skills and work history with this particular contact, he said, “I just have one question. You built and ran a successful business [referencing Very Baby], and while running that business started another [my web design business].” I nodded. “And now you’re using your impressive skill set for [someone else’s] company. Why aren’t you doing this for yourself?”

I was kind of taken aback. Doing what? Working for myself? Though it had been somewhat of a fight (my main client had been pushing me to go on payroll), I was still technically self-employed. He smiled, leaned forward, his hands clasped on the desk in front of him. “I want in.”

Wait, what?

“I want in on your next big idea. You shouldn’t be working for them, and you shouldn’t be working for me. You should be doing this on your own, for yourself.” He tapped my resume; “It looks to me like this particular market is growing. I’m willing to invest.”

Woah.

Untitled

Well, that was nice to hear. I had a few concerns though.

I sound like a broken record, I know, but I so wanted to be a full-time mom. I wanted to decrease the amount of stress in my life, not add to it, and I was really, really worn out.

We sure talked about it, my husband and I. But in the end, I shelved it. It was an interesting idea, but an overwhelming one.

It wasn’t until after I had parted ways with the company several months later that the same sort of opportunity came up again, this time with someone new. The idea was a bit different as well, and it felt like it just might be worth considering.

theres-a-chance

Rather than simply offering to throw money at a ship with me at the helm, it was an offer to be a part owner in a new company. I wouldn’t be steering the ship alone, and my role could be one I was more comfortable with (behind-the-scenes design rather than managing teams and attending meetings). I would be able to control my hours, retain my work-at-home status without a fight, and prioritize my health and family above all else. My husband and kids voted a unanimous yes and I puked.

Saved-By-The-Bell-Jessies-Breakdown

Just kidding, I didn’t throw up.

I knew this sort of thing happened all the time — someone working for Reebok might get headhunted by Nike, or take the guy who left Springbar to start Kodiak Canvas — I just hadn’t planned on leaving one company to start a similar one, and it was not an easy decision.

After a lot of deliberation we came to an agreement. It was important to me that this new endeavor was completely ethical and aboveboard. I made it clear that I would not utilize anything I’d made for the other company; that we would have to start fresh with our own completely-from-scratch patterns, designs, and products. My partner-to-be of course, wholeheartedly agreed. He felt confident that I could come up with something uniquely ours, possibly even better.

It was nerve-wracking, but I felt good about it. I signed the operating agreements and began designing.

This time, for myself.