The terrifying thing: part three

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.

[This is where I’d show you a picture of the PILE of busted monofins we had, but I’m classy, yo. Though you will see some parts of them in the Kickstarter video, but no brand names show.]

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.

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 it 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?

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 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.

Aw, crap… slight delay

Update: Substitute “Friday” in all mentions below for “Saturday.” Or possibly “Monday” depending on how strong that siren call of the weekend is (it’s pretty strong). I feel really bad about my inability to stick to a blog plan, but hopefully it’s not a terrible surprise. I do this, I know. Next time remind me to schedule these silly ‘to be continued’ things a week apart.

Also, Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you get a nap and lots of chocolate.

failed

Hey guys, I’m so sorry. I thought the second post was ready to go. I know myself and my inability to stick to any kind of blog schedule, so I made sure to have my four post series ready so there wouldn’t be unsightly gaps between the posts. Nothing like a “to be continued…” and then have to wait four weeks for the next installment.

I should have known my fragile health would thwart my super power organizational blog posting wizard plans. I had mega insomnia last night (seriously, saw the sun come up), was able to go over my 2nd post with bleary eyes around 10am on no sleep and got sent it off to my little group of friendly proofreaders. I thought I could manage to stay awake until they got back to me, and have it live by noon. Ha. I got the kids going on their schoolwork and promptly face planted on my pillow.

I woke at 4 and needed to cram in an entire day’s worth of momming into the evening hours and get some nourishment stuffed into my face hole. The big one, with teeth, to be clear. Now it’s 11 and that massive sleep deficit has successfully convinced me that I’m really did have a conversation with Lenny Kravitz about cheese puffs (it was so real, man). I’m also now 90% positive that entire blog post is a hallucination and I’m really still asleep.

I'm not listening to you.  I mean, what does a SQUIRREL know about mental health?

I have a doctor appt. in Utah tomorrow but I’ll do my best to get that sucker posted, k? It might be Friday if I run out of spoons again, so please don’t hate me if that’s the case. I pinkie promise I’m not trying to drag this out on purpose… she says as she realizes that she could have done some editing in the time it took to write the explanation and apology. Blogging fail. I know. Jennifer whatsherface Katniss knows it too. Oh my gosh, what is her name? I know it’s not Kravitz.

Now, sleep!

The terrifying thing, part one

I have a really hard time telling a story without first giving you all the background. I have an announcement of sorts, but I want to explain before I get into all the details. I don’t appreciate link-bait teaser type posts though, so I’ll tell you up front, the announcement is that I’m working again, and have been for a while.

ribbon-cutting

I’ve been designing, developing, and testing product for a company that hasn’t quite launched yet. They (we) are going to be kicking things off in April with a Kickstarter. And I am deeply involved in the process (I even have a patent pending, holy crow) and will be the ‘face’ of the product launch.

This is terrifying.

It’s mind-numbingly terrifying, actually. For a myriad of reasons that I want to tell you about. But a little background first, okay? It’ll make me feel better if I know you have the whole story and not just bits of it.

Once upon a time

As most of you know, after selling our online fabric store my husband and I agreed to switch roles. I became the sole breadwinner for the family, and my husband took over the primary parenting role and homeschooled our children.

This arrangement lasted for nearly two years. There were lots of things I wanted to write about during this period, but couldn’t really. A lot of what’s happening now has to do with what happened then, and I think the time is right for sharing some of my experiences.

In the midst of it all I had a bit of a blog identity crisis. I didn’t know what to do with this space. I had already been mindfully moving away from posting as much about my children; they were growing up and I gave them a say in what I might write about online. Increasingly, they were vetoing blog topics and photos that featured them, and I respected that. Besides, with my husband handling the homeschooling during this time, I didn’t have the same kind of day to day interaction that I’d had in the past; the kind that naturally resulted in photos and posts about our home life.

Pensieri collaterali detail

Obviously there is more to life than picturesque photos of art projects or nature walks, so a natural blog shift would have included more posts about work, but writing about work is a tricky thing to do without upsetting others or looking tacky (eg: complaining about work you should be grateful to have). Plus, a lot of what I wanted to write about had to do with highly frustrating and distressing negotiations with one of my clients. At the time I felt a lot of pressure to make the relationship work as the gig made up the bulk of my income, so I didn’t want to risk making things worse by venting here.

I wasn’t happy though, and several stars aligned (house sold, husband got a job) I was able to walk away. It was an enormous relief.

F@#$ it, I quit!

During some of my most frustrating experiences with my main client in the previous year, I’d begun sending out resumes and interviewed with several web design firms that offered remote positions. Through this process I made a contact that would later result in a very interesting business opportunity.

either way sign

I was really, really (REALLY) burned out, and my health had begun its downward spiral. I was so happy to not be working and feel like my own person again, I wasn’t sure if I should take this opportunity or not. I wanted badly to be able to be a full time mother, but did I have the luxury and privilege of not working? I wasn’t sure. Even though we were debt free, it felt like we still had a long way to go towards secure financial footing (eg: savings, retirement, homestead / farm dreams, house building, etc.) My husband had managed to replace my income, but was it enough to get us ahead? And it was an amazing offer.

Taking this chance could really help us out in that department if I could figure out how to make it work while still being able to prioritize my health and family.

Take a chance

We struck a deal, and I began.