Millybutton has been on a fast track to manufacture since September 2015 when Amazon invited us to launch on Amazon Launchpad. But the journey that got us there, and the path that still lies before us, has been filled with many twists and turns.
Up until that point we were not intending to manufacture for a variety of reasons; our main concern being the price per unit to manufacture was too high. We felt licensing our patent to a company with manufacturing and distribution in place would be a better option.
We signed a contract with a company that said they would help us license in the Medical Industry.
We were invited to an event they were hosting anticipating helping them pitch our product to prospecting companies. With their prep and encouragement, we ended up giving an impromptu presentation to Amazon.
We were so confused—we didn’t have a manufactured product—why would we pitch to Amazon?
To our incredible surprise Amazon loved the Millybutton, even though we stood in front of them with a broken prototype—they believed people would like both our product and the story behind it. Our minds were blown! At the end of the day Amazon encouraged us to go manufacture so we can launch on their new program called Amazon Launchpad. This was an amazing opportunity that we were in no way expecting.
However, what comes up, must come down.
We were totally freaked out because we had no idea how to get a product to market or how we were going to fund manufacturing. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! So we did what many starry eyed, first time entrepreneurs would do—and took a leap of faith.
However, there were still seemingly mountainous tasks to overcome. We had a patent on a product that was too expensive to make, no business model, no idea what kind of company we wanted to be, we had no idea of our true potential.
Little did we realize the resources available to us in Pittsburgh!
My mother had been part of a Chatham University’s small business program a few years’ prior called MyConsulting Corner at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, Anne Flynn Schlicht and Robert Graham ran the program. We reached out to them, and to this day I am impressed at how accessible they were and how they dove right in. They suggested we look into a local accelerator, to get advice and direction.
Having no idea what an “accelerator” even was, I met with the head of AlphaLab Gear during open office hours. All I could think was, “Wow, this is such a cool concept—I can’t believe we have one of these in Pittsburgh. This is not the same city I left in 2000.” Although we are not a part of an accelerator, we now find ourselves submerged in the Pittsburgh startup arena.
I used the local Tech Shop and redesigned the Millybutton to be manufactured locally, cutting our startup costs in half. We have competed for one accelerator, launched our website, presented at the 3 Rivers Ventures Fair, and developed a workable prototype that is not going to fall apart.
Currently, we are participating in the MyPath Program through Chatham University’s Center for Women Entrepreneurship. Through their mentorship and guidance, we have figured out our financing, secured an intern, developed a team, and found affordable local manufacturing.
I continue to be amazed by the startup community in Pittsburgh. There are so many resources: classes, lectures, and groups. The people who have helped us along the way are unbiased and very committed to seeing everyone succeed!
We continue to fumble along figuring things out as we go, only to be asked new questions by our mentors, who push us every day towards success.
Millybutton has taken on a life of its own, and I couldn’t be happier. If Amazon had not opened that door for us, believed in Millybutton or encouraged us to manufacture, we would have missed out on this great adventure, and on this opportunity to gain valuable life experience.
Remember, always surround yourself with people smarter than you. You do not have to know all the answers, or be good at everything, but you do have to know when and how to ask for help.
And if you’re lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh, you’ll have an amazing support system at your disposal to challenge you and to catch you when you fall.