Let Me Take You to the Beginning of This Story...
I was born in 1977 in Albert Lea, Minnesota and raised by great humans who loved me very much. Four years later, almost to the day, my little brother Eric was born. Our birthdays are a day apart.
I joined the Army after giving college a go for a year. I spent the next 10+ years of my life traveling the country and the world. I learned two languages, got a top-secret security clearance, went cool places and did really cool stuff. A few years after I joined the Army, I convinced Eric to do the same! We were both stationed in Europe at the same time and even got to deploy to Kuwait/Iraq together.
During those ten years, I learned a lot and had some great experiences; also some really awful experiences. Now, it feels like a movie I watched once rather than a life I lived. I wouldn’t change a thing.
It took me awhile to adjust to ‘civilian life’ when I left the Army, but finally at age 40 I ended up with the perfect man for me and we started our family!
Shortly after having our first baby, I went out to lunch with a few of my girlfriends and their babies. The girls were cute but a total distraction the whole meal. They were dropping and throwing everything that was in front of them.
I immediately went to Amazon on my phone to look for something to buy that would prevent my new child from being ‘that guy’ when he was old enough to go out to eat with us.
I wanted a clean place to put his food and a way to keep his toys off the ground. There were cheap placemats to stick to the tables, and a couple pacifier-clip-type tether products on the market, but no all-in-one product that would do what I wanted.
The next day on my way to work, an idea popped into my head. I immediately started cutting and gluing things together to make the first prototypes of what is now the Busy Baby Mat. I made one for myself and one for my best friend who had a baby 8 days after me.
About a month later, my friend sent me a message that she had forgotten their ‘mat thingy’ the previous night and it was a miserable experience. She said she never knew how useful it was until she didn’t have it and suggested that I “make it for real.”
I had no idea how to turn my little idea into something that was real, that people would actually buy.
What I did have was my dad’s work ethic and no-excuses mindset. I had my 10 years of ‘adapt and overcome’ military mentality. I also had the stubborn tenacity of most of my Fynbo relatives.
I kept putting one foot in front of the other, taking the next ‘right’ step and learning along the way.
I found professionals to help me do the things I didn’t have the skills to do. I scraped together the money that I needed during each step.
I signed up for every single business or pitch competition there was and took every opportunity I had to talk about my product.
I ended up gaining dozens of great mentors, business friends, and over $100,000 in prize money!
How an Accidental Email Got Me On TV
I took my first entrepreneurship course through Bunker Labs, a non-profit organization that helps veterans and their family members start businesses. They told me that Shark Tank had reached out looking for veterans to feature on the show. I wasn’t ready yet, but I took the producer’s email address and filed it into my contact list.
A year later, I launched the very first Busy Baby Mats! I had so many feelings taking the first 100 orders to my local Post Office. Excitement. Fear. Anxiety. More excitement.
Six months later I reached back out, not because I had the sales they wanted, but because my first patent was issued! I asked if that made any difference and was assured it certainly did; however they had just wrapped filming Season 11. I was told to reach back out again in the spring when they started casting for Season 12.
By Spring of 2020, just 15 months after my product launch, I had surpassed the sales goal and had a 2nd patent issued! I wearily reached back out, unsure if they would even be filming another season in the thick of a pandemic.
This time they told me to send in an audition video. Even though I had just had my second baby 8 weeks prior, I found a video crew to help put together a killer audition. I thought my intro was pretty clever.
When my first products were ready to sell, I sent my launch email to literally every single email address I had in my Gmail and yahoo accounts, all the way back to high school, to include the Shark Tank producer that I had forgotten all about. The next day he replied!
I wasn’t ready to go on the show at that point. I had just launched the product and didn’t have enough sales. Even though they take companies at any stage, he thought I would be better set up for success if I had at least $100,000 in sales. I was instructed to reach back out when I had gotten a bit further down the road.
Three months later I got the call that I would fly to Las Vegas to film the show and that I couldn’t tell ANYONE! I was still working my full-time job at the time so I put in my vacation request.
Three negative Covid test results and 8 days of total seclusion in quarantine later, I found myself standing in front of the Sharks.
I spent about 50 minutes talking to Mark, Damon, Mr. Wonderful, Lori, and Robert about my invention, my path to market, and my plans for the future. In the end, Lori made me an offer that I turned down.
I was expanding my product line and wanted a ‘Shark’ to help me get into retail stores and take my products to international markets. Lori just wanted to license the hero product away to another company and, “sit back and let the checks roll in.” Our goals for the company couldn’t have been further apart.
I turned around and left the room, flew home, and only heard from the show one more time months later.
You see, when you go through the Shark Tank process, they tell you that there is no guarantee you will ever make it on air. Even if you make a deal with a ‘Shark’, you might not ever get on TV! IF you were assigned an air date, they would contact you two weeks in advance, but even then, there was still no guarantee.
I had some decisions to make.
It takes 2-3 months for me to get products made and delivered to my door. IF I got the notification that I would be on air, presumably there would be a HUGE spike in sales, and I would need to have sufficient inventory on hand. Two weeks wouldn’t be enough time to stock up.
I took the risk and invested in a significant amount of inventory, like way more than everything in my life put together is worth.
I also convinced my brother to quit a very stable career where he excelled to come join me in the very unstable world of a start-up. Business was already growing at an extremely rapid pace and if I did get on air, I was going to need help!
One of my favorite parts of this whole story happened in February of 2021.
My dad, the welder, was finally working towards a semi-retirement and was clearing out his 5,000 square foot building and moving his business out to his property.
Busy Baby just happened to need about 5,000 square feet to store a massive influx of inventory that was coming in hope of airing on Shark Tank.
February 10th was a busy morning of helping dad move out and moving in another full container of Busy Baby Mats. I looked at the massive amount of product in the building and put a request out to the universe to please help this not be a mistake!
When we were done, my brother, my dad, and I went to our favorite pizza place for lunch. During that lunch, I checked my email and saw the subject line: March 5th Air Date.
It might have been one of the most emotional moments of my life.
I didn’t realize how much pressure I was under, taking on so much debt and continuously working to succeed so I wouldn’t fail my brother. Not only did I feel an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders, but I got to share in that excitement with my dad and my brother.
The next two weeks was a flurry of preparations to get ready to fill a gazillion (we hoped) orders.
I was also doing several interviews on the local news and was featured on the front page or our hometown newspaper.
By the time March 5th rolled around, we were ready to go and excited to watch the show air with our closest friends and family.
What Life Has Been Like Since the Show Aired
Sales stayed pretty active for the next couple of weeks after I aired on the show, and then they leveled off at a slightly higher new normal.
By the time the show aired, we had launched our second product, the Busy Baby Teether & Training Spoon and were working on our next product, the Busy Baby Mini Mat.
My brother and I were also learning how to work together.
Even though we had done many hard things together in our lives, like deploying to Iraq, we had never had to navigate anything like working together to try to run a business that neither of us really had any experience with.
It took about a year to get comfortable and find our groove. We recently took a look back on 2021 and realized that even though it was tricky to navigate, we grew our product line from one hero product to SIX and built a BRAND that is now known nation-wide!
Now that my babies are no longer babies, I’m working on solving new problems that every mom and dad face. We are releasing a whole new line of products designed for toddlers!
Stay tuned for more... and thanks for following along on this journey!
Shark Tank Fun Facts
I had to do my rehearsal from quarantine on an iPad over Zoom! I didn’t get to see my set until I walked out there on filming day!
I had to walk the hallway twice! Apparently, you could see my microphone though my shirt so they had to switch it out and I had to start over. It was great to get the nerves out! If you watch my entrance into the tank, you can see the microphone color switch on my shirt.
I actually spent 50 minutes ‘in the tank’, but it got edited down to about 10. There was some interesting banter that I wish would have made it to air, like Mark actually yell at Lori in my defense.
Mark is awesome! He was so positive and supportive. I felt like I was an all-star on the Mavs court.
Other than the one email announcing my air date, I never heard from any one at Shark Tank ever again.
We did 6 weeks’ worth of sales the weekend my episode aired!