“My son and his friend came home from school and as we all do, I asked, ‘how was your day?’ as usual they quickly replied ‘good’ followed by ‘boring’ and then headed to the kitchen for a snack,” said Debbie Raisner Thompson. A serial entrepreneur, she shared the dilemma most Moms with school-aged children face, the dreaded one-word response.
Debbie had recently been certified to teach English and was home preparing to teach a class on opposites. She said, “I had just finished writing opposite words on colored popsicle sticks, when my son and his friend got home.” Inspired while cleaning the sticks, she asked them to tell a story from their day using one of the words on the sticks. Debbie said, “While they were eating their snack, my son’s friend said, ‘if my mom did this, I would tell her a story every day.’ My son agreed, adding, ‘you should try this with the girls when they get home.’” When Debbie’s daughters came home she said, “it was the same thing, the reaction was really great!” They kept a set of sticks on their table and made extra sets for friends to try. It sparked an ongoing conversation.
Enlist Family Support From the Start
Moms who are blessed with creative ideas rarely explore their commercial potential. The myriad of steps and costs, to move from fuzzy concept to product launch, can feel daunting. Debbie was already running a small business, raising three kids and doing all the other things we Moms do. However, she spent months talking about ways to make them on a much larger scale with her family and the idea, stayed with her. She chose early to keep her family engaged in the process, for support and inspiration. Of course, this makes it more fulfilling and complex.
Tap Into Your Children’s Creative Energy
Debbie’s kids helped design the product. She said, “They decided to include 26 sticks, from A to Z, with words, like ‘Awful and Amazing,’ ‘Brilliant and Boring,’ loosely keeping with the opposites theme. We made prototypes at The Makery (a local maker space) which enabled us to take them from handwritten popsicle sticks to prototypes.” She added, “That was a very long, fabulously informative, expensive exercise but it was all worth it.” She explained that when a friend offered to promote them at her local yoga studio she was motivated to move into full production. Debbie said, “I knew I needed something I was proud of.” This was in September and she wanted to launch them in time for the December holidays.
Embrace The Messy (But Wonderful) Business of Scaling
Debbie said, “There were so many unknowns. So many things I needed to learn. So many failures. It was the quintessential staying up until 2 in the morning, working on it all night and all day. It was the greatest irony, I was making a product to help you connect with your family yet hadn’t talked to my own kids in days.” I laughed with her. Her home is still the manufacturing plant. She explained, “Our den is still covered with tins, labels, containers, mailing tubes, tape and much more. Then there is the assembly, applying the labels is so tricky. If the dog barks and I move a little, I have to get rid of the tin because the label is permanently stuck on it!” Now she weighs every single package and is in the process of finding a one-stop shop to improve efficiency. But scaling, although critical, works better after testing and learning.
Lose Control of Your Product (in a Good Way)
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Debbie said, surprised and delighted by the unexpected uses for her vision. She’s heard stories from teachers, therapists and even business leaders who use them with prospective new hires. Debbie added, “Many people share that they really like how the sticks give everyone a chance to speak, one at a time, much like a Native American Talking Stick. I love all the different ways people are using them.” After the launch, as the product gained momentum, she realized she wanted to reset how she involved her kids.
Even a Family Business Needs Boundaries
The race to launch in December was difficult, Debbie explained, “There was an enormous amount of work to be done and we encountered a whole bunch of snafus. I regularly asked the kids for help as I was urgently trying to get stuff out for the holidays. I realized that our fun family project was turning into time consuming ‘must-dos’ rather than ‘want-to-dos.’ They had already spent a tremendous amount of time getting the product launched and I wanted them to look back on it with a sense of pride. I realized their best contributions would be on the creative side, rather than production. I started asking them for advice rather than tedious production help and it became a ‘we’ thing again.” Brilliant. She’s also found clever ways to connect her leadership values to family values.
Decide What Comes Off the To-Do List
Although many of us were raised on the ‘have it all’ fantasy, savvy entrepreneurs realize ruthless prioritization is often required. Debbie had to make changes to focus on the launch, “For the month of December, I completely neglected household stuff. I totally relied on my husband for everything. I couldn’t spend my time on dishes if I wanted to get this product out for the holidays.” Yes! She added, “Thankfully, things resumed back to normal (kind-of) in January.” How did she restore her self-care routines?
Model Self-Care, Teamwork & Balance
Debbie recognizes self-care as important for her and as a parent, she said, “I take care of it, I do. This is how they’re going to learn when they start something, that balance is crazy important.” Yes! She added, “You often only hear people talk about the difficulties of balance after an entrepreneur has become successful. That’s often when you hear the backstory. I want to think about these things from the beginning.” Awesome and important. However, Debbie’s self-care doesn’t always follow the plan and requires a flexible mindset. She was prepared to workout before we met but had to adjust, “I also run another business. I drove to the gym, then received a client call. I spent the entire time in my car! I just sat there.” Sigh. Debbie is aware of the constant need to reassess the priorities. The joy of watching the product grow helps mitigate the tradeoffs. Her children, who even picked the product name, ‘ChatStix’ have been thrilled to hear stories from families who are now using them. She said, “My dream is to find a way to get a set on every table in the US!” An incredible goal for a mission driven product.
Many thanks to the talented Debbie Raisner Thompson, the Founder and CEO of Chatstix a revolution in communication. Learn more about how to order Chatstix on her company’s website and follow the great adventure on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Debbie is an accomplished entrepreneur and chronic connector for organizations and individuals across industries. She blends many years of legal experience with sales, business development and business strategy.