Andrea Wulfing Van Ness
Meet the Mompreneur® of the Month January 2010:
Andrea Wulfing Van Ness
I am a single mom raising a son: Charlie, age 7
My Biz: Thumbuddy To Love
Congratulations to our January Mompreneur of the Month: Andrea Wulfing Van Ness. She was chosen through a competition during our Twitter holiday party! As a child, Andrea sucked her thumb. As a grownup, she tapped into that negative experience to create a positive teaching tool that helps thumb suckers quit the habit. We give her a thumbs up!
Business Birthdate: Started researching/writing in early 2007 but the products actually became available in December 2008.
What inspired my idea: I was a thumb sucker when I was 6. My dentist really tried hard to get me to quit because thumb sucking can ruin your teeth by pushing them forward and change the shape of your palate. It can even lead to speech problems.
My mother tried all the negative techniques to get me to stop thumb sucking, including painting my nails with that awful, bitter-tasting polish (which by the way has a dozen chemicals in it!). I would suck it right off and only want to suck more. It was my grandmother who hand sewed me a thumb puppet and told me the story of a hero who stopped sucking her thumb. I was so proud to have a new “buddy” that I quit sucking my thumb in a week and never looked back! I would take my buddy to school and go to bed with it on my thumb.
About two years ago, I remembered the positive aspects of this thumb puppet and decided to write two books: Thumbuddy To Love-Ballerina Sue (for girls) and Thumbuddy To Love-Fireman Fred (for boys). Each storybook comes with a matching Thumb puppet and a success chart and stickers. It won a Mom’s Choice Award in 2009.
How I got the business off the ground: I wrote the two books first and copyrighted them. Then I trademarked the name, Thumbuddy To Love™. I reserved a domain, hired a lawyer to patent Thumbuddy To Love, hired an illustrator who drew all the illustrations in the books and matched the Thumb puppets to the characters in the stories. It took lots of trial and error and patience to get the prototypes right.
My marketing strategy: I sent out a lot of press releases, articles to newspapers and magazines and many, many free samples! I also hired a marketing strategist. I set up a website first so that the products became available online and now, they are available on www.thumbuddytolove.com and on Amazon.com. They are also available in dentists’ offices and select stores.
Tips for balancing work and family: Work hard during the day, and try to relax when my son gets home from school and on weekends. But when you own your own business, there is always work to do–it definitely takes a lot to achieve a balance!
Why I enjoy the entrepreneurial life: Being an entrepreneur gives me the freedom to explore new ideas and to be creative with what I loved as a child. It’s especially gratifying to share my experience with kids and help them stop thumb sucking. Thumb sucking can be a very hard habit to break because children find it so comforting, Thumbuddy To Love can make that step a bit easier in a positive way!
My Support Network: I have done a lot of networking with Mom blogs and dentists. Sometimes I am busy just answering questions online about the product and talking to people who have thumb sucking children and how to give them support…I have not had time to network with other inventors but rely on my family and friends for ideas and emotional support. Owning a business and doing it all—from marketing to shipping to inventory—takes time, but it is time well spent!!
What’s next? I am currently writing the next two books with matching thumb puppets so I can offer a set to children who need extra help to stop thumb sucking. I am also working on publishing hardback versions of the original books.
Check out her store at Thumbuddy To Love