Entrepreneurs: Rebecca Finell & Ryan Fernandez
Rebecca Finell was an industrial design student with some terrific ideas for new kids’ products based on her experiences as a young mother of two. And Ryan Fernandez was a former Intel sales and marketing executive looking for startup businesses in which to invest.
When they and their spouses met at a church nursery two years ago, Boon - as in, a “boon” to parents - was born. Boon produces a playful yet practical line of bath-time and other products to help parents with their young children. Its products have caught on because they solve some of the most common child-rearing hassles in an aesthetic format.
“I like clean and contemporary, versus the normal kids’ products that have characters and licensed cartoons and stuff,” Rebecca says. “They are still fun colors and forms that appeal to kids. But let’s face it, parents are buying this stuff, not the kids!”
Boon’s first product, the Frog Pod, a wall-mounted storage device for bath toys, won the 2005 Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association Innovation Award. “We also won three other design competitions for the Frog Pod, so it was evident pretty quickly that we were on to something,” Rebecca says. Retailers ranging from Baby Outfitters to Toys R Us picked up Frog Pond last year and made it an instant hit.
And then Rebecca and Ryan got an exclusive deal with Target to feature their second product, a new kind of training potty. It debuted at the chain’s stores in mid-April and was expected to share, along with the Frog Pod, rarefied space on end caps nationwide for about three months. And Target wants Boon to continue feeding it new products.
Now the partners are anticipating 2006 revenues in the neighborhood of $6 million, and are talking openly about scaling Boon big – really big. “We think we can have 40 products out there within five years,” Ryan says.
Rebecca and Ryan’s Key Move: Playing to Your Strength
Her partner appreciates Rebecca’s design genius and recognizes her ability to apply it to the familiar challenges of motherhood as the key to Boon’s success.
“Usually, a designer sees someone else’s idea and adapts it,” Ryan says. “But what she does is original. And typically, her idea or her vision for a product is exactly what we are taking to market.”
But besides awe, another very common response to her inventions is, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The answer may be that Rebecca simply has a gift for design that others don’t.
But Rebecca also has trained herself to be aware of everyday “problems” that arise in the areas she knows best that simply scream out for product solutions – and that is something she says nearly anyone can learn to do, with the right awareness and discipline.
In Rebecca’s case, the creative arena is motherhood, and raising her two little children provides a continuous series of sparks to her creativity. “I am my demographic, and that helps,” she says. But more important, Rebecca immediately jumps on the “what if” thoughts that her mind generates in the course of interacting with her kids - and begins spinning out potential products.
Take the Frog Pod, for example. “Parents showered right on top of bath toys and they would just sit there until the next time the kid had a bath, or you could put them in a dishwasher and they would get stuck there,” Rebecca says. “There just weren’t a lot of solutions.”
So Rebecca came up with a giant plastic frog with a handle, which a parent can use to scoop up various toys that remain in the tub after the water is gone, drain them and store them on a clip that attaches to the tile around the tub.
Rebecca designed the Potty Bench because she hated teaching her kids with existing chairs. “I wanted something clean and cute that looked like a piece of furniture,” she says. She came up with a pull-out drawer for sanitary cleanup and included side compartments to hold toilet paper – “I hated having my daughter have to un-spin toilet paper all the way to the wall” – and the books or toys that help kids pass the time while they’re in training.
The “big one,” as Rebecca calls it, is Boon’s just-launched pneumatic high chair. In taking on mealtime, she is addressing perhaps the biggest daily frustration of childrearing. It easily moves up and down on a pedestal, with a lever, like an office chair. It has casters that roll and lock with one motion. It has a smooth plastic seat without all the cracks and crevices that harbor the food that kids – despite their parents’ best efforts – inevitably scatter all over themselves.
“We even made the tray fit between the armrests so it can go into a dishwasher,” Rebecca explains. “Why have a huge, cumbersome tray that you can’t even get into the kitchen sink? Kids are going to get food on the floor anyway. In this kind of way, with this chair, we addressed every issue that I had.”
But Flo might be Rebecca’s ultimate example of a product that stemmed from a “duh” moment. The device attaches to a bath faucet and spreads the water out to make it easy to rinse shampoo from kids’ heads – while protecting their noggins against the metal spout.
“I’m rinsing my children’s hair and they don’t want to bend over under the faucet and you don’t want to have to squish their head under there,” Rebecca explains. “Everyone says, ‘I always divert the water with my hand.
“Then they say, ‘I could have thought of that.’”
Rebecca and Ryan’s Bonus Insight
When they structured Boon, they determined that only a strict partnership of equals would do.
“This way, we just have to agree on every major decision, and there’s no way around it,” Ryan says. “I think that’s what’s best for the company. I see a lot of problems with partnerships that aren’t 50/50.”