A couple months ago, I was on the phone with Tin Shingle member Zaida Khaze, founder of WiggleTot, in what I thought would be a quick "welcome to the Tin Shingle community phone call". I knew she was the innovator of a must-have product for any mom with diaper-wearing children, but I didn't know much more. I am not exaggerating when I say that 45 minutes later I was still silently listening with rapt attention as she told me her business and life story (they were so inextricably linked as so many entrepreneurial stories are). The moment I hung up I texted co-founder Katie and then my husband, bursting with a story that I had to share.
Zaida's story is truly an example of one of those "everything happens for a reason" stories. She is a living example of someone who has been faced with multiple life challenges, yet keeps forging ahead and letting what some would consider to be "dream dealbreakers" just become jumping off points for something amazing. No matter where you are in your business or your life, let her inspire you to follow your passion and let challenges serve as motivation to keep doing and creating great things!
What experiences led you to dream up the idea that is now WiggleTot?
When I had my first baby I was sleep deprived. I didn’t have family living nearby and my husband’s occupation had him traveling or working nights. Nursing, cleaning, and catering to my baby overwhelmed me. Then when my daughter was 5-months old and had the capability of self-movement, diaper changing became a dreaded event. Sometimes, she would try to turn over just because she now could. I get it she wants to explore. Most of the times, Ameera didn’t want to lay there pressed against her own soiled diaper. Who could blame her? Mind you, feces don’t become solid until a 1 year old eats solids full-time. Those were the hard times because it meant hysterically crying while I am trying to hold her down, wipe and clean, unfasten and fasten a diaper without any spilling. Do you know how many times you have to change a baby at that age? At least 7 times a day. I would run out of clean changing pad covers and throw whatever towel or blanket over the changing pad. I was finding myself doing the laundry everyday because I was running out of clothes. What’s worse, once the mustard color spillage from the diaper touched her clothes it was wrap. There was no saving that baby garment. (Remember, you can’t use bleach on baby clothes so that stain is there forever.)
Now compile those reasons with the fact that babies grow the most in their first year and you are already getting rid of clothes that no longer fit on a weekly/monthly basis. I know what you’re thinking; it won’t be so bad once Capri jogging pants come back in fashion but until then.
I had to think of a plan to be more efficient. I would constantly remind myself that I once worked for a downsizing company doing multiple jobs all at once, staying within budget and on schedule. I can do this. I would ask myself periodically, how can I keep my daughter happily engaged and still while diaper changing her? One day, I saw a Pillow Pet commercial with a woman demonstrating closing a Pillow Pet with a closing flap to cover the Velcro. Lights went off in my head visualizing a closing flap on the changing pad cover for use outside of diaper changing. Velcro will also make closing the vest fast and effortless, which is important because of the amount of times a baby needs a diaper change in a day. That was the day that the Wiggletot idea was born!
Several moms out there probably have ideas that they think would make their lives better but not all of them act on those ideas. As someone who did not come from the baby product industry, what factors and feelings led you to decide to turn your idea into a business?
I decided to turn my idea into a business because I have had successful experience executing ideas from concepts to completion working on projects for various companies. Over the years, I used to always get encouragement from my boyfriend who is now my husband to start my own business. I never had the courage before because it was always easier for me to sell someone else’s product than to sell myself.
I had great difficulty in that area but once you have kids the way you think somehow changes. I now had the responsibility of securing a future for my daughter. I believed enough in the benefit of WiggleTot and I needed to take the risk.
I had a fear for returning to the workforce because of a head injury that I sustained when I was a teenager. My short-term memory, and cognitive skills were impaired and I got extremely tired during mental activities like reading, writing, basically thinking. However, my logical reasoning increased immensely. I literally had to eat, breath and live my jobs fulltime to be successful in the positions. It was no coincidence why I focused on applying for jobs in the entertainment industry. Who wouldn’t mind researching the buying behaviors of music and movie consumers all the time?
But that was me, before kids. I now feared being too tired or impatient and not enjoying my daughter when I wasn’t working because of over exertion. It was a hard decision deciding whether or not I should get a full-time job or start my own business. We bought our last house with the intention of having two incomes. I believe in going with the current of the water. Looking at all these factors, starting my own business seemed like the right decision. That and being told, “I should stay home and tend to my daughter because something is not right and she cannot advocate for herself.
What were some of the first things you had to do in order to turn your vision into a sellable product?
The first thing I did was research if a patent or similar patent already existed. After I received those results from a lawyer via email I made an appointment with a patent attorney. Before the appointment, I had to take the drawing of my product and create a prototype. I went to an arts and craft store and bought fabric and Velcro (hook and loop fastener). I took my materials to two difference tailors. One to make the vest and the other to make the changing pad cover. Why two? Because I didn’t want them to piece together my invention before my patent was approved.
I then took baby toys appropriate for the age and stitched them onto the vest. Voila, my prototype was created for my patent attorney. Once my patent was approved, I had to test the market to see if there was a need for my product before I invested any more money into the business. I created a survey to test if a diaper-changing dilemma existed outside of my household. I created it through Zoomerang and I went online asking many mom, dads and caregivers to fill out. The key results made me go forward to the next level. Only 7% mentioned that they never had difficulty keeping their toddler still while changing their diaper whereas 45% stated they did depending on what was in the diaper and 34% said usually. In the last question, 88% of the respondents stated the infant/toddler in movement during a diaper change has led to the infant/toddler turning over while strapped in the belt of the changing pad, feces on the changing pad, feces on the infant/toddler’s clothing, feces spread on other body parts of the infant/toddler, feces smeared on yourself and/or all of the above.
Now that I know the problem exists, I had to test my WiggleTot solution. My younger daughter Zara was ten months old and perfect for demonstrating the problem and solution of diaper changing a wiggly baby. I took video of her four or five times on different days in different clothing to show that this dilemma is a constant occurrence for her age group. I received lots of positive feedback and my video was receiving more hits than Huggies diaper changing squirmy baby videos. It was enough proof to me that I should finance the diaper changing squirmy babies product by any means necessary.
Finding someone to manufacture products without having to create huge minimums can be a challenge, yet you had a special personal moment that led to your manufacturing capabilities – can you share this with us?
I was having great difficulty finding a facility to have my diaper changing sets manufactured. Because my product was unique, companies either quoted me prices where I wouldn’t make a profit, very large minimum orders which I couldn’t afford or completely passed on manufacturing my product altogether.
During this time of limbo, I was at home making strides with my daughter (who was diagnosed with autism) on this restrictive diet that helped with her processing of information and focus. I came upon this remedy for kids with social disorders after I saw little progress from her seeing behavioral and speech therapists four days a week at my home.
One day when my husband was retrieving our daughter’s belongings at her old school he overheard a mother being told her son should have an evaluation. He briefly spoke to the nervous woman and told her to email me for guidance and tips. This mom and I started exchanging emails back and forth sharing contacts, tips and diet recipes. After weeks of emailing and texting, she asked me how I spent the rest of my time. I sent her my Youtube video demonstrating my diaper changing dilemma video with my prototype. She replied via text: “this is a great product and my family has been in the manufacturing business in China for the last 20 years. I can help you. “ And she did. Her brother found me a manufacturing company at the best possible price and they both assisted in finding me a custom broker, tax attorney, and freight shipper. All of these contacts at no additional charge because I helped his sister and nephew.
How have your roles as entrepreneur and mother overlapped and impacted each other?
The role of an entrepreneur and mother overlap and impact each other. I have to stay extremely organized in both areas or else there will be chaos. My daughter's restrictive diet has me making almost everything she eats from scratch. I have to make her meals, bread, cookies, cupcakes, popsicles, ice-cream, and sauces from scratch. That takes a lot of organization making sure I have all of the ingredients to make things for home, school, parties, holiday festivites etc. To do this successfully, I plan 7-day meals in advance making sure there are enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow with an alternative side. I am always scheduling in my head how long what I have in the fridge will last for both of my girls.
Once I know that, I structured how I will organize the rest of my business day and night allotting time for dinner, bath and bed. Working from home, I am able to observe my kids in their school environment and have an ongoing relationship with teachers to maximize my children’s learning and social engagements in school.
You have been outspoken about your daughter’s journey with autism. In many ways it’s been tied to your own business journey, and being an entrepreneur has allowed you to dedicate the time you need to help change her life for the better, can you tell us more about that?
I will be honest with you. When my daughter was diagnosed with PDD (Spectrum of Autism) I didn’t tell anyone. I simply said she had to go to a new school because she needed speech therapy. My daughter was only saying random one-words at three years old. I didn’t want anyone to form a bias towards her. The more I learned about the disorder the faster I saw her options lessening for her future. I wasn’t going to let that happen.
My conscious mind kept reminding me that once upon a time a Neurologist told me 'that I could still have a job as a cashier' after I asked him about my career options following a severe head injury that I sustained. I was a direct marketer for many years and I would use my experience to analyze my daughter; testing one component at a time looking for variable changes. Last May 2014, a behavioral doctor evaluated her and removed the Autism diagnosis. She still has some delays but none that I can’t help her with. She has been mainstreamed into regular classes since September and academically is par for the course for her age. Now, I am able to focus on building my brand, maintaining close contact with my daughter’s teacher while simultaneously sharing tips with parents of kids with Social Disorders whenever applicable.
How do you manage to “stay the course” when taking care of two kids and growing a brand new business?
I was able to stay the course because every time I did the right thing and didn’t sacrifice at the expense of my children an opportunity arose. Call it a coincidence but being approved for my patent a week after hearing the news about my daughter's health was virtually a career path laid out for me. My kids are my inspiration.
Every time I get invited to go out or I am too tired to work. I think about how the success of WiggleTot will benefit my girls. And it should because they inspired it. My first daughter inspired the idea of WiggleTot, and my second demonstrated the need through a Youtube video. I stay the course with growing a new business while looking after two kids because I have to. If something happens to me, I need to know there will be someone to cook these foods for my daughter. This devastating fact was made apparent to me after being told by a mom whose son was extremely autistic that the diet was too much of a commitment for them. She wasn’t lying. It is a big commitment and I have to do whatever I can to build my brand for those same reasons.
What are some of your big goals for WiggleTot as we move into the 2014 holiday season and into 2015?
In the near future, I would like the opportunity to have WiggleTot featured in local press for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. My big goals are having my product featured on a Daytime Talk Show and in a Magazine for new moms. Hopefully, the press would assist in securing a retail spot in Buy Buy Baby and Babies R Us. I have one uniform cream color diaper changing set for boys and girls. In 2015, I want two additional colors one targeting boys and the other for girls.
If you could give advice to moms who have their own ideas they’d like to turn into products, what would it be?
Do your research. Make sure your product doesn’t already exist and if it does exist, is there a patent? Could you make a variation of it? There are a lot of online mom forums that you could test your ideas to see if there is a market for it. Don’t let obstacles deter you from your goals. A roadblock somewhere may be an opportunity elsewhere. Believe in yourself, stay optimistic and visualize your ideal situation whenever you need a pick-me-up.