Austinite Brenda Lee Feldman went on ABC’s “Shark Tank” last month and asked the sharks for $400,000 for a 10 percent stake in her company InchBug.
Feldman, 46, began Inchbug in 2004, after she brought her then 18-month-old daughter to a Mother’s Day Out program. She was told everything she brought to the program had to have her daughter’s name on it. Feldman resorted to labeling using a permanent marker right on the item or permanent marker on masking tape.
The problem was that permanent marker wasn’t so permanent when bottles and sippy cups go into the dishwasher. She found herself having to label items again and again.
Then one day, she put her ponytail holder around a bottle in the cup holder of her car and thought, “Can’t we make something just like that?” she says. It would be something you could personalize that would go around bottles and then sippy cups and then water bottles as children grew.
That was the idea for Orbit labels, which come in eight different colors and are personalized with your child’s name or even your child’s name in Braille. The labels are an elastomeric material that is food grade-quality (so if your child slobbered on it, she would be fine). They stretch to fit on any bottle and come in a pack of four for $12.95 at InchBug.com.
Feldman, who had a previous career in sales but left to become a stay-at-home mom, spent 2005 doing the research into developing the right material that would do what she wanted — stretch easily, be safe for children, be thick enough to stamp a child’s name in it and not break when used over and over again. She tested the labels at Gymboree and asked the parents there what they thought of them and how much they would pay for them.
By March 2006, she had her first sale, and soon she was heading to children’s product shows to get Orbit labels in front of people. At one show, that year, an editor at Parents magazine saw it and wrote a small article about it. That was the jump start InchBug needed. Within months Feldman was moving the business out of her house and into a warehouse and adding employees. She now has 10.
Husband Keith’s career as a secret service agent on the Jenna Bush detail moved them to Austin in 2007. Not sitting on her success, Feldman was always thinking of new products she could add to Inchbug’s line. She now has many labels including allergy label stickers, stickers for dating items, shoe stickers that help your kid know the right shoe from the left shoe, label stickers with kids’ pictures on them, bag labels and electrical cord labels.
In 2013, she started developing MyDrinky. It’s a juicebox holder with handles that fits any size juice box or pouch. The idea is to prevent kids (or, quite frankly, their parents) from accidentally squeezing the juice box, squirting juice all over the place.
MyDrinky was the product she wanted to take to “Shark Tank,” when she filmed it in September. Her goal was to get a cash infusion and to get a shark’s connections to put the product into the retail market. Yet, the sharks didn’t see it her way.
Impressed with her $15 million in sales of Orbit labels, they didn’t want her to pursue retail for MyDrinky.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Lori Greiner said to her.
Mr. Wonderful Kevin O’Leary told her: “Listen, you’re the real deal,” which sounds hopeful, and then “MyDrinky is a dog.”
Mark Cuban told her that customizing was her core competency and she should stick with that.
She left without a deal because she didn’t want to give up her dream of getting MyDrinky into retail. This month, she did just that. MyDrinky is in 21 Buy Buy Baby stores (none in Austin just yet). They sell for $9.95 each.
Feldman doesn’t have hard feelings about her “Shark Tank” experience, though. “It was a great experience,” she says. “It’s funny how they just edit so much out of it. They were very complimentary of our business model and how well we’ve done; the growth we’ve had.”
The TV show did bring her a new audience for her Orbit and other label products. “We had record sales,” she says the week after the show aired.
Feldman is constantly looking for new products and new labeling items, too. Now that her children are 12 and 13, she’s working to include more things that kids in middle school and beyond need.
“Labeling is needed no matter what age you are,” she says. “You still want your stuff to come back to you.”