Interview: Rikki Mor, Founder, Knot Genie

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Photo: Rikki Mor & Jeff Probst at the Emmy’s

How did Rikki Mor, Founder, Knot Genie  turn a dreaded hair brushing experience for her and her daughters into a positive one and a successful business?

  • When her 2nd manufacturing run of 10,000 units were defective and she had no recourse, learn what business changes she made.
  • Learn how her business skyrocketed in the first six months and what she attributes it to. Daily Candy? Sales Rep? Hard work?
  • How did she go from approaching bloggers to have 5-10 approach her each week within the first year?
  • Ever wonder if participating the Emmy’s and Emmy Swag Bag is really valuable?  Learn her first-hand experience of pro’s and con’s
  • What happened when she landed her product on The Today Show’s segment “must-have items for moms”
  • Her 3 tips on how to get into 500 stores/salons — It’s not what you think!

READ the Transcript

Rachel:     Hi, I’m Rachel Olsen, Founder of Best Mom Products where mompreneurs share their adventures in business. Today I’m talking with Rikki Mor, Founder of the Knot Genie detangling hairbrush. When Rikki’s twin daughters were in tears after every bath, scared to get their hair brushed, Rikki ended up in tears too. That’s when her Aha moment came. She turned a painful experience into something enjoyable for both her and her daughters. Knot Genie was born. Today we’ll learn how she went about manufacturing, marketing, landing her product in the Emmy Swag Bag and on the Today  Show as well as getting into over 500 stores and salons. Rikki, that’s a lot. Are you ready to get started?

Rikki:      I am, sounds great.

Rachel:     Oh, great. Well, it’s nice to have you. Can you tell the audience how long you’ve been in business, how old your daughters and your other child were at that time compared to now and the first thing you did to get started.

Rikki:      Sure. The idea of the Knot Genie, which didn’t have a name at the time, probably evolved when my twins were around three or four and stayed as an idea until just after the point I couldn’t take it anymore and I said to my husband, “I just can’t be the only one dealing with this,” at which point we started the process of looking to have it made, getting it created, working with some engineers on drawings and things like that. Then the first shipment of brushes arrived to my house October of 2010.

Rachel:     Okay. How old are your kids at this point? How many years have gone by from the idea to actually getting the first shipment?

Rikki:      At that point, it was about 5-1/2 years.

Rachel:     Okay. That 5-1/2 years, tell us a little bit about that time and getting those drawings and figuring out. What went into finding the right brush for you and your product?

Rikki:      Basically, I bought every product in the store that promised methat it would detangle my children’s hair. I spent anywhere from $1.99 on a Suave product to almost $49.99 on some conditioners at some high-end salons that promised me that they would work, and everything in between. I also bought every brush that was out there as well. During that time, I learned really from the brushes or the tools that I used, what worked and didn’t work. I, piece-by-piece, took things and I said to my husband, “Wow, every brush that has balls on the end of the bristle, those balls get stuck in my girls’ tangles and in their hair and that doesn’t work.” Then I realized that every brush that I used that had a handle, I never used the handle part of it. I always held the brush by the head. I said, “If I ever created a brush, it wouldn’t have a handle on it.” So it’s just piece-by-piece and just learning from the products that were out there, what did work, what didn’t work and taking those pieces and other things that I thought would work and putting those all together.

Rachel:     Okay. How do you go about that when you’re doing the drawing for it, and you have the idea that you don’t want a handle on it, how do you actually find the different pieces that go into it? What was that process like?

Rikki:      That was really just talking to an engineer whose background was in this and knew the health and beauty industry. Also, I think there’sjust some general engineer stuff that these people know. So, just inconversations with him and showing him even on brushes that I owned parts that did work and didn’t work, he put it together and then we sent off the drawings and hoped for the best.

Rachel:     Okay. Who did you send off the drawings to? What manufacturing did you use to start?

Rikki:      To start with, my husband and I just got online and went to alibaba.com and just really went through this process of trying to find someone that spoke English well enough that we could communicate with one another. Really just put a lot of trust in the fact and hope in the fact that something would pan out. We had made the decision from the very beginning that we would invest enough money into this, that if we lost it all we’d still have food on the table for our kids. That was our only ground rules that we had and that’s where we started from. The factory that we started working with, initially when we started talking to them, the person we were working with all of the sudden disappeared. It ended up, we were told, having thumb surgery; he never showed back up again. Then we were transferred to a woman and we worked with her for a few months, and then she disappeared. We finally ended up working with somebody by the name of Jason who stuck around for quite a while. He really was the one that we worked with and sent money to in exchange for a prototype. Once we got the prototype, we looked at that, sent the additional money so that the brush could actually be made. He’s who we ended up working with.

Rachel:     Okay. How many units did you do for your first major run?

Rikki:      10,000.

Rachel:     Okay. What happened, then, with those 10,000 units?

Rikki:      My goal was just to sell them online as a mom helping other moms. I worked full-time in the insurance industry, so I just wanted to do this in the evenings or during the day when I came home. We had 10,000. Then things kind of fell together where a friend of a friend of a friend was an independent sales rep for children’s salons and also had children with curly hair. She used the brush, said it changed her life and asked if she could represent us to the salons that she already worked with. We started with that and ended up almost blowing through the first 10,000 brushes that we ordered.

Rachel:     That’s incredible. How long did it take to go through those? When you first did a run of 10,000, did you think, “I’m going to sell these in a few months.” Or did you think, “Well, I’ll just sell them over the next few years.” What was your thought process with that? Because that seems like a big number to me but I know with manufacturing it’s not necessarily a big number.

Rikki:      That’s right. My hope was to get through 10,000 in at least 12-18 months; that was my initial thought. They came in October and from October to almost January or February, we had very little movement. We had a website that was up and running but we were trying to learn through Google ads and through Facebook ads what would be the best way to promote our brush. Sales were okay, but nothing fabulous, let’s say. Then our rep got involved so between February and April, our sales just skyrocketed and we recognized at that point in time that we needed to already place another order for our next 10,000 brushes.

Rachel:     Were you ecstatic at that point?

Rikki:      I was. I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it. Things really  started picking up. We had really believed in a grass roots movement. I’d  spend nights trying to find the top bloggers and trying to see what  audience met my audience with these bloggers. I begged them to write about  us. The tides changed at some point, probably closer to June or July of  2011, where I would spend my nights looking for bloggers. Now we’re  probably approached every week from 5-10 different bloggers who asked to  write about us, do a giveaway, things like that. That was really our  philosophy. Again, mom helping moms and knowing what that world was which  really is a huge audience of bloggers and trying to go with that grass  roots movement because we didn’t really have the money to invest in a whole  marketing plan or advertising and things like that. The pay-per-click, and what is all that mean? Are we seeing  them? And other words that I’ve learned like ROI, return on investments. Were we seeing all of those things? Ultimately, we really  weren’t. Even at that point, $300.00 a month for us was quite a bit of  money and we didn’t want to go through with that if we weren’t seeing at  least that much in sales. We did continue with that for a few months but  then we really found word of mouth and these bloggers really started to  gain traction for us. Then we had a sequence of events happen where things  just really started to work for us.

 

Rachel:     Okay. What was that sequence of events? Was that part of the Emmy  Swag Bag and the Today Show? Tell me a little bit. Did you hire somebody  for publicity or is this all just happening?

 

Rikki:      This all just happened. It was late one night on a Thursday  evening and I was, of course, as most of us know when you own a business,  it’s a 24/7 job. I was looking at my e-mails and I said to my husband, “Oh  my god, I don’t believe it. This woman just invited us to that Emmy’s to be  a part of their gifting room.” I wasn’t sure if it was real or if it was a  joke or what happened. We immediately started corresponding with her and  it’s a totally legit company. They were fantastic to work with. It was a  large investment, but one that we felt we should make. We just thought an  opportunity like this is coming our way so soon after we started. We’re  already gaining momentum and why not? If nothing else comes of it, it will  be a really neat experience. We did sign up to be a part of that  experience, so we flew out to that last September.

 

Rachel:     What does that mean? What did you get from that? Did you put,  how many gift bags. They were giving gift bags to celebrities, is that the  case? Or you had a table set up? Tell people who don’t know what that is.

 

Rikki:      Basically what it is, we were in a room, there’s several  different rooms at this gifting lounge. It’s orchestrated so that the  celebrities really, with their agents, walk through every room and at that  point are gifted. I think we had to have 60 gift bags ready to give out. I  came with a lot more because I just figured whoever wanted my brush, I was  prepared to give it to them – because you have celebrities walking through,  you have press walking through, you have agents walking through – so I just  figured better to have more than not enough.It was two days from, I think, 9:00 am to 7:00 pm both days where  they’d walk through and you’d get to meet everybody. The celebrities hold  your product, take a picture with your product and it’s fabulous. The  issue, what we found out of course as a learning experience, is that unlike  some of the other products, there was a children’s shoe line for instance  in the room with us, it’s great to be able to snap a picture of a  celebrity’s kid wearing your shoes which you can do, but you really don’t  have celebrities with their children walking around with a hairbrush  outside. That was a great learning experience for us in terms of, “You’re  right, you’re not going to catch a picture of Halle Berry’s daughter  walking around with the Knot Genie.” But as a result of that, we made some great contacts. We did  get some great publicity. I was interviewed while we were out there.  Huffington Post was there. E! News was there. There was some great exposure.  In addition to that, we also just found that meeting some other people that  were in the room was a great experience.

 

Rachel:     Great. It sounds like overall it was good but maybe not for  your particular product?

Rikki:      That’s correct. Also, it’s not a free event to attend. You do  pay for the size of the table that you want. I would say, depending on the  size of the table you choose, I mean, together with travel and everything  else like that, it’s probably going to run $8,000-15,000.

Rachel:     It is an investment. It’s a sponsorship opportunity. So how did  you land in on the Today Show?

Rikki:      The Today Show was, again, another thing where we were  extremely fortunate and just came to us. There is a woman who is a buyer  for gilt.com, which is an online flash site sale. She happened to buy one of  our brushes in New York for her son and loved the brush and thought it was  the greatest product ever. In addition to her working for Gilt, she’s also  a correspondent for Good Morning America, the Today Show and some of those  news programs. She sent me an e-mail just saying, “Rikki, I bought your  brush for my son. I absolutely love it. I would love it if you wouldn’t  mind if we put it on the Today Show as a mommy must-have product.” I said,  “I’ll get those overnighted to you.” It was just another amazing stroke of  luck that came our way. She was just so gracious in doing that for us.  That’s how we ended up on the Today Show.

 

Rachel:     What did that result in? Because I have known other people who  have gotten their products on the Today Show and it’s just interesting to  me; some have seen a huge spike in sales and others nothing. So, I’m  curious.

 

Rikki:      One of the things that happened during our segment is our  website was not shown on the show when they presented it. People might have  heard the name, but then they didn’t have any way further than that really  unless they took the initiative to Google us or find us. In terms of our  sales, I can’t say that we had this huge influx. But what it’s helped us  with tremendously is just giving us credibility. For anyone that’s spoken  to us – whether it distributors or some mass retailers who have started  some conversations with us – the fact that we can say that we can say that  we were on the Today Show and also say that we were at the Emmy Lounge is  something really you can’t put a price on.

 

Rachel:     Okay. That’s good to know. That’s a good perspective to have, you  having been through all of this. Let’s talk a little bit about you’re in  500 stores and salons. This is in a relatively short period of time really,  less than a year and a half?

 

Rikki:      Yes.

 

Rachel:     You’re obviously having great success with this. Tell me, how  did you do it? For the person out there who has a product who looks at you  and says, “Wow, she got it on the Today Show, she was at the Emmy’s and  she’s in 500 stores,” which that translates to sales. How did you go about  that process and why do you think you’ve been successful at it?

 

Rikki:      I think it’s a couple of different things. One is the rep that  I have, she loves the product as much as I do. And then giving any salon or  boutique that wants to try the brush free samples because that’s the best  way to market ourselves. Because when you have a stylist using our brush on  a customer and the mom or the parent sees that it’s not bothering their  child, they’re thinking, “This is the greatest thing in the world.” How  many of us have heard in those children’s salons where that $20 haircut is  a $100 experience by the time you buy everything else?  They’re walking into these salons where you’ve got a stylist  actually using it and it just sells itself. That’s really been one of  things that we’ve seen help our sales the most is just saying, “If you’re  not ready to commit, try a sample. Use it. See what people’s feedback is.  And then come back to us and place an order.” That’s one thing. The other  thing that we do, and I’ve heard good and bad, is I don’t have a minimum  order. If a salon or a boutique wants to order three brushes, it might cost  them 50 cents or a dollar more a brush, but really they have no risk. I  just believe to give everybody a chance and an opportunity to try my  product. That way they can decide really almost risk-free to see if it’s  one that going to sell. That’s been another great thing for us.

 

Rachel:     Tell me a little bit about, those are salons so it’s obvious  somebody comes in to get a haircut, they can use your product, ask about  it. I noticed that you’re on amazon.com and you’re on other online  retailers where somebody’s not going to physically see a demo. How are  sales online versus when somebody is using your product in a store?

 

Rikki:      I would say they’re 80-85% of what our salons do. For instance,  we also are in a lot of upscale boutiques and what we’ve tried to do there  is provide a DVD that plays with a video that shows how our product works  and what our product is about. But for those online retailers, I think  again really what sells it is if you go to our Facebook page or you just  even Google the Knot Genie, the amount of testimonials that come up are  overwhelming. We have found, again I was a mom wanting to help moms, that  what’s evolved in this short time frame is that we’ve just found through  these testimonials and people writing us and posting on Facebook is that  the brush is fantastic for those that suffer from a sensory disorder or  because they love that tactile experience with the brush. Or autistic  children who, again, love that tactile experience. We have found that it  works really great on ethnic hair. We’ve had many ethnic bloggers write  about us. It’s just kind of been, if people can’t have the brush used on  them, I always refer them to our Facebook or to just even Google us and see  what the responses area and it is just overwhelmingly positive and  fantastic.

 

Rachel:     That’s amazing. I was actually going to bring that up because I  even noticed on Amazon. I noticed all the testimonials that come up. Is  that something that people just put when they use the brush, or do you  proactively seek them? Do you say, “Here’s the brush, if you like it,  please write a review.”

 

Rikki:      We don’t solicit any of it. Everything that’s written, good or  bad, is just kept up on our site. We just feel like everything should be  out there for people to make their own decisions. I’ve only taken down a  few comments on our Facebook page and that was actually, if I can just  throw this in, Denise Richardson, who is Charlie Sheen’s ex-wife got our  brush and wrote a thank you note for it and she spelled water with two T’s.  Some people started commenting on Denise’s thank you note. I just thought,  “I don’t think I need this going on on my Facebook page.”

 

Rachel:     Right, because there are so many brushes out there that say,  “We’re the best for detangling.” You’re getting larger. You’re growing. How  do you view competition? Is it something you’re looking over your shoulder?  Are you keeping an eye on it or do you just move forward? What’s your take  on that?

 

Rikki:      Of course, I do keep my eyes open for a lot of those  competitors out there. I order every one of them to see how they work and  what they do and what’s special them. Some of them I’m just convinced, and  I hope it’s because of our success, have just thought, “Well, maybe we could  say that we’re a detangling brush and see what we can do.” Now I’m a lot  calmer about it but I also don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I’m realizing  although I was a mom wanting to help moms, I actually quit my job in  January because of this becoming a viable business and I want it to  succeed. We’re looking at product development and seeing what else we can  do to make ourselves better. So, all of that has evolved beyond my initial  intentions.

 

Rachel:     Interesting, you started out as something to help and now  you’ve been able to quit your job. I noticed you brought up a little bit  about your fans being loyal. You have almost 5,500 Facebook fans. How did  you get those?

 

Rikki:      I think it’s, again, we’ve never advertised other than when we  first started out. I asked all of my family and friends to like our page so  we could get to 100 likes. Again, I think part of it is the exposure we get  through the bloggers and through contests and things like that where a lot  more people are looking at my product because the blogger is doing a  giveaway. There’s a lot of that going on. But, again, it’s been phenomenal.  Ironically, as we’ve started to start to talk to some mass retailers, they  don’t think 5,500 is that big of a number. I think that just looking at  social media in general, I think that is going to become one of our focuses  because we do have this interaction with our fans. For instance, this is  great story, but just the other day I had a woman who loves our brush. She  wrote me a personal message and said, “I commented how much I loved your  brush but I have a friend who would like to pose this question, and I’ve  never asked a business to do this, but would you mind posting this?” I  said, “Absolutely.” So I posted this question on our Facebook page, I  believe it was Tuesday, two days ago, about this woman who has, I believe  it’s an adopted child who is black, and wanted to know if the brush would  work on her son’s hair. Within an hour we had 12 people respond. So it just provides this community for people as well.

 

Rachel:     Right, okay. That’s great. You mentioned bloggers, was there a  specific blog? Is it hair blogs that are writing about you? What’s been the  most successful? Where have you seen the most results from?

 

Rikki:      At one point, actually we did hire a P.R. firm last September  to work with us. They’re no longer working with us just for budget reasons  primarily. In terms of those connections and those blogs, they got us on  the Daily Candy which have over a million followers. That was something  that after they wrote about us, I mean, our consumer sales for the next  three days skyrocketed and were unbelievable. Primarily who’s blogging  about us are just moms who are looking for great products or how to simply  their life or how to save money. Because not only does our brush work, but  it really does save money because a lot of people are no longer buying  thick conditioner or the leave-in condition or the stay-in plus shampoo  conditioner. So, they can talk about our brushes as a money-saving  opportunity as well.

Rachel:     Okay. Interesting. I think we went through a lot of the marketing  stuff. I want to go back to a little bit about manufacturing and  fulfillment and then wrap up.

Rikki:      Sure.

Rachel:     I know that when you started out, you were doing it through  Alibaba and then that changed. Can you talk a little bit about that change  and then how you found a fulfillment center and how that process has been?

Rikki:      Sure. The first 10,000 brushes we received, we sold through and  it was a great experience. They were exactly as we wanted. We ordered our  second order of 10,000 brushes and they arrived and they were not up to our  standards. When we wrote Jason who was the guy that we had been working  with in China, and again just to make it clear, all of those conversations  were going through Skype. Just between the time changes and things like  that, that’s how we handled that relationship. When we got that second  batch of brushes and we were hysterical about them, the response was,  “Well, just tell your customers that we think these are better.” And we  said, “That’s not going to work.” Anyway, that was another probably three days  that I lost sleep. We just couldn’t believe this happened to us and all the  money for that just went down the drain. At which point also as our sales  started to increase and I worked full-time and I have three children, I was  doing this from 8:00 at night ’til 1:00 in the morning and then getting up  at 6:00 to go to my full-time job. When I talk about blood, sweat and  tears, I really [inaudible 26:02]. My husband and I just realized that this just wasn’t going to work and that we couldn’t have boxes floor to ceiling in my house. I was placing orders for smaller boxes so I could do the packaging. We bought printers for the postage. We were doing all these things and it  really started to impact our life as much as it was in a positive way, also  I was spending less time with my kids and I was tired. Again, throughout another amazing relationship we had, we were  introduced to a fulfillment company that’s about 30 miles outside of where  we live. We met with them and they just changed our lives. I mean, they  took all of the inventory out of our house, started to warehouse it for us,  started to help us get organized in terms of how orders should come in on a  spreadsheet. This was all kind of a test to see if it was a worthwhile  experiment for them to get involved with and for us to get involved with.  After about 4 months when we saw that this was really working, because they  also manufacture, I should have said that, they have several factories in  China that they work with and they also have a staff of 70 people in China.  So they said to us, “Next time you start production on your brushes, our  quality assurance people will be there from the second that it starts to  the minute that it ends.” It just made sense for us from every possible  way, logistics to shipping to manufacturing to just peace in my life, to  move forward with them. And we did that. Even as recently as about 4 months  ago, we got 3,000 brushes in that were not up to our standards. Instead of  you losing sleep over it, the answer was, “You’re right, these don’t meet  the standards. We’re not paying for them.” We’ve had also an evolution just  in terms of sanity and the ability to really work with people here in  America that then have the relationship with us in China. Because I think  that has helped a hundredfold.

 

Rachel:     I’m glad that you found that because that is peace of mind. All  right, so I think you talked a little bit throughout this process,  manufacturing and marketing. Also juggling it all with three children and  how that was challenging with a full-time job. As this started to take off,  you had to make some changes in your life to be able to do everything that  you needed to do and wanted to do. What were some of your biggest “aha” or  “oops” moments? What would you have done differently looking back?

Rikki:      Oh boy, that’s a long list.

Rachel:     Maybe one or two.

Rikki:      One or two. For me, I would say the hardest transition in all  of this has been, since I started to take this on full-time, to really  figure out how to run a business. And understand that what the original  intention was, which again was a mom wanting to help moms and learning that  it’s become so much more than. That it’s become a brand. That it’s become  something that people believe in and trust. And how to develop that further  and give them products beyond the brush that they think will continue to  help to change their lives. And also going from – I  am a very social  person, I was in an office with 600 people and great friends and things to  do and checklists of goals that I needed to meet at my old job – to working  out of my home all by myself with my dog and setting those goals now for  myself. What I’ve learned from that is number one, never be afraid to ask for  help. Number two, always look for people that have more experience than I do  in this world, that I can talk to and maybe have a mentor with. And three, as  of July 1st, I rented a desk in an office because I just needed to get out  of my house. It’s really being true to who you are and understanding what  all that is about. That’s been major for me personally in terms of growth.  What I would do differently would be just to try to have [inaudible 30:32] before just leaving my job and trying to put understanding to the industry. Because again, as a mom trying to help moms, that’s one focus. But really understanding the salon and beauty industry is something totally different. I attended the show in New York. I’m going to go to another one in October just to really try to educate myself, learn and meet people and go from there. That’s something and I think, unless you love your product, or whatever business it is that you’re doing as much as you love your children, don’t do it because it becomes another child. It becomes a 24/7 thing. Every time we go on vacation now, it’s very difficult. I still work when I’m on vacation versus when I worked for somebody. I could leave the office and leave it  behind. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Rachel:     Right. Well, that’s good to know. Congratulations on getting a  desk, I can relate. Like, why can’t I get to that point? I need a studio.

I want to thank you for coming on. I’m going to wrap up and just let everyone  know that I’m going to go ahead and put your URL to the Knot Genie www.knotgenie.com website  so people can check it out and take a look. I think your Today Show segment  is on there as well because that’s where I saw it. I want to thank you for  being on the show. I also want to let all of the viewers and listeners out  there know that if you’re interested in seeing more interviews like this,  please visit bestmomproducts.com. There’s more interviews and you should  signup for our monthly newsletter which will give you tips and we’ll have  some experts on there to help you manage business and life. Thank you,  Rikki.

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