How to Turn an Awesome Idea into a Business
The following is a guest post by Heather McDowell. Her bio follows.
That’s what my son said to me the first time he tried sparkling water. He loved it, and I liked that choice for him since it was the only sugar-free drink he liked. That was the beginning of Tickle Water, the first all-natural, sugar-free sparkling water for kids.
I didn’t know anything about the beverage industry. So, it was really just a thought—not even an idea, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The idea has since evolved—and that’s the important part: Success depends on a willingness to follow your project where it wants to go.
As for my project, we quickly realized that adults liked Tickle Water, so we dropped our tagline, “Fizz for Kids” to make it an easier purchase for that demographic. But the mission stayed the same: provide a healthy alternative to sugary drinks.
Use Everything You Know
I spent many years in the hospitality business – as a waitress, bartender, as well as working on experiential marketing projects. Those experiences helped me develop a feel for what people like to eat and drink, what it looks like when a brand starts to click with people, the way trends start.
Just prior to starting Tickle Water, I had finished an eight-year stint managing the International bid department for a timepiece auction house that held auctions around the world. Having never even been to a live auction, I had to learn on the job. That experience gave me the confidence to learn about the beverage industry.
To be honest, I took a leap of faith into the beverage business. I really do think starting your own thing, especially if it’s something a little different, requires that leap of faith. I did that when I got into the auction business, and so I consider “good at leaps of faith” to be one of my bankable skill sets.
Attention to detail, organization, planning, and communication skills were invaluable. I got them from my work in the auction world where everything happens in real time. One error can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in that line of work.
You have to start wherever you are with the tools you know. Take a careful inventory of the skills and experience that you can bring to bear in the pursuit of success, and then use them.
Stay in Learning Mode and Get a Mentor!
Do your homework. Ask a lot of questions, and hire people who can help you where you need it most. Raising capital can be a challenge, especially for female entrepreneurs. Stick to it.
Mentorship has been invaluable to me, both personally and professionally and when it comes to my work the two are definitely intermingled. I met my mentors at industry events and classes that I signed up to learn what I needed to know about the beverage business before I got in too deep.
My two cents: Go meet the talent (call them, write, ask people out for coffee or drinks or a meal), and treat your business mentors like friends and guides, not the competition!
Another pro tip: Make friends with people working on their own start-ups. Being part of a community has helped me survive doubts and concerns, pivot when needed, and celebrate accomplishments big and small. Let the stories that your fellow travelers and mentors tell you inform the way you meet the challenges of starting your venture.
When it starts working, make sure you’ve a got a hand on the throttle. Go too fast, and you can quickly get sunk in rough water. Do what you can do, and be careful not to overreach. It’s a tough balance—and you don’t have to get it right all the time.
Growth requires a lot of attention to detail and the books. Tickle Water has gone from a one-woman operation to now having seven employees, and a growing presence at stores and online retailers. We launched with a small natural distributor in New York in May 2016, and Tickle Water is now available in more than 350 stores throughout the northeast as well as online and nationally in select stores. A new distribution deal that we just inked will spread the brand farther down the east coast.
While quick growth has its challenges, bear in mind that it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes an idea needs time to find its niche. Be patient.
Whatever your idea is, you’re banking on a change in the way people do something, or what they wear or eat or what they choose to drink, and that takes time.
Bottom line: If you believe in your idea, go for it.
Keep pushing. Follow your gut. Women’s intuition is a powerful tool. Use it and trust yourself. Finally, don’t be too self-critical. Know that there will be failures, but that doesn’t mean YOU failed. It may just mean you find a better way.
Heather McDowell is the founder and CEO of Tickle Water, a brand of naturally flavored sparkling water designed for kids. A New York-based entrepreneur, Heather launched the company to provide a fun but healthy, sugar-free, preservative-free beverage choice for families. Before building Tickle Water, she worked with different organizations in the food, beverage and luxury goods industries, providing marketing and management consulting. For ten years, she managed the auctions for Antiquorum, a prestigious auction house specializing in timepieces.
Heather is a longstanding fitness and nutrition advocate, using her business platform to communicate the value of healthy lifestyles for people of all ages, including kids. She has a BA in Spanish and a minor in Fine Arts from Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, CA. Heather lives in New York with her husband and son, the original inspiration for Tickle Water.