Bug Bite Thing Founder Kelley Higney: “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On Shark Tank”
Think positively, but without expectations. Throughout the entire process, there were no guarantees. We recognized the possibilities and decided to enjoy it. Even the day we flew out to California, we knew it was possible we might not have the opportunity to pitch the Sharks. Even when we were in front of them, we knew a deal was not guaranteed. By remaining confident but not anticipating a certain result, we ended up having an amazing experience.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Higney. Kelley Higney is the founder of Bug Bite Thing, partnering alongside her mother, Ellen McAlister. After relocating to South Florida, Kelley was unprepared for how mosquitos would impact her family’s quality of life. Determined to find a solution, Kelley discovered a product that uses suction to eliminate the irritant and provide instant relief. Wanting to offer the life-changing product to other families, Kelley and Ellen appeared on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank.” After receiving offers from all of the Sharks, they decided to strike a deal with Lori Greiner. Bug Bite Thing is Amazon’s #1 selling product for insect bite relief, available on the company’s website, and at select retailers. Prior to starting Bug Bite Thing, Kelley worked for fifteen years in her family’s international export and distribution business. Kelley hopes to inspire other mompreneurs to pursue their dreams and start their own business.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
Mosquitoes love to feast on me. Unfortunately, both of my young daughters inherited my mosquito-attracting blood. After desperately trying what seemed like every product and remedy in existence — ointments, ice, dryer sheets, hot spoons, you name it! — I felt like I was at a loss when none of them subsided the itch for more than a few moments. I started researching how other countries were combating insect bites and I took a chance on an unfamiliar product that uses suction to remove the irritant, rather than applying creams or harsh chemicals.
My “aha moment” came after I tested the product…it worked! The relief was instant, and the product reduced the long-term effects of an insect bite. I couldn’t believe I finally found a way to provide relief for my children. I had to make this product readily available to anyone who suffers from bug bites. I became a ”mom on a mission” to help provide that feeling of relief to others by equipping them with the Bug Bite Thing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We knew when our episode of ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ was going to air. We found out that Bug Bite Thing was also going to be featured on another hit show, “The Doctors,” only a week later. Having Bug Bite Thing featured on national television twice within one week was pretty surreal, especially witnessing the reactions from our family and friends.
Also, the growth of the company over the past year was life-changing for my entire family. We moved three times within six months in 2019 to accommodate the company’s rapid growth. Bug Bite Thing went from a company we were running out of our garage to a fully operational business in an incredibly short timeframe.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
So far, our biggest lesson learned pertains to our initial marketing strategy. When we launched Bug Bite Thing, we targeted male outdoorsmen. And while that demographic remains one segment of our market, we were missing out on so many potential customers, especially ones that has turned out to be our most loyal customers — moms. There are many moms who, like me, are on a mission to offer their children relief from insect bites!
I think our biggest mistake was solely focusing on a single audience. Bug Bite Thing is a product that anyone would find useful. Now we try to have a broader focus within our marketing strategy. Rather than ask, “who would use the Bug Bite Thing?” we instead ask ourselves, “when would they use the Bug Bite Thing?”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have some interesting projects in the works for Bug Bite Thing in 2020 that we see continuing over the next three to five years. We have many new retail partners both in the U.S. and internationally. We hope to make Bug Bite Thing a household name. We are focusing on our global expansion to offer people worldwide relief from bug bites and stings.
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted? What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
From my discussions with other entrepreneurs who have applied to be on the show, the process works differently for everyone!
For us, it all started when Bug Bite Thing grabbed the attention of one of the casting producers through social media. He encouraged us to audition. Though there were many unknowns, the idea sounded exciting. We had experienced significant growth the year prior and had great customer feedback. We decided to take a chance.
The application process included sending in videos, answering a series of questions, and filling out a ton of paperwork. Mind you, this was all during the middle of our busiest season — mosquitoes and bees love Florida summers. The application process felt like another full-time job. But we saw this as an amazing opportunity and we were eager to showcase our brand.
We worked hard to move the process forward quickly. We believe this helped us stand out and the producers were quick to respond. We received emails and phone calls informing us that we had advanced to the next round. Each time we moved further ahead in the process it seemed more and more exciting. It was an amazing feeling when we received an email stating that we made it to the audition phase! Everything happened very fast.
Even up until that flight out to California, we knew there were no guarantees. We were excited about appearing on the show and sharing our story with the Sharks. Going on ‘Shark Tank’ is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we embraced it.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
It was extremely nerve-wracking! I actually don’t remember it. I was on autopilot.
As our time on “Shark Tank” is a bit of a blur for me, I’m glad the experience was documented. I knew it was up to us to prove to the Sharks that we are the full package. This is what kept us strong throughout the process. Whenever I felt nervous, I reminded myself, “you know your brand and you are doing this so that you can help others. You can do this!”
I had to communicate my passion for Bug Bite Thing to the Sharks. I wanted them to understand how Bug Bite Thing had helped people and what the business could become. To do this, I studied the heck out of our numbers. My mom and I practiced our pitch a million times, which helped us come across as confident. It also made the process easier because we were prepared for any questions they tossed at us.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch? Were you pleased with the outcome?
All five of the Sharks extended offers for a piece of our business. We chose to partner with Lori Greiner. Not only did she offer to invest our full asking price of $150,000 for 10 percent of the company, but she also awarded us her “Golden Ticket.” This is something Lori only gives out once each season to express her strong interest in the brand and as a commitment to a hands-on partnership.
We were ecstatic with the outcome. Lori is the perfect partner for us. We are aligned idealistically on many of our business practices. She also immediately understood the value of the product to consumers. As a fellow “mosquito magnet,” Lori saw the potential in Bug Bite Thing. It has been a great relationship for us so far. She is an amazing partner and we are thrilled to work with such a savvy businesswoman.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Be diligent. Consistently submitting our work ahead of the deadlines paid off for us throughout the application process. Even though the timelines were stressful, especially during our busiest season, we worked hard to submit everything quickly and to show our dedication, which proved worthwhile in the end.
2. Numbers don’t lie. Investors want more than an idea. If your product is effective and you have a consumer demand, there is not much anyone can push back against. We provided the Sharks with the proof that Bug Bite Thing would be a solid investment. We believe it was the numbers that encouraged the offers from all of the Sharks, ultimately putting the choice back in our hands.
3. Know your company. Be able to think one step ahead of everyone else. You can do this if you know your strengths and weaknesses, your numbers and your market value. If you can do that, you will be able to respond to anything the Sharks ask. Standing in front of the Sharks while they were all shouting questions and comments at the same time was overwhelming. The fact that we knew the ins and outs of our business and were able to answer any question that was thrown at us definitely helped!
4. Think positively, but without expectations. Throughout the entire process, there were no guarantees. We recognized the possibilities and decided to enjoy it. Even the day we flew out to California, we knew it was possible we might not have the opportunity to pitch the Sharks. Even when we were in front of them, we knew a deal was not guaranteed. By remaining confident but not anticipating a certain result, we ended up having an amazing experience.
5. Understand the importance of partnering with someone who is aligned with your mission. With all the different offers on the table, we had a lot to think about. Unfortunately, we had very little time to do so! We chose to partner with Lori because she understood our vision and shared our passion. This guided us to the right choice for Bug Bite Thing and helped solidify our decision to make Lori our investor and business partner.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
My main advice for other leaders is to set up the proper infrastructure and then learn to delegate. Even the greatest of leaders can only go so far by themselves. There are only so many hours in the day to get everything finished. Nearly all successful small businesses eventually hit a wall and are not able to continue to grow without support.
At Bug Bite Thing, I knew I needed to personally let go of certain projects in order to continue to grow the brand. I hired experienced new team members to oversee areas of the business that are not my areas of expertise, such as a publicist and a graphic designer. We needed Bug Bite Thing to stay relevant and ahead of trends.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My “movement” circles back to the Bug Bite Thing mission, of course. I want to educate people that there is a better, natural, chemical-free solution that offers instant relief. I want to save people from the pain and irritation they get from bug bites and stings, while also removing the use of chemicals that only mask the symptoms. It is baffling to see how many unregulated products are being used on a daily basis, especially on children. We are spreading our message and encouraging our customers to use #SavedByBugBiteThing on social media to share their feedback on the product.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Work on your business, not in your business.”
I’m not exactly sure who said this first, but there are many entrepreneurs and business coaches who stand by this rule and I am a big believer in it.
Just like the conductor of an orchestra, it takes the right leader for everyone to play their part in harmony. You must assemble a team that can work collaboratively together or you will never make progress.
As the head of the company, I need to oversee the day-to-day aspects of growing the business, rather than focusing my efforts on smaller projects. With this approach, Bug Bite Thing has continued to thrive.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Ed Sheeran! I would love to meet with him to pick his brain. Not only is Ed Sheeran an extremely talented musician, but he has worked hard to achieve success.
A lot of his song lyrics are also about his business journey — from sleeping on a couch while reaching for his dreams to being told it would never happen for him. Now, look how far he’s come. Of course, I’m also a massive fan of his music. His artistic work is very inspiring.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
Bug Bite Thing Founder Kelley Higney: “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On Shark… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.