Recently, I had the pleasure of talking at length with one of the most successful people I know of when it comes to taking products to market. Barbara Carey is one of a kind. She is a very charismatic woman and I never knew an interview could be so fun and interesting. Who knew how important chugging beer and being incorrigible could be to learning how to commercialize a product?
Barbara spoke to me about how she blossomed from a young woman struggling to get her business going, to a tremendous success as an inventor and entrepreneur. In the process, she has become a master at taking products to market successfully. She has commercialized over 100 products. For anyone interested in building a business or getting their idea or product out there, this woman has something to teach you. She taught me a lot, and I’m in the business.
We covered some of the psychological and behavioral aspects involved in getting your product out there, and getting a business going. But, Barbara also offered great, practical strategies about pricing your product, selling it, and building your business in general. She’s launching the The Carey Formula, which consists of a book, resources on CDs, and more. Because the interview had so much useful info, I will post the entire dialogue, split into three parts. Bottomline, for those interested in getting a product on the market or building your business, this is information that will help you:
Getting Your Product to Market: Passion, Persistence, and Perspective
A: How did you determine what you were going to put into your book? Was it based on the other kinds of information you already saw out there in other books and programs?
B: I didn’t look at what was out there already. I’ve read a lot of business books and knew that my experience was unique and I wanted to dig deep into my soul and answer the questions that I get whenever I give speeches or people call me up, they say “gee, you’re an overnight success, how did you do it?” Because when you read about me, typically it’s about one of the successes I’ve had, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and I wanted to give them the real story. The truth is, I’m not an overnight success. But the trick is that I always knew who I was. And I really wanted to give my readers an experience. Right at the beginning of the book, I talk about “the two P’s”, Passion and Persistence; they are common threads throughout the entire book.
A: I’ve come across a lot of articles and books about business and successful people and many of them have put forth the common idea that those two things (passion and persistence) are undoubtedly the most important factors that determine success.
A: It’s one of the softer, fuzzier subjects, which people tend to think of abstractly, but it’s so important.
B: It’s also important that we, as people, evolve. Our businesses evolve. It’s so important as human beings to remember that we have the ability to be open and receive information, learn, and turn on a dime. This is a huge advantage for a small company. You don’t have to take your decision through the company’s board of directors. I call these fax machine decisions. Sometimes you’re standing around the fax with your co-workers, and a fax comes through, and you have to make a decision. You have to be nimble and you can when you’re small. As a small company, you have to use a different set of weaponry, like speed and flexibility, than the big companies.
A: Let’s talk about decision-making for a second. In making a decision on the spot, for someone who is starting out in the process, you never have perfect information and you never have all the information. So how do you ‘wing it’? How much do you need to know before you go forward? And the emotional process that goes along with that?
B: It’s hard. You can only make the best decision you can at the time. I collect as much data/information about that decision as I can. I might go to people who I respect and bounce ideas off of them. And finally, I weigh my gut instinct. You take all of those things into account. And you also have to know that sometimes, with some issues, you’re gut instinct is not the way to go. Sometimes, the way I feel people will receive a key message, is not in fact the way the masses do. So I talk about this in the book—I do a lot of surveys. Whether you are sending out surveys through friends of friends, or more formally, you have to try and get a feel for the masses. And, depending on how big the decision is, that’s how much research and thought you put behind it. I’m consistently asking people questions and for feedback. That’s a part of my success. I don’t just charge ahead according to what I think. But I try to open myself up to receive outside information as much as I can. You want to learn as much as you can about your customers, end users, key influencers, and stakeholders, in the process.
A: What would be the different steps someone would take with the Carey Formula—the book, the CDs, where would they start? Where would they go from there?
B: First, most companies, large and small, keep this information a secret. I never had it in my DNA to withhold information. When I competed in the hair product business, a lot of other inventors would come to me and say “how do I get my hair product to market?” I would tell them, not only how to do it, but give them a phone number at a particular store and a buyer’s contact info. I love connecting people like that.
But, my golden rule, is to sell your product first! There’s a key example in my book, when I was very young, when I learned the power of this as I started my first business, pre-teen years. It was a social security card business. I went door-to-door and sold little cards to people with their social security numbers on them. I sold out fast and when I went back to get my next order, I found out it was going to take 3 weeks. But, I did have one card left and I used that to go around in the mean time and pre-sell my next order. It turned out that people were very willing to do this. Thus, my Carey Formula started at that very young age. Of course, I didn’t really realize it as a young child. But, as an adult, when I went to take my first product to market, I did not have the money to purchase my first order of inventory up-front. So, I remembered my days of pre-selling social security cards based on showing one item that I made.
I have a funny story. One secret to my success is called ‘Perspective’. So there’s Passion, Persistence, and Perspective. Perspective is about the fact that I’m a thinker. I constantly think about what I have learned in my life and how I can apply it to what I’m doing now. When I was 16, I had visions of summers in Santa Cruz—cute boys and suntans were my thing. But my parents had a hard time keeping me in school because, although I love to learn, I wanted to learn outside the four walls of a classroom. That summer, my dad told me that I had a lot of potential but I was “incorrigible”. And I didn’t know exactly what that word meant. I thought it sounded like it had to do with encouragement. So I said, “thanks dad”. Instead of going to Santa Cruz, cute boys and suntans, he sent me to St. Louis, Missouri to baby sit my six little cousins all summer for $1 an hour. At the time, I didn’t know I could have just as much fun in St. Louis as I could in Santa Cruz.
The first day I came into the neighborhood, I decided that I was going to meet some friends and went door-to-door and said “Hi, I’m Barbie Kraft. I’m incorrigible, but I have a lot of potential and I need to learn new behavior. Do you have any teenage girls here?” That night I had about nine teenage girls come to my house and sleep over. We all sat together and talked about our dreams and I said, “you know girls…we’re all the same. Do you know what you all are? You’re all incorrigible just like me!” They asked what the word meant and I told them “It means you have a lot of potential”. So that summer, we all ran around with these badges of “incorrigibility”.
I also learned “new behavior”, because that was the summer I learned to chug beer. We would go to bars and I would approach men and say, “I bet you five dollars I can chug a beer faster than you.” They took me on, and I beat them. I thought to myself “this is a great way to make money”. And, I wanted to make more, so I tried doing it 7 times in one night, but that didn’t end pretty. So I tried a different approach. “I bet you fifty dollars I can chug a beer faster than you”. No one wanted to take me on for fifty dollars. So I tried again, but with different approaches—test in pennies, spend in dollars, right? So I said, “hey, I bet you twenty-five dollars I can chug a beer faster than you”, and they took me on. So it was my very first lesson in price elasticity. The point is: ‘Perspective’. When I first began selling my Hairagami product, I couldn’t make my commercial work. I started at $19.95, but it didn’t sell very well. Then, I remembered my beer chugging days. Although instinct might tell someone to charge more money for their product because they are not selling enough of them, I realized I needed to sell my product for less money and get our call volume up. So I charged $14.95, and it took off. So the summer that I learned “new behavior” provided me an important perspective on how to approach this question that came up with my business. In the end, everything that you do is the sum total of who you are. When you are in a hard situation, use your perspective to call upon those key experiences in your life, no matter what they are, to help you understand the situation, make decisions, and go forward.
A: How would you deal with fear in those situations, such as approaching men in a bar and challenging them to drinking contests? Or, in a professional situation, approaching a buyer for a major retail chain that will be key to your product’s success? How do you deal with the fears that come up in these situations?
B: I’m just like anyone else and I’ve had many of the same fears as anyone else. My father talked to me at a very early age about fear and we made a deal not to be controlled by it. Sure, I was a little afraid approaching people, whether to challenge them to chug beers or ask them to place an order for my product, but I realized that I can’t control someone else’s reactions anyways. I can control the choice to try and approach them and ask for the order or to chug beer.
A: It’s amazing how we often spend time concocting fears in our minds and reasons why a person will reject our requests, and we get a completely different reaction from what we expected, when we actually approach them.
B: This happens almost 100% of the time. It’s amazing. I worry just like anyone else worries, but usually someone’s reaction is a lot different than what I thought it was going to be.
A: And, your intention with the book was to bring these emotional aspects together with all of the tips, strategies, and lessons you’ve learned professionally to create a platform for people to launch from?
B: It took me 25 years to develop all of these contacts and this story about one girl, who started with nothing and learned how to get where I am now through passion, persistence, and perspective. I think it’s important to not only hear other people’s stories for motivational purposes, but to provide a roadmap on how to get there. One of the secrets in the roadmap that I want to share with people is, if you can make one prototype of your product and get an order from that, there are many manufacturers out there that are willing to make that product for you and ship it. And I’m not talking about a guaranteed sale order, in which your customer can ship any items back to you that don’t sell. I’m talking about getting a real order and having a great chance of finding a manufacturer who will want to work with you.
And, you don’t have to go out and get investors or financing. Let’s talk about that for a second. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there who want to be their own boss, but they bring investors in and all of a sudden, they are working for someone else. Why not be your own boss and have own your company? And banks, they only want to deal with people who already have money, not with people who need money. The Carey Formula is for anyone who wants to take a product to market or build a business, but will be specifically beneficial to people who are cutting their teeth in the business with a simple product or idea. Starting this way is a great way to learn, make money, and then move on to more complex products if you want to.