Who Launches a Product During a Pandemic?
This mother took an everyday problem and turned it into a product which has just launched on Amazon
Sophia Procter is someone I have known for 20+ years after we found ourselves on the same Public Relations course at university.
Sophia went on to forge a hugely successful career in the PR industry, working for companies including Red Bull, Ask.com, and, most recently, a nine year stint at British Airways, before stumbling across a problem lots of parents experience — how to get your kids to sit still and eat. Not dissuaded by the fact she had no experience in product design, she set about creating a product which would help fix the problem parents all over the world experience. Here’s her story and some of the lessons she learned from launching MUNCHY PLAY® during a pandemic:
Newnham: What event/conversation led to you starting Munchy Play?
Procter: It was another typical day in the life of being a parent when my son (then two years old) wouldn’t come to the dinner table. This was a reoccurring issue in our house.
This one particular day, I remember it well, I attempted to make him a curry from scratch using my Annabel Karmel cookbook. But still he wasn’t interested — he just wanted to play with his trains. So, I whipped his toys off him and created a makeshift track around his plate. Suddenly he came to the table AND stayed there. It was a groundbreaking moment.
My husband and I looked at each other and immediately started to search Amazon to find a plate with a train track around it. It seemed like such an obvious idea, I was surprised nothing like this existed. And that’s when I thought — hey maybe I could be the one to do this!
Newnham: What did the process look like from concept to launch?
Procter: The first part of the process was researching the market and ensuring nothing like this existed. Once satisfied, I found an excellent engineer and designer who made some CADS (designs) and, from there, a prototype.
I literally took this to the streets, thrusting it into the hands of parents asking for their opinion. The non-slip base was the result of their feedback.
Next, I recruited the best intellectual property lawyers in London to register and protect my designs and trademark.
It took about six months to put these foundations in place, which is funny because, naively, I thought the whole (making the product and launching) process would take that long.
Finding the right manufacturer is the most important part of the process. For me, it had to be a British manufacturer — for trust, quality and supporting our community. It wasn’t easy. I had many knockbacks and people telling me I was too much of a risk as a startup. Eventually I found the most amazing manufacturer in Wales, who steered me through the process.
The development phase lasted two long years. When you’re creating a new product, there’s no blueprint in place, you have to make it. This meant investing in tooling and machinery (I could have bought a brand new SUV!), then find solutions to problems every day. I pretty much became an expert in injection moulding.
Finally, once the plate was ready it underwent rigorous safety testing with an independent company to ensure it meets strict EU regulations.
Nenwham: What are some of the early obstacles you had to overcome and how did you manage them?
Procter: Every single step of the process was fraught with challenges to overcome.
A reoccurring issue was finding the right suppliers. It was disappointing to see quite so many companies unwilling to help a startup. Early on, I realised the best approach was to get people to see my business as an investment with great potential. Basically, don’t be afraid to pitch your business as the next big thing. I also helped that I believe that! As a result, I have the best suppliers in the business who are invested in our success.
I also realised that you have to fully immerse yourself and learn the process. It’s not as simple as hiring a manufacturer and asking them to do a job, or recruiting a designer and asking them to create artwork. You have to be fully involved and learn how things work — even if you’re not an expert, you need to become one.
Newnham: What are the top three lessons you have learned from your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Procter: They are:
· Know your brand values. Before you even commit yourself to starting a business, think about what you want it to stand for. Chances are, there’s a big part of you in them, and that’s no bad thing because it’s important to be authentic. For me, it’s about being a fun brand that makes life easier for busy parents, underpinned by British quality and design.
· Find your cheerleaders! By that, I mean friends that believe in you and will give you strength when you hit a wall... Which is often... Dani, you were one of these people, another was my mentor Liam from Enterprise Europe. It helps if they are other professionals too, as they can give you practical advice. For instance, some of my former colleagues, including Adam Chaudhri who is a successful startup entrepreneur himself, have been a great sounding board.
· Cut costs, not corners. Be prepared that you’re going to invest way more money than you expect. Make peace with that and move on. Along the way there will be things you can upskill and learn to save money, and other things it’s better to employ someone to do professionally. I haven’t compromised on the quality of our kids plates at all, and it shows.
Newnham: What advice do you have for other founders with an idea looking to create a product?
Procter: Nothing is impossible. If something hasn’t been done before, it’s just an invitation to be the first to do it.
For the brave that do, be prepared to give everything you have, and then some. You must believe your product will change the world. You must be obsessed and blinded by your love for it. It’s really the only way.
Newnham: Finally, what do you say to those worried about launching a new business/product during a pandemic? What are the main opportunities/issues?
Procter: This is definitely a challenge. With my background in PR and marketing, I’ve been involved in launching everything from Red Bull Racing (F1) to new beauty ranges. However, this time around in lockdown it’s different. Many press are furloughed, or not in the office. This means you can’t just do traditional outreach or call someone up to chat about it. On the flip side, everyone’s online a lot more. This means you need to focus your efforts on digital selling — it’s not easy, but social media is a huge part of this and something small businesses need to be using to its potential.
Amazon have also been a great help, and even have a small business accelerator programme which I recommend to others.
“If something hasn’t been done before, it’s just an invitation to be the first to do it.”