In today’s blog post we’re bringing you a Q&A with the fantastic Vicki Weinberg.
Vicki Weinberg founded Tiny Chipmunk – a small UK-based brand of premium bamboo baby products, during a break from teaching yoga to babies and toddlers, when her own baby was just 6 weeks old.
Following over 10 years working in communications and change management roles for large corporate firms, having her first child prompted her to re-evaluate her career and look for options that would work around her family. After her short stint running a children’s yoga franchise, she wanted to do something where the money she earnt didn’t necessarily have to equate to the hours she put in. Selling physical products seemed to be the answer.
While spending many hours going down Google rabbit holes, she experienced first-hand how difficult and confusing the product creation process can be. She now offers simple, friendly support and consultancy for anyone who wants to create their own products to sell.
Could you please give us a few lines about your story – from background to idea to product business to product consultancy?
Sure! After my first child was born I decided to retrain as a children and babies yoga teacher, rather than go back to my corporate career. I’d suffered from PND and just couldn’t face the thought of commuting to London and leaving my son behind. A few years on, I fell pregnant again, and had a few (physical) issues that prevented me from teaching yoga. (It basically took me about 5 minutes to get up from the floor and vice versa!) I took a step back from teaching, as by that point I had a team who could take over my classes. Months passed, my baby was born and I started looking for something to do. I’ve never been someone who can do nothing and, if I’m honest, I’m not always great at just realising! I was itching to do something and looked for inspiration everywhere I could. I heard a podcast interview (Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income) about two men who were selling their own branded yoga products on Amazon. That sparked everything! I started a blog to document what I was doing, which evolved over time. A few years on I was being contacted pretty frequently by people wanting help and advice and decided that there was probably a business in that! I started out on freelancing sites (as that seemed a safer way of getting started than setting up a website, etc). I got great feedback and it’s all grown from there.
Have you always had ideas for products or was your first the one that inspired Tiny Chipmunk?
It was my first idea that inspired Tiny Chipmunk. I hadn’t even really thought about selling products, if I’m honest. I just knew I wanted to work for myself, be able to work flexibly (no fixed location or hours) and do something that excited me.
What was the very first thing you did when you had the idea?
Went on Google! I had absolutely no idea how to do anything, but I was certain someone else would! I also listened to lots of podcasts and watched lots of YouTube videos. Looking back I spent / wasted a lot of time on this!
Did you join forces with anyone else to make it a reality?
No, not really. I didn’t have much to invest and also, at that time, couldn’t be 100% sure it would go anywhere. I did pay for help where I needed it though – such as logo design, product and packaging design. (All of which I did via 99 Designs, as I loved the idea of giving lots of designers the opportunity to pitch for the work.)
Where did you get your advice from, as you were previously in corporate roles?
See above! This has been a huge driver in me wanting to provide free resources (such as my blog and podcast) for others just starting out, as I found there was a huge disconnect between me and the people I was looking to for advice – who were mainly years down the line, making millions and really un-relateable.
How have awards been important for your business and would you encourage others to enter them?
I’m not sure I want encourage (or discourage) others from entering, as I really think it depends based on your product and the awards (and categories) you’re entering. I believe they can be great for products businesses, but it’s something to really consider. Entering can be expensive and you want to think about which would be the best fit. I did enter Tiny Chipmunk into the Loved By Parents Awards in 2017 – and won in two categories! It was great to be able to use that as an endorsement, when the product was still relatively new, but I’m not sure if that’s had any longer-term impact. (Saying that, I certainly don’t regret it, as it was great to display the winners badge and I’m sure it helped with sales.)
Do you have a strong instinct about really good product ideas when you work with people on theirs, or can any product idea be developed?
I like to think I have an instinct for when an idea is really good! I do however think most original product ideas can be developed and can work , even if they need some tweaks or re-thinking. Where I think ideas don’t always work is when they’re a copycat of an existing product (without any changes to make them unique), in a niche that’s really saturated, or is likely to go ‘out of fashion.’ (Think fidget spinners as an example!) When I speak to someone about a product they’ve created that really helps to solve a problem, that’s when I get excited – as they’re usually onto something!
What are the top three things a budding product developer should definitely do?
1. Validate their ideas! I really think it’s worth spending the time really researching your product – looking at the competition, looking at pricing, refining your specification and, really importantly, getting input from others. You want to know that your product is as good as it can be, that people will buy it, and that it’ll be profitable, before you go ahead and spend time and money on creating it.
2. Second relating to that, is to talk to their potential customers. Firstly figure out who they are (your friends and family are not the people to ask – and certainly not the only people to ask). I know this might sound scary. You don’t need to go out and say “I’m going to create X (whatever your product is), what do you think?” (which might not be ok in all situations anyway) if that isn’t comfortable for you. There are definitely other ways to go about it. You could ask more generally – i.e. “Have you ever brought an X?” “If not, why not?” “If so, what did you think?” Or ‘do you ever have X problem?’, ‘If so, would you be interested in a product that solves it?
3. Don’t get hung up on where you’ll be selling it. For example, I sometimes get people contacting me who want to sell products on Amazon and either their goal is Amazon (not the product), or they’re selling something that would sell much better on a different marketplace.
How do you make the consultancy business work alongside your product business?
To be honest, it varies. I spend much more time now on my consultancy business than ever – which is good! In 2020, my products business was my main income, as that’s much more passive and can run smoothly with less input from me. (Which I needed then, with two young children at home.) Having said that – you get what you put in and if I spend more time on Tiny Chipmunk (social media, marketing, running promotions, etc) I do make more sales. Also, it’s taken 5 years to get to the stage of being semi-passive. I only share that, as I don’t want to give the impression that happens overnight.
What weekly inspiration do you take? Any other podcasts, blogs or books?
I LOVE podcasts! I listen to Janet Murray and Shaa Wasmund regularly (as well as a handful of other business podcasts, when the topic feels relevant). That’s another tip actually – don’t consume everything! I’ve learnt the hard way that you can spend so much time listening, watching and learning that you can get overwhelmed with ideas, but don’t actually have time to get much done!
I don’t listen to any Amazon / ecommerce / retail podcasts regularly. I like to keep informed, but feel the best way for me to do that is to be doing it every day. I also realised, as I said above, that a lot of the people I was following in the early days are really hard for me to relate to (even 5 years on). Which isn’t to say they aren’t doing good things, or they don’t have good shows – I guess it’s partly because I never wanted a massive e-commerce empire, or million-dollar brand. I started out just wanting to earn money, doing something that worked around my family – and now I still want to do that, plus help as many other people achieve the same as possible.
Had you considered doing PR before and what were your barriers to taking it forward?
I had considered it and my barriers were whether it would be really expensive and also a little fear about putting myself in the spotlight! I’ve since decided that if it helps someone (regardless of whether I get anything out of it) it’s well worth it.
Thank you to Vicki for taking time out to speak with us today. Be sure to check out Vicki across her personal platforms linked below.
Product Creation Consultant
‘In conversation with’ has become a regular feature here on the Carnsight blog. Be sure to check out our other ‘In Conversation With’ posts where we talk to South West Business Insider Deputy Editor, Mike Ribbeck and Duncan MacRae, Founder and Chief Editor, Marketing Gazette.