“You want me to be a business woman? You know me, right?” Jackie Raimondi recalled wondering as she prayed while preparing to launch BinkiBear: a product that she designed while on a frustrating 15-hour flight from the United States to South Korea. It was never in her life plan to enter the business world. She always thought that she’d be doing something either in psychology, which is what her degree is in, or as a full-time leader in her church, which is where her passion is. However, God gave her a cranky baby and the wisdom and creativity to deal with him.
When she came up with the solution to avoid her son’s pacifier flying in one direction while his teddy bear flew in the other, it wasn’t an immediate decision to launch her idea into a full-blown business. It took her over a year of soul-searching as well as researching the business side of producing a product, “Business is something that my Mom and Dad are really good at, and I’m not…numbers stump me. There is a reason why I’m in this office all by myself.”
It wasn’t until she had a revelation, “If I put it on your plate, then why are you worried about it? I’ll take care of it,” that she decided to move forward. In 2009 she launched BinkiBear. It wasn’t an easy task. Not only was she forging new ground with her invention, but her family faced a life-changing crisis. Jackie’s husband Ken developed a rare condition called Aplastic Anemia and nearly died. She didn’t do a lick of marketing during the year that Ken was in and out of the hospital, but for some reason the business kept going, and that’s why she calls this her “God- Story”.
How did BinkiBear go from a handmade bear for your son to what it is now?
I have always been one of those people who thinks of a product and then six months later it’s on TV, and I am like, “I totally thought of that first!” But, really it was after making it for KJ and I would be out in the streets [of Korea] and people would ask me, “Where did you get it? Where did you buy it?” In Korea E-Mart is the really big store so they would ask me, “E-mart? E-mart?” and I would be like, “No, no I just made this,” so it started to register in my mind that I have always been innovative, and I have always loved design, and this could be a product that I could actually take and start something with. It seriously took a whole year and a half before I decided to truly launch. So, in 2006 was when I created the product but we didn’t incorporate until 2009. So, it was a long process of deciding, “Is this something I am going to do?” and also just a lot of prayer.
My faith is really important to me, so my biggest thing was, “God, do you want to add this to my plate? I am a stay-at-home-mom, and I have two kids now, and we don’t have family around who can help, so I am kind of on my own with that. But, I am also a worship leader, a bible study leader, and a professional singer on the side, so these are the things that I thought that I would concentrate on.” I always expected to go back to school, and go to seminary. Then, the other side of it was I was a psychology major, so there was a side of me that thought that I needed to go get my graduate degree and start working in research which is my passion on that side of things. So, I was thinking, now you want to add business? You know me, right? I like the design and I like the innovation, but business? Mmm. So, I just felt lead more and more, and basically the whole revelation was, “if I put it on your plate, then I am going to take care of it, so why are you worried?”
It was comforting because you draw up your business plan and you have your goals, and our five-year goal was to either have the product licensed or to have the business sold, and with that light at the end of the tunnel, I thought, being a business woman is something that I can do for a while. You know, so, I dove in. It turns out that no matter what product you are making, it could be a high definition television or a bear with a loop on its arm and it’s still the same process. It’s just as difficult. So, yeah…
How did you get from point A: I have this bear that people are asking me about to Point B: I mass-produced the bear? Where did that come from besides the spiritual side?
Jackie: I started researching on the Internet while I was in Korea, because that was my only resource. I used the Internet to find business sites, and used the small business administration for the basic things. Sites like legalzoom.com explained how to incorporate. Then, of course, I had one very, very important resource and that was my dad. From a business side he was able to explain everything I needed to do to become a properly protected business. That was invaluable to me to have that. As far as manufacturing a product I had to Google a lot, and there are a lot of good sites out there that explain a lot. In that process I found a couple of resource websites that connect manufacturers with companies. By doing enough research to understand the terminology and what I was doing, I understood that I needed to talk to this type of manufacturer for this type of order, and then these are some of the basic questions that I need to ask. So, I went on globalsources.com and alibaba.com. Alibaba has been in the news a lot recently, because they just went public. It’s a great website, although I used Global Sources more.
Global Sources connected me with a manufacturer in China and I started a conversation with them at the end 2006 or in early 2007, and that conversation continued until we made the product in 2009. So, that was a long conversation that we had with them. The thing that I found out was that there are a lot of product development companies out there, and if you do a search, there are tons of third party companies that say, “oh, we’ll take your invention and make it happen”. I found a decent one that was based in Atlanta, which is where we are from, and so over Christmas I went home from Korea and made an appointment and spoke with these people and made a contract with them. That was really important. That process didn’t turn out to be fruitful in manufacturing the product, but it was very educational. I learned a lot about the process just by meeting with them, but at the end of the day yes, they had a manufacturer, but you are paying through a third party. I realized that I had a fantastic relationship with a manufacturer that I had been talking to for the last year, so I thought maybe I should talk to them and see what pricing they can give to me. The savings was substantial, so I decided not to use the product development company. I know enough now that I feel comfortable and I can do this on my own. So, I started a relationship with them, and we manufactured it directly with the manufacturer. I don’t suggest that for everyone. The second thing that I did was, I went to a conference in Hong Kong. It was a trade show but it was a sourcing show. So, you are going to go there if you are trying to source fabric or anything that you are trying to create, and in there was a whole entire seminar about doing business in China. I was very studious! I took tons of notes. I still have my folder with all of the information. I lived and breathed that seminar for a week. I learned so much about working in China, and because of that I was able to continue to ask the right questions. If I needed help I knew where to turn, and that boosted my confidence, so I was able to just manufacture.
It was a lot of taking classes and doing the bookwork on my own to get there. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people in the business that I could ask. There are not a lot of people who are willing to share it, because people are too protective of how they got that done.
Really, it was a combination of faith and knowledge that boosted you to a place where you could do this.
Yes. The third undeniable aspect of that is instinct. You have to trust your instinct, even when you want to do something that isn’t common, that your average businesswoman wouldn’t do, even if it were kind of off the wall. You have to go off of your instinct. You can do all of the research in the world, but at the end of the day, the most famous companies are built by people who drive their people crazy with the “stupid” decisions that they make. Everyone says, “this will never work,” and it’s Apple. Then, there is Amazon: We are going to sell everything!
Knowing that they did it gives you some confidence, but you have to follow your instincts. I have made so many mistakes following the advice of consultants. We had a consultant early on because we felt that it was necessary to help us through that process. I disagreed with almost everything that he said, but we did it anyways, because I felt like I wasn’t an intelligent person when it comes to this. I thought, this is not my expertise; I am going to follow his advice. And you know what? It was wrong. I could have saved myself a lot of money and time, and boosted sales a lot earlier if I had just followed my instinct. So, that’s invaluable. So yeah, faith, knowledge, research and instinct.
What advice would you give somebody who might have an idea, but doesn’t have the confidence to take it to the next level?
I would tell that person to keep searching. Keep soul searching. Keep researching. Keep searching about how to do it practically, even if they aren’t sure if they will ever go anywhere with it. It’s not a destination. You say you want to take it up a level, but you never take it up a level and you’re there. It’s an up and down process. There are days when I just want to shut the door, lock it, and go home. There have been setbacks where I have thought that we would never, NEVER recover from, and we did. There has been an amount of patience that is necessary for the right timing to fall into place. At the end of the day, if you don’t do the soul searching and the knowledge searching, then you’ll never be ready. You really need to come to a place where you know you can be ready, and then all you have to ask is if you really want to. Is it the right decision? If you don’t do all of the searching, then it will never be a positive decision; it will be a defensive decision. You don’t want to react to life. You want to make positive steps. If you’re always reacting, then you’ll never be ahead enough.