PROJECTED 2005 GROSS $2M
Tamara Monosoff thought it was adorable when her baby Sophia unspooled a roll of toilet paper—but only the first time. "The second time, it clogged up the toilet," says Monosoff. "It wasn't so cute." She scoured stores looking for a device to halt the runaway tissue with no luck. So the former Clinton Administration staffer, then a stay-at-home mom, set about redesigning a flexible hair roller to suit her purpose.
The result—the TP Saver—now sells in 200 stores and national catalogs for $5.99. It took 11 months and $20,000 of her own money to get the business off the ground back in April 2003. But Monosoff, 39, didn't stop there. Later that year, having experienced the joys—and pitfalls—of starting a business, she launched Mom Inventors Inc., a company that helps other parents create and market their inventions. In exchange she collects up to 5 percent in royalties from product sales. She and husband Brad, formerly a software company exec, run the business from their converted garage in Walnut Creek, Calif., which keeps her close to Sophia, now 3, and Kiara, 1, who now have a full time nanny. "My mother always told me to leap and the net will appear," she says. "I've lived by that."
Once pressed to make car payments, now she's counting her profits
GROSSED $250K IN SEVEN MONTHS
Raquel Lett-Anderson struggled to juggle the needs of three young children, put dinner on the table and be a supportive wife to boot. Trying to offer a little help, her husband, Antonio, 40, jury-rigged a device to hold a bottle in their baby's mouth while an adult held the baby, freeing up parents' hands. After other parents started asking Raquel—a former kindergarten aide with a degree in marketing—where they could buy one, "I turned off my mommy side," she says "and put on my business cap." That meant developing a prototype, testing, marketing and landing a patent for the hands-freeing device she called the Gabriel Feeding Pad (after their younger son's middle name).
When breastfeeding moms wanted a product too, the couple developed one with a cape-like swath to let moms nurse discreetly. Success didn't come overnight. Raquel, 37, had quit her job, so they were supporting three kids on Antonio's income managing a hair salon. "Car payments would sometimes be late," recalls Raquel, "and we had relatives buying groceries for us." After struggling for three years, Lett-Anderson was ready to give up on the business when Oprah
Winfrey invited them to appear on a segment about inventions.
A month later they had a contract with the Babies "R" Us chain. Now—with their products at Target and Burlington Coat Factory—she expects 2005 sales to top $1 million. (For now, most of the revenues go into developing new products.) It's all gravy for Lett-Anderson, her husband and kids Bryce, 13, Blaire, 9, and Christian, now 4. Says Raquel: "We were just trying to make our lives easier."
She heard "achoo!" and turned it into "ka-ching!"
2004 GROSS SALES $1.8M
Missy Cohen-Fyffe's eureka moment was less "Aha!" than "Eeew!" Searching for a shopping cart in a toy-store parking lot while carrying her infant son, the Pelham, N.H., mom saw a fellow shopper sneeze into his hands, then plop them down on the handle of his cart to push it into the rack. "I didn't want my son touching that stuff," recalls Cohen-Fyffe, 44.
To protect Josh, then 4 months, from germs, the former public-relations executive hired a seamstress in 1996 to sew a padded cover she could insert in child-seat compartments of shopping carts. It drew so much attention from fellow shoppers that, armed with advice from a retired executive with connections in the textile industry, she applied for a patent, created a business plan and arranged to have her product, the Clean Shopper, assembled at a Laconia, N.H., plant. With the help of husband Doug, an executive at a millworks company, "I would stay up all night and watch Letterman and pack them," she says.
At first she sold just a few at a time from her car. But after getting a boost from an article in a parenting magazine, she set up her own Web site (www.cleanshopper.com). In 2002 she added another item, the Clean Diner, designed to cover highchairs in restaurants. Sales of the two products have topped 250,000 units. Despite her success she still drives around Josh, now 9, and Andrew, 7, in a five-year-old minivan she doesn't want to replace while her sons are young and boisterous. "I would never have predicted we would be this successful," she says. "But I'm enjoying it."
If they're going to snack all the time, at least keep it neat
2004 GROSS SALES $500K
Christine Moss had finally finished vacuuming her entire house when the Troy, Mich., homemaker heard a familiar crunch underfoot. "A Cheerio had escaped my cleaning," she says. "I thought, there has to be a solution to this."
Unable to find snack containers that could actually contain her kids' munchies, Moss—a former insurance executive—made her own, attaching vinyl flaps to plastic cups so little hands could get in and out with no spills. The first test market: her daughter's daycare. "They thought it was the coolest thing," says Moss, 41. "I knew it would sell like crazy." After selling 45,000 for $4.99 each in six months of 2003, she nearly doubled sales last year, then landed contracts with Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us. Husband Mike, 40, a former technical consultant, works for the business. "Most of our debt is paid off, and I don't have panic attacks about money anymore," says Moss, mom to Jennifer, now 6, and Allison, 5. "And we're going to take a trip to London with the girls."
Cash and Carry: a new sling nets big bucks
$1.5M PROJECTED 2005 SALES
Laine Caspi was traveling in Israel with her husband, Yuval, and two children in 2002, when she got tired of the baby carrier she was using for her infant daughter. "My back, legs and shoulders ached," she says. "I was crying in pain."
Then friends told her about a different kind of carrier made by an Israeli woman based on a centuries-old concept. Constructed as a simple sling, it relieved pressure on the back and shoulders. Caspi, 35, a former suicide-hotline counselor, bought one and kept using it when she got home to Granada Hills, Calif., where dozens of moms inquired about where they could get one.
Borrowing $15,000 from her father, Doug, Caspi created her own version, using Lycra, T-shirt fabric, and simple, solid-color designs to create the Ultimate Baby Wrap, selling them for $39.99 each out of the back of her car. Sales really picked up when she started selling them on a Web site, and then Babies "R" Us picked up the product for its own site. With more than 60 retailers, her sales skyrocketed to more than $750,000 last year. Now she also runs ParentsofInvention.com, a group offering guidance to parent entrepreneurs in exchange for a percentage of royalties. "I never thought I'd find anything so rewarding," says Caspi. "I love making people's lives better."