Today, about 15,000 of Sari Crevin’s signature product, the SippiGrip, sells across North America at stores like Target and Babies R Us. It’s a huge success by any definition.
Like many moms, Sari Crevin was constantly bending over to pick up one-year old son Jake’s sippy-cup. He thought it was hilarious to throw it down to the ground, over and over and over again.
Unlike many moms, did something about it – she invented a hugely successful product.
“As funny as Jake thought it was to watch mommy pick it up every two minutes, I thought ‘there must be something that solves this,’” says Crevin.
Crevin did her homework, investigating retailers and catalogues, performing countless online searches and making dozens of calls, all to no avail.
“There was just nothing out there to solve my problem,” says Crevin.
That’s where many – even most – of us would throw up our hands and give up. But for some, the frustration of discovering no product exists to serve a need leads very quickly to opportunity. Sari Crevin was perhaps pre-conditioned to react in just such a way:
“I come from a very entrepreneurial family,” says Crevin, “my mom, dad, and brother all have their own companies.”
Still, there’s a huge gulf between recognition of a market niche and a potential product to fill it, and actually making one single item, much less a mass-market product. Crevin owned a human resources recruiting and coaching company, so she understood logistics. The problem was physically making one.
“I didn’t know how to sew a bobbin,” Crevin recalls with a chuckle.
Hiring someone to put together a prototype wasn’t in her nature, so she made a trip to Target and came home with a $80 sewing machine. Slowly but surely, she started “playing” with it and teaching herself the basics.
“Just the other day, I came across my first hand-sewn prototypes and laughed,” she says.
“What a drastic difference!”
Enter Bill Gates
The product evolved through trial and error, eventually into the product available nationwide today – but just as Crevin really had the SippiGrip figured out, she dropped the project almost entirely for a year.
The reason? Bill Gates.
Even as she researched and pursued what would (eventually) become the final version of SippiGrip, Crevin’s main focus remained her human resources consulting company. It attracted the notice of Microsoft; they made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and the Crevins relocated to Seattle.
As she got adjusted to a new city, and a new job working for the software giant, Crevin simply didn’t have time to devote to her then-pet project. Once again, a very successful (and famous) person was the catalyst for what happened next.
Enter Oprah Winfrey
“Oprah had a contest on her show,” Crevin recalls, “partnering with (home shopping channel) QVC to give entrepreneurs a chance (to show their products.”
The winning product would be shown and sold on the network – a huge opportunity for any startup. At first, she didn’t think it was worthwhile, and had no plans to go. A friend gave her the right advice; exactly what Crevin herself had told others in similar positions – go. Try.
“My friend told me ‘you always push people to at least try,’ and now I was balking at a plane ticket to LA,” says Crevin.
Crevin and Sippigrip didn’t end up on QVC, but they encouraged her to keep going, telling her she had a fantastic idea and a real shot at success. Crevin decided her idea was too good to let it simply waste away, and started to get serious about finding a manufacturer, and look for distributors.
Later that same year, (2007), Crevin participated in the ABC Kids Expo.
“My booth was easily the most pathetic there,” recalls Crevin with a laugh.
“My product was made in totally different materials (from now), it was like a dog leash material. Even worse, I didn’t bring enough for the show.”
Crevin got lucky – her admittedly poor presentation was overlooked. Before the show (“on my Dad’s advice”) Crevin sent exploratory emails about SippiGrip to major retailers just before the show. Sitting in her booth at the show, Crevin overheard two women talking about SippiGrip.
“They were pointing at my booth, saying ‘remember I told you about this?’” says Crevin.
The duo were from Target – which, besides being a huge retailer, was in entering the second year of its parent-invented product program. Even after a long conversation with them, Crevin didn’t comprehend their level of interest:
“They were presenting to me, not vice versa,” she recalls, “it was an incredibly surreal experience.”
Target provided Crevin (and 15 other selectees) a thorough education in the manufacturing and distribution ends of the business, effectively allowing her to go from prototype to major retailer in one fell swoop.
Once established with Target, the company had no issues with Crevin expanding her company’s retail reach. She successfully pitched to Babies R Us, and shipped her first units to them just days after giving birth to her second child.
Since then, Crevin has added a second product, PaciGrip, a universal pacifier holder. PaciGrip is actually more successful than SippiGrip, with about 20,000 units sold per month. Crevin has plans to launch a third product (tentatively called “SplatMat”) in the very near future.
How is this possible, given a demanding and rewarding “day job” career with Microsoft?
“I have a great team behind me, which includes my wonderful husband and children – they’re so supportive,” says Crevin.
Her team also means her manufacturers, lawyers, and a supply chain advisor. It also helps that her superiors at Microsoft fully endorse and support her entrepreneurial ambitions and projects, which many, if not most employers, would quietly discourage.
“I want to continue to grow in everything I do,” says Crevin.
“I think that’s the key.”