Don’t get suckered into thinking you cannot do things yourself. Yes, it’s true that I don’t have a marketing or business background, but I was able to learn almost everything I needed to know online! There are literally thousands of tutorials on YouTube for almost everything a new entrepreneur would and could need. I would watch videos between patients or on my lunch break or days off and try to absorb as much information as possible so that I could do much of the work myself and save money in the early days.
As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffany Sudre.
She is the founder and CEO of Silver Lining, a new scrubs company that makes lined medical scrubs. As a dentist, she was tired of constantly layering to work with leggings and long sleeve shirts under her scrubs, so she looked for warmer options online. When none existed, she decided to start her own company. She spent years researching fabric combinations and popular scrub styles and she has landed on a slam dunk set of products to keep healthcare workers warm, comfortable and stylish on the job.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
As cliché as it sounds, I knew I wanted to be a dentist since I was 10 years old. My mom is a dental hygienist and I have worked as an assistant in her office from age 13 through high school. Her boss, the dentist, is a crazy, hilarious and honest man who is in his upper 70s and never wants to retire. I looked up to him as a career role model for that reason and wanted to find something that would make me just as happy, which is why I ended up loving dentistry.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel” by Maya Angelou. This resonated with me so strongly as a dentist. Now with all the PPE we wear, it is hard to see my face and I no longer wear a name tag, so patients genuinely cannot remember my name. It is paramount to me to treat every single patient the way I would want to be treated. I want them to understand exactly what treatment they need, why they need it and see it in the intraoral photos and x-rays I show them because people place their trust in us as healthcare professionals, and I value that tremendously.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I commute 2 hours each day to work and have really fallen in love with podcasts. Particularly, “How I Built This” by Guy Raz. I listen to it every night on my drive home and it made me realize that I truly am an entrepreneur at heart. I had never considered myself as one and didn’t think I would ever start my own company, but listening to this podcast gave me a lot of motivation and the courage that I could do it! Every time I listen to an episode, I get this feeling that “I can invent something! I can be an entrepreneur!”
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
As a dentist, I was used to wearing leggings and long sleeve shirts under my scrubs every day of the year because dental offices are notoriously cold. With a 1 hour commute to work, the leggings would be constantly digging into my stomach and I found that I would have to continuously adjust my scrubs every time I got up because they would slide around over the leggings. I looked for warmer options so I could ditch the layers, but there weren’t any! I worked with designers and manufacturers for over a year to come up with the perfect fabric combinations to make a completely lined garment that wouldn’t look bulky at all and would keep you warm at work without causing you to overheat, and I think we nailed it!
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Being in the healthcare field, I saw a huge gap in the market for warmer scrubs. Most hospitals and offices are so cold and layering has become such a common thing that people don’t even think twice. With the introduction of our high quality lined scrubs, hopefully layering will become a thing of the past. I truly believe in the product and crowd sourced the idea on Facebook and to friends and family, and everyone seemed super interested. When I started doing some market research, I discovered that this could really be a hit because of that gap in the market and the immense need.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
It definitely helped that I am already in the healthcare field and that I was the exact clientele I was planning on marketing to. The issue became that I only know what other dentists want and need, but there are so many color and material restrictions in hospitals that vary tremendously and were really hard for me to gauge. I tried to really listen to my customers and take note of how many requests there were for each color or style so that I could see which colors and looks to release next.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
I would say the biggest motivators have been my customers! I am constantly getting emails and messages on Facebook requesting colors! The amount of people writing to let me know how much they love the scrubs and thanking me for making these products has been so overwhelming and has kept me excited to keep growing the company so that I can make scrubs for everyone who wants them!
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
After I started the company, I quickly realized I had zero experience in fashion, marketing, business and that I had no contacts in the industry. I did numerous searches online and read everything and anything I could find to teach myself what I needed to move forward. I reached out to alumnae from my college to find a patent attorney and received invaluable help and advice from another Mount Holyoke alumna who helped me file my trademark and establish my LLC. I found fashion experts on Upwork, who helped put me in touch with manufacturers who could help me locate the fabrics I needed, which did not exist in the US. My initial desire was to produce and manufacture everything in the US, but it was extremely challenging to find any factories willing to work with a startup and it was impossible to find the fabric I needed here. Manufacturing overseas became my only option, but that came with its own set of pluses and minuses. Though costs for production may be lower, the communication was much slower and it took several months of back and forth emailing to figure out that they were willing to help me make my desired product. Then, of course, there is the cost of shipping which is astronomical, especially now. I had to learn about tariffs as well, which I also received help and advice about from someone I found on Upwork. Upwork and Fiverr were very helpful for me throughout the process because I could quickly identify people who could help or at least point me in the direction of someone who could help me, because there was still so much I didn’t know. Even now, 1 year into this business, I find myself learning every single day. I think that being open to learning and making mistakes is key.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know exactly that it’s a funny story, per se, but when I was trying to figure out the sizing distribution that I wanted to request from the manufacturer [amount of scrubs per size], I thought about the average size in the US and skewed towards larger sizes. I would say that the majority of my sales for the first 6–7 months were all XS and S, which was extremely eye opening and helped me realize how to place orders moving forward.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I hired an SEO manager and it really helped tremendously. Probably my best investment thus far. My goal has always been to have customers who are interested in the products find my website by searching the key words I would have used to find a similar product, but my website wasn’t ranking on Google even if you searched my company’s name! Now, we are finally at a place where our organic traffic has skyrocketed which has really reinforced the high demand for the product we are making.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t get suckered into thinking you cannot do things yourself. Yes, it’s true that I don’t have a marketing or business background, but I was able to learn almost everything I needed to know online! There are literally thousands of tutorials on YouTube for almost everything a new entrepreneur would and could need. I would watch videos between patients or on my lunch break or days off and try to absorb as much information as possible so that I could do much of the work myself and save money in the early days.
- Get yourself a great SEO manager. I learned about it and tried to do it myself, but seasoned pros know the ins and outs of getting your website ranked on Google, whereas I was inputting keywords into blog posts and expecting magic to happen on its own. Once I hired a pro, I saw immediate results in organic growth which was my goal all along.
- Make sure you keep a spreadsheet of all your expenses. Start doing this on day one, because trust me, going back and retroactively logging all of your expenses is tedious, time consuming and there are likely things that will fall through the cracks. Ask me how I know.
- Don’t get pressured into giving your products away for free. I’ve had several social media managers tell me that I needed influencers to talk about my products and then I would get tons of orders and new followers. That may be true, but in my field, most of the influencers are sworn to large companies who have millions of dollars at their disposal. I would say 99% of the influencers I was talked into sending free products to (though SUPER nice people) did not end up helping me gain a single follower or land a single sale.
- You don’t need a million dollars to start a company, just a million dollar idea. I believe whole heartedly in my lined scrubs collections and have taken each and every piece of feedback I have received from my customers to constantly improve and enhance our products. I know our lined scrubs are the best out there and we offer free shipping and returns to our customers so they can see the quality and comfort for themselves without risk.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Making a business plan is key. That way you can identify exactly who your customers are and how much money you need to make your business functional. It will also highlight the areas where you may have voids and where you may need help. In my case, I quickly realized that I needed help getting contacts to have my product made. Once you know how much of the business side you can do yourself, you will know how many people you need to get your idea off the ground. My advice is to try to do as much as you can by yourself at first to keep costs down. I taught myself, through YouTube videos and trial and error, how to run ads, make a website, and even had my husband take photos of me wearing the product for our social media and early product shots!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I think there’s absolutely no shame in needing help from outside sources. My advice is mainly to trust who you are hiring 100% because every expense is critical in the early days. Do not take on more than you can handle financially, set a budget and stick to it.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
If you can self-fund that is definitely the way to go but realize that it is very hard to scale when you are self-funded. It is a great way to determine whether your idea or invention could be successful, but venture capitalists will likely want a certain threshold of sales or profit before investing.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am a big proponent of giving back! I immediately looked for a non-profit with a common theme and message to partner with and knew I had found it when I came upon Operation Warm. We donate a portion of our proceeds every year to Operation Warm, which provides brand new coats for kids in need, because at Silver Lining we believe no one should ever be cold. We also started a fundraiser for Operation Warm and are matching the total amount donated!
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The pandemic has really brought to light the tremendous amount of need in our country. With many people losing their jobs, I really want to help as many people as I can. We have made and donated ear savers (to relieve your ears from the weight of mask wearing), scrubs and scrub caps to healthcare workers and want to continue to help by donating to Operation Warm and numerous other organizations that are helping those that need it the most right now.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
That’s a great question! I would have to say Derek Jeter. Is that random? I’m a huge Yankees fan and he is the epitome of class in the game. I feel like he is an entrepreneur at heart, too, and I would love to pick his brain.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.