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Kelley Higney of Bug Bite Thing: “Respect the organizational structure”

Respect the organizational structure. Don’t allow family members to “help out” and float between different departments. Establish clear roles for everyone within the organization. As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Higney, Founder and CEO of Bug […]

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Respect the organizational structure. Don’t allow family members to “help out” and float between different departments. Establish clear roles for everyone within the organization.


As a part of our series about 5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Higney, Founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing.

Kelley is the founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing, which is dedicated to offering people a chemical-free and eco-friendly solution that alleviates the discomfort, stinging, itching, and swelling caused by insect bites and stings. As Seen on Shark Tank, Bug Bite Thing uses suction to remove insect saliva/venom from under the skin and is reusable, chemical-free, and safe to use on children of all ages, as well as adults. It is Amazon’s #1 selling product for insect bite relief with over 30,000 positive reviews.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When my family moved to South Florida, I wasn’t prepared for how mosquitoes would impact my family’s quality of life. Mosquitoes love me and unfortunately my daughter inherited my mosquito-attracting blood and was constantly suffering from bites. I’d use itch-relieving creams and tried everything to prevent her from being bit but nothing really worked long-term. I was also worried about what chemicals I might be exposing her to.

I started researching how other countries combat insect bites and took a chance on an unfamiliar product that used suction to remove the irritant. I was amazed to find the product not only worked, but also offered instant relief and reduced the long-term effects of an insect bite. I was ecstatic to finally find a way to provide relief for my child. Since then, I knew that I had to make this product readily available to anyone who suffers from bug bites. That’s why I consider myself a “mom on a mission,” working hard to help other families by equipping them with Bug Bite Thing.

Can you tell us a bit about your family business and your role in it?

I started Bug Bite Thing in 2017 and it has truly become a family business. I’m the founder and CEO, my mother is the president, my husband is the chief operating officer, and my brother-in-law is an integral part of our marketing team.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Bug Bite Thing grabbed the attention of one of the casting producers for ABC’s hit show ‘Shark Tank.’ They encouraged my mother and me to audition and we were on the show in October 2019. We had all the Sharks biting with offers and decided to strike a deal with Lori Greiner. The show was great for exposure and we’ve seen tremendous growth ever since!

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?

One of the greater lessons I’ve learned comes from mistakes made during our initial marketing setup. When we launched Bug Bite Thing we targeted male outdoorsmen like fishermen, hikers, hunters, etc. Although we still market to that demographic, we quickly realized we were missing out on so many other customers. Specifically moms, like me, who are on a mission to help their kids. Now that’s turned into our biggest group of consumers! I learned that we needed to pay more attention to who was reacting positively to our product, and then translated those reactions to our online marketing strategy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Bug Bite Thing is unlike any other insect bite relief product on the market. While most bug sprays and anti-itch creams contain chemicals, Bug Bite Thing is completely chemical-free and only uses suction to eliminate the irritant. The product is unique because it eliminates the problem, instead of masking it.

Nevertheless, I think what makes Bug Bite Thing really stand out is our company culture. While the corporate hierarchy may work for some businesses, that is not the structure at Bug Bite Thing. I feel that many companies are afraid to try new things which hinders employees from reaching their full potential. I encourage our employees to think outside the box and bring new ideas to the table. When vetting new candidates, I look for people who possess an entrepreneurial spirit, are innovative and creative thinkers.

I also want our employees to know they are valued. We cater lunch for employees every Friday, give back to our local community with company-wide volunteer days and continually look for ways to make our employees feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. I also want everyone to be visually stimulated the moment they step inside Bug Bite Thing’s office. The walls are filled with painted murals. I want the workspace to reflect the company’s fun and collaborative culture.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I am working on many exciting projects! We launched Bug Bite Thing’s first new color, black, last year on Black Friday. The feedback has been extremely positive and customers have asked for more colors. We will be releasing a new color in the Spring of 2021. I am currently working on refreshing the website and expanding our product offering in 2022.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother. She’s taught me everything I know about business. After high school, I went to college, where I studied early childhood education. I then held a few different jobs. However, I was always involved in my family’s business, A.C. Kerman, in some capacity. In 2013, when my family moved to Florida, is when our professional relationship really started to blossom. I actually started Bug Bite Thing while still working for A.C. Kerman. This is something I couldn’t have done without the support of my mother. When Bug Bite Thing took off, I knew I couldn’t run the company without her.

Today, my mother is the president of Bug Bite Thing. She is an essential role model for me as an entrepreneur. Beyond her keen understanding of business, my mom knows me better than anyone and understands the challenge of balancing motherhood with running a successful business.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a company, we are committed to giving back. As a mother, I am saddened by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on families. So many families are struggling with hunger and to feed their children.

Bug Bite Thing started out 2021 with a 10,000 dollars donation to the Treasure Coast Food Bank, a member of Feeding America. The organization helps individuals and families gain long-term food security and self-sufficiency. Our company’s donation will feed more than 80,000 families in our community!

We also held a company-wide volunteer day at the food bank, preparing nutritious food boxes to further support the organization’shunger-relief efforts in our South Florida community. It was a great team-building experience. I look forward to more opportunities that allow us to spend time together while giving back to our community.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main parts of our interview. How do you define a family business? How is a family business different from a regular business?

Bug Bite Thing is family business for obvious reasons — my mom, husband, and brother-in-law are all members of the team. However, I think our definition of a family business goes beyond that. We are all equally invested in the company and there is a greater level of trust and commitment that exists among all of us.

In your opinion or experience, what are the unique advantages that family owned businesses have?

Trust. I never have to worry about whether my family members are looking out for my best interest. They have supported me every step of the way and have been an integral part of my journey. Together, we have built Bug Bite Thing from the ground up.

What are the unique drawbacks or blindspots that family owned businesses have?

We have not had many drawbacks. Since the beginning, we made it a priority to set boundaries and to respect the organizational structure that we established. When you work with family it’s easier for those lines to get blurred and for family members to want to help out in every department. If you can, I recommend having family members work in different departments and report to different managers. That helps set some of those boundaries naturally. In short, it’s important that when you come to work you stay in your respective work lane, so to speak.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen family businesses make? What would you recommend to avoid those errors?

As I mentioned, I think not setting boundaries or creating a distinction between your work and family life can be a critical mistake. Furthermore, allowing family members to work more or have a hand in multiple projects can also lead to trouble. Finally, I think it’s important that you remember where you are. I have to put on my CEO hat when speaking to my mother at work. At work we are partners and at home we are mother and daughter.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders of family businesses to help their employees to thrive?

Take the time to hire the right people and don’t pigeon-hole your employees! Employees thrive when they are entrusted to explore the ideas they are passionate about. In my opinion, too many CEOs look for an established business model to replicate instead of creating a system that works for them. I strongly believe there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to building a brand or growing a business. In my opinion, it is imperative for a CEO to be open to new ideas, trust their team and to embrace change.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean with a story or example?

I have worked hard to build an open-door policy and an environment that encourages openness, transparency, and innovative thinking. I want everyone who works for Bug Bite Thing to feel empowered to bring new ideas to the table. It does not matter what department they work in or their title.

For example, one of our goals is to create an omnichannel customer experience. One of the members of our customer service department had the idea that by adding a chat feature to our website we would achieve this. They are now working collaboratively with our marketing team to find a program that can accomplish this.

Here is our main question. What are the “5 Things You Need To Run A Highly Successful Family Business”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Establish clear boundaries and leave family issues at home. For example, I don’t call my mother “mom” at work, I call her by her first name.
  2. Respect the organizational structure. Don’t allow family members to “help out” and float between different departments. Establish clear roles for everyone within the organization.
  3. Create an open-door policy that builds trust between managers and employees. Having each family member report to a different manager is one way to do this and to ensure equal treatment among all employees.
  4. Encourage inventiveness and creativity among your employees. Take all of their ideas into consideration and make sure family members don’t receive preferential treatment.
  5. Take the time to find the right people for your team; people you are truly confident in. Don’t hire a family member just because you need help. Take the time to find the right people who are also a good cultural fit.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It is a quote from a Forbes interview with In-and-out President, Lynsi Snyder. “I felt a deep call to make sure that I preserve those things that [my family] would want. That we didn’t ever look to the left and the right to see what everyone else is doing, cut corners or change things drastically or compromise.”

This quote really resonates with me because I am a huge believer in not sticking to a one-size-fits-all business model. Don’t be afraid to create something new that fits your needs.

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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Anne Wojcicki. All of the Wojcicki women are incredibly smart and talented. With 23andMe, Anne was able to make DNA testing available to consumers for the first time, allowing people access to genealogy in a way that had not been before. This has added a positive value to people’s lives, allows them to find relatives and also find out about potential health risks.

You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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