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Kelley Higney of ‘Bug Bite Thing’: “You can’t be successful in business without taking risks”

You can’t be successful in business without taking risks. I took a huge financial risk to start my company. My husband and I sold our home. We used the money to start Bug Bite Thing. We rented a house and operated Bug Bite Thing out of our garage. Trust your gut instinct. I was told multiple […]

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You can’t be successful in business without taking risks. I took a huge financial risk to start my company. My husband and I sold our home. We used the money to start Bug Bite Thing. We rented a house and operated Bug Bite Thing out of our garage.

Trust your gut instinct. I was told multiple times that Bug Bite Thing as a singular product would not succeed. People said that I needed a product line to launch the business. Instead, I relied on my gut instinct which told me that Bug Bite Thing would change people’s lives.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Higney.

Kelley is the founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing, dedicated to offering people a chemical-free and eco-friendly solution that alleviates the discomfort, stinging, itching, and swelling caused by bug 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 20,000 positive reviews.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I worked for my family’s international export and distribution business, A.C. Kerman, for 15 years, along with my mother, Ellen McAlister. Then in 2016, my family relocated from San Diego to South Florida. I was unprepared for how mosquitoes would impact our quality of life. For as long as I can remember, I have been a “mosquito magnet.” And unfortunately, my daughter inherited my mosquito-attracting blood. Living in South Florida didn’t help. Suddenly my daughter was constantly suffering from mosquito bites. She also has a severe reaction to insect bites and develops cellulitis, which is a common but potentially serious bacterial skin infection.

After many failed attempts using creams and trying home remedies to relieve my daughter’s discomfort, I researched how other countries combat insect bites. During my research, I came across a little-known product from Denmark. The product used suction to help remove insect saliva/venom. I discovered that the product was more effective than everything else

I had tried. It offered instant relief and it was chemical-free unlike every other cream and topical treatment on the market. When I realized how much of a game-changer the product was for my daughter, I knew I had to offer other families the same relief.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

For one, Bug Bite Thing is unlike all other insect bite relief products on the market making it disruptive within the industry. While most insect bite relief products are a topical cream or spray and contain chemicals, Bug Bite Thing only uses suction and is completely chemical-free. Because there is intrigue around how the product works, it has gone viral on social media, specifically TikTok.

Also, the product’s effectiveness. As a mother, I did not want to use a product full of chemicals on my daughter. She was six months old at the time and I was scared that she would ingest them. I was also baffled to discover there are thousands of chemicals approved for use in personal care products used on children in the United States. I could not believe suction alone could offer instant relief. The product also has more than 20,000 positive reviews attesting to its effectiveness. It is also the #1 selling product on Amazon in the insect bite treatment category.

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 great lesson and a funny mistake that I made pertains to our initial marketing strategy. When we launched Bug Bite Thing, we targeted male outdoorsmen. And while that demographic remains one piece of our market, we were missing out on so many others, especially those who have turned out to be our biggest group of consumers — moms, like me, who are on a mission to help their kids! The lesson that I learned is that I needed to understand how customers reacted to the product. I then translated those reactions to my online marketing strategy.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My mother. She has taught me everything I know about business and I have worked with her my entire career. I started working on our family business, A.C. Kerman, right out of college. I worked for the company for 15 years. I left when I started Bug Bite Thing. The company went from being just an idea to becoming a successful business because my mother advised me through the entire process. I was able to rely on her 35 years of experience working with manufacturers to guide me every step of the way. I could not imagine being on this journey without her.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think of disruption as change. Disruption translates to success when it improves or adds value to people’s lives. Ultimately, if the disruption does not have a long-term added value for people, it will not stand the test of time. One of the positive effects of disruption is that it can create new industries, new jobs and challenges people to think differently.

When I think about an example of disruption that could be viewed as both positive and ‘not so positive,’ I immediately think of the rideshare industry. It has changed the way we think about transportation and has added convenience to our lives. It has also impacted the taxi and auto industry. The gig economy has also disrupted the way people work. And with disruption there can be new challenges. I think if the “new structure” can withhold the test of time within it shows that the disruption is in the end positive.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. You can’t be successful in business without taking risks. I took a huge financial risk to start my company. My husband and I sold our home. We used the money to start Bug Bite Thing. We rented a house and operated Bug Bite Thing out of our garage.
  2. Trust your gut instinct. I was told multiple times that Bug Bite Thing as a singular product would not succeed. People said that I needed a product line to launch the business. Instead, I relied on my gut instinct which told me that Bug Bite Thing would change people’s lives.
  3. It’s a marathon not a sprint. I intentionally started my business on a very small scale. I wanted my community to test the product. I was selling at local farmers’ markets and bake sales. Talking to customers, I was constantly getting feedback on the product. When I first started out, people did not understand how to use Bug Bite Thing. The product sat on the shelves and inventory was not moving. It took several versions of packaging to translate to customers how to use the product effectively. By taking the time to get it right, I was able to create a demand.This also reassured me that people found the product as effective as I did.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We are introducing our first new color of Bug Bite Thing just in time for the holidays. Also, I am working on an exciting new project, but I cannot share any details yet.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman. The book completely shifted the way I view my business. Traction is a great book for people who feel like they are ‘spinning their wheels and want to take their business to the next level. The concept of the book is that you should view your business from an outsider’s perspective. I went from thinking on a small scale to viewing my business as a dominant player within the industry.

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 by the founder of SPANX, Sara Blakely, “Having a mental snapshot of where you are, where you are going, and what you are moving toward is incredibly powerful.” As an entrepreneur, I have felt overwhelmed at times by the small things that I am juggling on a daily basis. This reminds me of my goal when starting the company: to provide people with chemical-free relief from the discomfort caused by insect bites. I reflect on how many people I have been able to help, while also continuing on my journey to make Bug Bite Thing available to millions worldwide.

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. 🙂

Encourage parents to look at the products they are using on their children and discuss how many cosmetic and personal care products on the market in the U.S. contain chemicals that are banned in other countries.

How can our readers follow you online?

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @bugbitething. On LinkedIn Kelley Higney and Twitter @kelley_higney. And Bug Bite Thing’s blog, From The Queen Bee.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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