Kelley Higney of Bug Bite Thing: “Come to terms with the fact that you’ll often experience frustration”

Come to terms with the fact that you’ll often experience frustration. I am always going at a million miles an hour and I have the next five years planned out in my head. I often feel disappointment over not being able to execute fast enough. Remember this is a good thing: you are still experiencing […]

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Come to terms with the fact that you’ll often experience frustration. I am always going at a million miles an hour and I have the next five years planned out in my head. I often feel disappointment over not being able to execute fast enough. Remember this is a good thing: you are still experiencing growth.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelley Higney.

Kelley Higney is the founder and CEO of Bug Bite Thing, the chemical-free, reusable insect bite relief suction tool that is Amazon’s #1 selling insect bite treatment with over 40,000 reviews. Kelley is a member of Fast Company Executive Board and Forbes Business Council, the recipient of many awards and was named ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the 2021 Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

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?

In 2013, my family relocated from San Diego to South Florida. I was completely 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.

After many failed attempts using creams and trying home remedies to relieve my daughter’s discomfort, I researched how other countries combat insect bites. She was six months old at the time and I was scared that she would ingest the chemicals in topical anti-itch creams. I discovered a suction tool that offers the most effective solution for insect bite relief. That tool is now known as Bug Bite Thing. I’ve since become a “Mom on a Mission’’ to offer chemical-free insect bite relief worldwide.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There have been many! One interesting story is that I started selling Bug Bite Thing on Amazon to make it available to Amazon shoppers. Bug Bite Thing quickly became Amazon’s #1 best-selling product in the insect bite relief category, has maintained that ranking for the past three years and now has over 40,000 reviews!

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 sold my home and used that money to start Bug Bite Thing. I rented a house and I was running the business out of my garage. I didn’t have any employees yet, so I was doing everything myself, which includes fulfilling and shipping customers’ orders.

When my online business began to grow, in front of my house there would be piles of orders for pick up. My mail carrier would have to complete their normal route, then make a second trip for all of my orders as they would fill the entire truck. I would help them load their truck and always have food and snacks for them. I got to know them quite well!

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 grandmother and mother. They are both successful entrepreneurs. I grew up helping out with our family business from a young age. Whether it was attending trade shows as a family regularly or answering the phone at the office, I was always in the mix. My childhood role models were strong, powerful women who led their companies and always thought outside the box. I didn’t believe that I would have fewer opportunities because I was female; I was taught that women and men are equals.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

One thing that is holding many women back is having confidence that they will succeed because there are still so few female founders and women in C-suite roles.

This means allocating more investment dollars to women and creating more opportunities for women at the top: in 2020, only 7.5% of deals went to female-only founded startups and women only held 7.8% of CEO positions in S&P 500 companies. By increasing the number of women in these roles, it will make the prospect of taking the leap as a female seem less daunting.

Additionally, we need to do more to educate women of the sources available to them. If they don’t want to go the VC route or if they are not able to raise funding, they can still start a business. There are SBA loans, accounts receivable financing, financing for purchase orders and inventory, these are all available options.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

If you are a female founder and want to be a catalyst for change, it is important to mentor both women and girls. Organizations, such as the Girl Scouts, are paving the way for the next generation of leaders by teaching young girls leadership skills.

Over the summer, Bug Bite Thing partnered with Girl Scouts of South Florida, and I witnessed this firsthand. It was an extremely rewarding experience to lead activities and watch girls asking questions, exploring their knowledge on different topics and becoming more self-confident.

As a society, we need both women and men to continue to use their voices to raise awareness about how few women-led companies exist, even though they have a high success rate. At the end of the day, it is all about the bottom line and not investing in women is a missed opportunity.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Because women are nurturing, passionate, creative and powerful. I’ve seen it first hand watching my mother and grandmother build their company from the ground up. By placing such an emphasis on the company culture, they created a warm, welcoming and productive work environment that was not just about the bottom line. Because of the work environment, people loved working for them.

It’s so important to me that I emulate the same type of culture within my own organization. Years later, I am leading by example for my own daughters, who I hope will one day run the business.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I think there is a myth that being a founder means you are constantly receiving praise. Yes, you are a big part of the “wins” and acknowledgment of your role in the success. However, that lasts about a minute. Then you need to figure out how to grow it to the next stage and continue to scale at a rapid rate. There is never a point where things can just go on auto-pilot and your business will continue to expand. You constantly have to build and rebuild the infrastructure, find new ways to pivot, etc.

The second myth is that “everyone is invested in your success.” You have to create your own support system and find people you can trust. My mother is the president of my company. Beyond 35 + years of experience, there is inherent trust in our relationship. I know that my mother is looking out for my best interest and doesn’t have ulterior motives.

A third myth would be that successful founders had everything figured out from the beginning. That playbook that you created when you started your company will only get you so far. Everyone is figuring things out as they go and the only constant is change. Being able to pivot and evolve is the real test whether you will be able to steer the ship.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Definitely not. In the beginning, you are the “Chief Everything Officer.” You wear many hats and have to do many different jobs, even the ones you may not like. When I first started my company, I was lugging around boxes and packing orders — you are responsible for anything and everything it takes to get your business off the ground.

Being a founder also means you must be capable of handling a tremendous amount of stress and unpredictability. If you are someone who thrives on consistency, this is probably not the career path for you. It seems like it would go without saying, but you can never check out. It is important to still make time for your personal life, but when a work problem arises, you are the one handling it. And even when you’re not working, you are constantly thinking about your business and trying to problem-solve in your head.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Create or join a networking group for female founders. I can’t stress enough how important it is to connect with other female entrepreneurs who are at the same growth stage as you. Shark Tank entrepreneurs have created a great network and we find ways to support one another.
  2. Do at least one thing daily outside of work that helps you destress, or you will suffer from burnout. My husband is the COO of Bug Bite Thing. We make time to destress at home in the evening and we play video games together. On the weekends, we have family game night or family movie night with our kids.
  3. Outsourcing can work in the beginning, but there are many things you likely have to bring in-house. You will likely want more control of different aspects of the business as you grow. For Bug Bite Thing, this has included digital advertising and graphic design. This allows us to have more control of the strategy and quicker turnaround times.
  4. Come to terms with the fact that you’ll often experience frustration. I am always going at a million miles an hour and I have the next five years planned out in my head. I often feel disappointment over not being able to execute fast enough. Remember this is a good thing: you are still experiencing growth.
  5. Even the best-laid plans go astray. Anticipation is the key to success and things will never go exactly according to plan. Always have a plan A and B from the start and expect there will be hurdles.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My mission has always been to help people by offering the most effective, chemical-free solution for insect bite relief. I’m always looking for ways to help people living where mosquitoes are a problem. I have donated Bug Bite Thing to hospitals and nonprofits in my home state of Florida, specifically to organizations that support pediatric cancer patients and their families.

The last thing a sick child should experience is discomfort and suffering from bug bites. It is our goal to alleviate any of the discomfort they’re experiencing.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Educate yourself about the chemicals that are in the products that you use on and feed your children. In the U.S. there are fewer bans on chemicals compared to other parts of the world. Here is an article on some of the foods that are banned in other countries but sold in the U.S. I have two young girls and I am constantly trying to educate myself on the topic. Bug Bite Thing is also active in Cancer Free Economy Network, which is a great resource for data and information on this topic.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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.

Whitney Wolfe Herd. Not only is she the youngest woman to take a company public, but she has also been very outspoken about the importance of work/life balance. She gave the entire company a week off and has taken action to prevent employee burnout.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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