Dr. Shannon Davis: “Take your passion and make it happen”

The best part is making my own schedule! It makes things much more convenient for my children and when my husband travels for his job. Being able to arrange my day means I could manage so much more. I don’t typically work regular hours, I do a good portion of work at night or early […]

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The best part is making my own schedule! It makes things much more convenient for my children and when my husband travels for his job. Being able to arrange my day means I could manage so much more. I don’t typically work regular hours, I do a good portion of work at night or early morning. I don’t really see much downside to running my own business. I have good days and bad days but as a sole small business owner, you know what you got yourself into.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Davis.

Dr. Shannon Davis PT, DPT is a mother of two girls (ages 7 and 11) with a Doctorate and Master’s degree in Physical Therapy. She is a Certified Autism Specialist and MOVE International Trainer for Adults. She has worked for over 20 years providing specialized services to children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in schools, day programs, and home settings. Dr. Shannon Davis PT, DPT is the CEO of Inspiration Physical Therapy Inc., which provides therapy consultation services and Inspire Create LLC., which is the parent company of the patented Little Balance Box® and patent-pending Hativity™. She also participates in a variety of client advocacy activities and philanthropic causes at the local, state, and national levels.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Growing up I was always exposed to individuals that had an amazing ‘how can I fix it or make it better’ mentality. I adopted this quickly. Coupled with carpentry and handy person skills, I was motivated to learn how to create. I picked up tools, sewing, measuring and cutting patterns. Having that background, I learned early on to work with different materials and how to fix or create new things! I was never one to wait for someone else to solve a problem for me.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

As a practicing Physical Therapist and mother of two, I felt there had to be a safer and more natural way for children to move from sitting to standing and walking. I watched my second child attempt to use both seated and push walkers and noticed several deficiencies. The seated walker severely restricted her movement and inhibited her natural transitions. On the other hand, she had trouble reaching the handlebar of the push walker, which interfered with her transition to a standing position. Moreover, once she achieved a standing position controlling and maneuvering the push walker with the single handlebar and fast-moving wheels proved extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous. With these problems and limitations in mind, I began to tinker with various forms with the goal of creating a walker that enables a child to move naturally through the transitions from sitting, standing and walking. A year later the Little Balance Box® was born!

Then as my children grew up, I ran into another problem of sun protection while living in sunny San Diego. My daughters did not like how sunhats flopped in their face, obstructing their visual field. When going out to the grocery store or to run errands, I was always carrying their sunhats along with toys, crafts, anything to entertain them! Therefore, when I started to design the best sunhat, I also wanted to figure out a way for it to entertain my kids. I came up with the concept of Hativity (hat+activity), with a semi-rigid brim and interchangeable, textured sensory patches! Now my daughters have optimal sun protection, comfort, and fun!

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Yes, there are lots of amazing ideas out there! But the reality is it takes a lot of hard work, commitment and money to bring an idea to market and be successful, especially for a baby product. For the Little Balance Box, I endured many challenges. First was inventing a product that would exceed the safety regulations, not just in the US but globally. I wanted to make a product that all children could use since all children need to learn how to walk! Lots of trial and error but finally came up with a multifunction design. Then shopping for liability insurance and a manufacturer that would help a startup. All challenges but I did it! I just never took “no” for an answer. Other people were able to bring things to market and I knew I could too!

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

At the end of the day, I always had bills to pay and a family to care for. Plus I really loved being a physical therapist and did not want to give that up. So I decided to keep my full-time job and continue to pursue my inventions on the side. It was hard, I worked a lot of hours and it may have taken longer, but I was able to fully fund myself and be my own boss. Then as I grew I reorganized and split my time between both businesses and was able to hire additional people to help me. Now I can do both things that I love to do! My ultimate advice is to make time for your passion. You do not have to quit your day job to make things happen!

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Having two separate but complementary businesses has given me balance. Having different project spheres helps so I do not burn out from either one. It also helps that I have an immense passion for both. I think this is a key ingredient to keeping things enjoyable. I really don’t see what I do as work, I see what I do as fulfilling my greater passion to help others.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

The best part is making my own schedule! It makes things much more convenient for my children and when my husband travels for his job. Being able to arrange my day means I could manage so much more. I don’t typically work regular hours, I do a good portion of work at night or early morning. I don’t really see much downside to running my own business. I have good days and bad days but as a sole small business owner, you know what you got yourself into.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

I never had this feeling because I never quit my real job, haha! I have been lucky enough to actively practice physical therapy while building up my inventions.

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?

Using gender words to identify a baby made for a few funny situations. When I started this a few years ago the gender-neutral words had not become a mainstream topic. At parenting expos we would say “she is so beautiful” and “he is so handsome” as conversation starters, to then find out it was the baby who was the opposite gender. This made for awkward situations and some offended parents! So we learned to no longer use any gender words. Instead, we mention how well the baby holds up their head or grip strength to make our conversations more personal about the baby.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I smile and feel the warmth in my heart with this question. Being inspired by others (family, friends, clients and even strangers) is what has led me on this path. Even my business names reflect this with Inspiration Physical Therapy Inc and Inspire Create LLC. One of my biggest inspirations was at my first trade show with a Little Balance Box prototype. There was a mom and baby who were trying it out and the mom began to cry. She said she was overjoyed with excitement in that this was the first time she was seeing her daughter walk! All the medical professionals said she would never be able to walk and here was her daughter walking! Mom was so impressed she even offered to buy my 1,000 dollars prototype!!

Hativity has also had it’s inspiring moments! One family reached out to me to share they have a son who is sensitive to smells and had difficulty in visiting restaurants and the grocery store. But using Hativity with the aromatherapy feature has changed everything! Now they can visit these places without their son feeling sick. On this journey, I continue to receive inspiring stories and feedback on how my products have been a life-changer for children and their parents, what could be more inspiring than that!

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

One way I can make a difference is by providing helpful tools. I donate to therapists/clinics, charities/organizations, families, schools, etc. it is a priority for us to give back and help others. We donate a lot of the Little Balance Boxes! Establishing good motor skills is so critical in a child’s development and has lifelong implications. I want every child to have the opportunity to learn how to walk.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Order of Operations — know how your product will be tested and design to pass.
  2. Liability insurance — depending on your product, you may need to find a specialty insurance company.
  3. Establishing a brand — even if you only think you are designing one product, come up with a brand name to be more inclusive of other items. This way you can expand!
  4. Naming products — if you cannot clearly tell a product’s function based on a picture, then make sure the name helps to provide a description.
  5. Social media — start early, social media following and content took way longer than I predicted to build up.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible 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.

Good Manners! Cheap and easy way to acknowledge and appreciate others. Please and thank you. Eye contact and smiling!! Studies have even demonstrated how smiling benefits oneself and others. Maybe this is why Amazon has the smile as its logo?!

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

“Take your passion and make it happen” from Irene Cara-movie Flashdance

I am a child of the ’80s and watched this movie a million times! As I was going through these processes and still today I will say this quote to myself. Especially on tough days, it is kind of my mantra!

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.

I would love to meet Andy Cohen! I have watched him for years build up his own empire and the Bravo network. The shows on Bravo have been a foundation in many ways for me. Since I do a lot of work at night, Bravo was the one channel I could watch for hours that helped to keep me awake! Over the years I have also learned a lot about being an entrepreneur, marketing, being in sales, etc. from the shows. Thanks, Andy Cohen and Bravo for the education!!

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

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