We’re realizing that a small company like ours can enable a whole new generation to live their lives more fully, with the dignity that comes with doing for ones self. So when non-profit care facilities reach out to us with limited funds, we have a program to assist those centers with donations of EazyHold. It’s humbling to witness. Every day when I open my computer, I get kind notes and photos of children with cerebral palsy, limb loss, pediatric stroke, or spinal cord injuries using Eazyhold, grateful for a simple tool to help eat, write, play, like any other kid. Such an honor.
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 Kerry Mellin.
Kerry Mellin is the Founder and Co-Owner of EazyHold.com. After a 35-year career designing for the motion picture industry, Kerry discovered through necessity, a lack of simple grip aids to help people continue to be active through physical adversity. Designing products that allow the differently-abled more independence, and inclusion, is the motivating force behind Mellin Works LLC. With products supplied globally in over 5,000 hospitals and therapy centers, Kerry’s company has made history by innovating a new category of silicone grip aids for the medical rehabilitation and caregiving industries. EazyHold is now included, around the world, in academic textbooks and University curriculums on instructional basic assistive technology application and procedure.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iwas the definition of “horse crazy”, and as a young girl I spent my weekends out at the corrals of the local pony ride, dreaming about the ranch I’d own someday. At eleven, I was finally mature enough, or tall enough, to tack up the string of ponies, hoist kids up into the saddles, and make change for a dollar. I shortly became head wrangler that pony ride, and for six years, I worked every weekend, loving everything about working a horse business.
But when the time came for me to actually choose a serious career path, I worried I might lose my zest for ranching, so I decided to keep horses just a hobby. A professor suggested I take an aptitude test to assess my abilities, and when I discovered that I was well suited to work in either the film industry or in the medical field of occupational therapy, I began exploring both career options.
I was always very creative- making my own clothes, decorating fancy cakes, stitching leather saddlebags and tack. So I started working building costumes for a designer I met in the film industry, and I was good at it.
At the same time, I volunteered with therapists in a local hospital’s spinal cord injury wing, assisting patients with grip disabilities to relearn to eat, write, and brush their teeth. I helped the therapists make simple gripping cuffs for each patient’s specific needs to help them hold the utensils. This creativity was definitely in my wheelhouse, but after a year of volunteering, my costume building business was taking off, and the call from Hollywood was too strong.
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?
I did get the horse ranch I always wanted, and in 2014 on Easter morning I started to clean the barn for a family party. I was having a really hard time gripping the broom handle — my years of costuming and ranch work had brought on arthritis in my thumbs. Sweep after sweep it became more painful, and to say I was frustrated is an understatement!
So with family coming soon, I grabbed some duct tape, made a cuff across the brooms handle and slipped my hand inside. I was surprised at how easy and painless it was to maintain control of the broom with just this little bit of support. It really got me thinking about the gripping cuffs I used to make in the hospital and the improvements that must have been made in the 35 years since, so I did a little internet search to find something that might help me hold my tools. Boy was I shocked when I found that there had been no design advancements, and that therapists were still hand-making the same old grip cuffs! I decided there and then to design something better. My cuff would be softer, more adaptable, reusable, and hygienic. A more universal cuff!
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?
Well, luckily enough, I had sisters who are also super creative, knowledgeable in areas I lacked, and also had an interest in starting a business. So I enlisted their expertise to bring the idea to market. The good thing about family is that it’s a good chance you have partners you can trust who will work as hard as you do. The three of us set out to divide and conquer!
We shared the tasks: Learn to work with silicone. Sculpt clay models. Make 1,000 prototypes in our kitchen for trialing. Walk the hallways of hospitals to ambush therapists for show and tell. Draw the cad files. 3D print the models. File for our Patents, and Trademarks. Open the LLC and secure insurance and licensing. Source silicone manufacturers. Build our sales website. And when the day came to attend our first expo to debut our products, we all shared in the amazing positive response we got from hundreds of therapists and people with disabilities who needed our product.
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?
For me, “Necessity is the mother of invention” was the catalyst. Making a product that first helped me continue to enjoy my passion, ended up having the side benefit of helping so many other people live fuller lives as well.
But for others, I would say that If It’s a hobby that’s stuck with you for a length of time, there’s good chance you’ve found ways to make it more affordable, accessible, or even found a better way of performing it that others could benefit from. Start there, and once you see the the positive responses from people, you’ll know you’ve taken the right path.
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?
I try not to sit in my office all week just doing paper or computer work, but make sure I reach out to the community that buys my products and talk with them one on one. Look into their eyes, shake their hands and make a connection. I always come back from care facilities and special education centers re-inspired and fired up with fresh purpose.
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?
Oh, this is a great benefit! I can plan my business around my life, instead of the other way around. I make plans to take my horses on a trail ride, or or get together with friends, and then I plan my work around those things.
The downside of running your own business is that you think about it nonstop! Because ultimately, all the success will be yours, but so is the potential failure.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Oh boy. I found out that no matter how amazing my product is, trying to reach the people who need it is much harder than I envisioned. As a brand new product brought to market, each time you think you’ve jumped your last hurdle, there’s another one right around the corner even bigger than the previous!
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?
No not really. I had a successful 35-year ‘real job’ as a motion picture costumer, but knew the time was right for a change. And because it’s so deeply satisfying to design a product that’s making a difference in the quality of life for so many people, when things get hectic, I just think about our customers who need us, and that’s all I need to keep me motivated every day.
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?
Hah! We have an EazyHold mascot therapy pony named Lily that I take to events for kids with disabilities and special needs.
This particular event space was rather tight, and as we squeezed by a raffle table filled with baked goods, Lily stuck her face in basket of chocolate chip muffins, snorted on them all, then took a huge bite! Lesson learned? Make sure the mascot is well fed!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My dad passed a couple years after we started our business. My sisters and I adored him, and so we named our company after him, Mellin Works LLC. His words inspire me everyday. “Do your best to listen to your gut, trust your intuition, and don’t be afraid to take risks” He provided so much for our family, and took many risks in his life to become a success. I hope to be able to leave that same legacy for my own children.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We’re realizing that a small company like ours can enable a whole new generation to live their lives more fully, with the dignity that comes with doing for ones self. So when non-profit care facilities reach out to us with limited funds, we have a program to assist those centers with donations of EazyHold.
It’s humbling to witness. Every day when I open my computer, I get kind notes and photos of children with cerebral palsy, limb loss, pediatric stroke, or spinal cord injuries using Eazyhold, grateful for a simple tool to help eat, write, play, like any other kid. Such an honor.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Did not participate here, Hope that’s OK, if not let me know
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.
Wow, this is a big question. Everyone knows we need a truly universal healthcare network that would supply desperately needed resources to all special education, equally!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Yes, an Allen Saunders quote, and one that John Lennon also used in a song. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”
True is so true! I often find myself focusing on the next big event, instead of living in the present, enjoying the privilege of the simple, uneventful moments that make up most of our day.
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.
For my hobby- Temple Grandin. She’s world renowned professor, and expert of livestock behavior. She’s also a spokesperson for the autism community who herself has autism. I would love to learn more about my favorite hobby, ranching, and how it relates to her special needs community Win Win!
For business- Something sorely needed in the mainstream media is more inclusive products for the over 35% of the population who are elderly, disabled or have special needs. Perhaps I could entice Mark Burnett of Shark tank, or Laurie Greiner of QVC to hop on board with this!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.