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Kelley Higney: “Learn online and digital marketing or consult with someone you trust”

Learn online and digital marketing or consult with someone you trust. I took courses in both to educate myself. These are a huge part of driving traffic to your eCommerce website. Focus on creating a distinct name for your product and logo. One of the reasons that I think Bug Bite Thing has been successful […]

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Learn online and digital marketing or consult with someone you trust. I took courses in both to educate myself. These are a huge part of driving traffic to your eCommerce website.

Focus on creating a distinct name for your product and logo. One of the reasons that I think Bug Bite Thing has been successful is people know what the product does and the name is catchy. People say all the time, ‘go grab that bug bite thing!’


As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, 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 joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

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. 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.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

During my research, I came across a little-known product from Denmark that uses suction to help remove insect saliva/venom rather than having to apply creams or harsh chemicals. My “ah ha” moment is when I discovered that the product was more effective than everything else I had tried and offered instant relief. 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 us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

There were many hard times that I faced when I first began my journey. My husband and I sold our home and used the money to start Bug Bite Thing. We rented a house and operated Bug Bite Thing out of our garage. We sacrificed a lot and took a huge financial risk when starting the business.

I think that can be really overwhelming as an entrepreneur. There are so many things you have to do just to get the company off the ground and the hardest part was getting started. I have a very positive outlook (which I get from my mother) and I never considered giving up. Once I discovered Bug Bite Thing, I still had to get my hands on the actual product. I had no idea how to do this, which posed another challenge.

My mother helped me through the process from the contract to deciding how much inventory I would take to start. I remember that I had my first shipment of the product sent to my house. I had ordered 10,000 units which I had expected to last me through the entire season. I was selling the product on BugBiteThing.com, Amazon, and at local farmers’ markets and bake sales.

I was focusing on creating consumer demand and getting the word out there. Every time I received positive feedback on the product gave me the drive to continue. Then one day, there was a conversation about Bug Bite Thing in a local Mom Group on social media. The local news picked up on that conversation and contacted me for an interview. That interview was then syndicated and all my inventory sold out in a week! This gave me the reassurance that there was a demand for the product and I knew the product would eventually help millions of people. I would define drive as passion and purpose and both of those have defined my journey.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

It has been an incredible journey! My focus on the customer experience by offering a 100% money-back guarantee has given people the reassurance to try the product and discover that it truly works. Bug Bite Thing is now Amazon’s #1 best seller for insect bite relief, with more than 20,000 four-star reviews. The product is currently available at more than 2,500 retail locations across the United States. By next year that number will be close to 20,000!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ 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!

I think the ‘takeaway’ for me was before creating a successful eCommerce business, I needed to understand how customers reacted to the product. I then had to translate those reactions to my online marketing strategy.

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

For one, the product. Bug Bite Thing is unlike all other insect bite relief products on the market. 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 effectiveness of the product, which is backed by over 20,000 positive reviews, is also the #1 selling product on Amazon in the insect bite treatment category.

Also, Bug Bite Thing is a family-owned business. My mother, who ran her own successful company for 35 years, is our president. My husband is the COO and my brother-in-law oversees our social media strategy. Before the COVID-19 pandemic my daughters were often in the office and would help pack boxes.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I would recommend spending some time outdoors every day. There are a lot of benefits of being outside such as breathing fresh air and getting exercise. It is also an opportunity to disconnect from checking your email and the news. Take the time to enjoy nature, even if it is just five minutes to sit quietly or go for a walk and enjoy listening to music. I am also a proponent of music therapy. Music has been proven to reduce stress, encourage relaxation, improve brain function and overall quality of life.

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?

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.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Many eCommerce businesses are adapting by adding pandemic essentials to their product offering, including masks and hand sanitizer. People are also spending more time participating in outdoor recreation activities. This has created a greater opportunity for outdoor brands.

Another example of how a company has been able to adapt is by pivoting their business. The Shark Tank company, SubSafe, created a new eCommerce business because of social distancing measures, Social Band Bands. They are bands that you wear on your wrist to communicate your social distancing preferences. There are green, yellow and red. I personally think it’s a genius idea and we are all wearing them in the office.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

I would focus on creating a product that adds value to people’s lives. Also, focus heavily on your brand experience and creating brand loyalty and trust by offering a quality customer service experience. I know I mentioned it earlier, but I offer a 100% money-back guarantee which gives the consumer confidence to try the product and removes any risk. It communicates our commitment to customer satisfaction.

I would also encourage brands to use social media as a platform to connect with their customers and address any individual issues. A cheaper product will likely not invest heavily in the customer experience. Our customer service team will answer individual questions on social media and is available around the clock to respond to comments as well as direct messages to offer additional support.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

First, it is critical that you have a brand protection program in place. This gives you control of your pricing and ensures consistency within the marketplace. We heavily vetted all of our wholesale partners from the beginning to ensure we were partnering with the right people. Second, create a demand. Educate consumers about your product, prove its value and effectiveness and your eCommerce business will begin to grow. In the beginning, retailers told me ‘no’ over and over again. I focused on creating a demand for the Bug Bite Thing, specifically on social media and this caught the attention of retailers who began to approach me.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Affiliate Marketing is a key component of building a brand. Unlike traditional marketing, affiliate marketing focuses on creating a community that finds value in your product. First-hand testimonials from real users is extremely useful. It establishes trust and customer confidence in your brand.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

My favorite tool is Google Analytics. It is a great resource for me to ‘take the pulse’ of my company throughout the day. It can help eCommerce brands understand the trends and habits of their customers. You can then make adjustments according to your marketing strategy, customer service, and sales channels which make your eCommerce brand more successful across all categories. We also use Klaviyo. I have found it to be an effective way to manage all of our different marketing email campaigns.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

If you are not already, I would focus on social media. Social media is where people are discovering their favorite brands and especially brands that are popular on Amazon. Right now, I would advise focusing specifically on Instagram and Facebook and successfully converting followers into customers.

Displaying our features in top media publications, showcasing our customers’ positive feedback with first-hand testimonials, and including our 100% money-back guarantee on social media are some of the ways we have successfully increased our conversion rate.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

There is a lot of interesting research on this topic, but before you even start looking at increasing conversion rates, you need to review your marketing strategy. Are you marketing to your target audience in a way that will appeal to them? When I think of a trusted and beloved brand, I think not just of the brand, but does the brand’s values and lifestyle align with mine?

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Reach out to the consumer directly. On social media, we reply directly to the customer and offer personalized troubleshooting tips. Ultimately, we want everyone seeking relief to use the product effectively and become a lifelong customer. I have always said that happy customers are your brand’s biggest cheerleaders. When someone posts a negative review online, happy customers will often respond to that person’s feedback directly and comment on why they love the brand.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Choose the right platform to support your website’s traffic. We use Shopify. The platform has supported huge web traffic spikes to Bug Bite Thing’s website, including when my mother and I appeared on ABC’s hit show ‘Shark Tank.’
  2. All businesses need to understand how to navigate Amazon’s platform as a buyer and as a seller. Avoiding Amazon really isn’t an option, because if you don’t sell your product on Amazon, someone else will. A great training course with some helpful tips that I recommend is the Udemy.com course, ‘How to Start an Amazon FBA Store on a Tight Budget.’
  3. Learn online and digital marketing or consult with someone you trust. I took courses in both to educate myself. These are a huge part of driving traffic to your eCommerce website.
  4. Focus on creating a distinct name for your product and logo. One of the reasons that I think Bug Bite Thing has been successful is people know what the product does and the name is catchy. People say all the time, ‘go grab that bug bite thing!’
  5. Be aware of what your customers are saying and listen to their feedback. There is always room for improvement. Not all products on the market get it right the first time and that is ok. Customers’ honest feedback will let you know when the product is not quite there and when you have a winner.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 further follow you online?

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @bugbitething. On LinkedIn Kelley Higney and Twitter @kelley_higney. And they can subscribe to Bug Bite Thing’s blog.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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