AS SEEN IN WOMEN ENTREPRENEUR
Lori Lite hopes to reach millions with her line of books and CDs aimed at overcoming kids’ stress.
By: Eve Gumpel | 01/15/2010
During a successful appearance on Shark Tank last August, Lori Lite secured a deal from investor Barbara Corcoran to expand her growing business. But the founder of Stress Free Kids, a company designed to help kids, teens and adults overcome anxiety and stress and promote peaceful sleep, is hardly an overnight success and continues to have the most viewed shark tank full episodes.
Lite became an accidental entrepreneur 15 years ago, when she was trying to cope with a 5-year-old son, who was hyperactive. “Every night, it took two hours to put him to sleep,” Lite recalls. It was an exhausting way for her to spend each evening, and eventually she became sick from stress. As did her 7-year-old daughter, who developed stress-related night terrors.
To cope with her stress, Lite learned relaxation techniques. “Those techniques had an immediate effect on me,” Lite recalls. Then she had a brainstorm.
She created a story, A Boy and a Bear, that incorporated diaphragmatic breathing. “Her son started to follow the characters along, did the deep breathing and fell asleep,” Lite says. “My husband had noticed how quiet it was in the room for a change, and he was listening in from the hallway. When I came out, he hugged me and said, ‘You need to write that down; that can help thousands of parents and kids.’ I wrote it down. And that’s how it all started.”
The next step was finding a publisher. She went to the bookstore and wrote down the names of all the publishers she thought might be interested in what she was doing. She followed up with pitches to about 30 publishers before one of them said yes.
At that time, Lite thought her market would be kids with ADHD and ADD. But it has evolved beyond that. The techniques taught in Lite’s books are used by specialists who help kids deal with terminal illness and by cognitive behavior therapists who help children deal with abuse, trauma, fears, phobias and anxiety disorders. Even the autism community has embraced Lite’s work.
“It’s one thing to know what to teach a child; it’s another thing to have an actual tool that does it for you,” Lite says. “You read the story, children follow along, and they learn a life-changing technique.”
Lite says she gets notes from people telling her how they use her books. “It gives you goosebumps,” she says, “to think that children who are dealing with cancer and chemotherapy–that trained professionals are reading them my stories, and they’re listening to my CDs while they’re going through this.
“That tells me I’m really on the path of what I’m supposed to do on this planet to help children.”
Lite now has eight children’s books and six CDs–including one CD each for teens and adults. She also landed a deal with Border’s books after her Shark Tank appearance–something she had been trying to accomplish for years. “It’s a dream come true for me,” she says. “I designed my books with a rainbow spine because I always dreamed of seeing them lined up like a rainbow on [bookstore] shelves.”
Since Shark Tank, Lite has also been invited to the Boom Boom Room at the Golden Globes this month, where she’ll be able to present her products to celebrities and media.
Now that her children are older, she’s ready to build Stress Free Kids into a business instead of a hobby. The year 2008 was a turning point for the company. “We released five new titles, which is almost half of my entire line. That year was really the big year and the big push. It took on a whole new life for us . Prior to that, I was doing it mostly as a hobby.” Her husband, Rick, is working with her full-time now. “He does all the back-office work. I’m trying to be the face and the voice of the company,” she says.
She earned her spot on Shark Tank when a friend learned that the show was looking for mom entrepreneurs and encouraged her to respond. Lite did–and received a response to her e-mail less than an hour later.
Lite, who initially requested $250,000 for a 20 percent share in her business, declined to reveal the terms of her deal, which have changed since she appeared on the show. The initial deal was $250,000 for a 50 percent share in her company. But she says neither she nor Corcoran was happy with those terms.
Lite appeared on the show for a second time Jan. 8, to talk about her deal with Borders. The follow-up represents a marketing coup, she says, because she got the word out to people that they can walk into a Borders store and walk out with her books. Until now, the books have only been available online.
Lite hopes Corcoran can help her get her company to the next level. She wants to become a household name and a household brand. “I would like to come out with more products around the whole theme of Stress Free Kids. I would like to have professional packaging. It takes big bucks to do that and do it right. Up until now we haven’t done any marketing. We’d like to roll ourselves out in a big way.”
Lite is convinced that there are millions of children and adults who would benefit from her books and CDs.
As many as 13 of every 100 children ages 9 to 17 suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the U.S. Department of Mental Health and Human Services, as do more than 40 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. “There are millions of children that need my books,” Lite says.
What kind of advice does Lite have for would-be authors and entrepreneurs?
- People should know that once you write a book, really the hard work is just beginning.“I know so many authors that have gotten publishers and then, in a year or two, have had all their books returned to them because they didn’t sell. It is the author’s responsibility to market and drive people to the stores to buy the books,” she says.Her placement deal with Borders means she’s facing the same challenge. Thirty seconds after celebrating the news, Lite says, “I realized, oh, my goodness, now I have to make sure people go to Borders and buy the books.”
- Get out of your kitchen occasionally and talk to people. Lite says she has just discovered how invaluable networking can be. For example, she had no idea that selling 30,000 books from her house without the backing of a nationwide publisher was a remarkable achievement. On Shark Tank, she was prepared to defend her numbers to the investorpanel. Instead, “they interrupted me because they were blown away by the 30,000.”If I had talked to other people, I would have realized how big a deal 30,000 units was. That would have helped me get into Borders sooner.”The networking with each other and sharing ideas can save you years of struggling,” she says now.
- Outsource some things you cannot do. “It feels great to start having a little team around you that can support you.” She doesn’t have any full-time employees, but she has hired an SEO expert and a PR professional. She also hired someone to load videos on YouTube for a contest, Free the Kids, that she’s sponsoring.She’s asking parents to videotape their children and tell how they’ve used her books and CDs. The grand prize winner will win a classroom visit from Lite, who’ll do a class reading and a stress-free lesson.
- Surround yourself with friends, family and people who support your dreams. “You need an incredible amount of self-belief and energy to make something like this happen,” she says.
- Have a business plan. “When you want to be taken as a serious business and want to talk to investors or banks, they want a real business plan.” That means covering every topic. Lite says she resisted doing an exit plan, but was advised by a friend in the investment world that she couldn’t leave it out.Lite likened writing a business plan to preparing a research paper. “I did learn a lot from doing it. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about my business. It really helped me focus on what I need to do to grow the business.”
- If you’re facing investors, overprepare. “When you think you’re over-prepared, you’re barely prepared,” Lite says. Vitally important, she adds, is to show your passion. “The first thing that hooks them in is your passion. If you’re drab or dull or unenthusiastic, I don’t care if your numbers are through the roof–I don’t think you’ll hook an investor. Go out there with your passion; wear your heart where they can see it–and then be ready to back it up with hard-core numbers.”
Written by Eve Gumpel Eve Gumpel Women Entrepreneur