Wow, has this been an exciting two weeks. Since announcing the Pam’s Favorite Things contest, I have gotten lots of great submissions. I have a strangely maternal feeling about all of them … I want everyone to succeed and grow their business! But because I know that a big part of business involves positioning and competition, I am choosing my favorite 10 products with the following criteria:
Originality of idea. I measure this with the non-scientific means of the size smile on my face as I read the description of the product. Some just tickled my funny bone and were unique enough that I thought they would make great non-traditional gifts.
Variety in overall selection. I wanted to make sure that I chose a mixture of gifts, not just 4 kinds of food products or 5 crafty ideas. And a mixture of products for kids and for adults.
Purchase-ready infrastructure. There were a few products that were great but didn’t have any website or online ordering system, and might be hard to order from. I probably should have included this in the criteria for submission … I just didn’t see it as a huge problem until after I saw the submissions coming in. So next year, if we choose to do this again, I fully expect that all these early stage businesses will be up and ready to rock and roll.
Originally created product. Several people submitted services or products that they resell as an independent distributor. While I completely support many ways to make a living as an entrepreneur, in this feature, I want to promote products that have been created from the minds of individual entrepreneurs, not larger companies.
I am actually hyperventilating I am so nervous about having to select winners among so many great entries. So here goes … described in no particular order:
Pam’s Favorite Things 2006
1. The Secrets of Amusement Park Games: Revealed! This one just got me, especially after hearing Brian Richardson’s story:
“Me being a guy, I wanted to win a big stuffed Tweety for my wife. After trying to toss a softball into the top of a big milk jug and failing miserably, I decided to think about what I was doing. Lo and behold, it went in! “I wonder if there is any information written on the subject of how to win at amusement park games?” I thought. After Yahooing, Altavista-ing, and Hotbotting around the internet (no Google in 1997) I found that there was one out of print book called “Carnival Secrets”. After making a crude ebook (remember its 1997) I charged 10 bucks for somebody to go on my website. In 1999, I put all of my information into book form and sold via the Amazon.com Advantage program, which I am a member of this day.”
Brian’s quirky book had quite a journey, even being featured in Newsweek. So although this is not a new product, it could be the perfect gift for that carnival-loving son or uncle on your list.
Monthly socks. I have given a-gift-a-month presents before, the most recent being different blends of Peet’s Coffee for my brother and sister. I loved the twist on this concept in the form of monthly socks … especially for someone who has a raggedy collection of holey socks like me and my husband. This idea was created in a moment of inspiration between a man (David) who was frustrated by his motley collection of socks and his wife (Elena) who had a brainstorm for a subscription service while receiving her O Magazine. The full story here! And you don’t have to get a pair a month if that is too much … there are smaller quantity options. (I found the sock calculator didn’t work on the site, but it may be fixed by the time this goes to press)
3. Codebreaker , a non-video game from Cogno, a small start up creating a brand of toys and books for ages 7-14 and their parents. Their mission is to “inspire children to think critically and imaginatively.” This product has already won 7 national awards for the way it combines fun and thinking and was recently named one of Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Games of 2006. I love the bootstrap approach to the business and the fact that the website does not look all slick and corporate. They also have a blog which is a fun way to follow along with the development of the products and the company. This may be a great antidote to the riot-provoking Playstation 6 craziness taking over the country.
4. I’ll Do it Myself, a book by Glenda Watson Hyatt. This is not the first time that you will have heard about this book, as I have been blogging about Glenda’s writing project during the last year. I had a moment of hesitation of selecting it since Glenda and I have become good friends and I didn’t want to appear nepotistic, but then I realized that everything that has drawn us together has been around the core purpose of this blog. She submitted it herself as did every other contestant, so I thought it was fair game.
This book, 20 years in the making, is Glenda’s life story of living a strong, sassy and courageous life with Cerebral Palsy. She has written it all using only her left thumb. A great gift for parents of children with disabilities, it is also a great, uplifting story for anyone about what you can do to overcome obstacles in your life with some grit, humor, fierce will and determination. I personally want this to become a bestseller and I want to see Glenda on Oprah, perhaps in the episode after Ramit.
5. Perfect Table Plan. This is a software program created by former corporate employee Andy Brice, who created it after “being made redundant in my job as a developer at a .com company” and inspired when he “had to organize the seating plan for his own wedding (what a nightmare!).” As he explains its use for the unfortunate person who has to organize the company holiday party:
“Can’t seat Bob near Chuck (after Chuck stole his stapler in 1997) or Gladys near Bill (after that unfortunate incident with the mistletoe at last years Christmas dinner)? PerfectTablePlan can take care of it. Just tell it who to sit together or apart and it will work out your seating plan for you. No more messing around with post-it notes.”
It is a perfect gift for someone who is getting married or putting on a conference, since you can assign guests to seats by dragging and dropping, manage guest details, RSVPs, meal choices and budgets. And you can print out elegant seating charts and floor plans. It has been used for thousands of events, and even, as Andy says, for royalty, heads of state and film stars.
6. Galleria Pangea. This interesting online store was started by Jason Yuan as a:
“collaborative partnership between Asian and Western friends interested in the relationship of culture and craft. Each of our products has a unique cultural significance and story that we are happy to share with you as you explore with us the rich legacy of artisan craftsmanship bestowed upon us by our collective heritage.”
I particularly like the fact that Jason and staff make personal trips to Asia to purchase handcrafts made by local artisans, and ensure that there is not a middleman and that a fair wage is exchanged (there are lots of horror stories of local artists being ripped off by people in the U.S. and Europe who buy wares dirt cheap and sell them for exorbitant profit — bad karma, in my estimation).
There are many products to choose from, but the mission really got me:
“Much like our namesake, the archetypical Pangaea continent preceding the separation of the world’s continents, we ultimately hope to make the Earth a little more unified. Please join us in our mission!”
7. Home Study for Home Movies. This is downright cool .. a home study course developed by Myrtha Chang, a former corporate trainer and instructional designer who took her interest in creating home movies and made a very thorough step-by-step learning program for do-it-yourself videomakers. She talks about restoring and preserving old footage in digital formats, as well as editing the endless hours of rambling footage into a nice package that is fun to watch. There are some entertaining examples on her very detailed sales page (OK, it is really long, but you can’t say she doesn’t answer every question you might have!). Check out the one with the “How to Hug a Baby, A Guide for Ambitious Dogs.”
This would make a great companion to the camcorder you were planning to give to a loved one.
8. Pearlescence. I have been told that the market for knitting is huge worldwide … who would have thunk it! This small company sells beautiful, elegant bags for the classy knitter who wouldn’t be caught dead with a ratty burlap or plastic knitting bag. Founder Robynn Weldon explains:
“I am a passionate knitter and want to use beautiful things to practise my hobby. But in the UK, there is very little available beyond ugly grey plastic needles. I got so frustrated with spending hours surfing badly designed US websites to find the products I wanted (and to find out how much they would charge for international shipping) – eventually I stopped asking, “why isn’t anyone importing this stuff?” and started asking “why aren’t I importing this stuff?” I exploited my credit cards and my husband’s fabulous web design skills, and off we went. Purlescence was launched in January 2006 and has been growing steadily; we have very loyal and enthusiastic customers, and a slowly expanding line of products. It’s been a blast.”
9. Duluth Bat Company LLC, founded by Scott Sarisky, makes hand-engraved mini-bats for sports fans. This is a nice example of a simple hand-crafted product sold through an eBay store without a lot of fancy infrastructure. But the story of how it started is a big part of what I liked:
“I worked in the corporate world for 23 years. In general I did not enjoy my time there, most of the time I hated my job. I did like the money though. I use to think about businesses I could do but never had the chutzpah to do it.
My opportunity came in 2003 when I was laid-off from my job at HP.
One day, while looking at my kid’s rooms, I saw 25-30 cheap plastic trophies. They were covered in dust.
Some were broken – missing heads, bats, or something.
I thought, there has to be something better.”
These bats started as an alternative to trophies for Little League teams, but now are used as momentos at weddings, as baby announcements with name, date, weight etc engraved, and with slogans for corporate events, etc.
10. Great Taste Gluten Free cookies round out our list with a bang. Like many of the other founder stories, Steve Kirk started the company for personal reasons:
“Earlier this year my wife, Carol, and I started a gluten-free bakery. Carol has Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder where gluten in food causes the body to attack the lining of the small intestine. (For more information go to www.celiac.com) The only treatment for this disease is to eat a diet free of gluten; no wheat, barley, rye or products derived from these grains. Our products were initially developed for people with Celiac Disease. We’ve since learned that many children with Autism benefit from a gluten-free/casein-free diet. We now offer a GF-CF version of our chocolate chip cookie with more flavors in the works.”
And the “Great Taste” part means that anyone can enjoy these cookies! The sweetest part of this whole thing? Steve informed me that after starting this business on the side, he learned that his job as a computer programmer was being shipped to Eastern Europe. His last day at work?
Today, Friday, December 1.
How is that for poetic justice?
Thank you so much to everyone who submitted your info to this contest! Because I simply must highlight the other products submitted, I will put together a post this weekend with the complete list of entrants.
Have a great weekend everyone and thanks for playing!