Anila Nitekman, a Greenlawn resident and mother of two, talks to us about how she invented the Tiny Bites Food Shears, which make cutting up children's food a breeze.
Quick Stats: Anila Nitekman lives in Greenlawn with her husband Ed, son Griffin, 3 ½, and daughter Reese, almost 2.
As first-time parents, Anila Nitekman of Greenlawn and her husband Ed were worried about choking hazards when feeding their then 11-month-old son, Griffin. Nitekman used her teeth to cut his food into tiny pieces. A self-proclaimed "scissor enthusiast," she also used kitchen or office scissors to cut up pizza or raw veggies, but she found that they were big and cumbersome and noticed a metallic aftertaste on the food.
While dining at the Lobster Roll Restaurant on the North Fork one day, she was cutting up grilled cheese for Griffin and said to her husband, "There must be something else we could buy." On the ride home, they discussed launching a new product themselves, using their background in marketing, public relations, and product development, and came up with the name Tiny Bites Food Shears.
"I wanted it to be a children's size, with the blades of kitchen scissors. It also had to include a ruler so parents can measure the size of the food for their kids," Nitekman said. She purchased a Tiny Bites URL address to start a website, and Googled manufacturers. She also found a book, The Mom Inventors Handbook by Tamara Monosoff, which, along with websites Alibaba.com and MomInventors.com, became her Bible for information on how to launch new products.
Just a few short years later, after giving birth to her second child, Nitekman talked to us about how she and her husband promoted the new business.
How did you go about finding someone to create your design?
I Googled scissors and cutlery manufacturers and found a company in China that specializes in precision tools....swords, knives, and scissors. They gave us 40 prototypes. We held focus groups with moms I met, friends, [and] people at the office. I had them tell us what they liked and didn't like. We tried out different models. We picked and chose what we liked about each one.
Why not just use a fork and knife?
This cuts prep time in half, cuts much easier, and gives you smaller, more precise bites. I make Xs and Os for Valentine's Day; stick it in my beach bag for picnics with my kids. I can make them an instant fruit salad. Being creative with food makes it more fun for them to eat. I added the lever on there to give it a spring and a bounce (which helps it cut through tougher foods). We wanted a child protective cover. I put it in my pocket or my diaper bag. It's also important that it is BPA-free and lead-free.
How did you start selling the product online and getting it into stores?
People are Googling "cutting children's food." Parents are looking for things to use other than the knife. Using Google search words, Yahoo search words, and word of mouth has been huge for us. We contacted party places like Once Upon a Tree Top. My husband's friend specializes in getting toys into different retailers. The president of the company tested it out and loved it. They got it into Buy Buy Baby! Through parents and Facebook, we got a contact from someone in Singapore, who started a website. She wants to sell it in Singapore and Japan!
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest hurdle for anyone is money. Also getting it into the retailers. We had to sell stocks to fund this and get it going. You have to be more creative when you don't have all the resources. We thought, 'If we don't do it, we'll be devastated, because we're going to see it in a store one day!'
What are some tips for other moms who want to start their own business?
If you have an idea, you need a great support group that doesn't just "yes" you. You need constructive criticism. We went through the whole U.S. trademark and patent search; we bought a bar code. You have to look into all those things. Ask yourself, 'What are the steps involved?' The most inspiration you get is from your life. I gravitate to parent-invented products. We were looking for something that makes our lives easier.
How do you balance running the company, having a full-time job, and taking care of the kids?
It's a family business. The kids are so used to it; we try not to have business interrupt our family dinners or nighttime [routine]. I always have my Blackberry; I'll write a pitch, save it, and send it later. [We use the food shears] and it makes mealtime fun!
What are your goals for the company?
I think there's a lot of opportunity out there...we are looking at some major retailers around the country. Our goal is to create other products to make food prep fun. We want to focus on the food shears first, then we're going to move to the next product.
Tiny Bites Food Shears are available at over 30 Buy Buy Baby locations nationwide, at Marie's Toy Store in Huntington, Value Drug in Greenlawn, Not Just Art in Oyster Bay, Orly's Treehouse in Westbury, and Once Upon A Treetop in Plainview. For more information, visit www.tinybites.com.