Kelley Higney started the company Bug Bite Thing to help her daughter out. She saw that mosquitos liked to prey on her child, and she wanted to do something about it. After trying several creams and alternative home remedies, she found that none of them worked as she hoped. However, she discovered a tool that sucked out insect saliva from under a victim’s skin. When she tried it on her daughter, she was pleasantly surprised that it worked instantly.
So, armed with her new discovery, Kelley Higney created Bug Bite Thing in 2017. As a “mom on a mission,” she has also used her position to spread awareness of the thousands of chemicals used to produce personal care products that the United States has approved for children’s use.
In October 2019, Kelley Higney and her mother appeared on the TV show “Shark Tank,” which put her company on the national spotlight. During her appearance, Kelley attracted the attention of the investors, and she eventually secured the investment of Lori Greiner’s “Golden Ticket.”
After getting over 20,000 positive reviews on Amazon, Kelley Higney’s Bug Bite Thing has become the online store’s #1 best-selling product for insect bite relief. She continues spreading the good word about her chemical-free solution for bug bites, which cause stinging, itching, and swelling.
In 2020, Kelley Higney was named the “Female Entrepreneur of the Year for Business Products” by the Stevie Award for Business. She is also a member of the Forbes Business Council, and she continues to be an active participant in the South Florida business community.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Kelley Higney: 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!
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: 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?
Kelley Higney: 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?
Jerome Knyszewski: 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.
- 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.’
- 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.’
- 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!’
- 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.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!