When Mike Perry would tell people he and his wife were thinking of starting their own company, he faced a lot of skepticism.
"Pretty much everybody I talked to said, 'Oh, that's kind of a fun idea, but you know ... starting a company is hard,'" Perry said, shaking his head.
Perry and his wife, Amy, found out the skeptics were right: Starting their own company was hard.
However, the Albany couple found, it wasn't impossible. Not only can it be done, but it can be a life-changing benefit.
That's the message the Perrys brought Friday to three economics classes at Perry's alma mater, South Albany High School.
The two are the founders and owners of SnoofyBee, a company that makes a portable diaper-changing station designed to keep busy babies from, shall we say, sharing in the diaper-changing experience.
An appearance in November 2017 on the business pitch reality TV show "Shark Tank" has sent awareness of their company soaring. The Perrys now work full-time on SnoofyBee products and are looking to expand their product line.
"It's important just to realize that it takes a lot of work to do something outside of the norm, but it's something you can totally do," Mike Perry told his audience, seniors in Andy Winn's class.
If you have an idea, he said, do the work to see where you might take it. "Stack" the skills necessary to move forward with the idea: marketing, manufacturing, shipping, public relations.
Bottom line, Mike said: "Don't just stick to your day job."
Mike is a 2001 South Albany graduate. The dream he and Amy now share grew from the everyday reality of changing an especially squirmy baby.
Their firstborn didn't pay particular attention to diaper changes, but their second was another story, Mike said. Once he was about 4 months old, "He immediately wanted to see what was down there," Mike recalled. "We had to have two people changing him at all times."
Added Amy: "If it was just me, it was a wrestling match."
Initially, the Perrys just wanted to buy a product that would help them keep their baby's attention — and hands — out of the way during changing time. When they couldn't find one, they designed their own.
SnoofyBee is a soft, foldable diaper pad with a section that wraps around a baby's torso.
Similar to the "cone of shame" a dog might wear after a visit to the vet, the folded section is both a barrier for little hands and a shield that keeps the baby from getting a glimpse of whatever might be going on below waist level.
Toys can be attached to fabric loops on the barrier to give the baby something more interesting to grab than whatever the diaper might hold.
SnoofyBee was far from an overnight success, the Perrys said. The couple went through more than a dozen prototypes, refining each one along the way.
A local bedding manufacturer agreed to do a run of 100 pads, which the couple sold online. From that, they received more feedback for further tweaks to the design.
The online attention led to a crowdsourcing Kickstarter project that got the attention of television host Steve Harvey and a chance to feature the project on his show.
The Perrys had hoped for $15,000 in Kickstarter funds. They ended up receiving more than $120,000.
The attention was great, but it prompted a major challenge, Mike said: finding a company to mass-produce the pads to reward each Kickstarter purchaser.
He found an affordable company in China, and the initial samples looked good. But a good 30 percent of the actual products, when they came, were unfinished, dirty or needed touch-up sewing.
Mike was faced with a choice at that point: Dump the Kickstarter campaign and apologize to investors, or quit his day job, with a company that assisted others in shipping, to get the products in shape.
He chose the latter, and the Perrys worked night and day to get their products finished and to investors on time. They found a new company — also in China, although they said they're open to an American manufacturer; so far no one has been interested — and SnoofyBee was ready to really take off.
"Shark Tank" producers invited the couple to file an application for their show a year ago. The November airing brought the Perrys a $120,000 investment from "shark" Lori Greiner in exchange for 20 percent of the business.
The company had been doing roughly $30,000 in revenue per month till then, but in the first few days after the show the total shot to $150,000 and has remained high.
For "Shark Tank," they made an adult-sized pad, although it wasn't featured on the show. "It was our bait," Amy explained.
That pad may be the basis for a new line of SnoofyBees, however. Families are asking for larger pads to use for children, or even adults, with developmental disabilities. Work needs to be done on more prototypes before those are ready, however, Mike said.
Having a business is great because the Perrys can work much of what they do around the needs of their five children, Amy said.
It's also fun because it covers so many different areas, Mike said, from designing to manufacturing to shipping to customer relations.
On the other hand, he said, he definitely works more hours than he did at his old company. And, he added, "The scary thing about it is you don't really know for sure what your income's going to be the next month."
Teacher Winn, who has known Mike Perry since childhood, said he hopes his students will take away all those lessons from the Perrys' presentation.
"I want them to see, especially in business and entrepreneurship, that it's possible. Starting your own business is possible," he said.
Sometimes people sell themselves short, thinking they don't have the proper degree or training. But Mike, who received an associate degree from Linn-Benton Community College after graduating from South, is an example of someone who can take advantage of available information and make his own business work, Winn said.
That's a hopeful message for students like Izak Benson, 17. The senior volunteered to demonstrate the adult-sized "Shark Tank" pad for his class Friday.
Benson said he's thought about starting his own company, which would involve recycling clothing.
The Perrys' presentation, he said, "let me know not to quit, which is nice. To see that anyone can do it — it lets me know to keep trying."