How to Turn an Idea Into Profit
Heroclip’s Mina Yoo and writer Hilary Meyerson discuss their latest book, “InventHer: An Everywoman’s Guide to Creating the Next Big Thing.”
In the United States, only 12 percent of inventors with a patent are women. One of those women is Mina Yoo, creator and CEO of Heroclip (and a 2018 Pitchfest finalist). Working with award-winning writer and editor Hilary Meyerson, Yoo recently published “InventHer: An Everywoman’s Guide to Creating the Next Big Thing,” a mix of personal anecdotes, success stories from various female inventors, and concrete guidance for would-be creators. We spoke with Yoo and Meyerson about their entrepreneurial journeys and the inspiration behind the book.
Yoo and Meyerson shared their thoughts on creation, innovation, and why they think more women should be inventors. Spoiler: it’s because women have great ideas! Specifically, we discuss their experience navigating the active-outdoor industry, the importance of mentoring, and how to maintain balance. The duo also provides practical advice for women looking to take an invention from idea to market.
Have you ever jotted down an idea on a napkin or wanted to grow your side hustle into a sustainable business? Scroll down for an abridged transcript of this episode or listen and get inspired to create the next big thing.
About Mina Yoo and Hilary Meyerson:
Mina Yoo is a savvy entrepreneur and a former professor and researcher of entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Foster School of Business and Stanford University. As a new mom training to summit Mount Rainier, she developed the Heroclip, a modified version of a classic carabiner, which features a clip and a rotating, folding hook.
A self-described recovering lawyer, Hilary Meyerson is a professional writer and social media marketing expert. She has written feature stories for several magazines, including Seattle Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, and McSweeney’s. Meyerson also runs a social media strategy and marketing company, Little Candle Media, where she advises many startup businesses.
Camber Outdoors: When did you realize you were entrepreneurs?
Hilary: I think like many entrepreneurs and I have a non-traditional career path. I was an attorney for a while, then a freelance writer, and then a marketer. When I finally decided to go out on my own it just seemed like the natural decision.
Mina: I wasn’t always an entrepreneur. I went through a huge career change. I used to be a professor of business at the University of Washington. I think I really became an entrepreneur when I had a compelling idea for a product that I couldn’t get out of my head. I ended up leaving my academic job and in many ways, this is the career that I was meant to have.
Tell us a bit more about that product you couldn’t get out of your head.
Mina: I invented Heroclip when I was training to summit Mt. Rainier. I had a three-month-old baby and that’s actually why I decided to summit in the first place, to get back in shape. I realized that as an athlete and mom, I was always lugging a ton of stuff and I didn’t always have a good spot to unburden myself of whatever I was carrying.
The mountain trails in Washington in March are very muddy and every time I set my backpack down to take a break it would get muddy, then I’d put it on and get muddy, and then the car gets muddy, and so on. It’s similar to being a mom, where you often have to change the kid’s diaper in public or in public bathrooms, which are not the best place to set things on the floor.
I kept looking in the marketplace for something that could hold my stuff exactly where I wanted it. Whether I was mountaineering or going out with my kids or traveling, and I just couldn’t find anything. So, I decided to invent Heroclip. We like to call it the extra hand that everyone needs.
Was the first step was the hardest?
Mina: It absolutely was, and not just because I didn’t know what to do. As professional women, every minute of our lives is already accounted for. So, the idea of trying to make time for something new, especially something unproven and risky, is really difficult.
A couple of years ago, I surveyed almost 200 moms to see if they had product ideas because every playdate I was going to, moms were talking about how somebody should invent this, somebody should invent that. I wanted to see whether that was just my group or more pervasive. I found that 90 percent of moms, out of the 200, had a product idea but they never took that first step. One of the main reasons is that they didn’t know what to do. Secondly, they were really overcommitted to other things.
In “InventHer,” we talk about how to get started, as well as how to manage your existing life.
How do we find a work/life balance and carve out time for ourselves?
Hilary: So many of the women that I interviewed for “InventHer” struggled with this issue. There is really no such thing as balance anymore, especially in this age of 24/7 connectivity. Scheduling time for yourself just like it’s a meeting is super important and that’s what I do. Hiking is my therapy and relaxation, so I schedule a time to do it.
Mina: I call it work/life integration. I abandoned the word ‘balance a long time ago. I tried integration because as an entrepreneur it’s inevitable that you bring your work home. For me, it’s been really helpful that my kids are interested in what’s happening with Heroclip. If I’m talking about my product or my business at home my family is interested.
Still, there are so many things I’ve had to cut out of my life to make room for Heroclip. One of the things we talk about in “InventHer” is priorities. You have to make sure that you are able to say no to things that aren’t really critical to your life. It can be very sad because you have to make sacrifices, but it’s doable and worthwhile.
Can you tell us about a teacher or mentor that impacted your life?
Hilary: I think that mentors are super important and in my case, one of the driving things that led me to change professions was the lack of a mentor in my legal career. I was at a big law firm and there were women there, but I never had a mentor. I feel like things would’ve been different if I’d had someone to help me navigate my path. It’s one of the reasons I’m now really passionate about mentoring other young women.
I talk to so many women who’ve had a crisis of confidence. I took off some time as to raise my kids, and I think for women who are coming back to the workforce, it’s important to have other women support and mentor them; to show them the ropes of what’s happened in the industry if they’ve been away from it for a few years.
Mina: I am very fortunate in that I’ve had many mentors. In academia, all of my mentors were men. Women entrepreneurs are getting a lot of attention now and unfortunately, it’s because women are not getting the support they deserve and need.
There are also a ton of studies that show that women-run companies do better in terms of profitability, so I think based on those stats there’s now a real movement towards being more inclusive of women and mentoring women. I have been able to find several mentors as an entrepreneur, many of which are peer mentors, meaning we mentor each other.
“InventHer” is our effort in scaling up mentorship. Rather than doing one-on-ones, we hope the book will encourage and provide guidance and information for more women in a way that we can’t individually.
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own company or bring a product to market?
Hilary: My number one piece of advice: Just do it. I think women can suffer from a crisis of confidence, worrying that their ideas aren’t very good and that there must be so many better ideas out there. I’m here to tell you there’s not. I go to Outdoor Retailer every year, I’m on the media list, and I get hundreds of pitches a month for new products from all the major PR firms for all major outdoor brands. And I see bad product after bad product.
I think women just need to think about their idea and if there’s a legitimate need for it. I think women are very intimidated by things like making a prototype and coming up with the basic business plan, but you can do it. Women should just have a little more confidence in themselves and a little more faith in their ideas.
Mina: One of our biggest goals in writing “InventHer” was to demystify inventing and make it less intimidating and scary. Women invent things all the time. ‘Inventing’ just means creating something new, whether it’s looking in our fridge and throwing a meal together or building a toy from a toilet paper roll.
Hilary: In the book, we mention Good Hangups, which a mom invented so that her kids could change their artwork without damaging the walls. Other inventions we discuss include an outdoor detachable rain hood and a backpack organization system to keep your gear separate while adventuring. These things aren’t akin to inventing the electric car, they’re just really useful innovations.
What is one piece of advice you wish you could give to your 20-year-old self?
Mina: I think I would tell my 20-year-old self is one, stop complaining, and two, you don’t have to have everything figured out to take a step towards something new. I’m now in my 40s, and I realize nothing goes exactly according to plan. Every decision you make leads to a slightly different path. When I was in my 20s I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my career until I retired and that’s pretty much impossible. Just take that first step. See what happens and make decisions based on the new information you get.