Gwen Keefe – Founder of Poli Sippy Cups

I think every entrepreneur should have at least 2 or more books to refer to often – one for spirituality to feed the soul and the other for practical matters on business.

Gwen Keefe is the founder of the easy-to-clean Poli Sippy Cups that feature no loose parts. Since all of its small parts are attached to the lid, the Poli Sippy Cup is a godsend to parents who don’t want to lose their minds over misplaced parts! The valve also opens up for fast and easy cleaning in your dishwasher—bacteria can’t hide and turn into mold! The Poli Sippy Cup also features adjustable flow to grow with your child (so babies don’t get extra gas in their tummies) and a soft, chew-resistant spout for teething tots. It is available in three playful nursery rhyme designs: Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Hey Diddle Diddle to promote early reading skills.

Where did the idea for Poli Cup come from?

When my two children were babies, I was at my wit’s end with traditional and straw sippy cups. They all had so many parts that I kept losing. Many traditional spill-resistant sippy cups also had constricted passageways, which made it difficult to clean out sticky juice and old milk. The stuck residue would build up inside the nooks and crannies and turn to mold. That’s when I decided that today’s modern moms needed a better choice.

What does your typical day look like?

My day starts with an early mediation at 5:30 a.m. before the kids wake up. Meditation helps me concentrate and stay on task. After meditation, the kids are up and ready for breakfast, then headed off to school at 8 a.m. I have a planner for each day, where I fill out ahead of time what I will do for each hour to stay focused and consistent to get things done. However, it can change quickly if I need to tend to customer orders, shipping, sending sample requests, etc.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First of all, it’s important for me to be clear on what my business needs are before the idea comes. Once I’m clear on what the need is, then I proceed with the right action through intuition (intuition is developed through meditation). Meditation helps guide my reason, will, and activity so I choose the right things I should do. For example, at the beginning of the year, I wrote down my goals: 1) I would reach out to 50+ local baby/gift boutique store owners to carry Poli and 2) be open to a place where I can meet pregnant moms. Two months later, I met someone at a networking meeting who introduced me to his client. This person is interesting because he owns 4 (3 generations) Kosher grocery stores in LA and is interested in having our product in his stores. It’s currently in one of his stores and will be in more stores soon. Once our product does well, we have the potential to be in over 30 Kosher stores through his distributor. Poli is also in several local boutique stores now.

I meet with the store owners and ask if they would like to consign our product. Because Poli is made in America, the owners are often excited and put our cup on the shelves the same day I come in. At first, I was terrified to talk to the owners, but it’s easier now. Once a month, I also educate over 100 moms about our product at Miller Children’s Hospital. I heard about this event from a friend. It was easy to sign up and there are only 6 vendors – it’s great publicity and there are no sippy cup competitors.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

It would really excite me to see Poli Sippy Cup as the safest, easiest-to-clean sippy cup across the country. Of course, the other trend I am excited about is the fact that more products are being made in America.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Meditating and reading my goals every day help me be more productive and positive as an entrepreneur. In my office, I also have poster boards to showcase Poli’s media placements. These posters have images of different baby magazines on them with the title “Poli Sippy Cup Is In The News”. I had it made at Costco.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I had was when I was assigned to substitute at a high school and junior high. Most of the kids were very unruly and twice as big me. I knew right away I would only teach elementary school. I taught for ten years at the same elementary school and resigned when I was pregnant with my second baby.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would spend more time on product and mold design. Keeping the design simple is important because the tools cost less and the parts come out of the tools easier. Poli Sippy Cup could have been out on the market years ago if the cup design had fewer details on it. There are fewer setbacks when you have a simple design and your tools get built faster.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I read my affirmations and goals daily. I learned that if you read something over and over again, your subconscious mind will believe in it and bring it to life. I recommend that entrepreneurs go to a quiet place out in nature and write down their goals. Connecting to Spirit and making Spirit your partner helps to manifest goals and the right circumstances a lot easier than trying to figure things out from your mind. The Infinite can create things far better and quicker than we can – it’s because the Infinite operates through wisdom.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Getting Poli into boutique stores has helped spread the word and grow the business. You can never go wrong with getting your product on the shelves. It also helps to give your brand a little “buzz” by working with a public relations firm.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The most expensive lesson I learned was when I bought a decorating machine for 10K from a company back East. The supplier buys cheap decorating machines from China and sells them to Americans at trade shows. It was a living nightmare trying to get this flimsy machine to decorate our cups. I was in constant communication with this seller for almost a year before I proceeded with the purchase. I learned that China doesn’t make high-quality machines because the labor is cheaper over there. China can afford to have an operator adjust the machines all day. With a high minimum wage here in California, we can’t afford to have an operator constantly stop and adjust the machine – it has to run efficiently on autopilot. I lost 10K and had to start all over again.

Luckily, I was introduced to Charlie, who has been in the decorating business for almost 50 years. Charlie is absolutely amazing because he takes old Franklin machines made in America and rebuilds them for his customers who need their products decorated. These machines can last more than 20 years. Many people come to Charlie from across America because he is the only person who can rebuild and reprogram Franklin machines that are more than 50 years old. He buys them from people who go out of business and keeps them in the warehouse for future orders. Thankfully, he is in California and just 20 minutes away from my office.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I used to find my graphic designer and web developer overseas. With no private or angel investor, I used all of my retirement and some personal money to fund this project. Therefore, I have to be very wise on how and where my money is spent. Mistakes are inevitable in business and meant for us to learn and grow from. I take my time now before an important decision in order to avoid mistakes. I used to source the right packaging supplier in China. We went back and forth for a long time with samples before I ordered the first 3K units. Initially, the owner wanted me to buy 50K units but eventually, he agreed to let us order a small quantity. However, Poli cups are made locally in California. It’s all about balance and it was far more important for us to make the cup in America for quality control rather than have it made overseas. My web developer in India also built my responsive website. I saved thousands of dollars by sourcing these services overseas.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I studied classical oil painting with a master teacher for over ten years. Clare taught me how to mix my own colors (instead of buying a tube of paint for every color) and how to observe the world and paint it on my canvas. Mixing colors is a lot of work, but it taught me how to be a good artist. Clare had all her students do an under painting before painting color on the canvas. Many old master painters used the under painting technique to add richness and depth to their paintings. Right before her passing, we spent time together working on my nursery rhyme drawings using colored pencils. Each nursery rhyme drawing could have as many as 5 or more layers of color pigment on the paper and takes over 30 hours to complete. The colored drawings are used to decorate our sippy cups.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I don’t have a particular web service or software I recommend. My web developer built my website and helps me out with questions or technical problems I have.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think every entrepreneur should have at least 2 or more books to refer to often – one for spirituality to feed the soul and the other for practical matters on business. I recommend reading “Autobiography of a Yogi” to go deep in our spirituality and what truth is. Steve Jobs had this book on his iPad and read it many times before his passing. The book was passed out to everyone at his funeral. For business, I recommend the “80/20 Sales and Marketing” book by Perry Marshall. It’s interesting because he talks about how 80% of your sales come from 20% of your target market. Perry goes on to talk about concentrating on the 20% who are your ideal customers.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Successful mompreneurs/women entrepreneurs inspire and influence my thinking the most. I am constantly reading stories about how they are able to run a successful business while being a mom. I know I’m no more busy than them and if they can do it, then I can do it too. Recently, I read “The Glitter Plan” – an entrepreneurial success story about two girls who started the clothing brand Juicy Couture. With no business school or a business plan, the girls used their fashion instinct to create clothes they knew women would want to wear and found ways to reach their market. They eventually sold their brand to Liz Claiborne in 2003 for millions of dollars and a percentage of future sales. What I learned about these girls was that they loved to make clothes for women and had a blast doing it. I am learning how to be in love with my business, even when things go crazy wrong or when the cash flow is really low. It’s not easy when things appear dark, but I always remind myself that the light will come soon. Reading positive affirmations help tremendously and I always read them during both good and bad times.