Launching a Product is Hard, But One Entrepreneur Has Made it Easier: With Sharon Vinderine
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“…He told me I should have a positive impact on the lives of others, not through financial means like simply donating money, but in the way you leave someone better than they were before they knew you.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Vinderine, Founder and CEO of PTPA Media which stands for Parent Tested Parent Approved. Serial entrepreneur, recipient of the RBC Women of Influence Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Stevie Awards winner, and contributor on over 150 television shows across North America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
It was six months after having given birth to my first child. I had recently sold my previous tech company, and being of the entrepreneur mindset I was using my baby bonding time to develop a new product called the Kangaroo Towel. I was working tirelessly every day to try to find stores that would carry it and trying to market it to consumers. I came across an awards program that promised to help me launch the product with feedback from consumers, opportunities to be on TV, press releases, emails to retailers, and a coveted seal of approval. So I naively invested three thousand dollars into this program and six weeks later received my results. I had won! I was elated. But wait, to use that seal I would now need to pay an additional two thousand five hundred dollars plus additional fees. Oh, and that feedback from consumers that I was promised told me that three parent testers liked the colors of the towel. Mind blowing? Not really!
I remember the precise moment I knew I was going to do better. Because that’s how it starts with entrepreneurs. We always think we can do it better. I started scribbling notes on how I could make an awards program that would help companies differentiate their products to consumers. I would find ways to do co-op advertising to make TV and magazines affordable for small business. Most importantly, I would help consumers make better purchasing decisions by having them judge the products and give their peer endorsement. This was not going to be a pay for play, this was going to change the way consumers shopped for their families.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I don’t know if it was as funny as it was embarrassing. My team knew that I had just sent out pitches to just about every producer on the East Coast in the hopes of a segment where I could talk about our company. About two hours after I sent the pitch, a phone call came in for me. When the call was transferred to me, my secretary said it was a producer from the Rachael Ray show. I naturally assumed it was my husband or one of his prankster friends (who had previously pretended to need 25,000 kangaroo towels for a kangaroo convention). I proceeded to answer the call in the most sarcastic tone possible and essentially spent two-to-three minutes obnoxiously responding to the producer as if they were a prank caller. Needless to say, it was an actual producer from the Rachael Ray show and somehow she had not hung up on me for my rudeness. Maybe I wasn’t the first non-believer? Well, she sent a camera crew who spent 12 hours filming us and then brought me in studio for a 15 minute segment on the show. It was a mind blowing experience.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We make our community of parents the ultimate judges of our awards. No one else in the awards industry does this. We empower our consumer community to make the decisions as to whether a product earns our certification. We aren’t biased because we don’t have advertisers that will be negatively impacted. We don’t have an “esteemed panel of judges” because why are these esteemed panels better equipped to make decisions for what is right for our families? We ship products to consumers and make sure they have product in hand to make a decision about the value and quality of the product they are evaluating while others often send a product shot with a brief description of the product for evaluation. Finally, we share their detailed feedback with the manufacturers who made these products. We act as the voice of consumers.
With over 85,000 families in our community, we are empowering consumers to have a say in what products stand out on store shelves.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
The first person that comes to mind is the only person built to withstand my rollercoaster of highs and lows. My husband. As an entrepreneur himself, he understands the stresses I face and he is literally like my own personal board of advisors, but one that I get to consult while in sweatpants munching on my favorite stress food of Miss Vickies chips. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely with every day bringing a potential new challenge and he is the rock that grounds me when I’m overwhelmed. There are too many days to count where I feel a complete lack of confidence and whether he is a really good liar or a closet motivational speaker, he somehow manages to help me get over any challenges.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At the ripe age of 11, my dad wrote me a lengthy letter about his perception on the meaning of life. He had been very ill with cancer at the time and wanted to impart words of wisdom. While filled with great insights (many of which I could only understand later in life), one thing he said really made an impact and has led my path since. He told me that I should have a positive impact on the lives of others, not through financial means like simply donating money, but in the way you leave someone better than they were before they knew you.
PTPA allows me to realize that dream. We have shipped out at no cost to members of our community close to 750,000 worth of product over the years. We’ve had the opportunity to match low income families with high value products that impacted their day to day. Hospital grade air purification machines for a child suffering through chemotherapy, full nursery furniture sets for new immigrants to the country who came with literally nothing. Live event tickets for the Harlem Globetrotter shows and vacations to Hyatt resorts. My hope being that our generosity will inspire a pay-it-forward attitude for the families that we have the honor of hosting in our community.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- You will love being an entrepreneur.
- You will hate being an entrepreneur.
- It’s a roller coaster so make sure you are the most self confident version of yourself, because the weak of heart won’t make it.
- Learn to focus (I’m still working on this one).
- Stop being afraid of change, because as it turns out, it’s a pretty wonderful thing.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Elon Musk. No question, no hesitation. He leads the pack on my vision board. He is changing the world without seeking anyones approval. He is the ultimate entrepreneur in that the more you tell him it can’t be done, the more he wants to prove you wrong. As soon as the Tesla was announced, I printed up a picture of it and had it on my monitor as daily inspiration. I wanted a piece of that vision. The day I got my Tesla three years later was incredible. Beyond the fact that I had attained my personal goal that I set out for myself, it felt like I had been given the opportunity to buy into Elon’s — vision for the future.