My name is Kelley Higney and I am the founder of Bug Bite Thing, partnering alongside my mother, Ellen McAlister. Bug Bite Thing is a suction tool that extracts insect saliva/venom from under the skin to help alleviate the itching, stinging, and swelling that occurs with bug bites and stings. When you remove the irritant, your body stops producing the reaction that is causing the uncomfortable symptoms. Unlike topical creams and ointments, the problem is eliminated, not masked. The product is chemical-free, kid-friendly, and reusable. Bug Bite Thing is Amazon’s #1 selling product for insect bite relief, available on BugBiteThing.com, and at thousands of retailers nationwide.
A personal situation and a passion for finding a solution sparked the launch of Bug Bite Thing in 2017. As a mother, I was baffled to see how many unregulated products were being used on a daily basis, especially on children. Since creating But Bite Thing, I have been a mom on a mission to educate the world on a more effective, chemical-free way to alleviate the effects of bug bites and stings. We are spreading our message about social media by encouraging our customers to use “#SavedByBugBiteThing” to share their feedback about the product.
Over the past few years, the business has grown steadily and we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to appear on ABC’s hit show ‘Shark Tank’ last year. Since our appearance on the show, sales have increased by over 600% and Bug Bite Thing is on its way to becoming a global household name!
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I come from a long line of mompreneurs. My grandmother was an entrepreneur. She passed along her business acumen to my mother. And my mother taught me everything she knows. For over fifteen years, I worked for A.C. Kerman, my family’s international export and distribution business. During that time, I worked alongside my mother, Ellen McAlister. I excelled at business development and marketing, which contributed to the company's overall growth.
Set up the proper infrastructure early on, hire the right people, and learn to delegate.
When my family and I moved to South Florida, my daughter and I were suffering constantly from mosquito bites. After trying every remedy available on the market, I began researching how other countries combat insect bites. I came across a little-known tool that uses suction to eliminate the irritant, rather than just mask the symptoms. To my surprise, it worked! The tool was a total game-changer and provided instant relief for myself and my daughter.
I founded Bug Bite Thing because I was determined to offer relief to other families by providing them with the same tool that helped my family. I started small and operated the business out of my garage and then I brought my mother on board as my business partner. We tapped into our community’s resources and reached out to our local Chamber of Commerce, local news stations, and even other local female entrepreneurs.
I validated the effectiveness of Bug Bite Thing by having members of the community test the product and provide feedback. Word of mouth played a huge factor in spreading the word about Bug Bite Thing and the demand started to grow quickly. We realized this early on and designed our marketing plan and efforts around showcasing our current customers’ feedback on its effectiveness.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I think that my entrepreneurial journey began in childhood. Coming from a line of entrepreneurial women, I gained first-hand experiences and learned at a very young age the value of working hard. As an entrepreneur, my mother is always forward-thinking, forming new business relationships, and thinking of creative ways to grow her company. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized how many lessons I learned growing up that I apply to run my business today.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a “mosquito magnet.” Unfortunately, my daughter inherited my mosquito-attracting blood, and living in South Florida didn’t help. I tried everything to relieve the discomfort: creams, ice, dryer sheets, hot spoons, you name it, none of the “remedies” seemed to lessen the itch for more than a few moments.
I investigated how other countries combat insect bites and came across a little-known tool that uses suction to eliminate the irritant rather than applying creams or harsh chemicals. I took a chance on it and surprisingly, it worked! This tool was a game-changer that provided me and my daughter with instant relief while also lessening the long-term effects of the bite. I couldn’t believe I finally had a way to take the suffering away. I knew I had to make this product readily available to anyone who suffers from bug bites and stings. I branded the tool, “Bug Bite Thing.” Since I have become a “mom on a mission” to offer others the same life-changing relief that my family and I were receiving. I branded the tool, “Bug Bite Thing,” (funnily enough because I kept telling my husband, “Hey, can you go grab that bug bite thing?”)
We started the business out very small. I was still working for my mom at the time. We had a long discussion about my dream to make Bug Bite Thing a global brand. She fully supported my decision to focus on Bug Bite Thing full time, but even with her blessing, I was scared to move forward. My husband and I sold our house, rented a home, and operated Bug Bite Thing out of our garage.
Then last year, Bug Bite Thing grabbed the attention of one of the casting producers for ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ on social media. The casting product reached out and encouraged my mother and me to audition. We appeared on the show in October 2019, and it was a huge opportunity for us. We ended up receiving offers from all of the Sharks and partnered with inventor and entrepreneur Lori Greiner. Since appearing on Shark Tank, the business has continued to grow. Partnering with Lori has provided us with many amazing opportunities. Bug Bite Thing was also recently featured on ABC’s ‘The View.’
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our business is growing rapidly! In 2019, my family and I moved three times within six months in order to accommodate the growth of Bug Bite Thing. We went from working out of our garage to working in a 5500 sq ft. facility. We became a fully operational company in an incredibly short timeframe. Since our appearance on ‘Shark Tank,’ we went from two to twenty employees. We have sold hundreds of thousands of units of Bug Bite Thing and the product remains one of the top 100 best-selling products on Amazon in the Health & Household Category.
Make sure your team knows they are respected and valued and that everyone on your team has the same vision. You all need to be working towards the same ultimate goal to achieve success.
In the immediate future, our main initiative is to continue to educate the U.S. market on our product and increase Bug Bite Thing’s brand recognition. We are also streamlining our global initiatives to make Bug Bite Thing a brand that is known worldwide. We are also excited about some upcoming national media opportunities that will continue to spread the word about Bug Bite Thing and educate people that there is a non-toxic option for insect relief on the market that is truly effective.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There have been so many things that I have learned since starting the business as well as many challenges that I have encountered. One good decision that I made when starting the company is focusing on our customer’s experience . Since the beginning, I have strived to ensure our customers are satisfied with our product, as well as their entire experience with our brand. We always want our customers to feel like they are part of our company’s journey, and in turn, many of them want to support our brand and mission. They become our biggest cheerleaders.
One of the initial challenges, when I started the company, was how to market Bug Bite Thing. It is unlike all other insect bite relief products on the market, and we had to figure out how to enhance our market appeal. While most insect bite relief products are a topical cream or spray and contain chemicals, Bug Bite Thing only uses suction and is completely chemical-free.
Another great lesson that I learned 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! It makes sense that our target demographic would be based on what drew me to the product in the first place. I think our biggest mistake was solely focusing on one audience since Bug Bite Thing is so versatile that it relates to everyone. Now we try to have a broader focus in our marketing. Rather than question, “who would use the Bug Bite Thing?” we now ask ourselves, “when would they use the Bug Bite Thing?
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There are so many! My favorite marketing tool is Google Analytics. It is a great resource for me to ‘take the pulse’ of my company throughout the day. It helps me understand the trends and habits of our customers which then allows me to make adjustments to our marketing strategy, customer service, and sales channels
For our website, we utilize the platform, Shopify. It has made the entire process of building and running a website easy and manageable. It was also able to support the huge influx in web traffic that we experienced when we were featured on ‘Shark Tank,’ without any issues.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The person who has truly inspired me is my mother. She has been a constant source of encouragement and advice from the very beginning. Her expertise as a business owner has helped guide me in running Bug Bite Thing and to grow the company.
Two of my favorite books that I recommend to business owners are Invent it,Sell it, Bank it: Make Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality by Lori Greiner and Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business* by Gino Wickman. I greatly respect Lori’s experience as an inventor, entrepreneur, and mentor. Her advice is invaluable. *Traction is a great book for people who feel like they are ‘spinning their wheels’ and want to take their business to the next level.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The biggest piece of advice that I would give to aspiring and new entrepreneurs is to set up the proper infrastructure early on, hire the right people, and learn to delegate. At Bug Bite Thing, I knew I needed to personally let go of certain projects in order to scale and grow the brand. I brought in experienced new team members for the areas I knew I didn’t excel in. For instance, I hired a publicist and graphic designer because we need Bug Bite Thing to stay relevant and ahead of trends.
On a similar note, having a ‘team effort’ mentality is a necessary mindset that has been instrumental in the growth of our business. To succeed as a business owner, you must be able to work collaboratively, accept constructive criticism, and be willing to pivot when needed. You will constantly be problem-solving so you must be open to others' ideas, thoughts, and creative solutions. Make sure your team knows they are respected and valued and that everyone on your team has the same vision. You all need to be working towards the same ultimate goal to achieve success.
Another tip that I would give to entrepreneurs who are just getting started is to start local. Every entrepreneur’s goal is for their product to gain national attention. However, a great way to start gaining exposure is within your local community. Even if you believe you have a winning product, that doesn’t mean it won’t take a few versions until you are ready to bring it to the market. I was told multiple times that Bug BiteThing alone would not succeed. People said that I needed another product or a line of products to launch the business. Instead, I relied on the feedback from my community who loved the product. This reassured me that the product alone would succeed and I watched the demand start to grow.
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