For as long as parents have been having children, they've been trying to get their kids to sleep. This universal problem sparked an idea in Adam Nelson, creator of the Good Nite Lite.
It started "selfishly," says Nelson, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga. His 4-year-old son had gotten in the habit of waking each day at 5 a.m. and rousing the rest of the family, too. The sleep-deprived Nelson happened to catch a doctor on TV suggesting that parents use a timer to shut off night lights and help kids adjust to sleeping in a dark environment.
"I thought, Why couldn't you turn it back on with the same timer?" recalls Nelson, who also believed it would "be neat to have one view for the child to know when it's time to rest and another view to know when it's time to get up. Really, that was the whole premise: A moon means rest time and a sun means wake-up time."
A longtime entrepreneur who has worked extensively in software, technology and project management, Nelson turned to software developers he knew in Minsk, Belarus, to help design the product. He tested the prototype on his son, first programming the light to change from moon to sun at 5 a.m., when the child was accustomed to waking, then pushing it later by 10- or 15-minute increments each day.
"It was classic conditioning," Nelson explains. "He was waiting for that sun to come on so he could come tell us it was time to get up." Soon, the boy learned to go back to sleep. "It taught him that when the moon's on, everybody's resting."
Using his own funds, Nelson began manufacturing the lights in China. Frustrated by futile attempts to place the product at retail, he hired a PR firm, which scored a write-up in Parents magazine in November 2008. This led to immediate sales from his website. "We wound up selling thousands of units," he says. "There went the whole idea of 'retail first.' It wound up being 'consumer first.'"
Now nearly 65 percent of sales are from GoodNiteLite.com, 25 percent from e-tailers such as Amazon and the rest from the 50 or so stores that have begun to carry the lights, including Learning Express. Nelson says sales, which have doubled each year since launch, were about $460,000 in 2010; he expects to top $1 million in 2012. He declines to disclose the cost of making his product, which retails for about $40 (or $34.99 plus shipping and handling from his website).
Meanwhile, Nelson continues to adapt the product, often based on customer feedback. He absorbed the cost of upgrading his packaging from a "very wasteful" throwaway box to one that can double as a travel case or a stand so the light can be used on a dresser. In addition to working on iPhone and iPad apps, he is experimenting with different sizes and styles of the physical light and is developing a series of children's books to go with it.
Nelson, whose motto in business has always been "fail quick, fail cheap," is elated by Good Nite Lite's success. "It was a big gamble," he says,"but one that worked."
Carolyn Horwitz is executive editor of Entrepreneur magazine.