How This Company Went From $10,000 in the Bank to a Baby-Care Empire Sold in 30,000 Stores
Chelsea Hirschhorn was in a bind. Her infant-products company, Fridababy, was profitable. But if it was going to grow, she needed more products. The problem was, she had no design experience, no R&D staff, no money and no time.
Like we said: a bind.
She hadn’t started as an entrepreneur. In law school she did a stint with the New York Mets. Then she was a bankruptcy attorney during the recession. After that, she moved to south Florida and landed a gig with the Miami Marlins.
One night in 2013, while Hirschhorn was pregnant with her first child, a neighbor told her about a product she was importing from Sweden, the NoseFrida. It was “an oral nasal aspirator” -- that is, a tube parents use to suck snot out of their babies’ congested noses. The neighbor wanted to see if Hirschhorn was interested in the business. She was not.
Then her son was born. He became congested, and Hirschhorn tried the NoseFrida. “I was like, This is amazing,” she says. Her neighbor, it turns out, had something valuable: a practical tool for an unpleasant childcare scenario no one talks about but everyone deals with.
Hirschhorn signed on as CEO, renamed the company Fridababy, and grew the product for two years -- selling to enthusiastic retailers, parents and pediatricians. But she and her partner saw the business differently. The partner wanted to pocket the profits; Hirschhorn wanted to invest in growth. “It was such an unsexy, un-innovated category,” she says.
Yes, you could get baby toothbrushes and nail clippers and conventional nasal aspirators, but they hadn’t been updated in decades. “These are products that all parents are registering for,” she says, and no one was paying any attention to them.
So Hirschhorn bought her partner out. From there she needed “a really quick-and-dirty way to expand the portfolio with no resources.”
She found the solution close to home, using her own life as an R&D lab. Every time her infant son did something gross or unexpected, she’d dream up a product to deal with it. When her son kept spitting out medicine, Hirschhorn created MediFrida -- a pacifier with a syringe attached to deliver medicine. When he resisted having his teeth brushed, she came up with a three-sided toothbrush that could do in one stroke what conventional brushes do in three. “It was inspired by the way veterinarians brush dog teeth,” she says, laughing.
Then she had an aha moment: American inventors are squeamish about creating “products you’re using at 3 in the morning when you’re elbow-deep in shit.” But Europeans were more open-minded. So Hirschhorn began attending baby trade shows in Europe, looking for products that fit her niche. When she found one, she’d license it, tweak it and bring it to the U.S., leveraging the distribution she’d garnered with the NoseFrida.
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“There were times when I was cutting prototypes on my desk from scratch,” she says. “I would take an existing product, scotch-tape things together and send it to a factory.”
The approach worked. She added 18 new products and tripled sales in three years. Today Fridababy’s wares -- which she calls the “grossest products you’ll ever love” -- are in more than 30,000 stores, along with a robust online business. And customers and pediatricians love them.
“We have a lot of credibility in the snot space,” she says. Then she laughs. “It’s alarming to me, the evolution of my professional career.”