I always wondered how car hire companies can justify the steep booster seat costs you are expected to pay when you hire a car. If you have two kids and you are on holiday for a week, don’t be surprised if you are nearly £100 down in having to hire booster seats…A pretty mean profit don’t you think?….
So when TheEmployable heard of Bubblebum, the inflatable booster seat you can take with you and inflate when you need it, it was a story that made us ‘sit up’ (sorry) and take notice….
Hi there Grainne, thank you for speaking to TheEmployable. Take us back to before Bubblebum; tell us about your previous work history, and were you working when you first came up with the idea for Bubblebum?
I left school to go to art college and decided the day before I was due to start that it wasn’t for me, so I enrolled on a Building Construction HND course instead. Working as junior Quantity Surveyor, I quickly became tired of being the only one in a skirt on the building site and progressed to work in commercial radio. From that I went to independent travel and opened my own Franchise of Travel Counsellors PLC which was very successful. I had been in the travel business for 16 years and had a firm grasp on the potential of the industry.
While travelling back and forth to visit my poorly mother in law, I discovered the car rental firms did not provide booster seats even when we had prebooked then. On further investigation I discovered that I was not the only one who was encountering this problem. In fact, 50% of the car seats booked on a given day were unavailable and of those 50% were unsuitable, which left a staggering 75% of children travelling without a restraint. I researched to see if there was an inflatable version on the market as I wanted to be able to pack it in my backpack. When I discovered that there was not I had to find out why not and counter the challenges that made it such an unattractive proposal for the major car seat manufacturers.
Did your previous work & life experiences prepare you for the reality of setting up a business from scratch?
I continues to run my Travel Counsellors business fulltime while I started up BubbleBum to fund the startup. I have always been in an environment where I was 100% accountable for what I did. It was a lesson I learned early in life and I followed through to completion of each task looking at opportunities along the way. The most important thing I learned through my previous experience in business was never to compromise on integrity.
With regards to Bubblebum, why did you initially come up with the concept and at what point did you realise there was a real need and interest for the product?
I understood that there was in excess of 6 million booster age kids in the UK alone and having run a successful travel agency, I was well aware of the number of families travelling every year. Low fare airlines charge for baggage and some now even charge for hand baggage. This would make the cost of bringing a conventional rigid booster on holiday 30gbp plus the cost of the booster seat or rent one at 7-8Euroe PER DAY! When I was contacted by the Simon Mayo Show on BBC Radio2 to speak on the Innovation Slot, the response was phenomenal. Now in 24 countries worldwide with a potential catchment audience in excess of 100million, it is not hard to do the math!
What did you find the hardest part of the journey in developing the product from initial idea to product launch?
The testing and legislations for each and every country was mind-blowing, but we have managed to jump through every hoop and over every hurdle.
How was 2011 for the business and what challenges did you face?
We have faced challenges in our growing export market. As we have been funding the business ourselves, expanding into markets such as the USA, while it is a fantastic opportunity and we have been so well received, it is a very expensive process and that has slowed our progress more than I would like. We are on track though with our goals.
And the Highlights?
To be an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist has been amazing. Everyday I am learning from the Alumni and making decisions I never thought I would. Breaking into the US market and securing Target.com within 4 months of entry has been quite something.
What next for Bubblebum in 2012?
We hope to launch into Brazil, Korea and Japan in 2012 and are on track to do so. We also have two new products on their way towards the third quarter.
Now you have worked for yourself, could you ever imagine working for someone else again in a 9 – 5?!
I always work with people even when I am working for myself. When you work for yourself you push yourself harder than anyone else could. I think it would be somewhat easier to work for someone else but, I have worked for myself now for the past 7 years so it seems to agree with me….
A big Congrats to Grainne for her hard work and tenacity in producing a product that so clearly addresses and solves a problem many of us face. We wish Grainne and her team all the best with the business and thank you Grainne for taking the time to answer our questions…
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