An Unlikely Entrepreneurial Inspiration

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Toilet paper seems like an odd inspiration for a company, but it's what started Tamara Monosoff on the path to becoming an entrepreneurial mom. Since then she's been busy teaching other moms about the path from idea to product. In May, Monosoff comes out with her second book about insights she's gleaned from other successful moms who have started their own companies. It's a business book at heart, says Monosoff, but she also wanted to inspire other moms to take the leap from babies to balance sheets.

As a former Clinton administration staffer and consultant, Monosoff had experience in the working world. When her first daughter started pulling toilet paper off rolls, and Monosoff got an idea for an invention that would prevent it, she added entrepreneur to her resume. The title came with a few hurdles. "It was painstaking," recalls the Northern California mom. "Nothing told me step by step what I needed to do." After some trial and error she got the product on the shelves of local retailers and now sells thousands of her TP Saver. That was just the beginning of Monosoff's new career. The process spawned a whole new business after it made her realize how few resources were available to others in the same boat.

It was her own experience of moving from the working world to being a mom that informed her decision to start Mom Inventors Inc. "There was a shocking difference between being a presidential appointee and changing diapers," she says. "It was very isolating." Mom Inventions started off as an Web-based advice site chock-full of interviews with other inventor moms as well as tips on such topics as manufacturing products overseas. She also sends out a monthly newsletter to 10,000 people.

Now it's mushroomed into a full-time business that helps other moms get their products off the ground. It pays a 1 to 5 percent royalty to get the ideas of moms on store shelves. The fee depends upon how much legwork the inventor has done. Some moms may just have a "napkin sketch" of their idea. But when one mom came to Monosoff, she already had thousands of sandwich crust cutters sitting in her garage based on a prototype created by her dentist. Now the cutters, which come in four shapes, are one of Mom Inventors' best-selling products. Monosoff has recently starting putting the inventors' faces on packaging as well. "Women have always been inventive, but not necessarily credited," she says.

Monosoff decided to compile the things she picked up into her first book–the Mom Inventors Handbook–that was published in September 2005. Besides simple cost-saving tips and motivational messages, it also features concrete details such as scripts for would-be entrepreneurs making sales cold calls. "It's the book I wish I had had" when starting out, says Monosoff. In her second book, Secrets of Millionaire Moms, Monosoff interviewed other successful women who were able to get their ideas off the ground, such as Maxine Clark, who started Build-A-Bear Workshop. It includes advice on what to consider when raising capital and balancing family obligations. "The idea of balance sets you up for failure," says Monosoff. "There needs to be a fluidity–sometimes business is going take more time, sometimes family." She should know. Along the way Monosoff has had a second daughter and her husband quit his job at EVault to head sales at the company.

Her biggest surprise in writing the second book was how the entrepreneurs all had vastly differing personalities and backgrounds. "But they hands down had same internal traits–an intense focus and determination to succeed," she says.