Irrational Exuberance! How Otteroo Got Started

When people find out that I started a baby product company, they inevitably ask, “How many kids do you have” or “how old are your kids?” I answer with a big smile, “Zero, but I have two nephews and a niece!” I’ve pretty much convinced myself that having three biologically related little ones gives me the street cred needed in the baby biz!

I would then explain the irony (I really think I have a pretty interesting story!) of starting a baby floatie company as a PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids) who finally learned to swim in her 20s, and only because it was Cornell’s graduation requirement! Trust me, they were totally serious. I spent the first few years there avoiding the intro to swim class that was required if you had failed the exam at orientation, hoping they would forget. To my dismay, they did not.

Over the last four years, I often wondered (because we are all about mindfulness and introspection here in the Bay Area), how someone like me, who studied computer science, worked in tech and management consulting and had never spent one minute in a factory, ended up building a baby product company. I suppose it can be summed up in two words:

Irrational Exuberance!

I LOVE the concept of getting babies in the water early! While you technically can’t teach them to swim at two months old, I think it can help them to continue loving being in the water. After all, they did spend nine months floating inside their mommy’s belly!

I know first hand how debilitating the fear of water can be when first learning to swim. But I also know how important it is to learn this life-saving skill.

Once I overcame the fear (in retrospect, it was probably the fear of my parents’ wrath that trumped my fear of water) and successfully swam the three laps needed to pass my exam, I felt invincible! Like I could conquer the world! I went on to learn to surf and even got certified in scuba diving. It was so liberating!

That is why when I first saw a neck floatie on my now 7-year-old nephew Stanley, I was immediately enamored with the concept (why didn’t my parents get me one!?). So much so that I started Otteroo to introduce the neck floatie concept to Americans.

I was, and am still convinced that early, positive water exposure can help babies continue their natural love for the water so that when they are finally old enough to take that first swim lesson, they will have a much easier time than I did.

While I was irrationally excited and exuberant to “dive in” – I have to admit that since then, I’ve had to survive through a handful of not-so-fun moments, too. But, I can say that we are still here and growing and I have learned a tremendous amount about myself, too. How thick-skinned I am, how “creative” I can be when faced with limited resources, and how early I can wake up in an effort to join the “4 a.m. Successful People” club (more on startup-founder lifestyle and stress management in future BTS posts). I think I’m more laid back now…although that is debatable to many, as life knocks me down with trials and tribulations of making, marketing and selling a physical product (more on Inventory Management on BTS, too!) Even now, I sometimes feel like burning everything and running away, but ultimately, I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than tending to my Otto (our mascot otter).

While we’ve still got a long way to go before we reach our big goals and dreams for Otteroo, we have done quite a bit to feel proud of, too. Besides building an awesome community of parents who love sharing videos and photos of their babies having fun in the Otteroo, we’ve received two patents and joined University of California San Francisco’s prestigious QB3, an incubator for the life sciences, to position our floatie as a rehabilitation tool. We are also in the process of working with the brilliant minds at UC Berkeley’s Infant Studies Center to design preliminary studies to understand how the use of Otteroo floaties may impact an infant’s development and how Otteroo can be incorporated into treatment plans for infants with developmental delays or disabilities!

I was by no means an expert in running or much less owning a retail business when I first started but I have definitely learned a lot (especially what NOT to do) along the way.

As a non-tech start up in San Francisco, I also found that there were not many resources out there. So, I am hoping that by sharing things here that I would have loved to know then, and as I go along, other aspiring mom-preneurs and aunt-preneurs who are itching to start a business will find this blog series helpful. Plus, my therapist told me it’s good to write things down – the good and the bad!

Well if you are reading this line, thank you for not clicking away and hope you come back for more of my (hopefully helpful or at least entertaining) babbles.

Until next time!

Tiffany Chiu

Tiffany Chiu

Tiffany was inspired by her nephew Stanley to make a product that promotes the love of water. This is very important to her because she was terrified of water and failed her very first exam, a swim test, at Cornell where she received a degree in computer science before getting an MBA from MIT. Tiffany loves working with her otterific team, snowboarding, and eating salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite.
Tiffany Chiu