Results of the Mirassou Winery Bright Ideas Grant Program are finally in. I am not the grand prize winner, but I am grateful to score $3,000 for being a finalist. Many people have asked how I learned about the contest and what my application entailed. You can read how my application came about here. The application itself was simple. Describe your bright idea how you would use the grant. Below is my submission, word for word.
Kustom Kissers was born out of my life-long obsession with lip balm and a family filled with influential crafty women. As a young child, I would be ecstatic to receive Lip Smackers in my Christmas stocking. Throughout the tween and teen years, I sampled just about every brand of lip balm imaginable from cheap-o drug store brands to the pricey department store offerings. My best friend and I would peel the labels off and decorate the tubes with stickers and sharpies because, at that age, everything was better with stickers and sharpies graffiti.
One day in college I was watching Martha Stewart Living and she featured a kit for purchase that included all the makings to create your very own lip balm. A short phone call to Mom later it was on my Christmas wishlist. My mother was a crafty lady and always encouraged my creative exploration and business ventures. When I was in middle school, she sold my polymer clay sculptures to her co-workers in the hospital. A few weeks after my phone call, the lip balm kit was in my hot little hands and, soon after, my shared sudent apartment’s kitchen had produced a plethora of tubes filled with experimental lip balm concoctions. The smoothest and tastiest balm was created from a soy-based all natural formula and far surpassed any I had purchased thus far.
There was just one problem with all those tubes – they were plain white and boring. I revisited my tween years’ inspiration and went for the stash of stickers, which also contained some snapshots waiting to be inserted into a scrapbook. I thought ‘photos on lip balm? Yes. Oh, yes.’
I never purchased lip balm from a store again. Every time I pulled a tube out to apply the yummy formula (near hourly) someone would ask “What kind of lip balm is that?” Then they asked if I could make some with their photo on it. Those folks would give the lip balm as gifts or party favors, and then the recipients would want to order more. This snowball effect gradually turned my passion and hobby for creating personalized lip balm into a business.
A friend’s brother, who happened to be in school for web development, created the first Kustom Kissers website. Customers would e-mail their photos to me, and I would design their labels. More and more large orders were coming in from brides who wanted their engagement photos on the lip balm to give away as favors. Over time the printed designs have evolved from photo paper covered in shrink wrap to printed shipping labels to professional grade labels. And the orders just kept coming.
Meanwhile, I graduated from college and graduate school with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Public Administration. I got my first big girl job working for the State of Arizona, and quickly climbed the career ladder moving from State Homeless Coordinator to Data Infrastructure Grant Coordinator to Grants Manager of Behavioral Health Services. It turned out I was pretty good at writing and managing grants in order to provide the best services for Arizonans. There was just one problem: I was completely uninspired. At times I became so preoccupied with work that Kustom Kissers fell to the wayside; however, the customers didn’t stop ordering.
In late 2010 I invested in services to have Kustom Kissers professionally branded and developed into a website where customers can upload photos and design their own lip balm. That site will launch in October 2011, and in January 2012, I’m leaving my uninspiring government job to take the leap as a full-time entreprenuer. A Bright Idea grant from Mirassou Winery would allow me to take Kustom Kissers even further. My wishlist now includes funds for advertising, moving out of the spare bedroom and into an office space, and hiring staff to produce a higher volume of lip balm orders. Kustom Kissers lip balm is unique because it is all natural and can be customized to your liking for just about any event or purpose. There is no minimum order required or wax and chemicals included like the major promotional item companies offer. It’s good for your lips and seeing the photo on it of your child or pet or special day is sure to make you smile.
Once Kustom Kissers is fully up and running, I would love to have time to mentor other young women who dream of owning their own business. I was first introduced to Mirassou Winery through a Bloggy Boot Camp conference and would like to get more involved with them or similar encouraging formats. Mirassou Winery’s investment would be paid forward over and over and who knows how far that can reach! Thank you for the opportunity to enter the Bright Ideas grant program and for supporting dreamers like me.