Sometimes, our most genius ideas and triumphs are born out of adversity and frustrations. In 2009, I was recently divorced, raising three children, and facing foreclosure and repossession amidst other challenges. However, I am a determined, relentless risk taker, which fared well for me in my plight.
My aha moment came one morning in my kitchen. Preparing fresh food has always been a part of my childhood since I grew up in a farming community in Northwest Iowa. My mother had a backyard garden where she made everything from scratch. After years of packing lunches for my own kids, and always being frustrated that healthy food spoils and my kids were eating blueberries that turned mushy in their lunch bag, I knew there had to be a better way. While this may not seem like a global issue, it’s a daily challenge. Just ask any parent who throws away spoiled food from their kids packed lunches day after day.
I thought, "Why hasn't anyone put freezable gel inside the walls of a bag to keep things cool?" Determined to try this novel idea, I cut apart a set of quilted ice packs and a shower curtain and pinned them together. Then, I took it to a dry cleaner and asked them to sew together a prototype. I popped the bag in the freezer overnight and gave it to my kids to test at school. Surprisingly, the bag kept healthy food cool all day!
In 2009, I patented the concept and launched PackIt, the original personal cooler, a foldable, freezable lunch bag that could keep food and drinks cool for hours – no ice packs needed. Since then, we have extended PackIt from lunch coolers to bags for wine, picnics, groceries, baby bottles and more.
A family affair
While I'm proud of growing PackIt into a multimillion dollar business, my greatest successes are my children. As a single mother and CEO, working as much as required to lead a startup, I manage a difficult schedule to balance work life and family. While some might think that my kids suffer from the sacrifices I make, I believe they have made them stronger. I have always kept my children involved with the business. As teenagers, my boys were taking customer service calls, packaging goods and contributing to product development projects. I believe that my daughter will grow up to feel like she can achieve anything.
Just as my kids have grown up with PackIt, I'm always amazed to hear families share their stories of how PackIt has become a part of their everyday lives. Parents tell us PackIt is a simple solution to help their families maintain healthy lifestyles at every life stage, from family grocery shopping to dad's tailgates.
Experience isn't a No. 1 priority
When I first started PackIt, I had no experience in product design, manufacturing, sourcing factories, importing goods, etc. Simply not knowing which steps to take first nearly paralyzed me with fear. However, it was a learning curve that I was determined to conquer. Today, after plenty of my own mistakes, I have experience in all these areas, as well as a rolodex of contacts to help when reinforcement is needed!
Don't let inexperience stop you – just take the first step. Though some may see me as an accidental entrepreneur, I believe entrepreneurship was always in my DNA. It just took adversity to awaken it.
Even as CEO, I learned to not be afraid and ask for help.
From meeting with industry experts, building relationships with retailers and working with online marketplaces like zulily, PackIt has been embraced in more than 5,000 domestic retail locations and distributed globally in more than 40 countries. Our core promise meets growing consumer demand for healthy living.
The PackIt brand is becoming a household name, offering innovating, unique and smart solutions to make life a little more delightful. I’m honored and humbled to have an idea that began in my kitchen turn into a business that is making families healthier, happier and yes, COOLER!
About the author: Melissa Kieling is the founder and CEO of PackIt LLC. As a single mom of three, she went from having $13 in the bank to being the CEO of a multimillion dollar consumer products business in a few short years. It all started when she noticed that no single product could keep her kids' healthy lunches cool and safe until lunchtime. Melissa subsequently invented and patented PackIt, the original freezable lunch bag, with freezable gel built into its lining keeping food and drinks cold for hours.