Meet The Inventors: Tangela Walker-Craft On How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf

Meet The Inventors:

Tangela Walker-Craft On How To Go
From Idea To Store Shelf

I breastfed my daughter for two years. Due to my own breastfeeding needs, I eventually invented and patented the best multipurpose breastfeeding and travel product that a mom or caregiver could ever have — The GoPillow! I had the initial idea for the GoPillow because my daughter was born with a head full of hair. Each time I would breastfeed her, the back of her neck along her hairline would perspire. My arm would be damp with perspiration when I cradled her. I decided that I needed an arm cover of some kind for breastfeeding and cradling my baby.

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tangela Walker-Craft.

Tangela Walker-Craft is a native of Lakeland, Florida. She is the youngest of her parents’ (Jerome and Angela Walker) two children. She has an older brother (Stacy). She has been married to her husband (Ernest Craft, III) for over 28 years. She has a daughter (Emari).

Tangela is a graduate of the University of South Florida (Tampa), where she earned a degree in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. While working on her English degree at USF Tangela won a Sun Coast Writer’s Conference Award and Honorable Mention in the Pointer Library Fiction Contest. She was also a Dean’s List Scholar. She has worked as a Telemarketing Sales Representative, an Accounts Receivable Collector, and as a Technical Writer (as a subcontractor to the Department of Energy). She worked for seven years as a multi-grade level Language Arts Instructor. Tangela was once [student selected] Tenth Grade Teacher of the Year. She left the public school system in 2002 to become a work-at-home mother. She homeschooled her daughter for most of her daughter’s school years. Tangela founded Simply Necessary, Incorporated in Lakeland, Florida in 2005 to market and distribute a child care product that she invented and patented due to breastfeeding her daughter. She licensed her invention to Kushies Baby (Canada/USA).

As a way to utilize her Creative Writing degree and share her ideas and experiences with other families, Tangela became a blogger. Her blog is Simply Necessary Inc. ( She draws from her experiences as a wife, mother, teacher, and business owner for her articles. She provides lifestyle tips for families.

Tangela’s honors include being a top 10 finalist in the Disney Dream Chief Magic Official Contest. She has been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine for her money management skills. She has contributed to numerous media outlets as a family and lifestyle expert. She has appeared as a parenting and lifestyle expert in television news segments.

Tangela Holding GoPillows Kushies

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Lakeland, Florida. Lakeland is located in Central Florida (north to south and east to west). It is the perfect fusion of a small town and a big city. That allowed me to grow up visiting popular theme parks and other cultural attractions regularly, while remaining in close proximity to orange groves and cow pastures. My brother and I spent a great deal of time with my parents. We have always been a close-knit family. However, I chose to spend my weekends and summer breaks from school with my maternal grandmother. My maternal grandfather passed away when I was 5 years old, so my grandmother lived alone. As a devout Missionary Baptist, she insisted that I be front and center at all church functions. Due to growing up in a rural community in the segregated south, my grandmother was an innovator. Her family did not have much materially, but they never lacked any of the necessities. She grew up making things from “scratch”. She never shied away from difficult tasks. She seemed to have a working knowledge of all things, from cooking to car repairs. Observing her resourcefulness ignited a creative spark in me. My parents and my maternal grandmother encouraged me to be a high academic achiever. I graduated in the top 2% of my high school class and earned a full scholarship to attend college.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite “Life Lesson Quotes” is: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” — Abraham Lincoln

I believe that was President Lincoln’s way of saying make every moment count. Living a long, unhappy life is nothing to celebrate. But if you make an effort to find happiness and joy every chance that you get, even if your life is short, it will be a life well lived. Living through a pandemic has reinforced that idea. I will never take an “ordinary” day for granted again.


Go Pillow Lite

Bamboo | Go Pillow

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Brenda Wilkinson’s novel, Ludell, had a lasting impact on me. Ludell chronicled the life of a fictional African-American girl growing up in Georgia in the 1950s. Even though I read the novel in the early 1980s, it resonated with me because I identified so strongly with the protagonist. Ludell was a book worm, like me. She was a burgeoning writer, an interest that I was just beginning to explore at the time that I read the book. Ludell was being raised by her grandmother. Spending so much time with my grandmother who had been born in Georgia, I felt a kinship to Ludell. Reading the book transported me back in time to my own mother’s childhood. She had grown up in Florida in the 1950s. But most importantly, Ludell was an African-American. I had never read a book set solely in the African-American community and that focused on the life of a girl my own age. I did not even know that books like that existed. In many ways I felt that I was Ludell and Ludell was me.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

I breastfed my daughter for two years. Due to my own breastfeeding needs, I eventually invented and patented the best multipurpose breastfeeding and travel product that a mom or caregiver could ever have — The GoPillow! I had the initial idea for the GoPillow because my daughter was born with a head full of hair. Each time I would breastfeed her, the back of her neck along her hairline would perspire. My arm would be damp with perspiration when I cradled her. I decided that I needed an arm cover of some kind for breastfeeding and cradling my baby.

The original intent of the pillow was for cradling babies during breast or bottle feedings. I also knew it would make an excellent travel pillow. The idea for adding the privacy blanket came out of necessity. It was added after I was caught in a crowded area during a rainstorm at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. My husband ended up taking off his shirt and giving it to me to use as a privacy cover-up so that I could nurse our daughter more discreetly. We realized that a built-in privacy blanket or cover-up could separate my pillow from any other nursing pillow on the market. The blanket turned my pillow idea into a multipurpose wonder!

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

A community of women helped me launch my business and product. A mom who was already an entrepreneur mentored me through the initial stages of developing my invention. She thought my invention was a good idea so she introduced me to many of the people that I would later work with to produce the original GoPillow. My patent attorney was a woman who had previously worked with a family friend. The package design for the original GoPillow was designed by a woman. My first customers were two moms who worked at the post office. After assisting me with selecting the best post office packaging to use for shipping the GoPillow, they insisted on being my first customers. Mom bloggers were the first to share my invention on their blogs. My contact at Kushies Baby was a mom who saw the usefulness of my invention and pushed for the company to license the product.

Overcoming challenges requires determination. Entrepreneurs need to identify their target audience and focus most of their marketing to that particular audience. They should have an “elevator pitch” that can be delivered concisely. They also should be able to summarize why their product or service is better than the competition.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

The best place to start researching a new idea is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Doing a search for similar products and/or product names will often inform a would-be inventor if their idea is original. In the Internet age, it is also easy enough to do a Google search for a product category.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

I had a mentor at SCORE (a network of volunteer business mentors). I met with my mentor on several occasions. His encouragement gave me the confidence to start a business. He shared that he had mentored many clients. He told me I was one of the clients that had what it took to be successful. Any time I would get frustrated or think about giving up, his words came back to me and kept me going.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

After I realized that a retractable privacy blanket would separate the idea that I had for a wearable, portable breastfeeding pillow from any other nursing pillow on the market, I worked with various contacts to bring my idea to life. After searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to confirm that my idea was indeed unique, I hired a patent attorney who assisted me in filing for a patent. (She informed me that by doing my own research I reduced her billable hours significantly.) Thanks to a referral from another mompreneur who sold baby products, I was able to find a sourcing consultant and someone to design my product packaging. The sourcing consultant was my go-between to a manufacturer overseas. We communicated by phone and email. I went through prototyping and fabric sampling with the sourcing consultant. Once I had the final prototype I began working with a package designer. With guidance from my mentor at SCORE, I founded Simply Necessary, Incorporated to market and distribute the GoPillow once it was ready for market.

The GoPillow was initially sold on a website. It did not take long for me to recognize that without a more established distributor the GoPillow would remain mostly un-discovered I called on my knowledge and expertise as a consumer, mother, and effective communicator. I searched the Internet for the right company to partner with. There was interest from a few companies, that ended in rejection. After scouring the World-Wide-Web, I finally found a company whose mission statement sounded like a good fit for my invention. I reached out by email. A representative from the company contacted me by phone. We corresponded for several months. Eventually we worked out the terms of the licensing agreement between Kushies Baby and my company, Simply Necessary, Incorporated. Kushies Baby became the exclusive distributor of my GoPillow. It is now sold around the world as the Kushies GoPillow. The Kushies GoPillow can be purchased from Amazon, buybuyBABY, BED BATH & Beyond, Walmart, and various stores and websites throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Shortly after the GoPillow was launched on the Simply Necessary, Incorporated website, I was invited to appear on The Montel Williams Show as a “Mom Inventor”. Montel was a syndicated talk show that filmed in New York. I did not know that the show aired in other countries. When the show aired, I began to receive orders from countries around the world. My website was only set up to receive orders from within the United States. The orders came through, but my website failed to charge shipping and handling for the orders from outside of the country. I found out that filling orders that came from outside of the United States was more than I was ready for at the time. It would have required clearing the GoPillow through U.S. Customs for each individual sale. That was one of the reasons that I began searching for an international distributor.

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

My appearance on The Montel Williams Show is one of the reasons that I remained in business. Prior to that appearance sales were sparse. After appearing on that show, sales improved significantly and other shows and media outlets were more open to my pitches. I learned then to use every media opportunity to segue into the next.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I wish someone would have told me:

1. Many of the buyers and decision makers for major retail chains are male. Getting them to appreciate a product that they could never use will be difficult. [It was not until I found a female executive who understood the usefulness of my product that I was able to license it.]

2. Do not trust one company with your entire advertising budget. [I was promised the moon by an advertising firm. I trusted them with my meager advertising budget for the entire year. It was a bad investment and almost put me out of business before I got started.]

3. If another business owner sees your product as competition, his or her advice might not be trustworthy. [I was given advice about my product that proved to be bad advice. I realized later that the business owner saw my product as a threat to a product she already had on the market.]

4. If possible, launch your invention during “peak” season. [Retailers and media outlets try to maximize their shelf space and air time. If you launch your product during a time when it is the most useful, or when people are likely to be looking for that type of product, the reception will be better. For example, August is World Breastfeeding Month. The first week in August is World Breastfeeding Week. Media outlets are more likely to feature a breastfeeding product during August.]

5. No one will ever appreciate and demonstrate your product with the same enthusiasm that you do. [My product always does better when I show it personally. My product has been featured in news segments where the person showing it barely knew how to use it. Those are missed opportunities.]

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Do your homework. Start by doing a Google search for key terms to see if a product similar to your product already exists. If the idea is indeed new, decide if a patent is appropriate and which kind of patent is needed. The USPTO issues three kinds of patents: design patentsplant patents, and utility patents. Create a “poor man’s patent” until an official patent is secured. That means keep thorough records. Write a detailed description of the idea. Make a notation of the date and time that the idea originated. If the invention was inspired by a person, event, or circumstance, include that in the documentation. A drawing, no matter how poorly done, with the written description of the invention is advisable. An inexpensive way to document the date and time and to protect an original idea is to take a photo of the written description next to a time stamped periodical (a newspaper, weekly magazine, etc.). Make copies of the invention description and images. Then mail the copies to yourself. When the envelope containing the information is delivered, store it in a safe place. Do not open the envelope! The sealed envelope with a U.S. postal stamp could be used as evidence in a legal argument.

If a person is not capable of filing for a patent on his or her own, they should seek a patent attorney or patent agent. Protecting the invention from being copied is important. Request a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before sharing anything about the invention with others. Reputable patent agents, patent attorneys, and companies will be familiar with NDAs and should not have any problem implementing one.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Invention development consultants are not necessary. If an individual does not feel up to the task, they are an option. Doing the work yourself saves money. However, it is time consuming to strike out on one’s own.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Bootstrapping allows an inventor to keep all of the profits from an invention. However, if he or she cannot afford to invest and possibly lose the funds that are necessary to invest in an idea, venture capital might be the best option. Any inventor wishing to maintain total control of his or her idea, may not want to bring in venture capitalists.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

More than anything, I hope I have been an inspiration to other would-be mompreneurs, especially African-American mompreneurs. Also, due to the nature of my invention, I have become an extended breastfeeding advocate. Many of my media appearances and print interviews have been used to promote extended breastfeeding and to share breastfeeding advice. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Research suggests that the longer breastfeeding continues and the more breastmilk a baby drinks, the better a mother’s health might be.” Breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition for babies when the breastfeeding mother is healthy. Hopefully, my invention and my advocacy has encouraged more mothers to breastfeed.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Because breastfeeding is so beneficial to both mothers and babies, if I could inspire a movement, I would want all companies to give new mothers paid maternity leave so they could breastfeed their newborns for an extended amount of time. If a company could not afford the paid leave for new mothers, I would like the government to provide assistance.

I would also like to see more investment in Black and female owned businesses. Women do most of the shopping for consumer goods for families. There should be more women leading companies. There are other women like me with ideas for useful products and services who are being kept out of retail and wholesale markets because their pitches are ignored by male executives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Tyler Perry. Though he experienced adversity in his early life, Mr. Perry believed in his dream of becoming a successful writer. He has set an example of how perseverance pays off. One of the things that I admire the most about Mr. Perry is how he has used his success to launch the careers of others. As someone who would like to earn a living as a writer, I would love to have a face-to-face conversation with a man who has more than accomplished that goal.

This article is written by

Tyler Gallagher

CEO and Founder of Regal Assets

View original article here

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