Mothers of Invention
A Walnut Creek entrepreneur teaches moms how to market their ideas
By the time she was 10 months old, Sophia Monosoff was already giving Walnut Creek plumbers plenty of business. "She started pulling the family toilet paper," says mom Tamara. "At first it was cute, but it lost its charm when she clogged the toilet."
In a pique of industriousness, Monosoff invented the TP Saver, a simple plastic device that straps over a toilet paper roll to prevent a child from unspooling the Charmin. In the fall of 2003, just 11 months after Sophia’s first messy tugs, Monosoff launched her simple invention to much acclaim. Soon she was talking about her product on CNN and the Today show, and being written up in Time and The New Yorker. Shortly after that, she began receiving thousands of inquiries from other moms, and it wasn’t her product they asked about. They wanted to know how to market their own ideas. "Our fax machine practically had smoke coming out of it," she laughs.
In response, Monosoff founded Mom Inventors to help mothers get their inventions into the market. From her home office in Walnut Creek, Monosoff brings mom-designed products to a national distribution network. And through her Web site, www.mominventors.com, she explains how to launch an invention into the marketplace, profiles successful business moms, and hosts an eBay store of mother-invented kid-tested products. Her business also licenses ideas for moms who don’t want to deal with the hassles of production. "A lot of moms don’t want to go into this mess," she explains. "They want to sell an idea to me and make passive income."
Monosoff, who has a doctorate in education, is not your run-of-the-mill mother of invention. She and her husband, Brad Kofoed, held staff positions under President Bill Clinton. "One of the most interesting things I learned working in the Clinton administration was to always think bigger," says Monosoff.
She’s taken that knowledge to heart, and is taking her fellow mothers with her to the big time. "One mom had 4,000 units of an awesome product, and she couldn’t move them," says Monosoff, recalling Jennifer Sarihan, a mom from Springfield, Ohio, who invented a gadget that cuts the crusts off sandwiches. "We licensed her product, and in two days we were on the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw."
"I was kind of bewildered by it," says Sarihan, thinking back to her garage stacked high with Good Bites crust choppers. "I was hitting some dead ends. Suddenly Tamara has it and she’s marketing it, and it was so easy."
Not all moms need help licensing; in fact, some have already launched their products. Amy Bergin and Allison Mills both had their respective inventions—the "couponizer" coupon organizer and "fridgefile" refrigerator file—picked up by TV shopping channel QVC. Monosoff invited the two to join the eBay site. "We look at this eBay store as a collective effort," says Bergin. "That’s one of the things about mom inventors: We want to share in each other’s successes. When we all succeed together, it’s more powerful than just one person going to the moon and leaving the rest of us in the dust."
Moms of yesteryear invented some of our most cherished products. Think alphabet blocks, disposable diapers, and the windshield wiper. Today’s brood of ideas includes stickers to tell left shoes from rights, a thingamabob to stop thumb sucking, plus the aforementioned crust cutter, fridge file, and of course, the TP Saver. "Before, when you Googled mom invented, nothing came up. Now people are seeing the trend. It’s creating this whole momentum," Monosoff says. "Moms are problem-solvers: If you’re at home with your kids, you’re problem-solving all day long."
Meanwhile, Monosoff’s youngest daughter, Kiara, recently reached the age her sister was when this whole bathroom business started. "My little one just started pulling the toilet paper. One day she just started yanking the heck out of it, taking it all through the house." This time Tamara knew exactly what to do: "I put on the TP Saver."
Check out Monosoff’s network of creative mothers at www.mominventors.com.
Monosoff is currently writing The Mom Inventor’s Handbook: A Simple
Guide for Bringing an Idea to Profit While Still Being a Mom, to be
published by McGraw-Hill this fall.