Q&A with Entrepreneur, Mary Tiffin
Mary Tiffin serves as Chief Executive Officer, President, and Director at Mangata, LLC.
She is the creator of RunLites, wearable safety lights for the outdoor enthusiast.
1). Can you tell our readers about your background?
My career is a combination of fashion and tech. Upon graduation from college I started in the Accessories Market in NYC. I worked in that business for a number of years. When I relocated to Pennsylvania, I had to change careers. It was in my new home state that I learned voice and data networking-- so the fateful career marriage of fashion and tech was born. On a personal level, I am a widowed (single) mother of 3 sons, Christopher (21), Michael (17) and Stephen (15) and dog mom to Moochie (4) an Olde English Bulldog.
2). What inspired you to start your business?
After I sent my first son to college, I was relieved that I made it to that point. My husband had died 12 year prior and I was working really hard to raise my sons alone. It was very challenging at times. I went to a college for women and worked in fashion. What did I know about boys? Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails!!! So, when I delivered Christopher to his school, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I felt that I’d made it (more or less) with juggling the activities, emotions, and the schedules of 3 very busy sons. It was at that point that I began running again. I needed to get back into shape. Because I still had two very busy boys still at home, the only time that I could run was at night. I would run when all of their homework, sports & activities were complete, mostly at night and in the dark. Since running in the dark isn’t the safest, I decided to create a product to help make me feel safe and light my way.
3). Where is your business based?
We are based in Central Pennsylvania but we have partners around the world.
4). How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
Quite literally with each step of my run. I used many of my nightly runs as product testing runs. Our roads and trails became our testing labs, and we literally refined the design on the run. It was great and a real-world application. After I created prototype design, I worked with my local Small Business Development Center and they were able to assist me with a suite of startup resources including patent research and engineering assistance.
5). What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
There were several ways. We chose an organic approach to advertising and built our brand through the typical social networking channels. We also sought earned advertising opportunities in media that made sense to us. But breaking into a business that is dominated by some very large names is very difficult, so we did a lot of higher profile running events and marathons to introduce our products and partnered with companies with similar goals and values.
6). What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
We have entered into a market that is dominated by big names that have greater resources than ours. We work every day to overcome them by being genuine and remaining focused on why we do what we do.
7). How do you stay focused?
I meditate regularly, so focus is not something that I struggle with. Also, I find my work very interesting so it’s easy to stay focused.
8). How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Since we created this product from the ground up, we feel that we understand the safety needs of our customers. We never really satisfied with the status quo. As soon as we produce a product, we are looking to improve it. Our approach to our business is that our customers are equal partners. They trust us to help keep them safe and we trust our customers to give us true and real feedback on how we can make their lives better. They talk and we listen. We’re great listeners. Our customers have a tremendous impact on our product design and direction. Because we are very attuned to their needs and feedback, we are able to act quickly on their suggestions. It helps that we all share in the same passions of health, wellness and physical activity! We know what they expect from us because we have the same needs in our own journeys.
9). What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
We’ve focused on our identity and branding to build a strong and genuine customer base. Aligning with organizations who are minded with similar missions and beliefs have been at the core of our networking, plus a strategic plan of advertising and social media strategy. You’ve got to kind of be everywhere at once if you can—the internet makes the world an even bigger place!
10). What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Your business is like a marriage. You better be in madly love with it and be in it for the long haul. You need to feel that way because when you have bumps in the road (and you will have many!) it’s going to be very easy to want to just throw in the towel and do something else. You need tenacity, courage and a high degree of commitment. The same values/qualities that you need in a marriage you will need here, because in a way, you will be married to your business!
11). What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I have a new favorite book every week. I love to read! I just read the “Life is Good” by Bert & John Jacobs. I enjoyed learning about their company values and their very long and arduous journey to their great success.
12). What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
There are just too many to list! With my team in different locations, and existing as an online business, we rely on many applications/programs. I guess my favorite tool is my cell phone because I’m able to access my business and programs from anywhere at any time.
13). Who is your business role model? Why?
In a different sense one of my favorite (business-so to speak) leaders is Mother Teresa. She was a woman who chose the most difficult work, did it quietly with zero resources, and gained international acclaim all the while not seeking attention.
14). What do you have planned for the next six months?
We’re introducing our product into new markets and increasing our partners. We are very excited about the future!
15). How can our readers connect with you?
They can follow us on Instagram at @RunLites, follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @RunLites, too!