The Homemade Millionaire: Meet a Mom Whose Inventions Paid Off

Where one might see problems, Marcy McKenna sees possibilities.

“A problem gets me excited,” she says. “It means there’s a solution. Where there’s a solution, there‘s an invention, and where there’s an invention, there’s a product.”

And this mom of three loves to create products. In fact, after winning the invention competition Homemade Millionaire with Kelly Ripa, this inventor mom was given the opportunity to launch her product, the Style & Go (TM) hair care valet (a mirrored cabinet that organizes hair tools from straighteners to blowdryers), on the Home Shopping Network, which she did last week.

The Style & Go (TM), pictured at left, wasn’t McKenna’s first foray into inventing. After launching her own company–Simply Solved by Marcy McKenna–she now has 17 products in production (five of which HSN will sell) and is in the midst of launching an international brand as well.

When she’s not inventing, McKenna spends the hours that her kids are home with her kids … and she still finds time for date night.

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We were inspired by her go-getter attitude and wanted to know–how does she balance a growing, entrepreneurial career with family life? We tapped her for some answers.

So, how does one become interested in inventing, exactly?

McKenna: For me, it runs in my family. My grandfather had over 100 patents to his name, and his first invention was used by pilots in WWII. When my mother was a child, my grandfather would test his inventions with her, figuring that if a child could use them, anyone could. My mom spent most of her career working in real estate, but she’s still inventing her own products to this day–she still wants to get a product to market. My dad is an architect, but I always saw that as a type of inventor, too: He invents buildings.

How did that translate into your own life?

I started inventing–board games and things–as a kid, but I never thought of it as a job until 1998, when I got married and we moved into our first home. We had a lot of art and pictures, and it was my job to hang them. I was so annoyed at how long it took me, and the pictures weren’t even hung right in the end! So I created the Help-U-Hang, which allowed me to hang pictures on the wall more easily. It never made it to market, but was the impetus I needed to start inventing again.

Do your children have the inventing gene?

Definitely. My oldest son is 10, and when he was 7 he built the first prototype of the Style & Go (TM) out of Legos. When he was young he was always asking, “Can we invent something?” And my daughter was born to be an inventor, too. When she sees a problem, she has a solution, and it’s usually good! When people ask what she wants to be when she grows up, she always says an inventor.

What kinds of things do they invent?

Well, my middle son has Williams Syndrome (a chromosomal abnormality that results in a developmental delay), and was having trouble learning to tie his shoes, so we held a family inventing challenge to come up with a way to help him figure it out. Sure enough, the kids came up with a handy gadget that taught both him and his 4-year-old sister how to tie shoes. We found it so helpful that we even submitted it to an international toy company, which might launch it as a product.

Tell us about Homemade Millionaire.

I was online late one night looking up patents and stumbled across a casting call for this new show, Homemade Millionaire With Kelly Ripa. It was an inventing competition specifically looking for female inventors, and the prize was the opportunity to sell your product on HSN, which was a dream of mine. But then I realized: The contest literally closed that night. I was so upset, but my husband is a screenwriter, so he tracked down the production company and I begged for one more day to put together a video. Six months later I got the call that I was on the show! They flew me to New York, and we started shooting the next month.

There were thousands of women who went to the casting calls and submitted inventions, but it came down to me and two other women before a panel of judges who were looking not only for a product, but for a brand. The winner had to be able to sell her product on TV and connect with the audience, and that’s something I can do.

What was it like to actually win?

The best part was the connection with HSN. They’re so great–it’s like a family. And now that I’m working with the network and got the publicity from Homemade Millionaire, I’m always hearing from other inventors who reach out to ask my advice or to show me their products.

What kind of advice do you give to them?

I tell them to trust their instincts. When I introduced my first product to market (The Cambia Clutch, an interchangeable handbag), I really wanted it to be high quality, something I could be proud to carry. So I worked with a high-end designer and felt confident about it, but we were in a rush and I was feeling a lot of pressure. Being a new inventor, I followed what everyone told me to do: I approved email photos from the manufacturers in China instead of waiting to be sent swatches like I knew I should have. Sure enough, the bags arrived and the design and colors were wrong. It was such a lesson learned in terms of being meticulous, detailed and assertive about what you know is right.

What was it like to transition from stay-at-home mom to launching your own business?

When I won the competition, I figured it was the right time to start my own company. Coincidentally, the contest was held during the writer’s strike, when my husband was temporarily out of work and we could have used any extra income I might earn.

Now that I’m overseeing the production of multiple products for my company, coordinating with HSN, which includes flying every other month from my home in California to Florida for filming, and expanding my product line into Canada and Australia, my life is really different. Before this, I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom.

My husband and I work as a team. He works from home, so when I’m out of town he takes over. Other than that, I’m with the kids, taking them to swim and soccer practice. That’s why my husband and I schedule a babysitter every Thursday, so we make sure we can have time together.

My goal was, and is, that my kids not realize I’m working. I wake up at 5 a.m., then work until they get up. I get them to school, work while they’re at school and again when they go to bed. Motherhood is the most important thing in my life, and I don’t want my kids to grow up without me. Just a couple weeks ago, my daughter asked me if I’m ever going to get a job! So, mission accomplished.

Any advice for moms looking to do something like what you’ve done?

It’s important to come to grips with the fact that you’re not Wonder Woman. There will be times when we have to miss an important meeting to be at our child’s school talent show. There will be times when we miss a class party because we have to give an important presentation. And you know what? That’s okay!  Only you know what’s most important at that moment.

Want to learn more about Marcy? Check out her website.