Mark Viniello is the CEO of Overactive Imaginations, Inc., the company that makes Enchantails, a collection of sleeping bags that look like mermaid tails. Enchantails are sold with a storybook that tells the tale of each tail. A Hollywood makeup effects artist, Viniello has infused each product he sells with a little bit of movie magic.
Why did you start your business?
I’ve been a professional makeup effects artist for 25 years. I make creatures, monsters, and that type of thing. After I got married in 2002, I had all daughters. I was working on an Adam Sandler film called “Bedtime Stories.” In the film, the actress Keri Russell turns into a mermaid. My job was to generate a foam latex mermaid tail out of a mold. My oldest was 7 at the time and she was obsessed with “The Little Mermaid.” I thought she would get a kick out of it, so I let her climb in and flip the tail around. I couldn’t get her out of it! She loved it! She kept asking me to make her one, so I got some sheet foam and fashioned a crude one. She would wear it around the house and then her sisters wanted one, so I made them tails. I watched my girls flipping their tails as they watched TV and I thought, “There may be something here.”
One of the things I would do with my girls was tell them stories at bedtime about where their mermaids were from. I would create stories about where they lived and the animals that are there and the special powers they had. It started to evolve into something much bigger. My wife and I decided to make sleeping bags in the shape of mermaid tails that matched one in a storybook.
How did you fund the business at the start?
Starting out, it was all self-funded. I was able to get prototypes made and the books written and self-published. Once we landed on a manufacturer, we had to figure out a way to purchase stock. For that, I was able to go to a bank and get a line of credit and a loan.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
We’re always making sure that we’re timing everything correctly. Right now, cash flow is pretty good because it’s the holidays. Every month, I look at the bills due and determine whether I need to take on any additional jobs to pay them. Since I work in Hollywood, I can take on as many jobs as I need or want to in a given time. I supplement the business that way – It’s pretty bootstrapped.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the business?
You don’t know what you don’t know. The actual business end has been a challenge for me. The marketing and publicity. Making the message effective so the customer understands what this is and why the price point is what it is. I thought we would just go on Facebook and post this and it would be viral overnight and we would be millionaires. That’s not what happened at all! It involves such massive strategy, time, and money.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?
Seeing and hearing kids’ reactions. They are blown away by what we’ve created. And seeing kids wanting to read the other books that don’t come with their sleeping bag.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
I went into this very naively. I assumed we’d be making enough money to go around as long as we had the product done correctly. Other entities would give us steep pricing. I don’t like to be haggled on price, so I accepted the prices and that was a mistake. Also, I didn’t hold these other entities accountable when I had paid them a monthly fee to do a certain amount of work and the work just wasn’t getting done. I wasted a lot of resources and time by taking other companies at their word.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
I had resources to make stuff in my job as a makeup effects artist that most normal people don’t. To get a sleeping bag sewn like I wanted it, I took it to one of my costume gals and asked her to sew it. She sourced the materials. Once I had the bag, I took it to my other colleagues who are artists that make movie posters. They made me beautiful artwork for the books that matched the bags. We were able to go from concept to launch in under a year. That aspect went really well because I had the resources and the creativity to make the business something more than just the product. We plan to continue the business into a young adult book series and a Netflix series or a film deal.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Keep your overhead as low as you can for as long as you can. Know that it’s going to be a long road. Stand on the shoulders of giants. Try to find individuals who were where you are and try to model your path after theirs. I read everything I could about Jennifer Telfer who made Pillow Pets, Pleasant Rowland, who made American Girl, and Sara Blakely, who made Spanx.
What’s next for Enchantails?
We have our next mermaid getting ready to launch. We’re in the process of developing plush endangered sea buddies for our mermaids. We’re reaching out to conservation groups so a portion of the proceeds from the plush sales can be donated to those groups.