We had the good fortune of connecting with Elsie Hamilton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elsie, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
In 2010 we adopted a very sad little Australian Shepherd named Lilly from the DDFL. It was a new start for all of us. The year before, at just 48, I had had a massive heart attack brought on by shoveling heavy, wet snow from our driveway. It would take many months of rehab and recovery before anything at home returned to semi-normal. I was a single mom, with two middle school aged sons, and the three of us were doing everything we could to move on from what had been an extremely traumatic event. Adding one more traumatized little soul along the way was, oddly, a no-brainer.
Lilly had never lived inside a house. She’d spent her first two lonely years in Colorado wandering around somebody’s back yard before being unceremoniously dumped at the shelter. At first, she feared even stepping foot in our home, and went instead to sit outside on the doorstep, leaning up against the warm bricks by the door. I couldn’t understand how anyone could leave a dog alone outside when they could just as easily bring them in. The adoption expert had observed that sometimes people abandon pets, or leave them outside, because they simply prefer not to deal with potty training and pet hair in their homes. I was reminded of that conversation a lot over the next few months when a more relaxed Lilly joined us on the family room couch and started shedding like a fiend. Hair was everywhere!
We needed a solution, but a trip to the pet hair removal aisle at our local pet store only offered up single use sticky rollers. No refills. Just get yourself a whole bunch of these, toss the handle when you’re done, and buy a whole bunch more. It was just so much waste! I pictured all those different brands of crappy plastic handles floating in the ocean, and it irked me. I was so furious with myself for buying one, but what choice did I have? My house was being taken over by Lilly’s epic fur-splosion. My kids left for school looking like Yetis!
So that’s it. I went home with a sticky roller, and got so mad about it that I started thinking of ways to build something better. A few weeks later, I had my first Lilly Brush prototype. It was a clumsy thing, made of wood and old toothbrush parts. My kids and I laughed about it, but then we had to admit that it was pretty amazing how quickly it cleaned the couch. I told the boys that we could change the world with an idea like this! They laughed, but I was serious! That of course was even funnier to all of us!
The obvious first problem was, I could not have been more clueless about how to get a product like that made, much less bring it to market! I searched Amazon, and found some helpful books. My favorite was Tamara Monosoff’s Secrets of Millionaire Moms. It laid out every step I would take over the next few months. Suddenly, the impossible started to seem doable!
It’s funny how small things can drive big changes. The shelter lady’s singular observation about pet hair deterring pet adoptions has always stayed forefront in my mind while I work on each new product’s design. There have been many setbacks over the years, but the dream of a world with less homeless pets, and less single use plastics floating in the surf, keeps moving this mission forward. Step by step, year by year, together with some wonderful people who are dedicated to that same vision, we keep figuring it out. Lilly Brush will help the world “Live Furlessly!” No mess. No waste. No refills.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I love that we’ve built our why and our culture around doing the right thing. Not everyone plays nice in the sandbox, but our strength is that we do. We treat people fairly. We stick to our morals, and we don’t stoop. That takes a depth of discipline that every member of our team supports.
When we’re dismissed by grizzled big-box distributors who tell us that if we want to be in their stores, our products need to wear out or require refills so they can sell more, we’d rather let that opportunity go. That’s a lot of business we won’t get, but we never look back.
We deal daily with customer cynicism created by ineffective pet hair removers that came before us. We see people who’d rather use a whole roll of duct tape to get the hair off their couch rather than try a new product. We stay patient, and we don’t make inflated claims. We promise a 100% happiness guarantee, and we mean it. Pet hair comes in all lengths and levels of trickiness, so if the pet hair remover you choose doesn’t work for your pet’s hair, return it for a full refund. It won’t end up in a landfill. We’ll clean and sanitize every returned product to donate to shelters.
All Lilly Brush products were invented at my kitchen counter. Each product is patented as thoroughly as the USPTO would allow. Nevertheless, online success brings predators like sugar brings flies. Copycat manufacturers on Alibaba immediately flooded Amazon with cheap and disappointing lookalike products as soon as ours became popular. Unfortunately, these sellers use deceit, misconduct and crooked gamesmanship to gain an edge over reputable sellers. We have had some mind-blowingly evil things done to us on Amazon! Fighting back through the platform’s proper channels takes the patience of a thousand goats. We grit our teeth and do it by the book.
Through it all, we’ve built a great team. We share an open office, and information flows through it. We talk about it, and we’re all pretty keenly aware that always doing the right thing does not guarantee that the company will succeed, but there isn’t a soul here who would have it any other way.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Welp, Sushi Den is the go-to for every guest I’ve ever had here. If my guests had little kids I’d take them for a walk along Pearl Street to find all the fairy doors https://spearlstfairydoors.weebly.com/. I’d check the AEG website to see if there was a Red Rocks show to see, or grab a picnic and head to a summer Botanic Gardens concert. Both venues are fantastic. Maybe we’d pick a sunny day to go pan gold at Arapahoe Bar Gold Panning Park. We’d walk the Highline, attend a Rockies game, play golf at Wellshire, or Arrowhead if we’re feeling fancy. Eat a Duffeyroll! So many amazing, fun things to do here!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would thank every one of the fantastic people I’ve gotten to work with at Lilly Brush. There is NO way we could have done this without the talent every single one of you brought to work! I would certainly thank Yesenia Meraz, our Chief Operating Officer, who as a young single mom wasn’t given the opportunities others had, but instead reached her leadership position through tireless grit and determination. I am grateful to all the incredibly helpful business and marketing books available because other business owners took the time to share their knowledge and give others a leg up. And lest I forget, for the people in my life who vociferously doubted me, thank you! You’ll always be that last drop of rocket fuel I need! 😉