PTPA CEO Sharon Vinderine On Managing Growth, Leveraging Tech

Sharon Vinderine is founder and CEO of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA) — a seal of approval program where parents consult on the best products for kids and families— and has worked with iconic brands including Johnson’s Baby, Gerber; Philips Avent, Hasbro, eBay and Microsoft. But starting the organization from the ground up was no easy task.

The challenges she overcame included convincing brands that the PTPA Seal of Approval was a program that they couldn’t live without, and convincing consumers that this was the seal of approval they needed to put their faith in. Vinderine became a one-woman promotion machine for the organization in the early days, focusing on securing TV appearances to promote PTPA. She has since appeared on over 200 TV shows including the Steve Harvey Show, Headline News and Rachael Ray. The plan worked, and PTPA’s network has grown to 85,000 members across North America.

Chief Executive spoke with Vinderine about the challenges of launching her business, how PTPA is leveraging technology to connect with consumers and how her leadership style has evolved. Here’s what she had to say:

The challenge of launching PTPA from the ground up

The most challenging part was really trying to convince brands to invest marketing dollars in a seal of approval that had no credibility at the outset. And really, my previous experience was all in technology, so marketing was not necessarily my strong point, but what I decided was that I felt that television was one of those things that really lent credibility to any product or service. So, I kind of set myself a goal that I needed to get myself onto television.

And with about 6 months of pitching every single producer over and over again and getting hundreds and hundreds of “no”s, I finally got a producer to take a chance on me and that kind of started the whole career of television, which helped both on the consumer side and gaining credibility with consumers, but of course also on the brand side and gaining their credibility. Because people have that natural perception, if you see something on TV then it has a certain credibility to it.

“while I like to be hands-on in every element, I have a really great team that I trust to make the right decisions.”

On the consumer side, what we do that’s really different than other organizations is a product that goes through our testing process to earn our certification actually has to be tested by real families in real life circumstances, meaning we’re not asking them to just vote on a product, we’re not just sending them a survey saying, “Have you used this product in the past? Please vote.” We’re actually shipping them products in hand for their evaluation and for their objective feedback. So, at the outset, I was a one-man show and I was picking families within my local region and I was driving the products to their homes at the end of every workday.

I was spending my evenings dropping them off on everyone’s porches and what was great was Facebook had started around then and I would try and promote on Facebook and saying, “Hey, you want free products? Sign up here.” And consumers, random people would say, “Nobody’s really giving us products for free. There must be, you know, something going on.” And then all these people I had given free products to would chime in and say, “Nope, this is legit. Here’s the product that I got and it was hand delivered by Sharon.”

How her leadership style evolved since starting Parent Tested Parent Approved

I went from being somebody who needed to be in control of each and every element of the business to being someone who is only more than happy to hand off those tasks to the people who I’ve hired, because I trust them implicitly. I think while I like to be hands-on in every element, I have a really great team that I trust to make the right decisions, so I’m probably less of a control freak, while I’m still a bit of a control freak. I have ADHD and I find that it used to be that I was kind of popping into everyone’s office every moment with a new idea and, “Drop everything you’re doing, let’s do this new idea.” While I still do that every once in a while, I find I’ve gained a little bit of better control over it.

I’ve learned to understand that not every idea is a winning idea, that every customer that says no is not a rejection. Sometimes it’s about right time, right place. I’ve learned, when it comes to staff, you have to take things a lot less personally at the end of the day. Everybody has to do what’s best for themselves. So, I’ve learned that over the years from changeover in staff, which I think is probably one of the most challenging things that an entrepreneur faces, it’s managing teams.

On how PTPA is leveraging technology

I think these days consumers are really looking for a more personalized type of experience when it comes to the brands and services they’re working with, especially Millennials. We recently did a survey and 28% of them said they love receiving personalized coupons or offers that are based on their prior shopping experiences. So we’d really love to take a look at the data that we’re already collecting on the consumers and their experiences with the products on our site and really personalizing their opportunities in terms of what products they get to test with us, what types of incentives they get from our brands. And I think it’s a win-win because our community will have the opportunity to experience new products that they might not have otherwise come across and we’re giving our brands the opportunity to personalize the experience for consumers.

Related: Former Dollar General CEO Cal Turner, Jr. Shares Leadership Advice