Audrey Bell-Kearney

Audrey Bell-Kearney

My guest today is Audrey Bell Kearney, and what you're going to love about her, first of all, I was looking through some of her stuff, she is a serial entrepreneur, but what I love is the niches she's in, the things that she's doing, and the passion that she brings. She's got a whole laundry list of projects, companies, different things like that that she does. I'm sure we're going to talk all about those, but I think the big thing for you guys to all know about her is that she's passionate about entrepreneurship, she's passionate about people getting success and getting things done.

Here's one of the things that I loved about her that really stood out for me is that she started her real business is 1999. Here's what was awesome, she's a single mom at the time, don't know if she still is or not, but she wanted to create a nice life for her daughter. She came up with this idea for a plus sized fashion doll, which was more realistic than the Barbie doll, had this whole thing, it started. Audrey, I love this whole thing, this story, and I want to hear more about it because you always hear people say things like, "Follow your passion. Be an entrepreneur and do that." One of the things that I noticed, as I was looking through your websites, looking through your projects, is you really seem to live that. Welcome to the show, and if you could tell us a little bit about that, I would love to hear it.

Audrey Kearney:
Thank you. Thank you so much. You're the second person today who has called me a serial entrepreneur. I'm starting to believe that a little bit. Well, thank you so much for having me. I actually started, it's called Big Beautiful Dolls, I started that company in 1999. Here's the funny part about that, I, because it's been so many years, we're going into 18 years now, I think. That's a long time. When I started that company, I was actually working my job, which I hated. The idea just came to me for this doll, had no idea about the doll market, was not a passion of mine. It was just a God-given idea. I talked to one of my friends and I said to her, "Hey, listen," these are my exact words, "have you ever seen a fat plus size fashion doll?" She said to me, "No, but can I be the vice president?" because she knew I was going to go somewhere.

We launched a company in June, 1999. Now, at that time, I was working a full-time job, trying to do some other kind of business on the side, some kind of network marketing business. We were actually at the network marketing business meeting, talking about the doll company. From that day forward, we forgot about the networking company and went full speed ahead with the doll company.

She, on the other hand, was a doll collector. She told me about this whole industry of collecting dolls. She had just purchased a doll that cost $250. Lance, I thought I was going to be rich, because I didn't know anything. I went, "Oh, my God, this is the one." We actually had to find out how to make the doll. At that time, I was living in New Jersey. She knew all about New York, because that's where she was from. We spent the whole year on Wall Street, looking for money for the business, right?

In the meantime, we found a company in Maryland that sat us down for 8 hours inside of his manufacturing facility. We had water for 8 hours, a pen and paper, and we took notes like we were crazy. We took all of these notes. He told us everything we needed to get started, right? He told us how to find somebody that would sculpt the doll for us, how to find somebody that would manufacture the doll, make the clothes. He told us everything we know in that one day. We drove from New Jersey to Maryland, spent 8 hours just locked into every word that he said. We drove back to Jersey. It was crazy. We hit the ground running, not knowing what we were going to do, how we were going to do it. We just had this plan that he had given us.

Well, that was during 1999. We took everything he told us. We went to New York, we were looking for a doll manufacturer to manufacture our doll, and couldn't find one. We, actually, called the person that sculpted his doll. It was a sad story. It was a good story for us, but it was sad for her. Her name was Beverly. We reached out to her, said, "Hey, listen, we got this doll. We need you to sculpt it for us." She said, "Well, you came to me at the right time. It's a really good time for you, but it's a bad time for me." I said, "Well, why is that?" She said, "I can only charge you a quarter of what I would normally charge you to sculpt this piece for you." I said, "Why is that?" She said, "Because I'm in the process of selling my husband's estate."

What had happened was, her husband and her son got killed in a plane crash. Her son had just learned how to fly a plane. His dad came out to visit them in [inaudible 00:04:32]. He was graduating, so he wanted to take his dad up and show him that he knew how to fly. Some wind hit the plane, and it flew into a tree and killed the both of them. She was in the process of selling his estate, and she could only charge us a small portion. That was a blessing for us. It was a horrible thing for her. God works in mysterious ways, so who am I to say whatever it was?

She sculpted the doll for us. She sent them back in clay. I wish I had the picture to show you, because it was so funny. The doll came back in clay. It was the ugliest thing you wanted to see. She sent it to us, it was like having a baby for the first time like, "Oh, my God, look at it." It was in clay. We made a couple adjustments, and we sent it back to her and she made the adjustments. Then, she sent it back to us in wax. She sent it back to us in wax, we were ready to go. We took our wax and we sent it to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong sent us back a prototype with no makeup, no nothing, just vinyl with hair and clothes. That was so funny, because at the time, my daughter was like 9 years old. I have a picture of her ... I'm going to do a book about this. I have a picture of her holding the doll. I'm like, "Oh, my God, it's so beautiful." She had no makeup, no eyes, no anything. That's how we started that company, and that's what pushed me into what I call the real business in the real world of entrepreneurship.

Lance Tamashiro:
One thing that I think is so amazing about this story, besides that you went out and took action and did all of this, is that there's a couple of things that you said as you were going through that story, and that is, you guys had this idea, you went to a place where you were going to get it manufactured, and you immediately started looking for money. I mean, that, I think, there's a big lesson in there about, for a lot of entrepreneurs following their dreams, and that is whatever it takes to make this happen. You didn't shy away from it. You didn't say, "I would love to make this doll, but I can't because I don't have the money to get this done." You went out and found the way to get this thing funded. That was the first thing.

Then, the second thing is, you went to somebody that had already successfully did what you wanted to do, and you said, "How do I do this?" I don't know, it sounds to me like he freely gave you this 8 hour blueprint where he sat down with you and gave this to you. What I love about it is that you followed through. You took it seriously. I think that there's so many times where, in my life, when I was getting started, I would ask people for advice, and then I would take the parts that I liked, and the parts I didn't like, I would go find somebody else that would tell me what I did want to hear and then piece it together and couldn't figure out why it didn't work for me. I love that whole lesson in you just following through with the path that somebody gave you, and led to the doll being successfully made. I think that that's huge for anybody listening to know that that's the path you have to take.

Audrey Kearney:
That is absolutely. He was really gracious with his time. He gave us one day. We were really grateful that he gave us that one day, because he was very busy. He had his whole manufacturing facilities out in ... He had about 5 acres of land, so everything was right on his land. He didn't have to go outside of his land to do anything. He gave us 8 hours, sitting inside of his warehouse, and that's where we sat for 8 hours, just drinking water, taking notes just crazy. I could tell you this, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. He could've manufactured our dolls for us, but he told us, "Listen, if I do it, it's going to cost you a lot of money." It was somewhere upward of $20,000. We did have 25 cents at that point. We had just enough gas to get us to Maryland and back. I was a single parent. I was bankrupt. I had applied bankrupt when I was 24. At that particular time, I think I was 30. I was a mess on the financial side, but I had this dream. I was like, "This is going to happen, I don't care what it takes."

We did all kinds of things to try to get money. Now, I remind you, back then there was no crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. It was straight up you either know somebody with some money, or you know a bank was going to give you some money. It was that type of thing. We were right around the time when it was the dot com era, because you got to remember, the bust came in 2000. We were on the curve of the bust. Everybody was talking about investor money, investor money. Well, an investor wouldn't touch us. Traditional investors would not touch us. We were not technology. We were opening up a new market that had not been tested yet, so they were like, "That's a wonderful idea, but you have to create this market." That's what they kept telling us, "There's really no market for this doll. You have to create the doll." What we knew was that our doll was a collectors, so we know that there was a market, if we could get her to bring it to life, and that's what we did.

Lance Tamashiro:
Tell me about just the mindset that you go through when you're going with this idea. You know you've got a winner in your heart, and everybody that you go to, every door that you look at says, "There is no market for what you're doing." What is that like, and how do you push through when that's happening to you?

Audrey Kearney:
Keep going. We would have meetings in New York with all these different people and they kept saying, "Wow, it's a beautiful idea. It's a great concept, but there's no market." I can tell you, this is a good one, there was an investment club, a women investment club, in New Jersey where I live. They found out about us through somebody else. Every year, they sat down with their group and they said, "We're going to invest in one company. What is that company going to be?"

Here I was, the person that was going to be the investment [inaudible 00:09:54] for the month, right? I get to this investment meeting, I'm really excited. The person invited me was like the president, she's really excited. We're talking. Don't you know, her sister comes into the meeting, she was one of the investment partners, and she was a plus size woman, she comes into the meeting, she looks at the doll and she says, "I don't want to invest in a fat doll. Why do I want to look at myself all the time being fat?"

She killed my investment deal. I left there thinking, what the heck just happened? Because she felt that way, the rest of her investment partners felt if she feels this way, then that's how the general public is going to feel. They're going to feel the same way. That still didn't stop me, though. I was like, "I'm going to get this doll done, [inaudible 00:10:36] is going to happen." I did letters to family and friends, "Hey, listen, just pre-order the doll." I did letters to family and friends. That was disappointing, because the people that you think got your back ...

Lance Tamashiro:
Not going to open their pockets, right?

Audrey Kearney:
Nope. It was so funny, it took me a whole year to get over being mad at everybody, but I did. There was one person who was a friend of mine, he was my ex-boyfriend, as a matter of fact, he told his mom about me. She loved me, so she gave me $7,500 to get started. That's how we got started. I was able to take that money and pay for the mold and the sculpt and all that thing.

Now, someone said to me, "Go to Toy Fair. Go to Toy Fair and just walk around." You can't just get in Toy Fair, you have to be an industry insider. I had a doll company, which was a toy, so I was able to get into Toy Fair, on the ground, and just walk around and look at all the different manufacturers. There was a woman, she made a plush toy, she says, "We can't help you." I talked to everybody at Toy Fair. Anybody that had a doll or a bear, I was talking to them. She said, "We can't help you, but there's a company down aisle such and such, they may be able to help you." I walked down to that aisle and I talked to this toy company and they said, "Oh yeah, we can help you. We do short runs." I was like, "Really?" They took our prototype and they made our dolls for us. That's how we became this doll company.

Lance Tamashiro:
I mean, I love every bit of this story. First of all, I love that you went into a niche that you saw a need for, that you were passionate about, and you got door closed after door closed, and I love the persistence. I think that there is a misconception among entrepreneurs or business owners, it's easy for us to look at people that have already become successful and go, "Oh, well that's because you had a great niche. That's because you had a lot of money. That's because you knew so-and-so." The truth is that every overnight success you hear about, there was 30 years before that that you didn't hear about. I love this story that you have.

First of all, I love all of that. I love that you're in a niche that people don't hear about. Now, that's turned into books, it's turned into media networks. Can you talk about some of that, and how you go from ... Obviously, it seems like you had this passion that you wanted to bring plus size women out to the front, to connect with those type of people. You've now turned this into something way bigger than dolls. I mean, was that always the plan? Did this just happen? Talk about what you do now and how it evolved to that.

Audrey Kearney:
It just morphed. What happened was, the doll company lasted pretty much full-time for five years. Right around that time, the economy was taking a tank. It was going down quick. Nobody wanted to spend $100 on a doll. [inaudible 00:13:26] like, "Man, I have to buy gas. I can't spend $100 on a doll." At that point, I had to figure out, what am I going to do? We almost signed a deal with HSN. They had a doll show that they had, and it was hosted by Tina Berry, and I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to get this deal." We met them at the doll expo. My doll got nominated for an award, huge thing in Washington, D.C. They gave us a contract for the deal. We had the papers in our hand for that deal. We were going to be on HSN. Oh, my God, it was exciting. They closed the whole division.

Lance Tamashiro:
Oh, my God. That's the equivalent of Shark Tank before there was Shark Tank.

Audrey Kearney:
Yes. We lost the deal because they closed the division, because the economy was not supporting just frivolous things, they would say. I had to figure out, what was I going to do next? What I did was I started talking to people. The dolls are fascinating when you see them. I have a black one, a white one, and a Latina one, [inaudible 00:14:20]. When people would see them, they were like, "Oh, my God, they're beautiful. How did you start that business?" I kept getting that question, how did you start that business? I was like a recording. I started to write books on how to start a business. Then, I learned how to do all this massive PR, because we didn't have any more. Then, I started telling people, "This is how you can get in the news," because I had been in the news. I had been on TV. I had been all over the place, in newspaper, magazines. I remember one night, someone emailed me and said, "Hey, I see you in Today's Black Woman with Taye Diggs on the front cover." I'm like, really?

Lance Tamashiro:
I don't remember taking that picture.

Audrey Kearney:
It was crazy. It was midnight in New Jersey, and they were on the West Coast. I jumped in my car, me and my husband. He was my boyfriend at the time. We went to the local [inaudible 00:15:03] market, stayed open 24 hours, it was a grocery store, and there we were on the newsstand. I'm like, "Oh, my God." It was exciting, but I learned all that stuff the hard way. I learned how to do PR. There was a book, and I call it my PR bible, by Terrie Williams. She was the publicist at the time for Eddie Murphy and Janet Jackson. She wrote this book called The Personal Touch. I took that book, and I did everything she said in that book. When I tell you it paid off big time, I was on the [inaudible 00:15:30] show, I was on [inaudible 00:15:31] show, I was in the newspaper. I was everywhere, with no money, just the tenacity to keep moving forward. That's how I did it.

I started to write books. Then, I published a newspaper, because I became very, very passionate about entrepreneurs, and especially women, and getting out there and talking to them about what I did, and also shining the spotlight on what they did. I started posting a newspaper called Women in Business Today. That newspaper just spotlighted women in business, and it gave articles on how to start a business, how to market. Someone who picked the newspaper article was a radio show host, and they invited me to be a guest. I said, "Sure," so I was their guest. He liked me so much, he asked me to co-host the show with him. He changed the name of the show to Women in Business Today Show. I became the host for a full year.

My husband works in pharmaceutical, so we actually had to move the next year to North Carolina, because his company closed. North Carolina has a huge pharmaceutical industry there. Well, I was there and I said, "Now, what am I going to do? I'm in the middle of the country. What am I going to do in Spring Hope, North Carolina?" I was driving down, I want to say, Highway 64, and there was a TV network. I did a U-turn, I go up in the network and I said, "Hi, are you the station manager?" He said, "She's not here today." I said, "Well, when will she be back?" They told me when. I came back again, and I pitched my story for a TV show called Women in Business Today, and they loved it. The station owner loved it, she loved it, and hence it became my TV show. I loved TV from that day forward, and so I did that for two years.

Then we moved back to Jersey, because we were in the country. Now, we just went to the country, let's go home. When I got back, there was this whole big movement with internet TV. YouTube had came out by then. New York was known as Silicon Alley, because they were doing all of the internet, television, IPTV, OTT, all that kind of stuff in New York. I started going to all of those different meetups and things like that.

There was a company called Boxy. Boxy was just releasing the first set-top box. They got bought out by Sony. It was so cool, because I was at the release of that box. It was like this big old thing that was getting bigger and bigger, and here I was, my little show right in the middle of it like, "Yeah, this is cool." I produced about 4 shows with 4 or 5 different women and I loved it, but it was a lot of work. When there's no money involved and you're getting really busy women, trying to produce these shows with all these different personalities, it was a lot of work. I did that. I became a consultant for Rutgers University. I became a small business consultant for small business building at Keen University. I was helping entrepreneurs, still doing what I wanted to do, but then I had to figure out, okay, where am I going to go from here?

Well, my husband lost his job again in pharmaceutical. Here I am starting all over again in Atlanta. Here I am, and I'm not going anywhere.

Lance Tamashiro:
He has to get a job there.

Audrey Kearney:
Yeah, this is it. He's here, he's doing pharmaceutical. The next thing we're going to do is open up a pharmaceutical company. I'm here now in Metro Atlanta. When I came here, I knew that that industry was still growing, and I knew that there was a big space there. I carved out my little niche called HerTube. I said, "You know what? It's going to be a Netflix of women. It's going to be like YouTube, but it's going to be HerTube." I started to put together these women who wanted to be on television, that was the key thing, who wanted to be on TV, who wanted to share their experiences and create exposure for what they did. I got 300 women to say yes.

Lance Tamashiro:
Wow, to create shows on a network ... It's an internet network, right? This is HerTube.tv.

Audrey Kearney:
HerTube.tv. Internet, smart televisions, and Roku. We're about to get on Apple. It's like this whole new platform with this OTT thing. I'm looking at it like, yeah, we could be a Netflix for women. When people said to me, "What is HerTube?" I was like, "We're the Netflix for women. We want to be the largest lifestyle media network for women." It's a great space to be in right now. It's open to pretty much any entrepreneur out there. I looked at that, I built my channel out, I learned how to do the technology. I learned how to do WordPress. I learned all this stuff. It took me two years to get it all working properly. That's where I am right now. HerTube media network is there, it's running. We have shows. We have about 520 videos on the network. People who have a Roku box can watch us on TV in their living room. If you got a smart TV, you can watch it on the smart TV. We signed a contract back in September with a German company who built us an app on German TVs that's in 52 countries on that side of the water. It's doing really well, and it's growing. It's growing.

Lance Tamashiro:
One thing that I notice about you is you think really small about all the business that you do. Most people think, "I'm going to go make a YouTube channel and make some videos." You're like, "Well, forget that, I'm going to make my own YouTube and I'm going to use all this stuff." One of the things, and I love this about you, this thinking bigger than big, and I think that not enough entrepreneurs do that. We limit ourselves. I'll have a podcast. I'll have my own channel. You're out there creating networks and thinking huge and getting people, and I think that there's a huge lesson for everybody out there listening in that find your niche, build this thing, and think crazy. I mean, think as ridiculous as you can be, and then figure out how to make that thing happen.

I've heard you start over multiple times during this story. One thing that you have said multiple times is, "I did everything that they said, and it worked." I love this, because for me, that was a big turning point in building my businesses was when I wasn't too smart to listen to somebody else and do exactly what they said. I love that message for you. To go from dolls to now figuring out Roku and putting all of this stuff out here, what is the biggest thing that you attribute your success to and being there? You've had door after door shut on you. You never took no for an answer, which I know is part of what made you successful. Where does that come from, and how do you keep that motivation every day?

Audrey Kearney:
You know, it's really all God. I can't say anything but God. I walk by faith and believe in myself. I have a good support system. My husband and my mom have been my support system from the beginning. My husband, I was interviewed earlier this morning, and I was telling Bill Conrad, who interviewed me, my husband was supposed to be my investor, and then he became my husband. We met at a wedding, and he wanted to invest in the company. We started doing our investment meeting, which turned into a relationship, which turned into my husband. Just having the faith that you can do anything with God, and that's what I really believe. You walk by faith and you stay focused. Trust me, it's hard. You know it's hard. Any entrepreneur out there trying to do these things right now, it is hard, but I love it. It makes me get up in the morning. It wakes me up. I have so many notebooks, you would not believe, because I wake up out of my sleep, writing notes.

I remember, recently ... My husband has to be to work at 5:00, so 3:30 I'm wide awake, so when he gets up to get his shower, I said, "Good morning." He goes, "Why are you up?" I can't sleep. I can't sleep. I got a notebook. I have the lights that go around your neck. I don't want to wake him up, so you push the two little buttons and they shine on the paper. It's crazy stuff like that, but it's just believing in myself and believing that there are so many great ideas out there and so many great people, and all you got to do is stay focused and believe that if I stay focused and do the work, it'll happen. That, for me, has been the thing that has kept me going, despite the fact that some of the things have flopped and failed. Things that I thought would've been really good, techniques I've used and courses that I've subscribed to, but it's like, okay, I know I can make this work. What do I have to do?

That's where I am right now with HerTube. I'm on the same run that I was with the dolls. What's the best way to get it out to people? How am I going to best serve people? How can they best use the platform right there in the same place? That's what it is. A lot of faith, a lot of belief in myself, and a good support system.

Lance Tamashiro:
I know that you have a new book coming out, can you talk about this a little bit? I think what's different about your next book is it's got some steps involved, it's got people that if they want to know how it is that you're doing things, it looks like this is what you're laying out there.

Audrey Kearney:
The book is coming out, but I've been tossing the title around a lot. It's so funny you say that, because I was sitting here like, "Okay, what am I going to call it?" I had one title and I want it to be a title people can understand. Right now, my working title is Spotlight Marketing. That's my working title. The book is really going to show people how I've learned to build this platform on Roku. All the steps that I took to get from having a video to being on somebody's TV in their living room, to being in countries on TV in their living room, on television and set-top boxes and cable boxes, and things like that. Here's a great part, being in countries where people can't even understand English, but I see them watching it because I'm looking at my stats.

I was in an accelerated meeting and I said, "Man, there's a lot of people that watch our shows in Vietnam." Someone in the meeting said, "You know why?" I was like, "No, I really don't." I'm looking at the stats and Vietnam is number one like every week. They said, "Because they're learning how to speak English while they're learning how to do business and stuff." I said, "Really?" I never thought about it like that. People, they're looking at us in different countries for other reasons. That's pretty much where we are. Sorry about that.

Lance Tamashiro:
I love that too, because with the platform that you've built and that you're going to talk about in your book, what's amazing to me is you're reaching a market that you didn't even know existed. Who would've known that it was people that are trying to learn English, but they're trying to learn how to do business the way that you're doing it. I mean, what an amazing platform that you would've never even known about, except for you had this number on your stats sheet that said, "Check this out." I mean, who knows, that could lead to targeted shows for that particular audience that you would've never even known about.

Audrey Kearney:
When you think about it, now we know that, we can build shows around that. Now we know that there are people in Vietnam who love watching our shows. If we can speak to them in their native language, how big is that going to make us? It's a whole lot of adjustments you make, but you learn as you go. That's pretty much how we have gone this far. People have found us. They've said, "Hey, listen, we need you to be on our channel, in our platform," in whatever country. "I'm in Slovakia." I'm like, "Where is Slovakia?" I have no clue where that is.

Lance Tamashiro:
This is all strictly because people are seeing you on Roku or other OTT type of stuff, and then saying, "We need this on ours. How do we license this? How are we able to use these shows?"

Audrey Kearney:
Right.

Lance Tamashiro:
Amazing. I mean, it's an amazing business model, and something that I know I'm going to start following and watching what you're doing, and definitely everybody else should as well. Where can people go to find out about you, see your Roku station, check out HerTube? Where can we get more information?

Audrey Kearney:
If you have a Roku at home, you can go to Roku, go on the special interests, and download our app from the Roku store. It's HerTube TV. If you have a mobile phone, Android or Apple, HerTube TV from the app stores. If you want to find out more about how to get on the network, hertubemedianetwork.com. If you have a question about how to get started, audrey@hertube.tv.

Lance Tamashiro:
Awesome. Well, I super appreciate you taking some time. I had a great time. I love your story. I love the story of persistence. These are the kinds of stories that ... This is why we all do this, that excitement, that passion. I really appreciate you taking this time, and I look forward to following up and seeing how you're doing with this. Thanks a lot.

Audrey Kearney:
Thank you so much, Lance. It's been a pleasure.

Lance Tamashiro:
All right. Bye now.

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