Mermaids Online: how one Colorado mother tapped into a global community
Jerilyn of AquaTails from Colorado Springs, CO and Peter Adams of Rockies Venture Club from Boulder, CO
Colorado is a center of entrepreneurial innovation. Startups and organizations that support them blossom in metro areas like Boulder and Colorado Springs. One such entrepreneur, Jerilyn Winstead, found herself owning a thriving e-commerce business.
It all started with a playful idea. "Years ago, I came up with the idea of a Mermaid swim costume with my girlfriends, but we never pursued it," reminisces Jerilyn, "Ten years later, my two daughters discovered people swimming in mermaid costumes on YouTube and asked me to make tails for them."
So began Jerilyn's journey from homemaker to owner of Aquatails, a company that designs, produces, and sells swimmable mermaid and merman costumes to an international audience.
"I was rather surprised by the whole prospect of being an entrepreneur but I've discovered that I'm good at it and I really love it," reflects the mother who started her company with $500 of her own savings.
To her fortune, Jerilyn had tapped into a growing artistic subculture. "Mermaiding combines free diving with water ballet with fantasy. Our customers still have their imagination alive and aren't afraid to put on a tail and go out into public."
Mermaiding is an activity enjoyed by children and adults alike, and its enthusiasts host dance performances, conventions, and beauty pageants.
After her first six months of sales, Jerilyn was making good progress, but knew she needed a mentor to grow. She discovered MicroMentor, and there met fellow Coloradoan Peter Adams.
"It was much needed help, for someone who has never done anything like this before," shares Jerilyn, "It's great to have a guiding hand who's not charging any money, because when you first start a business, you don't have much money, but that's when you need the most help."
With a background in e-commerce and strategic business consulting, Peter had exactly the right skill-set to help Aquatails succeed. He had consulted numerous startups, and owns his own e-commerce business, OmniPortraits, which produces oil paintings of photos commissioned by customers.
"Aquatails was a lot smaller than clients I have worked with in the past, though even with small organizations you can do a strategic plan," Peter reflects, "You need to define who you are, where you want to go, and how you're going to get there."
With Peter, Aquatails created a strategy for growth, considering legal form, digital marketing, and manufacturing at scale.
"It's really rewarding with someone like Jerilyn," reflects Peter, "She changed a lot over the course of that first year."
Peter's dedication to helping entrepreneurs in Colorado succeed is reflected in his other endeavors. He currently heads two nonprofits. Rockies Venture Club connects capital-ready firms with investors, and BizGirls is a week-long summer camp where high-school girls launch their own e-commerce companies.
"By the time they're done with the program, they're taking credit cards and doing international business of some kind," says Peter, "It's good to give them a sense of independence and self-worth early on in their lives."
While Peter serves an ever-expanding community of entrepreneurs, Jerilyn is proud of her role as a job-creator. She has already started her second business, Mermaid Cove, a a full-service swim school which also offers the art of mermaiding, to kids and adults of all ages.