Written by Andrew Seale

With a tech company exit already under her belt, selling a kangaroo towel for babies didn’t seem like that big of a challenge for Sharon Vinderine. And maybe it wouldn’t be in the age of social media and e-commerce. But in 2006, selling a baby product meant going store-to-store trying to convince shop owners it was worth the buy and Vinderine realized she needed a little more marketing firepower.

Exasperated she spent a couple of thousand dollars to submit the Kangaroo Towel to an awards company that promised valuable feedback from consumers, placement in stores, and a marketing push.

“Just about everything with the exception of fireworks,” recalls Vinderine. “Literally, the only feedback was ‘the towels were pretty and the fabric was soft’ – anything and everything you wanted them to do for you they charged extra.”

It stung. And maybe for some, it’d be discouraging. But for Vinderine, it was motivation, she knew she could do things better. So she did.

Chances are you’ve heard of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA). Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve likely seen the label on a product. Or on the Rachel Ray show. Or Steve Harvey’s show. Or maybe even on tickets for the Harlem Globetrotters. 12 years later, it’s one of the most recognized award programs for consumers.

“We have a community of about 150,000 consumers,” says Vinderine.

The way it works is straightforward: a company looking to earn a certification pays a fee and submits samples of their product. PTPA then uses its proprietary software to automatically match the right consumer testers in its database with that product. PTPA ships that product out to those consumers and they get to keep them in exchange for completing a survey in the software talking about their experience.

“Based on that we determine if the product earns the certification,” says Vinderine. “If it does not, we are the only organization in North America that gives them a 70 per cent refund of their fees and all the market research.” 

If they do win, they get a license for the certification for a year and they're part of a whole marketing campaign. The entrepreneur likens it to advice from friends about the best products on the market.

“We believe that consumers deserve the best when shopping, we exist to positively influence the products they're buying, the experience they're having, and to make the whole shopping experience easier for them,” she says. “We want to cut through the noise and give them a way to tell what product is worth their hard-earned dollars.”

It’s been a slow build for PTPA over the past 12 years, but Vinderine credits a lot of that growth to the uptake of the platform in American media. Sadly, it hasn’t seen as much buzz north of the border. “90 per cent of our business is US-based,” she says.

But she’s happy to have her roots here. She credits York University where she studied political science, with rerouting her into entrepreneurship.

“I went there with the goal of wanting to go to law school but got really involved there with debate and different groups,” she says. “I think it helped me understand law wasn't going to be the thing I wanted but being independent and entrepreneurial was something I yearned for more.”

Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)