Kevin Tibbs and Tim Barklage left their full-time jobs to co-found Better Life, where they hold the titles of Mad Skilled Scientist and Chief Idealist/CEO, respectively. Both dads place an emphasis on products that don't include harmful chemicals but worked just as well — if not, better. Their company offers an easy-to-digest rundown of ingredients on the back of each cleaning product, empowering adults to make wiser choices.
Name: Better Life
Kids: Kevin: Rachel, 6; Ally, 4 / Tim: Jillian, 6; Harris, 4
Launch date: About 4 years ago
Based in: St. Louis, MO; at a modest office/warehouse space
Inspiration: Tim: Ingredient lists [for cleaning products] were completely unregulated. We are both raising kids and are concerned with the safety of the products we’re using. That — along with the drive to create products that actually work like the conventional chemical-based cleaners — is what drives our passion. We didn’t want our products to have an Achilles’ heel. (See right: Tim and his son, Harris.)
Kevin: There were some green cleaning products in the marketplace, but nobody was talking about safe products. We saw that as a real void in the market. I was a formulation chemist for personal care products for 12 years, so I’m very in tune with making safe products. Tim: And cleaning products are very similar, because you’re breathing them in or getting them on your skin.
From idea to action: Kevin: We developed prototypes, and family and friends started going crazy over how well they worked. So a company was born. Now, our products care carried all over the country and online.
Setting the business apart: Kevin: We try to have fun while arming the consumer with a lot of information. The names of the products are tongue-in-cheek, and we have bright, colorful packaging with a lot of information on the back of the bottle, including the ingredients we have kept out.
The hardest part: Tim: As a small company four years ago, entering a completely unregulated industry was like pushing boulders up a mountain. But [Kevin and I] were 100% committed to this from the beginning, even when we didn’t have customers. It was a really big learning experience for us both, because we didn’t have a strong handle on the actual distribution systems within the industry.
How their homes changed: Tim: When we started, underneath the cabinet had to be locked up. My pediatrician even told us that our kids should be asleep or out of the house when we cleaned, because of the fumes. If a product is that unsafe, there just has to be another way. With Better Life products, the kids are able to wipe down their play table or clean up for dinner.
Common misperception: Kevin: People assume that if a product is sold on store shelves, it must be safe. But for cleaning products, that’s just not the case. A lot of “green” products still contain synthetic fragrances, dyes, and solvents. They’re not really healthy. (See left: Kevin and his daughter, Allison.)
Highlight of the job: Tim: Getting calls that make it all worthwhile. Once, a mom called us to say her kid drank a good portion of one of our products. She was calling more to thank us for creating these products, because she was worried about what would have happened if her child had drank from a bottle of chemical-based cleaner. About 250,000 calls to poison control centers each year are about household cleaning products.
Advice to entrepreneurial parents: Kevin: Some of the innovations in the market simply come from passionate people who see and live a certain need. It can be hard to leave your job and start something unknown, but that’s how really great products come onto the market. If you really believe in your idea, take that leap of faith, even if people tell you it will never work.
Tim: Have a strong base of savings before starting a new business. It takes more time and money than you think. But because of people’s ability to find exactly what they’re looking for online, niche products can easily find their place.