After years in advertising, Nicki Radzely was ready for a change.
“I’d had my first baby and was on maternity leave,” says Radzely, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “I’d always felt restless in my career and wanted to do something bigger, build something bigger.”
An industrial designer, Badger had been planning to take a break herself to raise a family. “But designers have a hard time accepting the world at face value, and I can’t pick up a spatula without finding a problem that could be solved,” she jokes to PEOPLE. “Getting pregnant exposed me to a world that was ripe for smart innovation.”
Her invention for the POP — a self-protective silicone pacifier that stays clean and pops back into itself when it drops — came from watching a mom struggle in real life. She had already patented the idea by the time she connected with Radzely.
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Their initial “meeting” was via Skype in 2015. “The first time we talked, there was this instant bond and trust between us,” says Badger, who is now 31 and lives in Salt Lake City. “Nicki’s passion for the product, for what this could be, was electric. I really felt that from the very beginning.”
Radzely, 38, couldn’t help but get on board right away. “I loved the POP idea so much that I wanted in,” she says. “I wanted to sell it, I wanted to build a brand around it.”
She began a Kickstarter campaign for the POP pacifier and went on Shark Tank in January 2018 to raise more funds. The company has since reached $1 million in sales, and now makes teethers as well.
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Looking back, the two moms — who now have five young kids between them — can hardly believe their success.
“We had the right amount of naivete to say, ‘Let’s just go, one foot in front of the other,’ ” says Radzely. “Today, we’re still taking that approach.”
For more stories of women who reinvented themselves, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.