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A Family Doctor Becomes a Family Business Woman Through Digital Tools

When Wei-Shin Lai created SleepPhone®s headphones in the early 2000s, she didn’t plan on leaving her successful family medicine practice. She just wanted a good night’s sleep. Uncomfortable laying down in traditional headphones and unable to sleep without them, Wei-Shin and her husband Jason invented the bed-friendly headband and ultra-thin speakers out of necessity. 

Wei-Shin’s relief from SleepPhones encouraged her to share the technology with people struggling like her. In 2007 the couple built a website with Google Checkout and used inexpensive Google Ads to advertise to others searching for sleep relief. The instant feedback provided by Google Analytics let Wei-Shin know what ads were working quickly, so she could make sure to spend the new business’ limited marketing money efficiently. Wei-Shin and Jason sewed and soldered SleepPhones at their kitchen table, and incredibly, they sold 500 SleepPhones in the first year.

Implementing Amazon, PayPal, and Shopify marked a turning point for the business. SleepPhones reached $1 million in sales, and both Wei-Shin and Jason left their full-time jobs to focus on the company, hiring their first full-time employee. These services freed them up to develop an artificial intelligence system using Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services to optimize the ways people sleep.

Now, the company has 21 employees and offers both the classic SleepPhones and RunPhones® running headbands through their Shopify e-commerce platform. Wei-Shin credits digital tools with enabling her Erie, Pennsylvania-based technology company to successfully compete with more prominent brands and “bring Silicon Valley thinking to our corner of the Keystone State.” Still, she worries that “policymakers and the media are attacking the companies that provide these tools and services.” She encourages policymakers to take the time to learn how these technologies and platforms work with small businesses before creating policies that impact them.

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