We had the good fortune of connecting with Avital Shuster and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Avital, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
OTPlan.com was created while I was attending the University of Southern California (USC) for Occupational Therapy school. I had an idea to create a website for pediatric occupational therapy activity ideas so parents could use it as a bank of activity ideas to do at home. There was nothing like that in the market and I saw a need because parents always asked me for activity ideas to promote specific skills. Frankly, when I started, I didn’t know what I’m getting myself into. Luckily, I started while I was still employed so the risk of losing everything was smaller but it is definitely something that I wasn’t fully prepared for. There were many challenges along the way and I am sure there will be more challenges. From each challenge, I learn and grow. I put in a lot of hours and effort in everything that I’m doing. I feel responsible for everyone that works for OTPlan and feel very grateful for them. I think we have an amazing team!
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
The idea for OTPlan came out of a need that I noticed during one of my fieldwork placements while attending USC graduate school for Occupational Therapy. I noticed that I had to search in multiple books for activity ideas and I had binders with loads of information that was very hard to search just to find an activity idea that I could use with a kid that I was working with. I thought there must be a better way to do this and after talking with my husband (who luckily is a software developer) we came up with the OTPlan website. OTPlan was created to help parents, caregivers, teachers, and fellow therapists find activity ideas using everyday common materials to promote developmental skills for kids. You can select what skills you would like to promote and what materials you have available. The website will show you a list of detailed activities that you can do at home. We won our first award just a couple of months later at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in Long Beach, CA. Since then, we have been contacted by schools all over the world asking to include OTPlan as a resource to parents and students. After a few years of running OTPlan as a virtual activity idea search engine, we created our ‘Skills in a Box’ subscription box product. ‘Skills in a Box’ boxes are mailed to you and contain all the materials needed, a booklet with instructions, pictures, and illustrations on how to do the activity ideas, to help develop and promote kids’ developmental skills and support academic standards with playful and engaging activities in the convenience of your home. We got many emails from customers saying that these boxes were especially helpful during the COVID pandemic as many pediatric occupational therapy clinics closed and many kids could not get the ongoing therapy sessions they need. We also created ‘PlanDough’ kits which are our own home made and toxic free themed PlayDough kits that are mailed to you and provide tactile input and promote fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, visual perception skills, language, creativity, and imagination. It was not easy and it is still not easy. We put in long hours and I personally often work 18 hours every day (including weekends!) but I love it and I truly enjoy talking to our clients and hearing their feedback about our products.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There are so many great spots in Southern California so it’s hard to choose but San Clemente beach trail is one of my favorite places. I love hiking in the area and the vibe walking around the pier. I also love Salt Creek beach and the small shops and restaurants around Laguna Beach. The tide pools in Laguna Beach are a hidden gem that are a must see.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give my shoutout to my entrepreneur friends. They all inspire me and support me during this journey of being a business owner. We share ideas and learn from each other a lot. This support is really important in my opinion because without it, I would have to face all the challenges of being a small business owner on my own and that’s a little bit scary. There are legal, logistics, marketing, HR, growth and quality, financial, and so many other challenges to overcome. It’s much easier with a good support network and I’m grateful for all the help and support I got along the way.