After nearly a decade, Dan Wolff wasn’t looking to sell his tick removal invention, TickEase.

But Tick Man Dan, as he’s known, told us he warmed up to the idea so he could pay off some debt.

Wolff, who built the first prototype of his tweezer-like tool in 2014, got an idea for a combo product while watching a “Shark Tank” episode featuring Bug Bite Thing. It’s a reusable suction tool that alleviates itching, swelling and stinging by removing insect saliva or venom left under the skin.

Wolff thought, logistically, it made sense to sell his product, TickEase, alongside Bug Bite Thing as a two-in-one combo. It took a few months, but Wolff finally reached CEO and founder Kelley Higney through Facebook Messenger around March 2023. They had a three-hour conversation about creating a combo pack — and then Higney asked if he’d consider selling TickEase.

“I said, ‘Well, let’s talk,’” Wolff said.

Tick talk: The origins of TickEase

They don’t call him “Tick Man Dan” for nothing. The outdoorsman has been bitten by more than 225 ticks and has removed more than 3,000 live ticks from people and pets. He even wore a tick tie to his wedding.

“It seemed that every trip into the woods resulted in being literally covered with ticks,” the Massachusetts resident told The Grommet. “There were ticks in my truck, my laundry room, on my kids, my dogs and, on several occasions, I have pulled my sheets back to go to sleep only to discover a tick in my bed!”

This problem — combined with a scientific curiosity he attributes to his late father, an authority on infectious diseases — led Wolff to test various tick-removing tools he’d ordered online.

With household tweezers, the tick can tear, leaving part of it embedded in the skin and increasing the risk of infection. If you can remove the whole tick, Wolff told us, you reduce the chance of transmitting tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease.

After months of experimentation, Wolff concluded that a pricey set of jeweler’s tweezers with extremely sharp tips worked best on humans — and a well-designed slotted scoop worked best on pets.

From his basement, Wolff created a two-sided tick-removal prototype out of aluminum foil, he shared with Authority Magazine. The prototype became TickEase — two-sided, fine-tipped tweezers approved by the CDC to remove ticks from people and pets.

From his basement to big box stores: TickEase’s top growth driver

Initially, to get the word out about TickEase, Wolff knocked on his neighbors’ doors, stopped by vets and hit up local hardware stores. Eventually, through more and more networking, he got into national chains, including Ace Hardware, Petco and even Walmart.

Around 2020, he started selling on Amazon. At first, it was slow. “I muddled through Amazon all on my own because I wanted to do it my way. That failed miserably,” he said.

Then he reached out to XENA Intelligence, an e-commerce growth platform that handled everything for him, including SEO, advertising and inventory updates. At sale, about 50% of TickEase’s sales came from Amazon. The product was also in about 300 retail locations.

In 2022, his last full year, revenue was about $500,000, he told us.

Through the years, Wolff raised money from his friends and family to invest in research and development, inventory and marketing efforts. During the pandemic, he got an SBA loan. Total money raised reached about $400,000.

He also relied on traditional lines of credit, bank loans and credit cards to fund TickEase. “I maxed everything out,” he said. “Everything I had went into this.”

Unforeseen expenses didn’t help, either. For example, new tariffs imposed on China, where TickEase was manufactured, caused his costs to jump 25% overnight in 2022, Wolff said. Freight and production costs also increased.

He also faced challenges with covering the costs of inventory, like many e-commerce businesses.

“If you’re placing orders overseas, there’s a turnaround time of several months,” he explained. “So you’re laying out large sums of money in one day — for something you won’t be able to stock for several months — then won’t be able to distribute for another several months.”

It could take up to 12 months to see the returns.

“It’s a constant battle to try to get more money,” Wolff said. “It became difficult to service the existing debt and pre-purchase inventory for the next sales cycle.”

So when Higney of Bug Bite Thing mentioned her interest in buying TickEase, Wolff, who hadn’t actively considered selling, was open to the conversation.

Navigating the sale of TickEase

Although the buyer for TickEase came organically, Wolff described the selling process as very complicated. “Maybe it wouldn’t be complicated for someone else, but not having any previous experience in this type of transaction made it overwhelming and time-consuming,” he said.

He relied on an attorney, someone he had already known who has experience in this space, to navigate the process. The biggest challenge aside from paying legal fees, Wolff said, was agreeing to terms. Each change, even the smallest tweak, had to go through the lawyers for approval.

The process moved along, though, with the buyer eager to complete the sale before peak tick season, which runs from the spring to mid- to late summer. The sale closed in June 2023.

The 6-figure sale helped Wolff pay off his investors and some debt.

Wolff agreed to help with the transition for 120 days, and plans to stay on with the buyer afterward, too, to continue to develop new products. Under a five-year right of first refusal, Bug Bite Thing will be the first to consider his ideas. If they’re on board, it’s a go. If not, Wolff can venture out on his own again.