"My poor husband," sighs Summer Pierce. "If he gets a pimple, I can't help myself--I have to pop it." TMI? Yes--but she's also talking about the serendipity of inspiration.

Pierce, her husband, William, and their cousins Collin and Kayla Roof are co-founders of Pop It Pal, a pimple-popping simulator of sorts: a silicone rectangle with 16 evenly spaced holes that, when pressure is applied, exude an impressively (distressingly) lifelike ... well, guess.

Pop It Pal launched in January 2018--charging $19.99 for the popper and $5.99 for goo refills--and squeezed out $683,000 in annual revenue in the process. That year, eBay reported that consumers bought more toys related to pimples, poop, farts, and slime. "This year's toys got silly, gross, and sometimes smelly--literally," according to the report that came out in November 2018.

Part of the company's rapid success was driven by a promotional video that went viral in February 2018, a month after the company launched. The less-than-40-second clip shows two thumbs squeezing out pus-filled pores and garnered more than 228,000 views. After Pop It Pal hit its first six figures in sales that same month, William quit his job as a Samsung supervisor to focus full time on ersatz pustules. Summer, a licensed practical nurse, who was a stay-at-home mom prior to Pop It Pal's launch, is the president and co-inventor. Meanwhile, Kayla, who was already running a marketing business from home, spent more and more of her time on spreading the word about the squeezable sensation. Her husband, Collin, is an active-duty service member with the Navy who oversees production and helps with the development of new products. 

It also helped that in December of the same year, the founders appeared on ABC's hit reality show Shark Tank, scoring a $250,000 deal with Kevin O'Leary. Mr. Wonderful offered to invest in exchange for 5 percent of the company (plus royalties, until three times his investment is recouped).

Summer and her husband got the idea for the company after taking part in one of their favorite pastimes: watching pimple-popping videos on YouTube. Dr. Sandra Lee, a dermatologist who's been dubbed Dr. Pimple Popper, has more than 5.2 million subscribers on YouTube, indicating to the Pierces that they aren't the only ones who enjoy erupting whiteheads. When Summer wondered aloud if they could create something that gratified their guilty pleasure, without clogging their own pores, William said he could make something that would do the trick. He has a background in manufacturing and calls his experimental phase of building the Pop It Pal prototype "hillbilly engineering."

Summer blames her need to squeeze on her own background in nursing, where commonly considered nasty activities are frequent. "I've always loved gross things," Summer says. "I guess I just have that grossness deep down inside."

Turns out, not all of Pop It Pal's customers share a passion for "grossness." Summer says at least 20 customers have admitted that the toy helps curb their dermatological disorders, like dermatillomania, which is also known as chronic skin-picking, Summer said. "I cried like a baby," she says. "To be able to make a difference in somebody's life like that, it makes your heart melt."

Since launching, the founders have created a "glitter" edition that yields a sparkly blue extrusion, and is mulling other creative expansions. There are no plans to satisfy customers' current top request--edible pus--so Inc. hereby implores the founders: Give the people what they want.

"I cannot stop playing with this gross, satisfying little toy," one fan wrote, calling it a "great stress reliever."

From the May 2019 issue of Inc. Magazine