Anti-snoring pillow company founder Frances Anderson was just 13 when she learned at boarding school that she snored.
The revelation was horrifying and mild sleep apnoea continued to dog her life and disturb her sleep in the years to come. As an adult she was always tired. Surgery was unsuccessful and devices didn't work.
"It's a very emotional problem, snoring. It's a dreadful thing to have. It's humiliating. So I decided to try to do something about it."
That "something" was to design and make her own sleep positioner. Nearly eight years of development later, Anderson's invention has been commercialised under the brand Patney, marketed online by a company of the same name.
(Patney was the grandchildren's name for Anderson's late mother, a snorer from whom she believes she inherited the genetic trait.)
Designed to control snoring for people who sleep on their back or side, the Patney sleep positioner is non-invasive, comfortable and individually customised to support the sleeper's weight and height, said Anderson, who runs the new company from her home at Tamahere, near Hamilton.
The pillow is made from sustainable natural latex from the rubber tree and supports the head, neck and shoulders to promote an open airway for freer breathing. Its effectiveness has been validated by an independent study by the WellSleep Centre at Otago University.
Anderson said she'd committed to getting independent verification early on and once she'd arrived at the most effective design through her own test programme, she approached Dr Angela Campbell, a senior lecturer at Otago University's department of medicine, and manager of WellSleep.
The study required Ministry of Health approval. Campbell assessed the effectiveness of the Patney in reducing snoring among people referred to the centre by doctors for snoring and/or mild obstructive sleep apnoea.
The subjects were male and female aged between 42 and 61, from a cross-section of ethnicities and body compositions, said Anderson.
"The results were extremely encouraging. Incredibly, 89 per cent of people who completed the study reported a reduction in their partner's snoring. This is as much about the person who lives with the snorer as the person who snores."
While at pains to say the pillow does not work for everyone and there is no cure for snoring, Anderson said the study results were convincing enough for the sleep centre to take an abstract to an Australasian sleep conference late last year.
"After that I thought 'I've got to get on and commercialise this thing'," said Anderson who with her husband has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pillow's development, on top of two small grants from Callaghan Innovation.
She doesn't claim to be a medical expert but her extensive research means she can rattle off all number of statistics about how many people snore.
Genetics and being overweight can be culprits, but so can hormones, she said after learning that 67 per cent of women can develop snoring issues after menopause.
Patney went to market online two days before Christmas.
Anderson said sales of the $343 positioner were "fine" but declined to discuss when the company might break even.
The latex mould is manufactured in Sri Lanka. All other aspects of the Patney are New Zealand-made.
Being an entrepreneur is not for the fainthearted, she said.
"It's like a roller coaster. You don't become an entrepreneur for fame and fortune. It's a hell of a lot of hard work."
Anderson, who has a part-time marketing staffer, counts Hamilton-based national business incubator SODA and the Waikato Innovation Park among the supporters and advisors she couldn't have done without on the way to launching Patney.
She has ideas for more products in the health and wellness area but her priority now is ensuring her first New Zealand customers are happy. In time she will license the positioner overseas.