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    About this Episode

    KiwiCo delivers science and arts projects to kids on a monthly basis. Sandra Oh Lin founded the company nine years ago, and her team has scrambled to meet demand during the pandemic. These conversations are excerpts from our How I Built Resilience series, where Guy talks online with founders and entrepreneurs about how they're navigating turbulent times.

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    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Understanding your target audience and providing a unique value proposition are key to building a sustainable business in the subscription box industry.
    • Sandra Oh Lin's journey in retail highlights the importance of adaptability, seizing opportunities, and embracing change in building a successful business.
    • Sandra Oh Lin's experiences in the fashion industry and her passion for creativity led her to create KiwiCo, a company that encourages children to become makers and thinkers through hands-on arts and crafts projects.
    • Early exposure to hands-on creative activities can inspire a lifelong passion for making and creating, potentially leading to entrepreneurial opportunities in the future.
    • Seeking feedback, diversifying perspectives, and addressing customer needs are crucial for building a successful business. Assembling a diverse team and focusing on delivering value sets a business apart from competition.
    • Securing funding for a startup may be difficult, but with perseverance and determination, unconventional founders can prove their unique qualifications and develop successful products through testing and iteration.
    • Seize opportunities when they arise, just like when dinner is served, you eat.
    • By launching new product lines and adapting to market demands, Sandra Oh Lin was able to achieve significant growth and success for her business.
    • Kiwi Crate's strategic approach of utilizing their community, diversifying their product offerings, improving shipping efficiency, and streamlining operations led to profitability without the need for additional funds.
    • By promoting hands-on learning and creative thinking, this company's products help parents foster their children's potential to make a positive impact in the world.
    • Starting with hands-on activities can enhance a child's learning and problem-solving skills, and companies like KiwiCo strive to create exciting experiences that prioritize delight and foster a love for learning.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Thriving in the Subscription Box Industry: KiwiCo's Success Story

    While subscription boxes have been a lucrative industry, many companies have struggled to sustain their initial success. Brands like Birchbox, BarkBox, and Blue Apron experienced significant growth but ultimately faced challenges that led to a decline in value or a sale to private equity groups. However, KiwiCo, a subscription box for kids, has managed to thrive by offering hands-on activities that are both educational and entertaining. The founder, Sandra Olin, recognized the need for tactile and educational toys for her own children, leading her to create a successful business. This highlights the importance of understanding your target audience and providing a unique value proposition in order to build a sustainable business in the subscription box industry.

    Embracing Change and Adaptability in Entrepreneurship

    Sandra Oh Lin's first experience in retail taught her the importance of adaptability and seizing opportunities. When faced with excess inventory, she turned to selling at flea markets, showcasing her ability to think outside the box and make the most of a challenging situation. This taught her that even a fad can be turned into a profitable venture with the right approach. Additionally, Lin's transition from Procter and Gamble to a small startup in the Bay Area demonstrates her willingness to embrace change and take risks. This experience allowed her to learn valuable lessons in entrepreneurship and adaptability, proving that building a successful business often requires stepping out of one's comfort zone.

    From Fashion Industry to Fostering Creativity: Sandra Oh Lin's Journey

    Sandra Oh Lin's experiences in the fashion industry and her background as a mother inspired her to create KiwiCo, a company focused on fostering creativity and hands-on learning for children. While working at eBay, Sandra had the opportunity to pitch a fashion-related startup idea, which provided valuable experience in securing capital. Although she ultimately decided not to pursue that venture, it laid the groundwork for her future success. Recognizing the importance of creativity and innovation in her own childhood, Sandra wanted to instill the same values in her own children. This led her to create KiwiCo, where children can engage in arts and crafts projects, encouraging them to become makers and thinkers.

    Nurturing Creativity from Childhood to Entrepreneurship

    Engaging in hands-on creative activities as a child can foster a love for making and creating later in life. Sandra Oh Lin fondly remembers the creative projects she did with her mom growing up, like origami and potato prints. She wanted her own children to have that same experience, so she started organizing play dates where the kids would make and create together. They would work on simple projects like Halloween luminaries and experiment with different materials and substances. It was during one of these play dates that someone suggested Sandra turn her passion into a business. This highlights the importance of early exposure to hands-on creativity and how it can lead to entrepreneurial ideas.

    The Importance of Feedback and Diversifying Perspectives in Building a Business

    Sandra Oh Lin's journey to build Kiwi Crate highlights the importance of seeking feedback and diversifying perspectives. When considering turning her crafts projects into a business, Sandra discussed the implications with her husband and sought advice from trusted advisors and friends. She even conducted focus groups with people she didn't know to get unbiased feedback. Furthermore, Sandra brought on a co-founder with technical expertise and a technical co-founder with a successful background in engineering and entrepreneurship. This demonstrates the significance of assembling a team with diverse skills and experiences. Additionally, Sandra's decision to focus on addressing customer needs and delivering a program centered around themes and learning helped set Kiwi Crate apart in a market dominated by tech-focused startups. Overall, seeking feedback, diverse perspectives, and catering to customer needs are essential for building a successful business.

    Overcoming Challenges and Finding Success as Mompreneurs

    Securing funding for a startup can be challenging, especially when you don't fit the typical founder mold. Sandra Oh Lin and her co-founders faced numerous meetings and rejections before finding investors who saw the potential in their subscription e-commerce business. Despite being "mompreneurs," they proved their unique qualifications and determination to run the business. Another takeaway is the importance of testing and iteration in developing a successful product. Sandra and her team spent time in her garage, testing different materials and projects with kids to understand what would work for their subscription boxes. This hands-on approach allowed them to create engaging and educational experiences for children. Ultimately, their perseverance and dedication paid off, leading to the successful launch of their business.

    Overcoming Sourcing Challenges and Creating Unique Subscription Boxes

    Sandra Oh Lin and her team initially faced the challenge of sourcing individual items domestically to create unique subscription boxes. They couldn't simply rely on readily available products from stores like Michael's. They had to provide a unique lens and additional content to make their boxes appealing to customers. When they launched in October 2011, they focused on targeting kids aged three to seven with a new box every month. They built up an email base by attending events like the Baker Fair and collecting addresses. However, online advertising didn't bring immediate success. Despite a slow start, their Q4 numbers were promising, leading to investor interest and a preemptive series A raise. The key lesson learned was to seize opportunities when they arise, just like when dinner is served, you eat.

    Taking calculated risks and adapting to market needs for remarkable growth and success.

    Sandra Oh Lin faced challenges in meeting the expectations of investors and achieving the desired growth for her business. Despite some initial traction, the company was not progressing as quickly as they had hoped. To address this, Sandra made the bold decision to launch three new product lines in 2014, targeting different age groups. This expansion posed additional challenges as the team had to quickly adapt to meet the demands of these new lines. However, the risk paid off as all three lines sold out and subscriptions increased significantly. This success led to the company shipping out over 20 million crates in the next four years. The key takeaway is that taking calculated risks and adapting to market needs can lead to remarkable growth and success.

    A Successful Product Launch and Expansion: Kiwi Crate's Path to Profitability

    Kiwi Crate's successful product launch and expansion into multiple crates per household played a crucial role in their path to profitability. By utilizing their existing community and offering a variety of products, Kiwi Crate was able to attract more customers and increase their shipping efficiency. Offering free shipping to consumers, while amortizing the cost by sending out multiple crates to a household, helped improve their profitability. Additionally, Kiwi Crate's evolution in their operations, from sourcing domestically to sourcing overseas, allowed them to scale their business and streamline their fulfillment process. This inflection point ultimately led them to become a disciplined organization that no longer needed to rely on raising additional funds.

    Inspiring Innovation and Imagination in Children

    Parents are drawn to the idea of their children discovering new experiences and being prepared for the future. The company's marketing campaigns focused on showcasing the potential for learning and imagination through their products. By highlighting the possibilities and encouraging kids to think like innovators, parents are more likely to feel that their children can make a difference and have agency in creating change. This resonated with parents who want their children to grow up as productive citizens and who worry about the challenges of the world. Despite the prevalence of technology, the company's analog approach that requires hands-on building and exploration successfully captured the attention and interest of parents.

    Balancing Digital and Tactile Experiences for Kids.

    There is a constant battle between digital and tactile experiences for children. As a parent, it can be challenging to encourage kids to engage in hands-on activities when they are constantly surrounded by digital devices. The goal for companies like KiwiCo is to create experiences that are so fun and exciting that kids eagerly anticipate their arrival every month. Research has shown that starting with tangible, physical materials before moving on to digital interactions can enhance a child's ability to learn and problem-solve. KiwiCo strives to maintain children's interest by prioritizing the delightfulness of their experiences. When considering the future of the company, the founder envisions becoming a well-known household brand, similar to companies like Lego. While luck may play a part in success, the founder believes in actively creating opportunities and putting in the hard work to achieve them.

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