How KiwiCo’s growth is fueled by kids’ creativity

Multiple times a week, kids come into KiwiCo’s offices to play. But this is no babysitting service; it’s product testing. “The noise level goes up a notch, and we have a lot of fun just learning from them,” says Founder and CEO Sandra Oh Lin. These kid experts are testing the products that KiwiCo offers through its subscription service, which delivers fun and educational activities to kids’ doorsteps each month. On this episode of Retail Gets Real, Oh Lin shares the story of how KiwiCo grew from a garage startup to thriving model of subscription box success and lessons learned along the way.

Oh Lin didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur, but looking back she says all her experiences pointed her to start KiwiCo. She began her career as an engineer in research and development at Proctor & Gamble, and after business school worked in ecommerce for PayPal and eBay. But she was also a mom with a knack for creating hands-on projects for her kids — the kind of play that she loved as a child. KiwiCo was formed out of her garage after the projects became a hit at play dates. It was a perfect marriage of her engineering, e-commerce and parenting experiences. “This is just absolutely my passion and something that I think my experiences actually teed me up really well to do,” she says.

KiwiCo's Sandra Oh Lin records podcast
KiwiCo Founder and CEO Sandra Oh Lin recording with Retail Gets Real.

Turning the idea into a viable business wasn’t easy. “When it came to inventory and supply chain management, I had a really, really steep learning curve,” Oh Lin says, describing how she filled her garage with supplies and how it took a team of six all day to assemble 25 boxes. “The team literally turned to me like, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to scale this?’”

Oh Lin learned quickly from setbacks and surrounded herself with smart advisers. The business continued to grow, becoming profitable in 2016 and it continues to build on its successes. “You learn at such a quick pace at those phases. And every time we went through those things, we learned a tremendous amount. We figured things out as we went, as you do for a lot of startups, and you continue to iterate, and that’s how you end up growing and learning,” Oh Lin says.

Oh Lin’s business may generate buzz in the business community because of its model, but for her, the purpose is the real passion. “We’re an ecommerce startup with a direct-to-consumer model, and people talk about digitally native, vertically-integrated brands. And yes, we are all that, but at the heart, we’re also a very mission-driven organization,” she says. “We’re trying to build the creative confidence of kids, so that they feel like they can change the world.”

Listen to the episode to learn more about how KiwiCo is growing and using consumer data to improve customer experiences at every touchpoint.

More from the podcast

How online pharmacy Capsule gained momentum during the pandemic
Retail Gets Real episode 180: Founder and CEO Eric Kinariwala shares how the company reworked the pharmacy model.
Read more
How to effectively communicate a face covering policy
Retail Gets Real episode 179: Bill Knapp of SKDKnickerbocker shares research-backed message on masks.
Read more
MahoganyBooks on the pandemic and racial justice
Retail Gets Real episode 178: Growing a business around Black literature amid a movement for racial justice.
Read more