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Chicks We Love is our new series showcasing, well, chicks we can’t help but just love! Get ready to meet some of our favorite exciting female entrepreneurs and hear all about their wisdom for helping you to succeed too. If you want to subscribe so you can stay up to date on all our Chicks We Love interviews, click here.
In this article, I caught up with Sandra Oh Lin of KiwiCo. Here is Sandra’s inspiring story and her words of wisdom for you!
Photo courtesy of Sandra
What was your inspiration behind starting your company?
When my oldest two kids were nearly 3 and 5, I wanted to give them access to hands-on projects. I thought it’d be a good way for them to exercise their creativity and build their problem-solving skills.
As someone who grew up making and building many things (like handbags out of old school styrofoam McDonald’s sandwich containers), it was important to me to encourage my kids to see themselves as makers and creators – not just passive consumers.
So, as I started to pull together these projects, I invited my friends and their kids to get hands-on too. One of my friends encouraged me to start a business around the concept, and KiwiCo was born.
Now, we’re approaching eight years since our launch. We’ve shipped more than 10 million crates, and we’ve built an amazing community of young innovators and their grownup assistants.
What is your favorite aspect of the brand or product line?
I love our vision, which is centered on building creative confidence in kids. KiwiCo inspires kids to see themselves as makers – engineering and creating their own designs and outcomes.
We encourage them to become innovators and empower them to become change-makers. We help them build the skills and mindset to change the world.
Plus, given the fact that two-thirds of the jobs that kids in early elementary school today will see aren’t in existence today, it’s imperative that they become critical thinkers and problem solvers.
What do you aim to accomplish in the next year?
At KiwiCo, we believe that creative confidence encourages kids to think big and act as creators and producers.
Over the next year and beyond, we will be expanding our product lines with new offerings and hands-on projects that cater to the interests of an even wider audience of young innovators.
For example, this past year, we launched Atlas Crate, which explores cultures, geographies, and people around the world. We also launched Eureka Crate, which combines engineering and design techniques so kids build functional items with real utility, like a working desk lamp or ukulele.
Photo courtesy of Sandra
What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship requires a combination of resilience and drive. There are high highs, but there are also low lows. As the person ultimately responsible to our team, our customers, our investors, I feel the lows acutely.
But, I recognize the need to overcome the lows, rally, and motivate myself and my team to persevere and build.
What advice do you have for other women that would like to start their own company?
My advice to entrepreneurs is to spend time upfront gathering feedback to hone your offering and evaluate whether you’re building something that addresses a real need.
Often, people start a company because they have a personal need or pain point. Then there’s the question of whether that n=1 market can be broader.
Before we started, I spent a lot of time surveying folks and talking to anyone who was willing to provide feedback on our concept and product. As much as I thought KiwiCo was the perfect solution for my needs, I had to assess whether that idea was viable for a much larger audience through this market research.
Fortunately, we discovered that there are a lot of busy well-intentioned parents who are looking for fun and enriching activities for their kids – delivered seamlessly and conveniently.
Why and how did you end up an entrepreneur? Was it a path you always envisioned pursuing?
I didn’t set out to be a founder or entrepreneur, but looking back, the dots connect and lead to KiwiCo.
When I was young, my parents owned a kiosk in the local mall. I remember combing through inventory in our basement and sitting at the flea market on the weekends to liquidate items. I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment.
In college, I studied chemical engineering. I appreciated the application of science – and STEM generally – to solve problems and build things.
At Procter & Gamble, I learned so much about understanding consumer needs and designing new products.
Then experience at a couple of startups, PayPal, and eBay gave me exposure to various functional areas (product, marketing, business development/sales) and experience as a general manager with sizeable teams.
Finally and perhaps the most relevant experience that I have is being a mom of 3 kids. Ultimately, I think it’s important to be nimble and to lean into your passions.
What tools do you recommend for other women who would like to be entrepreneurs?
Having a supportive network to provide feedback, make connections, and simply be there for you throughout the entrepreneurial journey is invaluable.
A deep willingness and capacity to learn and iterate is a must. There are countless times I felt like I was learning on the job.
Actively leaning into that personal growth is a helpful tool. Additionally, a big wallop of confidence and optimism can go a long way throughout the roller coaster ride known as entrepreneurship.
Photo courtesy of Sandra
What is the worst and best decision you ever made?
There are times when I wish I had slept on a decision before making a call. When I catch myself affected by too much emotion or overstepping into areas where I should be empowering others, I try to take time and make some space for a decision.
Yet, there are also other times when I wish I had made a quicker decision. So I’m still finding that right balance between data and process versus – or in combination with – gut and cumulative experience.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
I’ve found that hiring a team that is aligned with the vision and values of the company accelerates our progress and aids in our collaboration.
I believe that differing perspectives and diversity of thought helps us get to better outcomes. Knowing that we’re all trying to do the right thing for our community and the business helps us appreciate and embrace that process.
How do you overcome failure or fear?
One of my colleagues has noted that “attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.”
I’m a big believer that you can actively choose how to respond to different situations, challenges, and opportunities.
It’s okay to take a moment and mourn a fail, but I try not to allow it to define or paralyze me, and I tend to move quickly towards defining what’s next and outlining an action plan.
What habits contribute to your success?
I try to practice gratitude. I recognize that I’m incredibly fortunate. There are people and circumstances that have allowed me to do what I do, and, for that, I’m grateful.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’m lucky to have a career that is focused around kids and families. It’s such a privilege to be able to work on something geared to this audience.
My kids have a deep appreciation for what I do, and I get to bring my work home in a sense and create with my kids. But I’ve also learned to be much more efficient with my time. There’s a finite set of hours in the day, and I try to make the most of them.
How do you stay motivated?
I’m motivated by our vision, which I outlined above.
What does your typical day look like?
I assume this is not much different than most working parents out there. The morning is filled with breakfasts, lunch-packing, getting the kids off to school.
I head into work for a day in the office, then back home in time for sports practices and activities. After dinner, I spend time with my three kids, followed by story and bedtime routines.
Although I’m now more of a soccer mom than a soccer player, I love playing when I can. I’ve played for years, and it always makes me happy to be on the field with a ball. It’s my zen place.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
My husband and kids help keep me grounded and give me perspective. I’m so grateful for their support.
Bre is a female millennial go getter residing in New York. One part entrepreneur, one part geek, she obtained her degree in Textile/Surface Design from The Fashion Institute of Technology.
She has held some exciting roles in both fashion as a designer working for brands like Victoria’s Secret and Henri Bendel, as well as in ad tech working for publishers like Ziff Davis.
Today she operates her own luxury label Bre Avery, along with Chip Chick Media which reaches millions of women each month.
Bre is passionate about teaching women how to build a business and be an entrepreneur, in addition to keeping her readers informed of the latest technology trends and exciting products to improve their lifestyles.
You can send Bre a message here.