This is part of uOpen’s 'Industry Insights' interview series - a valuable collection of informative and intelligent insights into how some of the UK's best-known and most-loved subscription box businesses came to be and got to where they are - all shared by the very people who made it happen...
Covering customer acquisition to fulfilment, this blog series offers a behind the scenes look at how the many moving parts of these complex, yet successful operations come together each month to satisfy the ever-growing demand of subscription box customers in the UK.
How did the idea for your subscription box come about?
I was introduced to a craft subscription box by another Mum and loved the idea of a child receiving a personalised box through the post at regular intervals. Like all families, it is often hard to find one-to-one time with your children in amongst the busy week. My first reaction was - brilliant, if we had a box arriving regularly, we would mark out family time, to sit down without distraction, and enjoy an activity together.
What attracted you to the subscription box model?
From a purely business perspective, it means recurring revenue and regular cash flow to invest in new products continually. From a consumer perspective, it was the attraction of something new arriving regularly, which meant no screen time and something fresh to interest the children.
How did you validate your idea and test the market?
The idea was validated primarily against existing subscription businesses in the marketplace, plus a focus group and discussions with parents - there was clearly a demand. However, there was a visible gap for a subscription product in the UK that covers science, technology, engineering, art & maths for the full primary school age range. Products were and continue to be tested with children and parents.
How did you acquire your first customers?
Your first customers are always family and friends.
Did you raise any seed or investor funding to help you grow?
We are at the start of our business. We launched mid-May 2018. I used personal savings to get the business started.
How long have you been running now and what are your most successful achievements and milestones so far?
I have been running since May 2018, a very short time. The most significant achievement was getting to the point of launch, which for I DID IT!, was pushing the website live. Then receiving 5-star reviews on our Facebook page. The first milestone has to be receiving the first order; there is nothing like it.
With the rise of new boxes launching all the time, what do you see as your USP that sets you apart from your competitors?
Everything you need is in the box, no mad dash to the shops.
I DID IT! aims to bring activities that when completed can be displayed and admired and any products re-used. We avoid throw-away products, and recyclable packaging is a must. This is really important at a time when we need to take active steps to protect our environment.
Our education specialist approves boxes - products have to be fun but at the same time stretch and challenge. We focus on finding topics and activities that will spark an interest in every child. That's why we cover the STEAM subjects.
How does your business continue to find new and exciting products to keep your customers engaged and excited every month?
Vast amounts of research, listening to parents, talking to my children, and awareness of curriculum topics. I absolutely love learning new topics, so a lot of ideas are sparked by my interests and what I loved to do as a child.
Have there been any particularly pivotal moments so far that have required you to make changes to how you operate?
I started out with a business partner and the shift to operating independently was undoubtedly a pivotal moment in my startup journey.
How large is your team? What type of roles do they have?
It's very much a family business. There's me, Louise, I'm the founder, and I wear many hats - research, product development, sourcing, fulfilment and marketing.
Then we have an education specialist, Clare, who has 25 years in education. Clare is also my sister. Amy, who is a 3D Product Design graduate and also my niece, supports with fresh and new ideas around materials and design.
My parents help with everything from fulfilment to logistics and lots of word-of-mouth marketing amongst friends, family and local businesses.
Across all operational areas of your business, what do you manage in-house and what do you outsource to external suppliers to support you with - and why is this?
We outsourced the initial branding and packaging to a design agency, as well as sets of artwork for bespoke instruction design and product stickers. The website was designed and built by a digital agency. Printing is also outsourced, as well as the main accounting activities.
Everything else is in-house - research, product development, box design, the educational stamp of approval, design and artwork for printed material, copywriting, fulfilment, marketing, product sourcing, day-to-day accounting, website maintenance, customer service.
We are a start-up and have to roll our sleeves up and multi-task. We are very lucky that we have the experience and skills to cover all of these activities.
What types of challenges do you face with fulfilment, delivery and customer service?
Predicting demand and therefore, managing lead times and stock levels.
How do you see the subscription box industry is evolving and what do you believe are going to be your biggest challenges over the next 12 months?
Consumers are looking for affordable, tailored products as gifts and experiences. The nature of the subscription business means a regular cost to the consumer, therefore, meeting an affordable price point will continue to be a challenge. Companies need to offer flexible subscription options so that consumers do not feel tied in.
What do you enjoy most about running your subscription box business?
Research, designing the next box and receiving feedback and reviews.
What excites you about uOpen, and how do you see the marketplace featuring in your business' future?
I'm excited to be joining uOpen at the start of their subscription box journey, though it's not their first experience with the subscription business model. It's exciting and reassuring that the owners of uOpen (Jellyfish) already have proven success with UK magazines.
I see the uOpen marketplace as a long-term partner in marketing and selling I DID IT! subscription boxes. We are both at the start of our journey so it will be great to look back in 12-18 month times to see how far we have come.