Graze meets Art Attack
ToucanBox is a subscription-based children’s craft company that delivers letterbox-sized kits for children aged three to eight. “It’s a treasure trove of activities straight to your door,” says co-founder and CEO Virginie Charlès-Dear.
The former Yahoo executive and mother-of-three came up with the idea when she was on maternity leave. “I wanted to entertain my three-year-old in a productive way, but the available products were not sparking any sort of creativity,” she says.
The brightly coloured kits sell for just under £6 each and are packed with games, stories and puzzles. Crucially, each kit comes complete.“You don’t need to save 24 ice lolly sticks to create the activities,” she says.
It’s easy to start selling something online but very few people make a living from it.
Virginie Charlès-Dear, ToucanBox
Toys delivered by post
Initially Charlès-Dear and co-founder Sara Barokas, a Montessori-method teacher, started selling online, funded entirely by their savings. But they soon realised there was a real market.
“We had proper customers coming to the site – not just friends and family” explains Charlès-Dear.
The co-founders knew that to make money, the business had to scale up. “It’s easy to start selling something online but very few people make a living from it.”
As a direct-to-customer business, the company couldn’t benefit from the scale of a retail chain. So the duo set about raising capital to fund their scale-up journey. “We started talking to angels who loved the idea, and in just a few months we raised £1m” says Charlès-Dear.
Among the early angels were the founders of Graze and Innocent Drinks. The capital was put into developing the product. But “it wasn’t just about the money, it was about the network,” she says.
Charlès-Dear believes this early advice helped steer them in the right direction. “The angels helped us avoid mistakes that we would have definitely made – they also fast-tracked some of the progress,” she explains.
Refining the market fit
After the angel round, the next two years were all about developing the products and working on market fit. “We spent a lot of time talking to customers, understanding what they liked, why they stayed, why they didn’t stay,” says Charlès-Dear.
And once they cracked the “perfect recipe”, she explains, this was the point they invested more and saw “rapid growth”. “By then we needed to scale in every possible way – the team, the operations, everything,” she says.
Moving to the next level
So two years ago, the company started looking for an investment partner that would help take them to the next level. BGF invested £2.6m in May 2016. The company then expanded from 10 to 35 people in a matter of months.
Along with deploying capital in new hires – such as appointing the former Graze chief technology officer (CTO) as their CTO – the company invested heavily in its tech.
“Though the product is very low-tech, in the background there is quite a lot of technology and IP,” Charlès-Dear explains. In fact, depending on their age, interests, preferences – every child receives a different box.
As for the future, Charlès-Dear is thinking big. “We have global visions. We are starting with five countries in Europe, but eventually we want to go everywhere.”