A short history of Twoodie…
I’m doing something different this post and out-sourcing it to my co-founder. This is more romantic tale and less pyscho-drama. It puts this whole thing in perspective and makes us sound much more fearless (and definitely more crazy) than we really are. It’s a short history of Twoodie…
We’re getting ready to launch out into the big wide world and it’s scary as well as exhilarating.
Ain’t no lean startup in organic baby toys… at least not if you want to make sure everything is safe and done properly. Or if you’ve never done anything real before and you’re figuring it out as you go along.
I’m kinda reflective and was going through our photos, all those trips, all that paperwork and people that did nice things for us when it really just added hassle and time to their days. Overall pretty cool.
Phase 1: I have an idea but it’s impossible to communicate
Working at a big company and looking at solutions for Millennial brands, sustainability, the disruption of the supply chain by 3D printing, omnichannel and the Chinese family. When you write it like that it sounds like an amazing job, and it was.
I try to get people interested and to hatch something internally. Few understand it because I can’t communicate properly. Let’s face it, this is a niche and not a billion dollar JV. I realise that the company is stuffed full of brilliant people with brilliant ideas, most of them easier to execute and more in line with big business and operational improvements.
Phase 2: We don’t know anything about toys or wood, let’s find a pro
Amazingly we get the domain registered and this is one of my ideas that Steven puts into the category of crazy but possible, rather than career suicide.
We decide we want to build a wooden robot as the original Twoodie. It’s gender neutral, kind of a paradox of the future/past and has a personhood which people can connect with.
We research and we find the grandmaster of wooden robots in Japan. His stuff is just off the charts insanely cool and so we arrange through his English-speaking brother in New Zealand to go and visit. We find a translator through friends, put a pitch deck together and go meet the extended family near Nagano.
Phase 3: D-I-Y
We try with the Japanese designer, we try really hard, over months and with many many expensive and time consuming visits. We even try to acquire his two-man company. At the same time we research wood inlay techniques and start designing our own range. Not because we think we can, but because there seems to be just no other option. Toy designers don’t understand our aesthetic and as a project this is getting expensive so we can’t afford anyone anyway. I make over 8 trips to Japan and fly overnight, sleep in hostels and dogsit miniature poodles at friends places to keep the costs down whilst we figure out how to do this. We befriend the Professors at the equivalent of Japan’s ‘MIT for Wood’ university and access the amazing wooden toy archives, where I spend days studying (and freezing).
We work on a very basic product but no one is willing to produce it for us… except for a disabled facility. A place near Hachioji in Japan where they make wooden toys as a way to give meaning and community to a centre for people with disabilities. Our translator is an 89 year old man who translated in the war. They’re little angels and hay presto we have our first samples! Only problem is their manufacturing capacity is exactly 40 sets in 3 months. And then the leader of the team’s blood cancer got worse and he went into hospital. Still, we have a first sample, a real product, and nice nice people that cared even less about turning a dollar than we did. I spoke at their Christmas party like a special guest or celebrity or something. Makes me cry remembering it.
Phase 4: Moving home
I’ve left my job and am working on this fulltime. Steven joins me 4 months later. It feels like as soon as he puts his mind to it we stop hitting brick walls and things start to work in Japan with sampling on the more inventive and difficult prototypes. We relocate back to Australia from HK to do some family stuff. We move back in with our parents (humbling) and we have a little office in Mitcham where we cycle and use our phones to connect to wifi. At this stage I get really mad, because I’m adjusting to the fact that no one cares about us and that many of our closest think this is some kind of gap year/self indulgence. Steven writes a blog to process stuff. I just stay mad.
Phase 5: Moving on
During this time we do the other things that make up a brand: the box, bag and packaging, the website, the incorporation, the business model and planning. We do user interviews and talk with experts. Steven goes to Thailand, Myanmar and a more toy friendly part of Northern Japan. We decide we need some help since our family think we are having a mid life crisis and no one in Australia has ever heard of a startup that doesn’t involve SaaS or make you rich overnight. So we do what any self-respecting hustlers would do: we go to America.
Phase 6: Startup Nation
We prayed and by some miraculous work we have 5 samples (albeit some poisonous) and everything ready to go. We travel across the US and try and meet people smarter than we are. It’s easy to find them but getting them to give you the time of day is much harder. Our Airbnb hosts and our friends are lovely to us and we learn about barbecue, vapour testing and how to surf.
Phase 7: Getting Users
We try IVF. It doesn’t work but costs a fortune and I get really sick. While in the US we worked alongside travelling and so we have found places in Japan that ‘might’ be possible. While there we get some advice to “focus on only one thing” so we pick the most simple product and go for it. Nervous we can’t ever succeed in Japan we also find a factory in China. We develop things in Australia with a few makers with CNCs, and build cool stuff we can’t afford to sell.
Phase 7: Getting Serious
Recently we started putting the pieces together: transactional website, DHL, bank accounts, MOQs and testing everything. It’s a logistical nightmare but it feels very real. A semi-retired businessman offered us his place in London for Xmas so we are going…. to try and catch a dream and see if we made something people want. Phase 8 is going to be especially messy. I regret wasting so much time on phases 1–7. I know I learnt stuff but it doesn’t count unless I can keep learning. Steven is the best cofounder anyone could wish for.* So if this doesn’t excite him he’ll have a lot of other prospects. If it works it will be due to other people’s kindness, so I hope it does. :)
*I should be paying for this unmerited self-published plug!