Female Disruptors: Duygu Sefa of Babonbo On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Build a team with talented people who truly believe in your idea and put their whole heart and perseverance to make it a success.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Duygu Sefa.
Duygu Sefa, Founder and CEO of Babonbo, graduated from Bogazici University in Turkey and moved to Italy in 2007 to attend a master’s degree at Politecnico di Milano. Duygu continued to work for 10+ years in the multinational automotive sector as a Product Marketing Manager, Business Development Manager, and eventually Countrywide Manager. In 2017, upon returning from her first daughter’s maternity leave, she felt disconnected from work and wanting to start her own business. After traveling with her daughter, Duygu created the idea of a baby gear rental marketplace to ease the traveling experience for families and give an opportunity for moms to grow a business.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Parents spend too much on baby gear, especially when it’s their first time.
Between the influence of our friends & family and social media to have everything you (don’t) need, there is way too much pressure around them, an added stressor already worried new parents don’t need.
According to a study made by a baby gear brand in the UK, 90% of parents admitted they’d overspent on baby goods, with more than half of the total value of the goods wasted on items that were either not used at all, or not enough to warrant the amount spent! This has a negative impact, both economical and environmental.
By creating a platform where we have both increased the lifespan of baby equipment by sharing, and created a circular economy, Babonbo has fully disrupted the way we see the traditional child care equipment market. We’ve increased the utility of the equipment while decreasing consumption — it’s a revolutionary win-win.
Our Babonbo providers — those who rent out baby gear they no longer use — help start this circular movement. They earn money by helping other families access baby gear anytime, anywhere and help them save money by avoiding unnecessary purchases while saving the environment by decreasing consumption. Our growing community is rapidly expanding, now beyond Italy, which is where we first took root.
After each rental, Babonbo providers take care of their baby gear, check, clean and sanitize it. We ensure excellent service through our terms with providers and customer rating after each rental.
And wherever our local providers cannot reach, we, as Babonbo, deliver high quality baby equipment to the doorstep of our trusting customers. And because we are strongly based on trust and quality, most of our customers are recommended by other parents, who themselves trusted us. Word of mouth is a strong tool and we pride ourselves in noting that our customer retention and recommendation is higher than most companies. We see this as a sign of success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Babonbo was born as an idea in April 2018, and I had already incorporated the company in the UK by July 2018 — way too quickly. I should have taken more time to validate the idea before moving forward with the incorporation.
After incorporation it took more than 1 year to implement a product solution because I wanted everything “almost” perfect before launching it. And I spent an important part of my personal savings on creating the first product.
Now that I am more experienced, I know that it was a funny mistake! There were many other ways for me to build a Minimum Viable product by spending less money and time just to demonstrate the problem exists and people pay for the solution quickly. After that, I could have searched for an initial capital to build a more sophisticated tech solution without spending too much from my own pocket.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When I decided to work effectively on my idea while I was still a full-time employer at a corporate company, I knew almost nothing about startups and the ecosystem around it. This led me to apply for the Founder Institute, an idea-stage accelerator and global launch network that helps entrepreneurs create meaningful and enduring technology companies.
I can’t begin to express how much this helped me. From learning how to launch a winning company, to creating a local and global network in the startup ecosystem quickly from 0 to 100, this has tremendously benefited my growth and success.
The Founder Institute’s Milan chapter directors, Peter Lazou and Maria Matloub, were always there when I needed during, but also after the program, and their local and global network of mentors has always been extremely supportive.
After that, my startup was incubated virtually by Polihub, the Innovation Park & Startup Accelerator of Politecnico di Milano. During and after, Polihub mentors were also very supportive in helping me reposition my business model with the unexpected turn of events the pandemic brought to our lives. Once again, a strong support system that helped me solidify strong foundations.
Having an experienced mentor or an advisor is so important in the journey of an entrepreneur. Without a doubt, the most impactful mentor and advisor that I had, and still have today, is Volkan Bicer. He always believed in my commitment and hard work, which led him to believe in me and Babonbo, as he became one of the first seed-stage investors.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I believe disruption is positive if it brings benefits to society, planet, and improves the life of people, health and education, while decreasing our impact on the environment, the gap of inequalities we are all faced with.
I think we, entrepreneurs, have a very good guideline provided by the United Nations, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which state that we cannot only rely on our country’s policies and regulations to do good. We are all responsible for disrupting the existing non-sustainable markets and economies to create our own sustainable ones.
There is a long road ahead of us, but if we all create something meaningful from the start, we will all contribute to impact our world.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Build a business which gives you passion every day. I heard this advice for the first time from my FI Milan Director, Peter Lazou. During a session in which we were practicing pitching our ideas, he said: “When you pitch your idea, you should be able to make your audience get goose bumps (excite them). And this can happen only if you are passionate about your idea” This is so true. The only way to excite people when you talk about your idea, this is also true when you present your idea to investors, is by being passionate about it and transmitting your excitement to them. Entrepreneurship is about finding solutions to problems arising almost everyday, or trying to overcome many obstacles coming your way to success. And dealing with all these is not easy, it is so tiring and frustrating. If I was not passionate about what I am doing everyday, I would have given up already.
- Don’t cut corners and spend the necessary time networking and creating meaningful relationships, it’s important. One of my female mentors in the Polihub Mommyprenuers program that I participated in while I was on maternity leave, told me and other moms in the classroom : “Networking is one of the most effective tools to overcome many challenges that women entrepreneurs face such as accessing to financial, human and social capital . And women should dedicate more time and energy than men in building networks to overcome these challenges easier. On my entrepreneurial journey, I see and meet more and more women, not only, who work to empower women to close this gender gap. And this is so encouraging.
- Build a team with talented people who truly believe in your idea and put their whole heart and perseverance to make it a success. My first attempt to build a team when I had only an idea was a failure. I think the main reason was that the focus of the other 2 people with whom I was trying to be a team was more financial gain than being part of a journey of creating something new and meaningful which touches the lives of people. It took a very long time for me to build the right team with people putting their heart everyday to make Babonbo a success, because they believe in the vision of Babonbo.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have officially launched the Babonbo app, now available worldwide, including the US! The process is simple: you sign up and complete your profile, for free with the help of one of Babonbo’s consultants. Once your items are uploaded, you choose when and how parents can book. Monitor and plan the logistics surrounding the rental, and reap all the benefits of your labor. Connecting families from different countries and states, the platform creates an incredible way to earn passive income, and gratification from helping other families travel with ease and comfort.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women have to juggle everything and it becomes really difficult finding the perfect balance between raising children, nurturing our family, yet being able to disrupt the world and change the status quo.
The responsibilities at home are truly a very demanding full time job as it is, so adding to that the responsibility to shake an entire industry up, it’s like moving mountains. Most of us are expected to be able to handle it all — but do you want to know the crazy part of it all? We actually do.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
It is when I decided to change my career path from being a corporate worker to an entrepreneur.
When I finally got back to work from maternity leave from my first daughter, I found out that my role and responsibilities were changed from being globally responsible for the most important product line of the company to a less strategic operative role. I was so worried about this change and decided to talk about my HR manager at that time. She basically told me that I had new priorities in my life by that time and I could not handle a global positioning which requires a lot of traveling etc. It took me a lot of time to digest it and at the end I realized that it was not the right place for me anymore and I took the decision to dedicate my energy in creating my own venture instead of trying to advance in my corporate career.
This had a deep impact on my thinking: Don’t allow anyone else to set my limits and define priorities in my own life. And I took that anger and turned into energy and motivation to try for the first time to realize my ideas.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Well, Babonbo IS a movement. We are changing the way we consume for our kids, which is completely wrong and not good for their future. By perpetuating this consumerism and detrimental environmental cycle, we are actually affecting the future of the very own beings we are trying to cherish. By starting from day 1, and changing our core beliefs, we are reprogramming an entire mentally that has been outdated for decades.
We are also creating a loving and supporting community of parents, especially mothers who usually can feel so isolated. They are inspiring each other, supporting each other in their quest to a more responsible and sustainable future for our children. By doing so, we created a support system that empowers parents to become more conscious and responsible consumers everyday. I believe as moms, we should be the first ones to change and be the change we want to see in the world. We have a responsibility to show the example to our children, and lead the way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If You Are Working On Something That You Really Care About, You Don’t Have To Be Pushed. The Vision Pulls You.” — Steve Jobs
This quote is very close to my heart, especially right now as this perfectly relates to the moment of life I currently am in. I quit all the benefits and the safety of a full time
job, fully aware of all the economical risks, and high probability of failure.
It’s a lot of work, and I have to sacrifice a lot of my free time in order to manage both my house, my children and family, and the obligations I have to my other baby, Babonbo. Sometimes, this requires me to do so day and night, weekends and sometimes, even in my sleep! But all in all, I know this is not only an investment in my future, but in the future of my children, and the world’s children. Which itself is an investment in everyone’s future.
How do I manage to resist the urge of slowing down and taking a minute to breathe? I don’t. People around me often wonder too, but the truth is that I am so passionate, that nothing could stop me from succeeding and accomplishing what I care most about, improving lives by providing a solution which is good for the Earth and the future of our kids.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!