Today’s guest is an incredible leader, the CEO of kids’ clothing subscription service, Kidbox.
Her entrepreneurial hustle was carved out from a young age, where she took on a newspaper delivery route at just 9 years old.
Since then she had a varied and successful career, getting her start by running ecommerce for Tween brands in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and, in spite of the internet bubble burst, she saw a that there would be a real shift in consumer purchasing decisions, from retail to ecommerce.
She climbed the marketing and ecommerce ladder for luxury retail at Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and then Chicos, eventually meeting the Founder of Kidbox, Haim Dabah, to whom it was clear she was the right fit to lead Kidbox’s growth.
Miki immediately bought into their social mission to impact the lives of 1 million children in need and learned over the course of her career to trust her gut and speak up for causes she believed in.
We talk about her tools for success, including using data science and personalization to deliver a unique customer experience with Kidbox and how standing for a social mission helped her build a thriving brand from the ground up.
Please welcome, Miki Berardelli.
Daniel: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat this morning. You mentioned (a few moments ago) you were at your son’s college planning conference, and I’m curious if there are any decisions on what type of program he wants to join, or where he wants to go. Is that something that’s been narrowed down yet?
Miki: He’s interested in urban planning and architecture, so he’s probably going to be on an engineering track. And, he definitely cares about location. He wants to be near a big city, so he’s not looking at any smaller city or suburban type of campuses. So, we narrowed the list down at least that far. But we’re just getting started.
Daniel: And of course, he’s gonna stay in New York! I have a friend doing urban planning. I think he’s doing a master’s program right now. I think he’s living in Brooklyn and doing a program, not too far away from where you are.
Miki: Well, personally, I would, of course, love it if he stays in New York, but I don’t know if he will or not. But he’s definitely going to look at New York City.
Daniel: At least, he hasn’t crossed it off. I know some folks who are like, “Oh, I’ll go to a big city, but not the city my family is in. I’m gonna go on the other side of the coast.”
Miki: Create some distance. Yes, we’ll see where he lands. I’m not sure.
Daniel: I mean, I bring that up because I’m curious for you, and when you think back to, you know, your college days. You know, how did you end up picking where you wanted to go to college?
Miki: Yeah, so I went to the University of Iowa, undergraduate. And that was based on my aspirations of becoming a broadcast journalist, and they had an exceptional communications program. And I never really considered a school outside of the Big 10, because both my parents went to Illinois, and my mom grew up in Champaign, Urbana. So I spent a lot of time at Big 10 football games and that was, you know, that set the bar for me in terms of the football sportsmanship. So I ended up going to University of Iowa, and then during my tenure there, I sort of switched tracks from journalism into communications with a minor in English.
And then I worked for five years, and then I did an executive master’s program at Northwestern University, which was a really unique Masters of Science and Communication program. So I definitely stayed on the communications track.
Daniel: Do you remember when you were growing up, how did you land on the career path of, I guess when you were a kid, or, you know, what made you wanna become a broadcast journalist as the many things you can pick growing up as a kid?
Miki: I don’t know. You know, it was around the time that more women were becoming broadcast journalists, and I think that intrigued me. And I also loved public speaking courses and classes and excelled at those, so I thought that that would be a natural fit. But it did not turn out to, you know, into a broadcast journalist career. However, now as CEO of Kidbox, I’m often doing media, so at least I got the media training under my belt that has helped me in my career.
Daniel: Yeah. I imagine it’s, well, whether it’s you’re speaking in front of the cameras, speaking in front of your team, it’s almost the same thing in just a different forum, pretty much.
Daniel: So you had a, you know, quite a big family with, I think three other sisters?
Miki: Yeah, three older sisters. I’m the youngest of four girls.
Daniel: And it’s funny that you are the, I don’t know if you’re the most outspoken of the four, but it sounds like that’s something you really enjoy doing. What are some of the memorable stories you have of growing up with them in your household?
Miki: Well, I think being the fourth, I spent a lot of time in the Johnny jump up, you know, just dangling from the doorway in the background, because my parents had their hands full with my three older sisters. But I think what, you know, growing up youngest of four girls and there’s a 10-year span between the oldest and myself, I was always running to catch up in many ways, and looking for their attention and, you know, working hard, and seeing the examples that they set in their school and in their life choices, and so, you know, there was a lot of mentoring going on built into my childhood by my sisters.
Daniel: And I also find it very interesting to understand, you know, in a family of, you know, we have multiple kids and your parents are obviously busy working, and so, you know, they’re obviously trying to raise the family. But my intuition says, from what you’re saying, it sounds like your sisters also had a big part in your upbringing too. What was it like growing up in terms of, like, your day? Was it something where it was very planned out and you had lots of activities? Was it something where you had the freedom to choose what you did? You know, describe to me what the household was, like, you know, when you were going up, maybe in [inaudible 00:05:42].
Miki: Sure. Well, I grew up in a small town about 60 miles due west of Chicago, so it was very rural. And so there was a lot of freedom that went along with that. You know, we’d come home after school, get our homework done, and then we were, basically, sent out to play and not allowed back in the house until dinner was served.
And two of my older sisters and myself, we were all competitive swimmers, so that was a huge part of my childhood, getting up early in the summers to go to swim-team practice, and having swim meets and evening practices. And that was a year-round experience, so I was in the sport in the winter, swimming indoors, and in the summer, swimming outdoors. And so that was a huge…that competitive spirit really came from my swimming experience.
And then I just have really fond memories of, my parents had a huge garden and shortly before dinner, you know, we’d be sent out to pick whatever we were gonna eat from the garden that evening, and chucking corn on the cob, and, you know, just very Midwestern, sort of almost Norman Rockwell-type memories. And I started working, actually, when I was nine years old, I had a paper route. So that was a big part of my day as well, which was, you know, I delivered newspapers in my neighborhood every day after school and on Sunday morning. That’s where the work ethic started kicking in as well.
Daniel: What was the story of how you got that job?
Miki: Well, I figured out it was the only real job that you could make money out at the age of nine. I wanted to start saving my own money. And there was an older boy in my neighborhood, his name was Stevie Wells, and he had the paper route that my house was on actually. And that was the route that I coveted the most, but I had to start with a different route several blocks away, and so it was a longer walk and a little more work.
And then when he was ready to retire from delivering newspapers when he was in high school, then I took over his route and handled all my direct neighbors and my parents’ friends. So it was a really enjoyable experience.
Daniel: Do you remember what you were trying to save up for? What was the catalyst of, “Oh you know what? I probably should save money as an enterprising nine-year-old.”
Miki: Yes, probably when I was nine, it was more, you know, crafts and toys and stuff. And then as I got older, it was definitely all about fashion, and going to the mall, and shopping for clothing.
Daniel: And I guess that’ll be, you know, it related to what you’re doing now. But do you remember when you were growing up, like, where you enjoyed shopping the most? Or, you know, is there certain outfits or clothing that like sticks out to you that you still remember today?
Miki: Yeah. We lived near this really cute town called Geneva, Illinois, and that’s where I discovered boutique shopping. You know, specialty, small, privately-owned stores, where there would be sort of a curated selection of merchandise and you could discover things that, you know, not everyone was wearing at school. And then, of course, I grew up in the era of Limited and Limited Too, and Express, and all of those mall-based brands, Banana Republic and Gap, and so, of course, I shopped those as well.
Daniel: And I find it interesting that, you know, jumping ahead to after Northwestern, your career started in kids clothing, or I guess like teenage clothing.
Miki: Full circle.
Daniel: Yeah. And you’re also, I mean, I’m just judging by the title you had, you were running e‑commerce for Tween Brands, right in the heart of when there was like every dot-com of something that was worth like a billion dollar.
Daniel: So, what was that like when you started, you know, 1999, 2000? I imagine the first half is like super exciting, and the second half is like, what’s going on around me?
Miki: Yeah, after the bubble burst?
Miki: Well, yeah. I mean my first job out of college was at a creative marketing agency, and so that’s where I really learned the art side of marketing. And then I worked for a company called Direct Marketing Technology that was later acquired by Experian. And we worked with all the great direct to consumer brands which were catalogs back in the day, so I worked on the J.Crew account and L.L. Bean account, and Crate & Barrel, and worked with all the great catalogers of the day. So when I was hired by a client to help launch the direct to consumer business for Limited Too or Tween Brands, it was not a big jump for me because I just thought of digital as a new medium, but all the rules of direct marketing and direct response still applied.
I was really intrigued by e‑commerce, and believed very early on that it was going to be big, much to the chagrin of many of my co-workers and other people in the industry that didn’t necessarily want to hear that because there was a lot of fear of what’s going to happen to stores and store traffic if e‑commerce gets big. I really looked at it as the beginning of the shift of the consumer really being in charge of the purchase decisions.
And then obviously, several years later, we saw that amplify in a meteoric way with the rise of mobile.
So yeah, so I just really, I believed in e‑commerce and retail. And I’ve always loved consumer brands. I’ve always had to work for companies where I am the customer, I believe in the product, I understand the value proposition, and that’s been, you know, a big part of my journey.
Daniel: And in, I don’t know if it really had an impact to your day to day job, but when, I mean, there’s like the day when the markets melted. What was it like at Limited Too? Do you remember what those days were like [crosstalk 00:12:08]?
Miki: I think there was definitely, yeah, a fear of investing in something that was wildly disrupted by, you know, these overvaluations, as you mentioned, and then the burst of the bubble. And they certainly shifted their thinking, and it just happened to coincide with the same time that I had made a decision in my personal life to follow my now husband, then boyfriend, to New York. So I moved on. And then that’s when I started my eight-year chapter at Ralph Lauren, also working in the digital division for the first three years, and then over the next eight years, really growing into an omnichannel role and ultimately, becoming SVP of marketing for all of Polo retail group. So, physical stores and digital e‑commerce.
Daniel: And you see, also, I never really made that connection, but really direct to consumer has become this, you know, over-popularized term today, where you have this list for direct to consumer brands and, you know, all the major consumer-packaged good companies are trying to launch their D2C divisions, but it’s only been around since the catalog days, since the, you know, you mentioned J.Crew, Crate & Barrel, and the Sears catalog, in many ways was the birth of, you know, the e‑commerce revolution before there was such thing as e‑commerce. Reflecting back on that, is there any parallels that you’ve learned from, you’ve been focusing on the marketing side of things that you saw were effective back in, you know, the early 90s that you’re still using today? Whether it’s at Kidbox or, you know, other places you’ve stopped along the way.
Miki: Yeah, it’s funny, because it used to just be a longer timeline of developing a catalog or a direct mail piece. But the rules that we’re following today in terms of what works with consumers, one example being personalization, being able to version the messaging based on the customer’s behavior and preferences, that’s still very much alive. We just did it with swapping out the cover of a catalog, or changing the order of the pages, or, you know, or personalizing the message in the way of a more personal letter, for example. Today, it’s done with data science, and algorithms, and swapping out images, but that idea of personalization is very much the same. And that is one of many examples.
Daniel: Back then, like, what would be your data source? Like when let’s say, at Experian, which was, you know, really before e‑commerce, and you had access to that data, like, how would you make a decision on, “Okay this customer gets this cover versus that cover.” What did you use to make those choices?
Miki: Right. Well, we had these very robust databases that still exist. And it was really the, you know, the rise of CRM, customer relationship management, or marketing, and so we would look at things like, we called it RFM, recency frequency monetary. How recently somebody purchased, how frequently they do so, and the amount of money they spend. And that would put them in a different segment across the customer file. And then we would look at category preferences, and what was the most recent purchase that they made. And because that’s top of mind for them, so that type of data would drive the decisions around how to version that piece, then get it into the hands of the customer.
Daniel: Sounds like everything that we do today, people have been doing it…
Miki: Exactly. It’s just the old school way of doing it.
Daniel: Yeah. I guess we just do it, I guess, faster and almost instantaneously. So now you can customize my email as it loads, post to waiting for my next catalog.
Daniel: But I mean, jumping forward to your time at Kidbox, I’m curious, you know, what’s the story of how you got involved there? Because like, when, you started in kids or tweens, and then you had a, you know, quite a long career in luxury, higher-end fashion. You know, why the jump into something new and small? Because not everyone makes that decision.
Daniel: So I’d love to hear the story behind that.
Miki: Yeah, so I met Haim Dabah, our founder, the founder of Kidbox. He’s now our chairman, and, we call him our chief giving officer. He really loves to focus on the philanthropic aspect and the social mission of the brand. And I met him in October of 2015. We were recommended to one another by an industry recruiter who had known both of us for quite some time. And he was looking for somebody who had a proven track record of scaling digital businesses.
You know, he, I think, believes that he wanted somebody who was a parent and truly understood the convenience and value proposition that he was looking to build. And he had this really simple 10-page deck of what Kidbox was going to be, and I understood it right away. And this was also right on the cusp of the rise of subscription/curated boxes, and this idea of putting the decision making of what gets selected into the hands of the brand, as opposed to the hands of the customer. And so it appealed to me right away.
At the time, I was actually in a president and CMO role down in Florida at Chico’s FAS, and things shifted there where it made sense for… And my family was really urging to move back up to the tri-state area. We missed the four seasons of the year, and we did not like the heat so much in the summer. So we packed up and moved back up, and I just decided that, you know, doing a startup and the opportunity to be CEO, my first CEO role, to be able to build it from the ground up, be a part of building a culture and setting a tone, and making sure that it stays intact, and then being able to scale a business that was groundbreaking and disruptive, really appealed to me.
And as I looked at my resume, while I always worked for the “startup division” of each of the companies that I worked for, the high growth divisions, I’d never truly built something from scratch, and so that was an opportunity that I just thought was once in a lifetime, and something I wanted to add to my resume and prove that I could do.
Daniel: Well, it seems like you’ve been doing a great job at it so far along the way. I’d love to dive deeper there. There’s a lot of people who, I imagine, will listen to this that are, you know, in a similar role to where you were in 2016 at Chico’s, who are leading a division, have built something internally, and, you know, are either presented with an opportunity like you got, or are seeking out something like that.
Maybe the best way to frame this is like, if I were to talk to Haim and ask him, you know, why did he pick you and trust you to build his vision opposed to, I imagine he was introduced to many other people, given, you know, his experience, like, what do you think, you know, in your interpretation, what do you think stood out about you and your experience, or about your connection with him that made him say, like, “Hey, I’m gonna partner with you on this,” versus, you know, anyone else he could have met?
Miki: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard for me to speak for him. But he has shared with me several times as we meet with people, you know, throughout the last two and a half years, so I’ve heard him speak about it. But he, as I mentioned earlier, wanted, you know, somebody who had a proven track record. But I think, probably even more importantly was the connection that he and I had, and the ability to see a highly functioning working relationship and the opportunity to have a partner.
And, you know, I think it’s also really interesting because if you look at both of our backgrounds, Haim spent his career in wholesale and built brands that were distributed via wholesale. He started Gitano Jeans back in the day, brought premium denim to the masses, then sold that company to Fruit of the Loom. Then he started a company called Regatta, which brought Vera Wang to Kohl’s, and Karl Lagerfeld to Macy’s, and Missoni to Target, and so forth and so on. So this whole idea of bringing something luxurious to the masses was echoed in that venture. And he sold that company to Li & Fung, and then ended up working at Li & Fung for several years, running that and growing that division.
And then here I am, you know, several years behind him and his career, but completely dedicated to direct to consumer, to retail, to vertical brands that had both direct to consumer and wholesale distribution. And so I think our brains of our experience rounded each other out very nicely. And Kidbox is a combination, it’s a hybrid of the two things. We have a portfolio of over 180 brands, but we’re also developing our own exclusive brands. And we buy our product from the market, but at the same time, we’re building a Kidbox brand that is direct to consumer.
So it’s this combination of both of our collective experience that allows it to work because there haven’t been very many questions, but either one of us, you know, can’t answer between the two of us, that we can’t get it answered. And I think it really comes down to completing each other’s knowledge base.
Daniel: And you touched on something that I’d love to learn more about, on building your own brand. Because that’s certainly an important decision in that while, you know, between the two of you have the experience in developing something from, you know, a private brand perspective, organization-wise, it has some implications in terms of how you staff and how you hire, and the capabilities you have to build.
So, you know, what was the story behind that, you know, the idea of like, “Hey, we’re gonna create a brand”? You know, how did that idea come to be that you were gonna do that, opposed to simply curating other brands?
Miki: Well, because…
I think that’s the secret sauce when customers call you by name. And even though you’re assembling a portfolio of brand selection for them, they associate the experience with Kidbox. And that is, in essence, building a brand.
It’s also super important because we have our social mission. So for every box kept by our customers, we provide brand new clothing to children in need. And the social mission was extremely important when you’re building a socially responsible company to think of it as building an iconic brand. And then the customer understands that social mission, they understand that they’re partaking in that cause, and it just means more. There’s more emotional currency and there’s more, hopefully, you know, revenue currency, to be associated with building a brand as opposed to thinking of ourselves as a multi-department or brand generator.
Daniel: And you’ve answered the question I was going to probe on was, in the very, very narrow space of kids clothing on a subscription basis, they’re already many competitors, and indirectly, you know, you would be competing with major retailers that sell fashion and clothing for parents and kids. So it’s clear that there’s multiple things you guys are doing to stand out as a brand.
But from the social aspect, there’s, in terms of the rise of subscription commerce, there’s also been this rise of socially-conscious brands. And, you know, Tom started with their shoes, and it’s since been replicated in different ways with, you know, big and small companies. But, you know, whether it’s the criticism or the concern is that there are certain companies who will do it and, you know, tack on like, “When you buy x, we’re gonna give y to this charity,” and it’s a repeated formula. So what do you think it is about the way you guys have executed it that others can learn from this, saying, “Here’s a way to do it authentically,” versus, “Here’s a way that you could tack it on but actually has, like, no meaning to the customer”?
Miki: Sure. So it’s authentic because it started at the very beginning. We did not retrofit social mission into our business model. It started at inception. Secondly, we’re strictly providing brand new clothing to children and supplies to children in need. So these are children living in distressed situations. They could be poverty-stricken, living in shelters, living in foster care, children who have lost their belongings in an environmental disaster, which we’ve seen far too much of this past couple of years.
But I think in terms of how we do it, so we have a Kid’s board of directors, comprised of 12 amazing children from all over the country, who are already doing philanthropic things in their local communities. And they come and meet at Kidbox twice a year, and we spend a couple of days with them, giving them exercises to complete so that their fingerprints can be all over the Kidbox brand, helping us make selections, telling us which brands are important, weighing in on the package presentation and things of that nature. And then we mentor them on their social causes in their communities, and how can we help them spread the word.
And so it’s this idea of building a safe and vibrant community of socially conscious children. And because the social mission and the selection of the charity, once the customer tells us they’ve decided to keep the entire box, we prompt them to tell us which charities that we’re working with that season. We work with four different charities every season, and there’s six core seasons throughout the year.
And we prompt them to tell us which charity they would like us to allocate the goods to. And so what we’re hearing back from our customers is that the parents are starting the conversation with their children about the importance of giving back earlier in the child’s life than they would have otherwise, because of the Kidbox shopping experience. So it’s very integrated.
The other thing I would mention is that we had so much interest in our kids’ board of directors, and we actually just started calling for nominations for our new board in 2019. And we’ve had so much interest from children who did not make it onto the board, and we wanna be a very inclusive brand, that we’ve launched a little leaders program. So it’s really shining the spotlight on other children who may not be on our board of directors but are doing amazing things in their communities and helping amplify their messages.
And we’ve also assembled a group of community moms who are parents who want to take the time to do something meaningful and give back in their communities or in other communities. And so they mobilize and actually conduct what we call gives, where they bring this brand new product into these distress situations. This year, it’s been highly focused on environmental disasters, so we had a group of community moms put together a big give of new clothing, brand new back-to-school clothing for children in the Carolinas who had suffered through the hurricane. And then we mobilized the group of community moms that went to the panhandle of Florida after that hurricane, went to California after the fires, and so forth and so on. The list goes on. We just had a group go to Alabama after the tornadoes.
So that has been extremely powerful in supporting the fact that we are a socially mission-driven company, and that it’s not a tack on, and creating this sort of groundswell of awareness that’s about doing good.
Haim Dabba, our founder has sat on the board of directors of delivering good for many, many years. So that’s also part of the authenticity, and that’s the organization that we formed our philanthropic strategy with. And he learned firsthand what it means for these children who are accustomed to receiving gently worn, hand-me-down products, at best, when they receive brand new clothing with the tags on, and it’s uniquely their item or their outfit, and how life changing that is and the impact it has on their dignity and self-confidence, which is quite amazing and powerful.
Daniel: I mean, as you’re talking about this, what’s like connecting for me is, you know, through something as, I mean, it’s not simple, I guess, to run your business, but something as simple as clothing, you’ve built this whole platform to enable so many different things that, you know, had Kidbox not existed, you know, no one would have outlets to do these things, whether it’s moms or kids or different things like that.
One thing that I think is unique is that you have this authority of your customers being kids, you know, helping you make decisions. Is there something on the business side, whether it’s like a product, or the way you’ve been marketing to customers, or something that was, like, unexpected, that came from the board of directors that has, you know, been successful for you guys today?
Miki: Well, it was funny, because one of the exercises we gave them, or the assignments we gave them when they were here was to help us, we always have a surprise and delight element to our box, so we always insert something extra special for the children that they weren’t necessarily expecting. Although we’ve started becoming pretty famous for our surprise and delight, so I think the expectations of our existing customers are very much…
Daniel: The bar has gone up.
Miki: …set in place. Yes, exactly. And so we gave them a whole assortment of items, and asked them which ones they loved and thought would be great for which ages and so forth. And our board of directors is comprised of ages seven all the way up to 14, so we get a nice mix of what’s appropriate for what age and one of the things that they were all rooting for was to put silly string in the boxes. And being a mother of two boys, I vetoed that decision because I did not feel that it was a good idea to make our parent customers unhappy that we were bringing silly string into their home when they released expecting it. So that’s just one example.
Daniel: If they have a stucco ceiling, that’s gonna be stuck up there for a lifetime.
Miki: Exactly, forever. Exactly. I’ve lived through it, trust me.
Daniel: I think I’d be in the copper when I was a kid springing it on my ceiling, and I remember when I was older and like, “Wow, this is still there, like, 10 years later in the same house.”
Miki: Yes, exactly. It’s notorious for sticking around.
Daniel: So, like, in terms of the items that you’ve included on that, like, what’s been the greatest hits? What have, you know, people been the most loved receiving as a surprise in their box?
Miki: Well, girls like, they like activities and crafts a little bit. So whenever we do something that’s activity based, we started out just putting a simple box of crayons in the box and stickers, and the inside of the box looks like it’s designed to look like a coloring book. So, they love that. We had these surprise balls that takes forever to unroll, and then inside are some trinkets and fun items like a mini pack of cards, and a pair of dice, and so forth and so on. Those have been really popular.
And now we’ve been doing a lot of really fun things with stamps and temporary tattoos. And those have been a really big hit. So we continue to up our game as we move along.
Daniel: I think one thing that I noticed nicely ties into it but you touched on earlier, is the technical side of the business, which is data, data science and how that drives… I imagine that’s a big part of how, you know, you decided to launch and continue to innovate on your own private label.
Daniel: But my interest is more on how you structure that in the company, because as an example, I was chatting with the former CMO of Boxed, and he was describing how they’ve built, you know, different pods of, they have a team dedicated to your first experience buying on boxed.com, and then that team is cross-functional with marketing and data science and so on. To me, that’s almost like everyone can have data science, but it’s how do you actually integrate it into your organization so that it is actionable and useful, and not some, you know, I pull a report, look at an excel file and decide that way. So, how have you integrated the data science functional capability at Kidbox to, you know, really take advantage of it?
Miki: Mm-hmm. Well, it really comes down to the architecture of the technology, and how we’ve architected our data stack and our technology stack to be data-driven. You know, when parents and children come to Kidbox and they complete the style profile, we collect all of that data, and it feeds into, so, all of the answers to the questions on the child’s style personality. Are they sporty? Are they city cool? Are they classic prep? Obviously, their age, their size, their name, their preferences, colors to avoid, colors that they love, things that they need more of, and what about their child is special.
And all of those answers to those questions feed into a proprietary algorithm that then hits up against our product catalog, and every item in our product catalog is flagged with a number of attributes that either qualifies it or disqualifies it from that box. And so that’s where we started. That’s sort of the foundation of our data science.
Now we’ve really, as we’ve evolved our technology product, we’re pulling in data from social listening, we’re pulling in data from the customer’s purchase history, what are the items they’ve returned? What are the items they’ve kept? Why did they love the items? Why did they return the items? And all of that data feeds into making every box better than the last. That’s, really, the ultimate goal. We want our customers to keep the entire box, we want them to love it, and we want them to feel that as time goes on, and as they continue their relationship with us, we understand them more and more at every turn. And so that’s, really, the philosophy of leveraging data.
And then, you know, how we think of data science is sort of twofold. We think of it as business-facing, so what are the data elements that we can capture within the business, and the insights that inform how we work, whether that’s how we buy, what brands we go after as we continue to expand our brand portfolio? What’s the appropriate timing to launch a new season? Things like that.
And then we have, obviously, the data that I was speaking about earlier, which is, what are the actionable insights that allow us to create a more personalized consumer-facing experience?
Daniel: I imagine it must also tie into, even before someone jumps into the funnel from like an acquisition and performance marketing perspective. I’m curious if there are any, you know, things you’ve learned in terms of like where are you finding your best customers, whether it’s from channels or audiences as the business has grown as a result of the data you’ve been collecting?
Miki: Well, one of the things that I just find astounding about this business after many, many years of being a marketer and understanding database marketing and customer files and so forth, is that we’re truly building a brand for America. We are only domestic so far, although we do have aspirations of going international. But as far as the United States goes, it is the most diversified portfolio of customers, both in terms of socio-economic means, so we’re capturing customers household income of 50k to 75k, all the way up to 250-plus, and geographic. If you look at our shipments on an annualized basis, the heat map of the United States is so beautifully, evenly distributed.
So there’s, you know, I think there’s a lot of companies that tend to be really heavy on the coast. And while we do have high penetration in those highly populated areas, we also have these really strong markets in, sort of, second-tier cities and rural areas, and everything in between. And I think what’s resonating is this experience that we’re delivering, literally, over the threshold of the household into the hands of the customer. And we call it an opening ceremony that takes place where the children open the boxes and then these mini fashion shows take place in living rooms across the United States. And it’s this convenience factor for the parents. It’s the value that we’re offering with, you know, seven items, premier branded items for $98. But most importantly, I think the emotional currency along with the social mission, is the experience that we’re creating that they’re sharing together. We survey our customers constantly and 90% of our customers say that they wait to, the parent and the child wait to open the box together. And I think that that’s pretty powerful in terms of it’s delivering an experience.
And how I think of the landscape today, and why Kidbox has seen such amazing growth, because it’s resonating with customers, is that…
we truly look at the front door of every household as the new door of retail. And the power of bringing a product into the home, into the hands of the customer versus, something hanging on a rack in a store hoping that a customer walks by, comes in, and finds that item, is what’s really disrupting the landscape.
Daniel: Well, you really have the ability to almost, you know, be anticipatory. It’s like anticipatory commerce as opposed to recommending. It’s like, “Oh, because you bought this, you should buy this.” It’s almost, with the data you have, you could, you know, if you’re not already doing this today, you can almost say like, “I know because of x, y, z or observed, you’re going to need this in, you know, this month, and that’s why I’ve sent it to you.”
Daniel: For, you know, kids. You know, there are so many other factors you could pull in based on geography, based on who knows what, that you’re built into, which is really exciting. Given the diversity of your customers, I’m curious, this is more of a tactical question on acquisition channels, but like, I don’t know what’s the best way to answer it, because I’m sure there’s many answers to it. But, you know, outside from what I imagine is, you know, your traditional, well tradition has changed now, but your traditional Facebook, and Instagram, and digital marketing, have there been new acquisition channels that you’ve recently been exploring that are working, you know, well for you guys?
Miki: Yeah. So it’s really been a combination of organic and paid. Our early growth, certainly, we’ve just exceeded 700,000 Facebook followers. So this authenticity and word of mouth, and the fact that that opening ceremony takes place, and when parents discover Kidbox and then they have the experience, it lends itself so beautifully to social media because they’re snapping photos of this, you know, fashion show that I spoke about. So there’s been a really nice organic groundswell. And parents are proud of themselves when they discover Kidbox, and when they’re proud of themselves, they share it. So that’s been very powerful.
Obviously, Facebook targeted advertising continues to be really strong for digitally native brands. And we’ve been active in that. And the combination of organic and paid on Facebook has been truly revenue driving, and interests and following driving.
And then, you know, we have the usual suspects of search engine optimization, search engine management, paid search, affiliates. Obviously, we’re doing…email marketing is huge with our existing customers, but also with our prospects, because we are capturing thousands and thousands of email addresses from customers who haven’t decided to pull the trigger just yet, but they came and gave us their information and filled up the style profile so we can prospect to them in a very personalized manner.
And then it’s a mix with traditional. We’ve seen success this year with direct mail, which we’ve rolled out. We’ve launched TV in line with our back-to-school season in 2018. And TV has been very effective. And then, you know, I think just the combination of that with the work that we’re doing in the community along the lines of the social mission. It’s been a nice formula that is a mix of traditional and digital.
Daniel: And in terms of, because, I mean, it’s pretty clear there’s a lot of things that you’re doing outside of these channels that is brand related opposed to, you know, acquisition related. But from the, you know, types of media that you’re putting out in, let’s say, the Facebook environment, how do you decide or how have you balanced what is performance bottom of the funnel, let me convert you and, you know, there’s a certain type of way that looks and feels, versus ads that may be simply promoting, you know, all the social good that you’re doing that is incredibly important to your brand, but, you know, may not necessarily drive someone to go fill out a quiz or, you know, re-target them to go buy. How do you make that decision from, whether it’s like a budget perspective, or time perspective, in the business today?
Miki: Yeah, so the example you just gave, which is something we do, we carve out a certain percent of our budget to be dedicated to ads that are strictly about the social mission. And that’s another example of how important it is to us to make sure that the customer understands that. And then, you know, because it is a fairly new way of shopping, and experiencing, and buying, there’s a lot that goes into educating the consumer, the prospect of what this is. You know, what is Kidbox? How does it work? What can I expect? And so there’s a lot of messaging that falls along those lines.
And then, obviously, of course, you know, the brands that we carry, the value that we’re providing, the experience, you know, a lot of the content that works really well in the ad space is that content that is, in many cases, user-generated content. Content that is truly indicative and representative of the actual experience. And that’s what’s resonating quite effectively as well.
And we’re doing a lot of testing with video. And we have so many unboxing videos on YouTube that customers have just posted themselves. And, you know, figuring out how to harness that and leverage it to share, to help inform, and educate, and explain what it is, I think will be really powerful as well. But we haven’t quite gotten there yet.
Daniel: I imagine there are so many other untapped areas, whether it’s, you know, like a platform like Musical.ly or others, where, you know, kids are probably creating a lot of content that they’re probably talking about Kidbox and, you know, I’m sure you’re listening to it, but you could expand to that to an almost an infinite way, whether it’s through audio, or video, or taking content from so many different places. I’m surprised you haven’t done a kid’s podcast with your boards of directors yet.
Miki: Absolutely, we’re working on it. That would be fun. But, yeah. And I think, you know, one of the things that I love about brands that are focused on children, is that everything needs to be so thoughtful. And it’s truly about building safety for them and a safe environment where they can thrive. And so there are a lot of things we say absolutely no to because it doesn’t fit in that mold of creating that safe and vibrant community.
Daniel: Well, what will be an example of that? Because I think that’s actually an incredibly important thing for, especially giving a safe space for kids who are otherwise, the internet is not necessarily the safest and nicest place for kids in general. Like, what’s an example of them, you know, some things you’ve turned down and said no to?
Miki: I mean, I think, right, without being too specific, there may be just, you know, online destinations that advertising works, but the adjacency doesn’t make sense for our brand, for example. And also, you know, really making sure that the content and the commerce are very equally distributed so that we can be thoughtful, because we’re all about the personalization of the child, and that comes with great responsibility.
Daniel: That will make sense. I know we have a few minutes left, and I was hoping to get through a few more personal questions.
Daniel: And one that I think always generates some interesting stories is, you know, if I would look at, you know, if anyone looked at your LinkedIn or your resume, it seems like your career has been this up into the right, upward trajectory. And I’m sure day-to-day, it doesn’t always feel that way, but I’m curious, you know, whether it’s at Kidbox, or, you know, whether it’s at your paper route or somewhere in between the two, is there a favorite failure of yours that, you know, in the moment, you’re like, “Oh, my God, everything is gonna crumble around me,” but then looking back, that actually, you know, unlocked something for you, that comes to mind?
Miki: If I had to sum up a common theme among my failures, and there have been many, and luckily there’ve been more successes, so that’s how that keeps things going up into the right. But it’s always been around communication, or the failure to speak up. Trusting my gut on when I know that a decision is being made that’s not in the best interest of either the employees, or the customer, or myself, and not speaking up about it early enough to avoid going down that direction.
So, you know, I’ve been very reflective in my career, and I do believe absolutely, you learn so much more from failure than you do from success. And you learn to appreciate success so much more when you’ve experienced failure. That it’s really important to continue to reflect, and, you know, I just don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. I believe in listening and gathering information from a lot of varying points of view. I think that’s how you arrive at the best decisions. And being decisive, you know, making a decision and moving forward, because if it is the wrong decision, well, at least you’ll find out sooner than later. So, you know, that’s been a theme as well.
And I think a lot of my leadership style and my management style goes back to my mid-western roots, but sometimes there’s a politeness that comes with that that doesn’t always serve me well, you know, as an executive. So it’s really making sure that you always continue your education, and that you’re never fully baked as a leader. We’re all a work in progress, no matter where we are in our career. And I think taking that seriously is a big part of maintaining success.
Daniel: I mean, if you would think back to your, I guess, this would be when you were in, maybe at Northwestern or, you know, around that time, if you think back to maybe your 25-year-old self, you know, what were you doing at that time, and what would you tell her was the experiences you’ve had today?
Miki: That’s a great question. You know, I very much continue to and have always, and certainly did when I was 25. And, you know, I’m from a generation X, from a different generation. We had a different mentality than, certainly, the younger generations do today when entering the workforce. And I really just kept my head down and let the work speak for itself, and knew that if I did that and continued to do that, I would continue to take on more responsibility, and receive promotions, and get that next job, and so forth and so on. And that’s rang true.
I think, you know, there are things about having 24 years under my belt, I guess, or 20, gosh, 27 years under my belt now, of a career, versus having, you know, three or four years. But I think, you know, the thought of having fun, bringing humor to work, asking more questions than giving answers, and surrounding yourself with good people. So when it’s about being younger, it’s about making sure that you’re aligned with the right manager, that you build the right relationships with the right counterparts.
And then when you’re an executive, it’s more about surrounding yourself with, you know, building your team to round out your expertise, and making sure that you’re hiring people who are smarter than you are at those subjects, but probably, most importantly, having a really strong network of supporters. And whether that’s, you know, I have amazing mentors in my career, I’ve been so fortunate and certainly, could not have done what I’ve achieved without them.
Daniel: And if you’d share, maybe, some tactics or tips like what do you think? Because everyone wants mentors and supporters but, you know, not everyone is either good or knows, you know, how do I do it? But if you look back, like, what do you think the things that you’ve done in your career that have helped you build this network that, you know, others could take away and, hopefully, try to replicate themselves?
Miki: It’s really about time management. I’ve always been able to carve out 5% or 10% of my time to either network, whether that’s going to an event, or taking a coffee appointment with somebody who a colleague thinks that I should meet. And now it’s been much about mentoring younger talent, and being approached by up and coming, you know, many times, women professionals, and taking the time to meet with them and sort of pay it forward, if you will, not to sound cliché.
But also, I think it’s, you’ve got to ask. You know, to me, it can be intimidating. I remember when I first met Mindy Grossman, she was the former CEO at HSN, and now she’s at Weight Watchers, and she has had a long and storied career, and she was somebody who I’ve just always respected and been amazed by. And when I finally had the opportunity to work directly with her as part of my board responsibilities at shop.org and then National Retail Federation, I simply just mustered up the courage to ask her if she would be a mentor to me. And she was, you know, on board from day one. And so that’s been a really important relationship.
And, you know, I would say my strongest mentor, the one I spend the most time with, was my first boss at Ralph Lauren. And I just saw her the other night. And, you know, it was really about preserving that relationship, so even when I moved on from that company and she was still there, I made sure that, you know, we kept that relationship intact, and that it wasn’t just part of working together. It was bigger than that. And it’s stood the test of time. Yeah.
Daniel: Yeah. And it shows. I know we’re up on time, so I really just have one last question for you that I think is very interesting as well, is, you know, you’ve done quite a few things. You’re exposed to a lot of things now with what you’re doing with Kidbox, you know, whether it’s professionally or personally, what’s left on your bucket list as things that you, you know, hope to do one day in the future?
Miki: Well, I’ve always wanted to shift, at some point, into education. And I don’t know what that looks like, it could be as simple as doing an adjunct professorship, or it could be a complete, you know, shift in my career focus. My mom’s funny. She’s always saying, “You work too hard, when are you gonna be a professor?”
But for now, you know, I’m very focused on building business, and using my skills and my knowledge to do something that can build livelihood and build an amazing experience for other professionals, and continue to be in a space, you know, specifically, retail at such an interesting time where everything is changing so rapidly. It’s really exciting, and I don’t think I would wanna get away from that anytime soon.
Daniel: Well, it’s like you’re in a good place, whether, you know, from what you’re doing with Kidbox, it’s definitely a platform where you could easily expand into education in a lighter or very heavy way, or, you know, what you’re doing in the industry, I think is another form of education of, you know, speaking, and sharing, and having conversations like this. You know, people have a lot to learn from you, so…
Miki: Thank you.
Daniel: I appreciate you taking the time to chat, and I know I look forward to seeing you again at some point soon next time I’m in New York.
Miki: Okay, great. I appreciate it, Daniel. That was fun.
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