Trunkaroo founder: “The start-up scene in London is so vibrant”
Trunkaroo – a start-up that designs delightful and enriching hands-on projects for 3-8 year olds and delivers them through a monthly subscription – won both the audience and judges’ vote at TechPitch 4.5 on 11 May 2016, and is now in discussions with a large global toy brand they met with at the networking portion of the event. We caught up with Trunkaroo founder Sahar Meghani to find out about her career’s origins, the inspiration for Trunkaroo, and how she plans to grow the business.
-Sahar, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional story?
Thanks so much for having me! I moved around a good bit growing up and have lived in five different countries, with the last four years here in London. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I knew from a young age that my dream was to start my own company, but I also wanted to be open to different experiences along the way.
I studied Economics and Political Science at Wellesley College in Boston (Hillary Clinton’s alma mater!). Upon graduating, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to, do but I knew that I wanted to work with smart people and learn how to build a business. I moved to New York and worked for several years in investment banking and private equity on Wall Street, which was a gruelling but fabulous experience that gave me a strong foundation in business as well as some amazing mentors and friends.
I then was lucky enough to be accepted into Harvard Business School to do my MBA. It was really then that I became intrigued by the start-up world. I took classes with people like Eric Reiss – the creator of the Lean Startup methodology – and spent time with fantastic young entrepreneurs who were literally shaping the way people lived their lives. That experience inspired me to leave the world of finance for Silicon Valley. I did Business Development at LinkedIn in the Bay Area and then was the Head of Product for Everline.com here in London. Both experiences really helped me understand how to work with developers, sell products, delight customers, do digital marketing and run a start-up. With these experiences under my belt, I finally decided to take the plunge last year to create my own business, Trunkaroo.
-What inspired the idea for Trunkaroo?
Trunkaroo is a monthly subscription delivering hands-on art and “STEM”-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) projects for 3-8 year olds in the UK.
I initially set up Trunkaroo out of a personal frustration over current offerings in the market. As an aunt to three nieces who are all very creative (and require constant entertainment!), I struggled to find high quality, design-led toys that were also smart and gender neutral. I started spending hours online coming up with fun and educational projects to do with them only to spend even more time and money shopping for all the paints, googly eyes, test tubes and pipe cleaners required to do them! It was a painful and time consuming process for me, but watching them gasp at an erupting volcano we had created or invent new musical instruments and perform in a rock band was incredibly special.
I realized then how crucial such hands-on projects are to harness creativity and curiosity in young kids, but also how difficult it is for time-poor parents to actually do them (and avoid the temptation of turning on the TV or handing over an iPad!).
-Where did you start once you had the idea?
I initially tested the concept with my nieces and their friends – they particularly enjoyed the science experiments. To get a better understanding of how children learn and what parents struggle with most, I started talking to early childhood teachers, interviewing parents, and attending “maker” fairs. I created sketches of product ideas and actually went into people’s homes to watch and record families playing with our early prototypes. We brought in teachers and developmental experts to help us review our research and iterated on our products continuously. Very quickly I realized that there was a real gap in the market and that I might be onto something pretty exciting!
We were able to build a small but active community of early supporters so when people started inquiring about holiday gifts we released our MVP product last December (2015) and sold single Christmas art and science trunks on our website (which I built myself!). The response was phenomenal and the “live” feedback we received was tremendously helpful. It took a few months to get the current website live and new products designed – we launched officially in April 2016.
-What is the status of Trunkaroo now in terms of employees, office space, assets, funding, geographic reach, etc?
Trunkaroo has been live for just over two months and we are now focused on marketing via social media, schools, local businesses and through partnerships. The team is now five people including content writers, graphic designers and illustrators. I’m hoping to start fund raising for our first round in the autumn.
-Tell us why Trunkaroo has a STEM focus?
There is a large body of research today that shows that children are born tinkerers – they are naturally inclined to learn by doing and they enjoy high self-esteem and a sense of confidence through the things they make. At this pivotal 3-8 age range, their minds are like sponges – the more topics they are exposed to the more they are able to discover about their interests and passions.
We specifically chose to focus on “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) or “STEAM” (A is for arts) because there is a growing consensus among experts that building, making and experimenting helps children become creative thinkers and problem solvers. STEM-based education also breaks traditional gender stereotypes (this phenomenon of pink and blue aisles in a toy store). We strongly believe that STEM exposure early on sparks kids’ interest in the sciences and helps prepare children for the fast-changing technological innovation they will undoubtedly experience in their lives. Trunkaroo is the only company consistently creating STEAM-based projects for the 3-8 age range in the UK.
-What advice would you give to entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses?
The best advice I would give is to just do something! It can be really overwhelming to think about all the things you must do to be successful in business and people often compare themselves to much more established start-ups that make it look so easy. Even the founders of Uber and Deliveroo started somewhere! So whether it is doing research, setting up a coffee, applying for a business plan competition or picking up the phone to contact a potential supplier, commit to that step and do it. It feels scary to put yourself out there and yes, at times you may experience rejection, but over time you’ll find people who share your passion and who are eager to help you succeed.
-How did you find out about TechPitch 4.5? What led you to apply to pitch, and have you pitched anywhere else in the UK?
The start-up scene in London is becoming so vibrant and Tech Pitch 4.5 has become a staple of the community. I am lucky to have a good network of mentors and advisors and one of them encouraged me to apply. It was my first pitch event actually, so given that Trunkaroo won both the judges’ and audience vote categories I’m so glad we went for it!
-How did your pitch go?
Of course there are things that I would improve on but overall I was happy with the pitch because I feel I was able to accurately convey the ethos behind Trunkaroo. Distilling your idea down into three minutes is a very tough exercise and so I was pleased that the judges and audience got the idea and understood the business model right away. I’m really inspired and motivated by the work that I do every day so I feel like my passion for Trunkaroo came through in the presentation.
-How was the experience useful?
I found the experience tremendously helpful. For people who are unfamiliar with the process, founders are first asked to answer a series of questions about their start-ups, from the problem they are solving to their customer acquisition strategy and their scaling plans. The finalists are then invited to submit a short PowerPoint presentation with their pitchdeck. Forcing founders to explain their businesses in short, succinct paragraphs and then in a three-minute presentation really forces us to think critically about our businesses and to boil down how we plan to achieve our goals. The five-minute judges Q&A is also a great opportunity to practice answering questions about your business in real time and to demonstrate your understanding of your customer and market.
-Was the feedback constructive? Did you make any good connections?
Absolutely! The other start-up founders were inspiring and I’ve already had coffee with a few of them. At the event, I met a number of angel investors who expressed a strong interest in Trunkaroo and am currently in meetings with a large global toy brand discussing a potential collaboration for the coming months. Exciting stuff!
-What are your future plans/goals/hopes?
In the short-term, we are currently preparing for the school holidays with special summer themed boxes and ramping up for the Christmas period with some seasonal gifts. More generally, my goal for the brand and the product is to spark a curiosity in children and to make it really delightful and easy for families to create together. Overall, I’d love to give families everywhere the toy that I wish I had growing up.
Thanks, Sahar – it’s been great speaking with you.
Thanks for having me!