Product idea #13: Weekend Box Club
The founder discusses following his passion and quitting his job to launch his business – bringing education and creativity to busy family life
Founder: Andy Stephenson
Location: Newcastle and London
Date launched: April 2013
The product: Educational activity boxes for kids
Entrepreneur Andy Stephenson wanted a way to combine his passions for education, technology and sustainability and decided launching a business was the most logical solution.
Weekend Box Club produces activity boxes for children that encourage education and creativity, as well as facilitating family time by allowing and encouraging everyone to join in. The boxes are made up of activities from four categories: something to make, to cook, to read and write, and something with an ecofocus.
Boxes are delivered every fortnight – addressed to the child – with new tasks every week for kids to be creative with; including seeds, compost, craft sets and healthy receipts with ingredients.
The first-time entrepreneur hopes that by being fun and imaginative, the activity box will inspire kids to be conscious, explorative and creative – helping to improve the world in “his own little way”.
And although Stephenson remains modest, he has big plans for the business to create a whole range of educational and developmental kids’ products and reach a global market.
The business initially started out as self-funded and with Stephenson creating the boxes himself, but has since acquired finance and a small team and is now shipping over 25,000 boxes whilst constantly altering the product and marketing channels as the team learn to understand who their customers are and what they want.
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Below Stephenson tells us about his goal to disrupt the market and why having no additional finance at the early stages is a good thing – teaching you to hustle and drive the business forward…
Can you briefly describe your background Andy?
I think I’ve always wanted to improve the world (in my own little way) and starting Weekend Box seemed to be the most logical way to try and achieve that goal.
Where did the idea for Weekend Box Club come from?
I was looking for gift ideas for my nieces and nephews, and wanted to find something that was educational but in a really fun, creative way. I couldn’t find anything that was good enough so I quit my job and started Weekend Box!
Describe how your box is disrupting the marketplace?
Weekend Box brings parents and children together to make learning fun. Parents are busy (for a number of reasons) so we help deliver more family time by creating activity boxes that help children learn through play. Weekend Boxes contain creative activities and the bits you need in a neat package that pop right through your letterbox, addressed to your child. Our activities encourage kids to have loads of fun whilst learning and developing their skills!
Disruption is a big word, but we’re on a long journey to change the way that children learn and our aim is to create a whole spectrum of products, far away from just boxes.
What have you done to protect the IP of your products?
We’ve done all the usual business-IP bits like trademarks and whilst it’s never the easiest thing to do we’ve survived so far…
How did you finance Weekend Box Club?
I was self-funded initially and I think this was really important as not having money behind you makes you hustle more and incentivises you to get to revenue as quickly as possible. A couple of months later I received a £7,500 loan to improve the design of our boxes and then to sell more of them.
By this time we’d already worked out some channels we could start scaling. There’s a time and a place for raising investment for every company but it feels like too many people think they need to do this before they start!
We’ve shown there’s a market for Weekend Box with the 20,000 boxes we’ve shipped and so now we’re looking to raise investment with a much better proposition for investors.
Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your boxes to bringing them to the market.
It took just 30 days from starting to create our first boxes to signing up our first customer. Our prototype boxes were mainly things we’d bought and put together, but at that stage all we needed to know was whether people would buy into the concept of receiving boxes with activities inside.
From there, we’ve constantly iterated with every fortnightly box to test and improve different areas (a process which we still do now). Now our boxes arrive in a beautiful custom-made box which is literally the most exciting piece of post you will ever receive (promise!).
One of the hardest challenges we faced was really understanding our customers and their habits – spending time here has probably been the most useful thing we’ve done on our journey as new marketing channels, product variations and features have come out of this. It may sound like a cliché but actually picking up the phone and talking to the people buying your product can be invaluable.
Are the weekend boxes manufactured entirely by yourselves?
We proudly make all of our boxes in Newcastle. Constantly testing and tweaking our product is really important so being able to test something, send it out, measure responses and then build that into the next box is essential. We can do all this in a fortnightly window – if we moved production overseas we’d lose this flexibility and adaptability.
On top of making everything in the UK, around 68% of the contents that make up an average box are sourced within a two mile radius of our offices.
How do you distribute Weekend Box Club products – is it exclusively online or is it currently stocked elsewhere?
It’s just online, for now but we have hopes to expand our sales channels.
Do you have plans to take Weekend Box Club overseas?
Absolutely. We regularly receive enquiries from all over the world but unfortunately as we offer free delivery through the Royal Mail, it’s not possible for us to supply internationally just yet.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching their own subscription product business?
Create something people can buy as quickly as possible and then sell it – it doesn’t matter that it’s not perfect, it’ll save you wasting precious time and in my opinion it’s much better than spending hours on market research.
I’m half embarrassed and half impressed looking back at our first boxes but they allowed me to start selling a concept that people thankfully bought into and we’ve constantly iterated and improved since.
What are Weekend Box Club’s future plans?
To continue changing the way that children learn and develop key skills through our boxes and whatever new medium comes along next! We’re very keen to develop our characters further, so watch this space…