Invest in Dylan Kendall Home, Change the World
Here's the full story.
Seven years ago, after I left Hollywood Arts, the charity I founded helping the homeless, I decided to bring back a footed bowl I made in my ceramics studio decades earlier that always made people happy. I had this crazy idea to try to manufacture ceramic bowls with feet and sell them online. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never worked in consumer products. I called my Board Chair at Hollywood Arts so I could show him this bowl with feet I made. He was open-minded but also dismayed! However upon seeing my handmade bowl with feet, he smiled and so I persisted.
A friend photogapher took some shots of the footed bowl, and sitting at my dining room table, I emailed those pictures to a few design blogs with my personal story. The bowl suddenly went viral! People all over the world fell head over heels for this little bowl with feet and started placing orders. I was floored. Overnight I had to figure out how to build a retail company! I travelled to factories, stored bowls in my living room, enlisted family members and friends to tie ribbons on boxes. Within a year, I held my first kickstarter campaign and expanded the collection, adding more footed products including mugs with feet and pet bowls on paws.
The most amazing part of all this bootstrapped work was the feedback from my customers, that's what kept me going. Customer reviews, emails...sharing how happy the ceramic footed bowls and mugs made them. The little footed bowls had tapped into something in all of us: a desire to see magic at our dinner tables, the joy we had as kids when we believed that anything was possible!
As demand grew so did my struggles with money. I have a top heavy company which means I buy a lot of product to get the best prices to sell mugs affordably, I warehouse a lot of items and then I start to sell. I started this company with a crazy idea not a lot of capital.
Thankfully Kickstarter had just launched so I used crowdfunding and small loans (the only ones I could get without a house to re-finance) to help make more product. I worked alone in my living room, from morning to night. By year three, I was selling several hundred thousand dollars worth of footed mugs to countries around the world!
I had my first set back in year four when a deal with a major big box retailer cost me about $40,000. I should have thrown in the towel, been grateful for the run I had, but at the same time, I had started to envision a new direction for my company. Customer feedback merged with my own personal values inspired me to add new products that had the same sense of fun as my footed ceramics and were made with the same level of attention and detail. I discovered that people were looking for kitchen products for their families that they could trust made by a company they could trust.
I met Martin Leon Baretto, an incredible artist from Uruguay, and together we started working on a line of eco products for kids and pets. I spent over a year working with a new bio-plastic made from bamboo. No one believed that families wanted bamboo plastic but I persisted. I believed. I never accepted less than perfect. I wanted a bio-plastic that performed like melamine plastic but was safer to use and I wanted dishware to be affordable so parents everywhere could make the best choices for their family. I also developed re-usable nylon bags and recylcable placemats. My caveat was that the products had to be responsibly-made, but also fun and value-driven so people everywhere could afford them.
I raised angel money for the first time last fall after six years of meeting with investors and hearing no. The investor wanted inventory so we put all the money into buying product. Unknowingly, I bought defective merchandise. Anyone who has ever worked with consumer products knows this is part of the process. Behind-the-scene deals, phony audits, charge-backs. I didn’t have the money to go to China to work with our factory so I trusted my sourcing agent, and I learned this lesson the hard way. In the end, I also didn’t have the money to sue the factory (everyone asked - we would have needed about $10K to retain an attorney). The company began to falter, I had to let go of our publicist, our ads person.
Without good product I forfeited orders for Amazon and Bed Bath and Beyond. The company projections were based on income from the ceramics - now lost to defective merchandise. This summer, two containers of eco products arrived for kids and for pets and the products look amazing! I put together a bridge plan and tried to raise $25,000 to buy ads on Facebook, Google and Amazon to let customers know about the new eco line and invigorate sales. I continued to try to raise money. I couldn't get traction.
The eco products were sitting in a warehouse which had just more than doubled their monthly storage from $10 a pallet to $25. Our monthly rent fees went from $600 to $1500. I was forced to liquidate the ceramics for .35 a mug to bring in some income (brought in $3,500, cost me $43,000, all lost). Thankfully TJ Maxx bought all the pet bowls at a better discounted price.
I read start-up case studies all the time. They sound magical, amazing. Look what someone did with grit, a strong work ethic, passion and commitment. But making an idea profitable is also luck, access, network, and money. I met with investors year after year and the gender discrimination I faced for my kitchen products company is rampant. I’ve been hit on, my company has been threatened, opportunities have disappeared when I made it clear that dating me was not part of the package.
Why haven’t I given up? Three reasons:
(1) I believe that we need good quality eco and safe alternatives to the products we use every day in our kitchens and that they have to be fun and make us happy;
(2) I have cultivated relationships with most major retailers: Target, Amazon, Overstock, Zulily, TJ Maxx, Kroger, Costco, and Bed Bath and Beyond, the company has market traction; and
(3) For women everywhere. I want women to know that they can build a company, they can work with factories, ship inventory around the world, and that they can raise money the same as a man if they have a good, proven-in-the-market idea. They don’t need a male business partner or a husband to be successful. They can do it on their own.
Last week, after I shot this video and after being told again by another investor who passed that “it's not because of my gender,” I had to make the heartbreaking decision to liquidate the brand new eco products. However, the liquidator has offered me the unique opportunity to buy back my products, so while I lose some margin by buying them back, I can also keep my company going while I look for investors.
If you want to see the same thing I do, better products for our homes that you love, and more women leading companies on their own merit, this is an opportunity to invest in the company, own a part of it, and /or buy back my products. Or share this campaign with someone who might have the vision and the capacity to help me disrupt the kitchen space with value-driven, loved, fun and trustworthy products for our kids and our pets.
As I say in the video, I have heard that a woman's place is in the kitchen. I also believe that a woman's place is at the head of a company making responsible products for our kitchens that you and your families can trust. Join me.