Stefanie Botelho is the Founder and CEO of Fitzroy Toys, an online B2B wholesale marketplace Botelho launched in 2014 to connect the toy industry. Botelho is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and a former investment banking analyst and VC.
The idea behind Fitzroy Toys originated with a toy-recommendation engine she built in a coding class at Harvard. In January, Botelho was named to Forbes Magazine's "30 Under 30" list of Enterprise Tech entrepreneurs for 2016.
In this interview, Stefanie shares her entrepreneurial experience as a child and how Fitzroy Toys came about. She also shares about handling failures, her greatest fear and how to handle disappointed clients. When asked about how to find ideal customers, she said reaching out to people to talk to them about their pain points is the best way to find customers.
Her advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:
Don’t give yourself excuses and let yourself procrastinate. Test your idea as soon as possible. Refine your assumptions and build a first version. From there, just keep going.
What ignited the spark in you to start a business? Where did the idea for Fitzroy Toys come from?
While most kids had a lemonade stand, I made and sold finger puppets to my classmates. Later on, I started shopping more frequently for toys for friends and family and loved discovering something new and unique to give to the little ones and big kid-at-hearts in my life.
That interest grew into a toy recommendation engine I built and ran while I was at Harvard Business School. As I started spending more time with the brands I was recommending, I saw there were several inefficiencies that still exist in wholesale. As a result, I decided to start Fitzroy Toys, an online marketplace that connects toymakers to retailers.
We provide toymakers with broader distribution at a lower cost and give retailers a 24/7 platform to easily discover unique products. We want to ensure retailers have the best products to enable their customers to learn, develop, and grow.
Because we’re focused on B2B distribution, we’re looking to redefine tech standards for a large, antiquated industry that is currently going through a reinvention with the entrance of a lot of fast growing, new players. We see makers, designers, mompreneurs, and inventors getting their toy ideas off the ground with crowdfunding and we are here to help them with their next step of getting their products onto online and offline shelves.
In your experience, what is the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?
Nothing replaces the hard work of reaching out to people to talk to them about their pain points. It’s easy to make your own assumptions but until you bounce them off the people actually using your product, you won’t know if you are building the right thing.
Talking to the wrong people can often point you in the direction of the right people. Have those conversations as soon as possible so you can iterate and correct course.
As a business owner, what is your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?
We are looking to shake up an old-school industry so we actively encourage a “no fear” culture at Fitzroy, whether that means speaking up in a meeting or proposing a new feature or reaching out to a new brand we think would be a good fit for our retailers.
When starting a business, do you recommend writing a business plan? Any resources or tools that can help new entrepreneurs write one?
I don’t think it is necessary to write a formal business plan but there are elements of the business you need to thoroughly think through like value proposition, market size, competitive landscape, revenue model, and customer acquisition. There are a lot of great (free!) online resources for one-page business plan landscapes and sample investor decks you can use to think through these questions.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Fitzroy Toys?
It’s true that it takes a village. I’ve been lucky to have mentors, investors, advisors, coworkers, friends, and family who have all helped me get to where I am today. They’ve kept me grounded through shortcomings and successes. I try to bring that idea of perspective to the culture at Fitzroy as well.
Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?
As much as it is part of our Fitzroy culture to consistently exceed expectations, it is inevitable to disappoint a user. When that happens, I look to address it by being transparent about what caused the disappointment and acting to correct it as quickly as possible.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
My users are a constant source of motivation. Whether it is a new retailer looking to stock the smartest selection for her opening day or a founder trying to expand her wholesale footprint, I want to build a company that supports them. I’m excited by how quickly retail is changing and the opportunities that shift presents.
Have you faced any failures with Fitzroy Toys? How did you overcome it?
I face challenges every day at Fitzroy that we have to overcome. The challenges are part of what make my job fun and get me excited to go to work in the morning. We’re working on a giant puzzle and every day we work on a new piece of that puzzle.
It’s not to say that there aren’t setbacks and disappointments but great things take time. Rejection and failure are things everyone deals with and your job is to push through them to keep building. What helps me is listening to or reading interviews with people who I admire, talk about their failures – it’s inspiring to hear about the struggles people have had to endure to get to where they are now.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten from another business owner or someone you admired?
Focus on your customer. It’s easy to be distracted by competitors, investors, and media but you’ll build a great business if you stay focused on your customer.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who have a business idea but don’t know where to get started?
Taking that first step to transform your idea into a business can feel scary. With any large task, you need to break it down into manageable pieces and tackle them one by one. Don’t give yourself excuses and let yourself procrastinate.
Test your idea as soon as possible. Start talking to your future customers to get feedback on your idea and see what they are willing to pay for it. Refine your assumptions and build a first version. From there, just keep going.