February 25, 2011
Building trust, tapping into an understanding, and selling products? These things are seemingly incongruous, but they are the ingredients of the model MightyNest is built upon.
MightyNest is distinguishing itself from other online retailers by offering the best products available. How do customers know they are the best? Based on the pledge the company makes regarding original research and a strict vetting process for vendors. The company’s style of mixing content and e-commerce for parents looking to outfit a household in non-toxic and safe (e.g. BPA-free, lead-free) is helping to build a strong brand – one that CEO and co-founder Chris Conn credits to the three things that sets them apart:
“Peace of mind we give customers; the time we save customers by doing the research for them and providing a limited selection of the best of the best; and our customer service.”
The company has a richer focus than simply being green and environmentally safe. Research time is spent on finding products that are non-toxic or safe for the home, and especially safe for use with children. Conn is clear that MightyNest aims to be more than simply an online seller of household goods. He describes the two-year old company out of Evanston, Illinois in terms of an ecosystem – interpreted as the living (employees and customers, and what each brings to the equation) and non-living (the best of the best in terms of safe products) interacting together creating a community.
In their research, Conn and his team have found a lot of conflicting evidence as to what is potentially harmful, and make it clear to customers what they’ve found, saving customers hours of time.
“There is a lot of judging in regards to parenting – if you do this, or don’t do this, you are a bad parent,” explains Conn.
MightyNest doesn’t judge; in fact the company wants to put an end to this judgment by getting to the facts and allowing MightyNest's customers to make choices based on fact.
Conn also applied a life lesson to the business that he learned from his mother; to tap into understanding, or the real meaning; that business and life can be more than just ‘selling’ or money. From this, a company that prides itself on a rigorous vetting process, to offer the best for those who want to provide the safest products for their household, was born.
Conn’s team consists of five people, with shared responsibilities yet distinction in their roles, in an office that also serves as a warehouse. As they are shipping almost 80% of their sales from their headquarters just north of Chicago. When asked about shipping, Conn explained:
“Drop ship was the plan. However, an average order contains 3 items, most from different manufacturers. Since our vision is to provide the best products in each category, we needed to ship it ourselves to ensure that vision was being executed throughout the process.”
We talked to Chris about MightyNest’s proof of concept phase, the company’s launch, funding and more:
Tech Cocktail (TC): Your experience lies in product development and business management, and you’ve clearly tapped into a market of passionate customers – can you describe the proof-of-concept phase for the MightyNest idea?
Chris Conn (CC): Let me tell you the three things that led us to starting MightyNest. First, I always knew I wanted to start my own company – I waited though to get to a point in my career where I knew I could manage it successfully. I started the company with a friend who was also an early investor. We both knew that when we started, we needed to “keep it lean”. After seeing others over-fund and end up choking on their investments, we didn’t want to set the company up for failure, so we started small, and were basically self-funded.
Secondly, five and a half years ago, before the birth of our own child, the realization that my wife hadn’t slept in weeks trying to figure out the all the different chemicals found in household products led us to realize there was a problem that wasn’t being addressed. We knew we weren’t alone in figuring this out. We started talking to everyone we knew about it, and while 1 out of 4 of them cared, they didn't have a solution either. Kristen and I thought, if we can solve this, we can have a great business.
TC: You describe MightyNest is a “business with a heart” can you elaborate?
CC: Our path has led us to mix content with commerce – most people say that if you have a customer in the sales funnel, you don’t let them out. We take the approach of getting our customers to understand the transaction they are about to make, in the hopes that they’ll come back. Our analytics have found that they do.
We select the best products, and only the best. Our tone is open; whether a customer is deciding to make a small change in their home, or are changing 50 things, we’re accepting. Whatever ideology or ethnicity or locale our customers may come from, they all share (along with us) one thing- the desire to keep their family safe.
The business with a heart concept extends to customer service – so much so that MightyNest staff tease Conn by calling him ‘the grandma-whisperer’ for spending so much time with bewildered grandmothers who come looking for products their children want for the grandchildren.
TC: In a way, MightyNest is a family business, since your wife is a co-founder. What is your role – are you still wearing many hats, or have you formalized roles within MightyNest?
CC: Initially, Kristen was the core for determining our product offering – she conducted all of the research and processed the feedback from parents. She said she’d help for a while, and then it just kind of happened that she was an integral part of the business. I oversee the business-side, and I don’t second guess what is happening with the content and product-offering areas.
TC: Your Facebook page is not only large, but very active. It serves as a forum to build your company's personality as well as a source of customer support and acts as a feedback mechanism. How important would you characterize the page (and allocating resources) for it as part of your outreach strategy and overall success? Was this by design, or were you surprised?
CC: When Facebook rolled out its advertising platform, everyone tried to drive a transaction – we took a different approach, and figured we’d add fans. Through trial and error, I think we were one of the first to figure this out. In the early part of last summer, we added a lot of fans with the message that we are here to help. Since the demographic on Facebook’s aligns with ours, we invested time in it.
We also invest in content; we create a blog post every day, and everyone on our team is on the Facebook account every day. It’s a shared responsibility. Facebook drives people to our site; however we need to build a relationship, and convert them to customers.
TC: Have you been totally self-financed? Have you taken funding, or are you looking?
CC: We self-funded our first year of operations and we are just wrapping up a round of investment from a phenomenal group of angel investors.
TC: What is the larger vision for MightyNest?
CC: We have a profit-mission and a purpose-mission. Today we’re an Internet business. Someday maybe we’ll be a catalog, maybe a store. I’ll be happy in the short-term to let three times as many people know that we exist – we’ve got the ecosystem to work, our analytics show that everything is consistent, if we can bring people into the site, provide quality content, add to our email list, we can make that conversion from curious visitor to customer.
Whether you're looking to build a “Mighty Nest” yourself or not, it's worth a visit to the site see the mixture of original content alongside product offerings. The parenting market is a tough nut to crack, yet MightyNest's heartfelt approach is resonating within that community.
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