At the end of October 2021, or about nine months ago, I was finally pushing “live” on this website and the Cherieswood adventure was about to start. Today we put aside new products, suggestions and other articles and I will tell you a bit more about these first 9 months, what happened, what went well and of course, the biggest challenges!
First of all, if you are randomly reading this, let me tell you something about Cherieswood: we are an Italian brand specialized in wooden toys. We design and build innovative toys made of wood that follow the Montessori philosophy and that are designed to be unique and help babies learn new things. Our story is available on our website and it tells you about why I started Cherieswood (it’s pretty curious, so I highly suggest to read it).
I’ve decided to split this article in 3 parts to make sure it doesn’t become too long and that I can share valuable and useful information for other entrepreneurs in this space and for our customers. This is part 1, enjoy it!
Should I do it? Do I really want to build a company?
Cherieswood was born out of a hand-made gift I’ve decided to build for my best friend. Did I ever think about starting a company? NO! Even if I studied management engineering I spent the first 10 years of my career thinking about my future as a super cool business manager that would have scaled the corporate ladder year after year, working with customers and learning how to manage a (always) larger team of people. And in fact, I did that for almost 8 years but I couldn’t find joy and passion in that anymore: a few challenging customers and my desire to create things were constantly bringing me back to the idea of doing something different, potentially far from my desk.
The idea of building something from scratch was scary. While my parents have had similar experiences in the past, they felt it was a roller coaster and the Italian culture tends to be conservative and slightly risk averse, even if our country is home to some of the most iconic brands worldwide (Luxottica to mention one). Leaving your “posto fisso” (a permanent job ) is considered a huuuuge decision and people literally spend years thinking about it.
Needless to say, while thinking about this idea, I also tried to look for more challenging jobs in my space but nothing was actually as exciting and a few months into that limbo, I knew I had to make a decision and start somewhere.
April 2021 went by and my head was spinning but there was some good news: I would have built Cherieswood (my nickname has always been Cherie and from there I got to cherieswood) into a unique brand specialized in wooden toys!
How did I get to this idea? Well, I always liked wood and the idea of working with it really grew in me as the time passed. In 2021 I attended a workshop to learn how to work wood and by the end of it I really felt I could have enjoyed it more and more.
The early days AKA getting ready to go live
By June 2021 I made my decision: I would have left my full-time job in a large italian consulting company to start Cherieswood – I asked for a meeting with my manager to resign and since then I never looked back. Like every big decision it felt scary at first but it got more and more exciting as the time passed and by August 2021 I was already working on a variety of things. I wanted to build Cherieswood as an international brand with solid roots in Italy, where we design and produce everything. After an initial research and multiple conversations with tax consultants, Cherieswood was born! Still, all of it was still just on paper, I needed a website to start promoting and selling our wooden toys.
August was spent building our website: my partner and I ended up spending several days writing copy for our pages and really trying our best to communicate not only our brand but our values and why Cherieswood wanted to be a different and more unique brand. Some of our initial pages, like the one where I explain the Montessori philosophy behind our products, have been written in those days and since then we have tried to add more information and make them as useful as possible for our customers.
Building the first prototypes
While I was working on the website I also had to start “investing” (this is the way you should think of things where you are not making any money and buying super expensive equipment!) in a few new tools for my laboratory and at the same time I had to start producing baby gyms to make sure I had a minimum of stock for the first customers: up until then I was mostly experimenting with things and I had built just a few baby gyms, so moving to a “bigger” production hasn’t been easy and I ended up working with my dad on several different changes. From wood cutting to every following step we tried to engineer the process while preserving the quality that I strongly wanted to keep in my products.
Coming from a world of digital products where everything was ultimately an email, a presentation or a website, I had to learn how different it is to build something “real”! The first insights of that came from materials selection: visiting vendors, asking thousands of questions about certifications (yes, every single material needs to be certified and not every vendor knows all the details) and ultimately trying to pick the best materials without investing more than what I could. In the end I decided to work with a few vendors for wood, felt and accessories and to select the ones that I felt would have been more reliable in the long run. Nine months later we still work with most of them and I am constantly looking for new ones that I can try, especially for felt or for the introduction of new products like our busy board.
While I was spending my mornings in our lab, the rest of the day was a mix of activities including thinking about our initial positioning as a company. I wanted to build something unique and global and while being in Italy, I felt English should have been our first and most important language, envisioning that the United States would have been a potential strong and big market for wooden toys.
Getting our baby gym certified: a long process
By end of August 2021 my website was finally getting into a better shape, I had most of our pages in two languages (Italian and English) and I was in touch with Jennifer (our website consultant, she is great btw) to let her start building it in the first days of September.
Before going live for real and selling our first baby gyms, I had to go through a big step: getting my product certified for the European CE mark and the US market. As I said, when you deal with digital products everything is usually easy and fast, and most of the time you can solve everything in a few days, but when you are building a physical product everything changes. If your product is designed for babies, well that’s a big mountain right there you have to climb! Certifications are key in this industry and I strongly believe they are needed to make products reliable and give confidence to the final customers: every parent wants to buy the best and most safest thing for his kids and when you build toys, safety is a priority. I explained a bit more about toys certifications in a previous article and I think I will come back to it in the future as I keep learning about new aspects of it while launching new products.
At first I thought I could simply follow the EU guidelines to obtain the CE mark and do most of the work in our lab, but after a week it was clear that the EU guidelines are not always clear and you still need someone verifying your test results. I was surprised to learn that the CE mark is actually a self-certified procedure where, technically, you could fill all the forms yourself after executing some tests and certify that your product is compliant. The challenge is really the interpretation of guidelines as I said, combined with the number of tests you have to execute to prove that your product can be used by newborns and babies. In a similar way, the US market has its own rules and guidelines defined by CSPC and testing the product by a third party company is a must have.
Knowing that I couldn’t do all of that myself, I started looking for a company that could help me go through certifications for EU and US. After several calls, emails and proposals, I decided to go with UL.com, a large international company specialized in testing and inspection for a variety of products, including toys. The entire process took a bit more than 2 months in the end and today our baby gym is fully certified! Picking a large company was definitely the right move, they have a ton of experience and they were able to suggest changes and modifications to my product to make sure it could pass the tests and be compliant. Still, it took me almost 3 months to get the certification and my suggestion would be to start early with it if you are building something new: during that time I had to go back to my design a few times and test changes on the baby gym trying not to compromise quality and aspects, and it definitely required a great amount of time.
The Photo shooting: no, your iPhone isn’t enough!
October was approaching fast – and while I was spending countless hours trying to be compliant for our tests – there was something constantly in my head: what about the product photos?
Up until then I relied on my iPhone to shoot my baby gym! After trying countless positions and angles, it was pretty clear that I was not a good photographer (and believe I thought the complete opposite until then) and I really needed some help to make some professional shots. I ended up working with a young photographer specialized in commercial products and the result couldn’t have been better! Some of the early photos below:
So, photos were finally done!
What was next? Let me give you a hint: by then I’ve spent thousands of Euros and I was still thinking how I would made my first sale….to be continued in the next article!