This was published in GeekWire's Startup Spotlight on August 21st by writer John Cook.
Pieces of There helps transplants order care packages loaded with favorite hometown sauces, snacks and sports gear
I love living in Seattle.
But my roots are very much in Ohio, the place I called home for my first 18 years. Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for stuff from the Buckeye state.
As a transplant in Seattle, it’s easier than ever to tune into news or sporting events. But what about the physical products — a nice slice of Coccia House pizza for example — that I grew up with?
Liz Kulin, a Seattle entrepreneur, wants to help on that front. Her 9-month old startup, Pieces of There, offers specialized care packages tied to certain geographic regions. (Here are some from Ohio, and even a few from Michigan, though I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to buy one of those).
Kulin is transplant herself, having lived in Boston, Boulder, San Francisco and now Seattle. In fact, the idea started when the 33-year-old grew homesick for her hometown of Nantucket Island.
“My mother would send me care packages of local products from Nantucket, and each time it would make me feel closer to my favorite place while far away,” she said. “I realized that there are over 1 billion people in the world living in a place that they did not grow up in.” Earlier this year, Kulin was accepted into the Founder Institute accelerator program where she worked on the business model and tested the e-commerce concept.
The site now has 125 different care packages from 25 different geographic locations, and Kulin is just starting to ramp up sales with a big push planned for the holiday. Here’s more from Kulin in our latest installment of Startup Spotlight:
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: ”We sell care packages of local products from cool places all across the United States.”
Inspiration hit us when: “A customer tells me that one of our care packages made them feel closer to a place that they miss. This is the only reason why I started Pieces Of There and it continues to be the only reason why I wake up and work on it every day.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We are currently bootstrapped by myself (and my incredibly supportive wife). Bootstrapping has made most sense to our business in this early-stage of building the offering and developing traction.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: ”Speed to marketing, sleepless motivation, and dedicated relationship with suppliers. Each care package of local products comes from the actual location that the consumer is buying from. In other words, if you — or a friend or family member— live in Boston but miss Chicago for some reason you can buy a care package of Chicago local products. The care package is put together in Chicago by a real Chicago native who knows Chicago local products. Our supplier ships the care package out to you straight from the place that you are missing.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: ”Turning an idea into an actual company with the help of the Founder Institute. No this isn’t a sales promotion for FI, but just a true admittance that my company would never have happened if I hadn’t applied and been lucky enough to be accepted into an accelerator program. There are so many pieces to building a company, and things that I would never have thought of. It is really hard to turn an idea into a company. It takes ambition, endless motivation, and support. It can be an emotional roller coaster, and it is really important to have support from others who have been through it and done it — done it all, the mistakes and the successes.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: ”I have made hundreds of little mistakes, but can’t think of anything big up until this point. I am sure that not having a technical co-founder could be seen from the outside as being big mistakes. I am a single founder at this point because I haven’t met the right co-founder. Building a team is critical, but it has to be the right team, especially when raising funding is a potential in the future. Therefore, I don’t see it as a mistake, but something that just needs more time…. I have learned that everything with a startup takes more time than you initially think it will take.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: ”I would rather have the team members under these guys than these actual individuals… Successful companies are not successful just because they had a visionary founder, but because they had a strong team behind them with the intellect to actually turn the visions into a working product. If I had to choose, I would pick Zuckerberg, but only if he came with his team of developers and community builders. That mix would be ideal for Pieces Of There because I have a second stage idea, of course, that includes building out our site more and building our brand equity through community building.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: ”We think about all the transplants that we can help miss a place a little less. We want to get local products into the hands of people who miss a place that they are far away from. We want to set up a monthly membership program like Birchbox, but of local products from specific location, and in 2014 we want to start shipping local product care packages internationally to help expats miss the USA a little less.”
Rivals should fear us because: ”We are growing quickly, establishing strong relationships with suppliers, and will no doubt develop a brand that consumers will be loyal to.”
We are truly unique because: ”There is currently no other website where consumers can go to find a bundle of local products from various places across the USA…. To date, we haven’t spent any money on marketing and all of our customers have found us through Google searches.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: ”Simply continuous motivation and sales. In the beginning of a startup, it is all sales. Sales was not my background, and it is not a tactic that I particularly enjoy doing. But it is required at this point in the business cycle as we focus on stocking the shelves with products before spending money on marketing.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: ”Do not be stealth. Keeping your idea to yourself will stunt the transition from idea to real company. You might think you have a great idea, and are worried that someone might steal it from you, but the truth is that there are likely hundreds of people in the world with your same idea at this very moment. Starting a company is incredibly difficult and the only way that you will beat them to success is to execute on the idea. Also, your idea might need to be tweaked and talking to others is the only way to get it out of your head and into a realistic setting where you can start to break it down and really tweak it so that in the end you are solving a real problem that a large volume of people (people with enough money to pay for your solution) have.”