Thoughtfully designed for the littlest among us…
I love this line from a current Goumi online ad.
Late last year, in preparation for Baby Boy Holston to arrive, I was ravenously scouring every single “best of” and “top this of that in 2018” list to help put together my baby shower registry. The number of hot new tech items and traditional staples was overwhelming to say the least. But the hardest thing to parse out was all the CONFLICTING information about which items were quality, which were mostly hype, and which were downright bad buys. I stumbled across these precious little mittens advertised to miraculously stay on baby’s hands, prevent extubations, made of organic cotton and were antimicrobial. I went to the website and saw the beautiful designs, the quality of the materials, and most importantly, the glowing feedback from happy moms. A few weeks later, I went to a first birthday party and the dad says “Oh my goodness, I have to get you guys these awesome mittens for your baby shower. They are literally the best.” He showed them to us and I immediately recognized them as Goumi’s. Now having a personal recommendation, I became increasingly interested in the company, their story, and what was coming in the future. I’ve always loved well-designed consumer goods (as I’m sure you can tell form my posts) but now, with a baby twist. So, the VC in me said, “how can I get in touch with the CEO to learn more?!” I found Lili on Crunchbase, and reached out to request a blog feature! We hopped on a video call and I feel humbled to have heard the delightful little story of Goumi.
Instead of a typical write up, I wanted to include excerpts from our interview that paint the picture of the thoughtful beginnings of the company, how they created the product and, really, living your best life in general. Lili is something of a philospher with her words! Catch them below! Edited for readability and conciseness.
Co-founder and CEO, Lili Yeo, managed the burgeoning China practice for Ziba Design, a competitor to IDEO. Her job was to get clients and win projects that did everything you can see in the consumer experience—whether that's brand identity to the consumer or anthropological research that goes beneath that. It included well-designed product, design UX, design for website, all the way to retail experience design. She touched everything. She also did brand marketing forNnike footwear and apparel. So she’s got the perfect chops for designing products people love.
On how having a baby made her rethink her work:
The wake up call for me was right when I gave birth to my first. She was a summer baby. I had the whole thing planned out, right? Like maternity leave, a nanny, everything so I could quickly go back to managing the China practice for Ziba. I think by day two I was like, hang on, hold the phone. I am going to be giving somebody good money, a ton of time with my little one that I cannot get back. And I, of all job titles I can have, her mother is my one unique title nobody else can have. And I think for me, that was my aha moment. Like, okay, we gotta do this differently now, and totally unplanned.
After she came, I knew pretty early I was not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, but I also knew I couldn't go back to what I was doing before. I think I realized through my own lens that this journey happens to most women when they enter that phase. It's not just the birth of baby, it's actually a rebirth of mom—of this woman in a new dimension as she enters motherhood. I don't know how many interviews you’ve had with those of us in the juvenile industry, but my narrative is not that different in terms of parenthood being the transformative moment, the catalyst to move us into a new chapter of our lives.
On her inspiration for Goumi:
My then high school friend visited me and helped me to become a mom. Clearly I was still woefully unprepared. And we were talking about baby products that we found, that were essential in our time and how they were designed so poorly. If it was functional, it was not beautiful. If it was beautiful, it didn't work. And if it was good to the planet, it was neither of the first two. And I thought, maybe because we're from Portland or maybe because I had my background at Nike and Ziba, that we owe it to our kids to do better than this.
So we looked at the humble baby mitten. I didn’t know my daughter would be Wolverine. But we had rubberbands all over the mittens to hold them on and my friend said "Well actually I have a solution for that. And I have product ideas for other things that just need to be made better. They're important, they're essential, but I don't know how to take it to market.” I responded, “You know that's what I do for a living, right?" I was just helping her ideate on her product, and it kind of morphed into what would it look like for a company that really made the right thoughtful essentials? So Goumi kind of was our little case study to see if that can be possible.
And because I’m a VC, her experience raising capital:
I went to business school and all that, so I knew about the debt and equity options in financing. I just veered toward debt and it was all self-financing. We were triple digit growing this whole time. And over time, I'd get my seasonal ulcers because like, “how are we going to fund all this inventory?” It didn't dawn on me to take on outside investment until it got to a point where a couple of critical decisions by a teammate that got us to a situation where, it was not sustainable.
I ended up running the firm solo and realizing I really needed more partnership. So actually, the city of Beaverton came around first, and they had an incubator group competition. We got into that, and one of the guys there had his own venture capital fund. He was chosen by the city of Portland to manage this inclusive fund focusing on women and other minority groups that didn't have access to capital. It was called Elevate.
So I thought, okay, we'll take a small bit of money, but I was really after the thought partnership and the camraderie. And as they're seeing us grow, we're seeing us grow, they're like, you're just going to need more cash. You don't think at the time that you can't finance everything through debt or how much time that takes. Over time I began to see the light. I'm like, okay, I guess we'll fundraise. Let's put it out there. In the end, I really appreciated the partners. And we have a very cute tiny cap table. It's like four people. So I really appreciated each and every single one and what they could bring to the table in terms of that partnership.
On how people who do their own thing create a bigger collective impact than “the big guys”:
We started small. And we were okay with that! Don't be who you're not meant to be is definitely a mission statement for us among other things. Be who you were meant to be. And if you are meant to be here, if this is your sphere, then be mighty in that. Rock your smallness. And then, if all of us did that, I think the world will be a very different place. Predicated on the notion of the long tail, I suppose. Some guy coined it back in the 80s, editor of Wired magazine, right? (Turns out that guy is Chris Anderson, former editor of the Wire who later turned the 2004 article into a book) That for every bestseller, or for every Michael Jordan that exists, there's a million other great non-bestsellers books or other good athletes in the long tail. It's just a reality of life. But when you combine the economic impact of those people to the one bestseller, the long tail wins every time. Whole new platforms that we live in every single day now, iTunes, Netflix, all use it. Amazon. All predicates on that same thing—the collective beating the big guy. If all of us were actually doing really what we were meant to do, imagine our world. We would probably be happier.
One of the coolest things about Goumi are the GORGEOUS designs. Recently, Lili teamed up with Kate Pugsley, Wee Gallery, Hello Baby Brown and Baby Jives to create gorgeous collections of baby essentials that I, and I’m sure many other new moms out there, are drooling over. Check the photos out here!
And finally, photos of the newest little Goumi fan. I’m thinking we’ve got a model for the next collection?! Meet Holston Alexander rocking a couple of his 6 pairs of Goumi mitts! We’ve also got both Wee Gallery jammies in a 6-9 months. Can’t wait to get snuggly with him in those. Next up are some of the ALLS & sizing up with some of our favorites. Enjoy!