In this rewind episode, I sit down with Terri-Nichelle Bradley, the founder of Brown Toy Box, an educational toy company producing STEAM toys, media, and experiences for centering and celebrating Black children. While working full time, Terri-Nichelle took Brown Toy Box from being a side hustle to a full-scale business.
In this episode she shares:
- How she expanded to being sold in every Target nationwide
- Why she pivoted from being a subscription box to direct to consumer
- How she used her network and won investors to fund toy production
Links mentioned in this episode
- Terri-Nichelle Bradley’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/terrinichelle
- Brown Toy Box Instagram: https://instagram.com/browntoybox?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
- Brown Toy Box Website: https://browntoybox.com/
- New Voices Fund: https://newvoicesfoundation.org/
- Google Startups: https://startup.google.com/
- SheEO: https://coralus.world/
- 1863 Ventures: https://www.1863ventures.net/mentor-team
- ACE Loans, CDFI: https://aceloans.org/organization-overview/
- Podcast Moguls: https://www.sidehustlepro.co/podcast-moguls/
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Nicaila Matthews Okome 0:00
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Hey, friends, Hey, it's Nicaila here and I'm back with another episode of side hustle Pro. So today in the guest chair is Terri-Nichelle Bradley, the founder of brown toy box, launched in 2017 as a SceneKit, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Brown Toy Box evolved into a full scale educational toy company producing and curating steam, toys, media and experiences for centering and celebrating black children. In a manner all children can enjoy, learn and have fun. Terri-Nichelle believes that black children should see themselves positively represented in every space they experience regularly, starting with their toy box and the toy aisle. So she is on a mission to disrupt the $27 billion toy industry by creating a brand that reflects the world we live in today. Brown toy box is sold in Target stores nationwide on Amazon, as well as in independent specialty toy stores, and retailers. In today's episode, you'll hear about Terri-Nichelle Bradley's journey from top PR executive to entrepreneur with retail distribution of her product. Let's get right into it.
Hello, Terri, welcome. Welcome to the guest chair.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 2:31
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 2:33
I'm very excited to have you. I've never had anyone you know who's created something like you have. And I'm really excited about it. I was excited when I discovered that it exists. So I had to find out more about the person who created it. So tell me a little bit about your background. I know that you had a consultancy at some point, but how did you get to that point? What was your education experience and so forth?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 2:57
Yeah, so my background is in communications. So I had been working in every aspect of public relations. So I started my career as a publicist, or junior publicist for Sesame Street Live. Oh, wow. Yeah. So I was doing the promotions for Cookie Monster and Burton, Ernie, whenever they would go into different markets and that kind of thing. Hooking up big bird with like, weather show appearances, that kind of thing. You know, I guess I started my career there. And I always say I did everything in PR with the exception of consumer and investor relations. So I did Corp comm crisis, all of those kind of, you know, much more corporate kind of things, but never had had did a lot of consumer PR. And I got to a place where, so we don't go in early. So I got to a place
Nicaila Matthews Okome 3:53
Oh, go all the way.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 3:54
I was, I had turned 40. And I was in this kind of funky place. Right? I was like, Is this what I want to be doing with the rest for the rest of my life, right. And then I was going through a really nasty divorce. And I was at that point working in crisis communication for the largest PR agency, largest global PR agency. Edelman, and I wasn't happy. And but I also knew that as I was going through this divorce, I couldn't travel in the way that I was traveling for crisis crisis. If there's a you know, if there's an issue, you have to go, right. And I knew that I wouldn't be able to do that. And so at that point in my career, too, I was, you know, I knew I wasn't happy, but I just couldn't put my finger on all the things because I wasn't happy in any aspect of my life. Right? So I was going through this divorce, I wasn't happy with my church. I wasn't happy. You know, it's like, church to church. All of it, all of it. I just felt like and I talked about it all the time. I felt like I was living In this facade, right, so everything looks really great on paper, the highest ranking black executive in the Atlanta office in this PR agency, had this marriage had kids, you know, active in my church, all those things, but it all was just a really big facade. And so, because I just was miserable. And so I think, you know, God starts dealing with you, right? And he's like, Look, if you don't move some things, I'll move some things for you. And that year, as I started going through that divorce, I had become like this token in my office, right? Like, I was the highest ranking black executive, but I was the only one. Right. And, and it never feels good. And at that point, you know, people weren't talking about being an introvert. Right? And I was an introvert and in PR agencies, oftentimes, it's about the extroverts and the biggest personalities and the loudest in the room, and you had a lot of offices, storming sessions. Yeah, introverts, we don't brainstorm like that, right? We need to go back in our office shut the door, and really quiet time for some quiet time. And I'm getting some great, but you gotta let me have a moment. Right, right. And so it just came to a point, I was like, I gotta do something different, right. And so I had a true mountaintop moment, I was going around, there's a mountain here, and in Georgia Stone Mountain. And so I was dragging myself around that trying to get fit, still work, but working on it. It's a journey. And I was asking God, you know, to show me my purpose. And this, and this is how this all came to be. But before I got to brown toybox, I did do that consulting, because I was like, if you're gonna have me be the token, PR, black PR girl, I might as well do it for myself and do it an authentic, do it in a way that feels good to my spirit and leaves my community better than how I found it. And so I started working with, you know, fortune 500 brands, on some of their issues around
Nicaila Matthews Okome 6:58
the nation. What did it take for you to go out on your own though, because I know that wasn't easy, even though you had the skills to now approach clients, and let people know what you're doing. How did you go about actually exiting? And starting, what was the transition period? How long did it take you to get ramped up?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 7:19
So because I live in the spirit of full transparency? I got fired. Okay. So I was going through this divorce, and it was tumultuous, right? And
Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:28
it was, and that's not a bad thing. By the way. I said, okay, because I wasn't expecting that level of transparency. But I appreciate it. Shut off getting fired and getting pushed out sometimes. Some into your purpose.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 7:39
Exactly. Because remember, what I said was, God says, If you don't do it for yourself, I'll do it for you. Right. And I mean, at that point, in my career, though, I would sit in my car in the parking deck and cry before it was time to go in on Sunday nights, I would have that feeling in my stomach, but I just don't want to go. And so I just could not perform. And I just felt this I was being crushed under this weight, of like the tokenism of being like, you know, they started diversifying, but from the bottom, so everybody in the office wanted to, you know, use me as their mentor. I was like, Y'all, my life is falling apart. I cannot. And so, um, I got fired. But the funny thing is, as I was going, I'll never forget this as I was going down the elevator with my boxing hand. I was not sad. I was not scared. I was I just felt relief. Right? So it was almost that thing where you have to be, you know, again, God's like, either you go listen to this whisper, or I'm gonna make it real loud and playing for you. And that's exactly what happened. And so it took me you know, a little while, it's like, you have all the context, you have all the relationships, you know, you were the, you know, you brought the sauce, right. And so, I just started, I immediately started doing consulting, I think I also realized, and I was just talking to one of my girlfriends about this earlier this week, I was not a I'm not a great employee. I mean, like, I always put it like when I would put in like a vacation notices. I'm saying, you know, I'm gonna be out like my best. No, I'm not gonna be here next Thursday, whatever you need to do. Right, right. Because the funny thing is now as a business owner, I'm like, oh, wish somebody would just put me. Right. You get this other side of empathy that you know, as a business owner, but yeah, so I just started consulting. And I still knew I wasn't quite in my purpose. But I was closer. And that was the start. And did you
Nicaila Matthews Okome 9:38
consider I mean, I know you just said you're not a great employee. But did you while you're in the early days of consulting, were you like, well, I might just need a little job to buffer me. While this ramped up. Did you think about that, that
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 9:51
I did? No, I did not at that point. I did and I just consulted right. Yeah. And so which was great, but when I I got ready to start brown toy box, you know, I did do that I took apart. So let me tell you math is not my minutes. And I hate to say that because all of our all of our products focus on STEM. And yeah, you can't say that can allow
Nicaila Matthews Okome 10:13
you to see that anymore. You can say that you thought yes.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 10:21
But here's the thing, the reason why I thought that is because that was never nurtured in me as a kid, right? So we, you know, we're growing up, it was like, you know, after a certain age, and it still happens to stay at a certain age girls start feeling like they're not good at math. You know, all that kind of stuff, right? But I took a job as a night auditor at a hotel, so that I can have my days free to work on my business.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 10:44
That's real right there the night time job, like not enough people, I don't think I've had a lot of guests talk about that idea of nighttime jobs. So you can have free Oh, man, yeah, that's like a 24 hour
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 10:55
like, right. And so I worked from
Nicaila Matthews Okome 10:59
a person that would take the night job and then go to sleep.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 11:03
There will be time. For a minute. Listen, and and the thing was, I knew I didn't want to go out and get a job in my career field. Because if I'm going to be working for someone, I am going to give you 100%, right? Yes, absolutely. I might think you're an idiot, but I'm still gonna give you 100%. Right. And so I didn't want to do that I wanted some job that I did not have any true investment in, I've created a check. So I could keep the bills paid while I was building my business. And so that's exactly what I did. And I did that. And that's
Nicaila Matthews Okome 11:37
an important tip right there, guys. Be smart in the job you choose to take when you decide to give more attention to your side hustle, right? Like, you're not going to go for the super extreme, you know, and it's not that it's not possible. But if you have a choice, it may be time to revisit, okay, what can I do for work, and you've heard this from guests before, you know, you have to take the pride out of it too. Like, oh, just because you have this fancy degree doesn't mean you can't work a front desk job. So you can pay the bills and grow your side hustle. So I love that you mentioned that.
So tell us about how the idea for brown Toybox came to be.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 12:20
So you know, I talked about that mountaintop moment that I had. And I asked God to show me my purpose. And what I heard back was looking at your life, right? So I started reflecting back on all these different occurrences in my life. So I was I'm a child of the 70s. And I was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in the 70s right now a whole lot of diversity. But my mother with her 10th grade education was probably the smartest woman I knew. And I did not realize that at the time. Because of course you always you know, you never give your mother credit when you're a kid, right? And so she and my father made sure that we had all these examples of positive representation around us, right? They weren't, you know, my mom was the mom that would like color our Barbies and brown with the sharp she would make sure that we had Ebony and Jet magazines in the house. And, and while she hadn't attained, that level of success is like career success, right? She wants to make sure that we saw it and that we knew that it was possible. Right. And so that was probably one of them. When I think about brown toy box, I think about that moment. And then I think about best boarding and what I can remind myself how just like she did, I would drive around looking for toys, books, games, all the things that possibly represented, you know, my children. And we know very just normal things like window planes, like, you know, people take that for granted, like, I want holiday window clings to have black children on it. Right. And I could never find it, you know, and that we make them. And so, you know, it was born out of a need for making sure that our children saw themselves possibly represented. But also, you know, for me, Bronco box is a mission driven business. Right? We're trying to disrupt generational poverty, right? And it goes back to what I kind of talked about about math, right? So that thought of that seed that was planted, like you're not good at math, and then that goes before, but what if that seed was planted that you're great at math? Right? So then that would impact the majors that I mean, the courses that I took, and the major that I took in college, and then that career field, right? I do believe everything happens for a reason I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. But I want to make sure that black and brown children see themselves represented in STEM steam, because we put the arts in there, right? And that they know that they really can be anything that they want to be but they also have the confidence they build their confidence exploring those different steam things and industries and so getting them early and giving them recurring exposure was super important to me.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 14:55
I love that and you know, I can intimately relate now that I'm a mom Um, and I think one of the things you said really resonates with me, which is, what if a different seed was planted. And it doesn't even have to be the seed that you're great at something, but it can be the seed of, you can do hard things you can learn, you can get better, because I think that is the common misconception. And even I fell victim to it as well, when I was growing up. There's this misconception that people who are good at something, oh, they're just smart, as if they came out the womb, knowing algebra. Knowing physics, right? No, no, no, no, you can get better, you would be surprised at what I didn't realize, you'd be surprised at how many people are doing extra tutoring. You know, after school, on the weekends, their parents are putting them in everything. So that's why these resources are so important. Like people are not just born chemists and physicists, right?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 15:51
So let's talk about the competence to explore it either. Huge, that confidence, it's huge, you know, so I was talking to some folks, I'm very active in the STEM community. And one of the things that we hear often is, you know, first of all, what we know for sure, our black STEM majors have the highest percentage of dropping out of that major, right? Because they're not getting that support. But even when Black then go into STEM careers. What I've been told by friends at Google and Facebook and some of these other tech companies is, is that they don't have they still don't have that confidence to just kind of jump in there with their ideas are jumping into this, because they don't want to be wrong. Yes, hopefully. Right? Because they think that they're going to affirm what other people are thinking of.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 16:40
Hello, that's a huge issue. And I've seen it firsthand myself.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 16:44
Absolutely. And so what if, though, you know, I always say, you know, my goal in life is to have the confidence of a mediocre white man, that is my right? Because what if you could walk in the room and just be like, I am that girl, I am that guy. Right. And this is, this is my idea, and whether it's good or not, and if it's not, then you throw out another one, right? But the fact that we're so afraid to be wrong, and that starts in childhood, right, and doesn't want kids to really be able to test any and explore, right? Because what we say is you never know is what's going to, you know, activate a child's imagination and make sure that they're, you know, they get an opportunity to to explore these different paths, right, and to be able to try and test and fail and succeed. And, you know, I've learned so much more from my losses than my my wins. Oh, yeah. You know, the
Nicaila Matthews Okome 17:35
mindset, the mindset piece is so key. So that's why this exposure is so helpful to like, the confidence starts with the freedom and ability to explore and test and realize that's okay. And then as you explore and test, you're going to get things wrong, and to also realize that's okay, all right. That's part of the process. That is so important.
Now, when you started it, what was your goal and expectation? Was this something you were going to create for? Like your kids and your cousins and the family? What was? What was your initial thought process with that?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 18:14
When I started brown toybox, we started as a subscription box, and I don't know if you remember, but there was light boxes? Oh, yes, yes, yes. And so I was like, I'm gonna have this hot subscription box. Everybody thought it was so easy. Everybody thought it was easy. When I tell you, I could not wait to get out the subscription box business. Oh, my goodness, like, more stores. And then I wanted to have or only source from, you know, black makers and creators and often self published authors. And all that was great idea. But then limited business. It's Yes, right. But when we first started, we're just in our dining room, folding, putting boxes together, putting stuff in it, I had no business acumen whatsoever, right? I could talk about what we would do. I mean, like this, this is so cute. And everything comes with everything came with like a book on a black Trailblazer, a hands on activity, and then some one other fun thing to reinforce the theme, right? Which is kind of what is in our steam kits now. But you know, it's just our IP. But I just, I just did not look at cost. Right? I didn't look at the seasonality, you know, where people are going out because I launched in October. And I thought, Oh, wow, everybody's buying all this this because it was for Christmas, right? But you don't think about what happens after Christmas, you know, when you have a children's product, right? Because people aren't buying a lot of toys and games. And even though these were educational, they're not doing a lot of that in January, February, March. Right, right. And so and so I just didn't have any business acumen. So I launched in October, shut down in June, right shut down. Shut down. All my subscribers, which was probably I don't even remember. But I said listen, until I can get some type of capital injection here. I'm I've got to push pause. The truth was, which I didn't even realize at the time, it wasn't just capital that I needed. I needed business acumen. So that's when I started in this journey of incubators and accelerators and all those different things. Because it's like, whatever I'm lacking, I need to make sure that I'm addressing right, whatever
Nicaila Matthews Okome 20:18
gaps were you addressing? What specific things have you learned in those incubators that were helpful?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 20:25
So what I will say most incubators the most you get out of them is our community is community. Right? So you, but that community is valuable. So I don't discount that that's really important. But the most you typically get out of those are isn't as a great community. But there were things like really understanding, you know, my why, right, like that. So that was the easy part. But then it was like the tough stuff, like getting your financials, understanding your margins, understanding your customer, right, the customer discovery process, all of those things, were really, really important. And so making sure you have the right legal structure, right? When I first started, I was commingling money, like crazy.
My business my money, right? And so you know, pay yourself and then then use that money. But there was so many things I just did not know, right. And I did not have the mentors, or the advisors at that time to tell me different, like, I was going off a gut and my gut was wrong. And so but but what I knew was I, you know, I felt like when I had that mountaintop moment, this was given to me as my assignment. Right. So I said, Well, God's not gonna give me the vision without the provision. And that has that has sustained me throughout the lifeblood of brown Toybox.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 21:48
That's real right there that would you said, you know, I was trusting my gut, but my gut was wrong. A lot of us want to go with our gut. Listen, if your gut don't know nothing about business, your gut might be wrong.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 22:04
Probably wrong, but you don't know anything about your margins. So I buy, like, this is so cute. And the cost of the box I think was like $34. Yeah, I would have spent like maybe $30 on product and things were shipping. Why hadn't considered shipping? My first year? I did or that will not get my first year, I did not put on my website, a cut off date for Christmas. Yeah, right. And so I was shipping things like on the 20th like today, so that it would get there in time for Christmas. So I would spend like $100 on a package that I was only gonna make $34 on. So it just wasn't sustainable. So I did the incubator accelerator. And then I came back and I was in a much stronger position. And then, you know, later on, I was able to evolve into an actual toy company.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:01
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And then besides the shipping, like what were some other challenges about the subscription box industry itself that made you just want to get out of it?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 23:58
Yeah, so it's a volume business. That's the thing about subscription box, it is a volume business, right. And so as you're trying to get your subscribers, right, like it, you still you're still paying, you know, the price per unit is a lot higher, because you don't have you're not ordering the volume to get those that that cost down. Right. So it was that it was, you know, there's no grace given to sue. I'm just gonna be frank, there's no grace given to black entrepreneurs, right. Yeah. And so I think where we give grace, like, you know, like Gucci do something, we'll still go buy Gucci, you have to do something that I was trying to support a black business, right.
Right, exactly. And so I was I was operating out of fear, right? Like, I didn't want anybody to come to me on social media. I didn't want I didn't want that. And so there were all these, there was a lot of challenges. Now remember, I want to have a two sided, two sided social mission. The other part of that was making sure that I was sourcing from you know, self published black authors and creators that kind of stuff. Well, they also had volume issues too, right? So they would submit to, you know, a number of orders or something like that, but then didn't, couldn't, you know, produce the volume. And then of course, my customers don't know that. They're just saying, I didn't fulfill, right. And so it just became very, but it was very clear to me very early that I did not want to be in the description box business. And that I would have to I want it, I still want it to do what I was doing. Right, I still wanted to make sure that kids had books on black Trailblazers that they had the stem materials, all that, but I wanted to do it in a different way. And it was during the pandemic, that we were able to evolve into a toy company,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:43
isn't it funny how much clarity, the pandemic provided? It had, there's so much trauma and PTSD that we still have to unpack from it. But at the same time, because we all had to pivot, these new, and a lot of times new and improved ideas came from it. So that's really amazing. Before we jump into how it shifted, though, I want to pause and you know, really highlight something you said, I used to work for a fashion retailer that did drop shipping and intimately remember, I worked on the customer service side and social media marketing side. Well, as a social media marketer, I faced the customer, as I should say, that wasn't trying to be a customer service. And that is what I learned that you can have a sale, and you can promise people that you'll get them stuff. But then a brand might short ship you. So if any of you guys are thinking about starting a subscription program, what Terry is referring to is people will promise you things and for whatever reason, maybe units got damaged, or they just, you know, under produce, but you will get short shrift, and you have to figure out what am I going to do? How am I going to explain that to the customer, and it happens all the time. It's not a one off. So be prepared for that in that business. So how did you pivot during the pandemic?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 27:05
So, um, I think, like a lot of black entrepreneurs, two things happened. There were more dollars flowing. Because there was, you know, PPP pandemic funds, that kind of thing. But then George Floyd, right. And so I, you know, I
Nicaila Matthews Okome 27:23
wasn't hearing that every one I'm interviewing this year, I keep hearing it. I mean, I knew it. Yeah. But it is another thing to see it reflected and to meet people who have benefited, I mean, not from his untimely and horrific passing, but just what happened as a result,
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 27:40
right. And so here's the thing about that everyone knew it was going to be short lived, this new commitment to equity was going to be short, right. But as I as I told my friends, you gotta get in while you can. Because people have short memories, right? And it will scale. And it will help you to scale. That's exactly what happened. And so for us, during the pandemic, we had been, you know, part of our business, we sell to schools, right? In schools, and we sell to schools. And so we had a bunch of orders, that got cancelled, because when the pandemic happened, all the schools had to pivot to technology, right? So these enrichment kits that they were ordering from us, they're like, that's not a priority. But luckily for me, the PPP when we did not get much what, but it sustained me to be able to keep people on staff, right, keep them only had three people at the time. But it sustained me in that way. But also what we knew was, it wasn't going to last long with just technology because the essential employees were the parents of the students that we were providing kits to, right because we've made primarily for schools for Title One schools, those are the kids whose parents had to go to Kroger had to go to you know, all these other places, you know, and, and still work while the rest of us were able to be at home. And so what that meant was those children didn't have anyone making sure that they were getting online and whatever prescribed time and those kinds of things. And so by that September of 20, we had a bunch of schools come back to us and we need these enrichment kits, and between PPP, some capital dollars that started flowing a little bit easier. After the murder of George George Floyd and then the school contracts, we were able to then create our own products right so to go in production and prototyping all those kinds of things. And then we got our target do
Nicaila Matthews Okome 29:40
tell me a little bit more about and then we got our targets that sound so smooth and simple. You just slid that in there. You know, how did it come about?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 29:50
It is it is it is okay. So, I did a pitch competition, new voices fun pitch competition. And I did not do particularly Well, I'm gonna do better did poorly. So there was 10 of us, I think I got fourth or something. But we were able to watch the judges deliberate. And I was listening to some of the judges, they're like, yeah, it's a toy. And there's a lot of dogs out there. And I was like, we don't do dogs. That's not who we are. We're, you know, we're education, education towards that kind of thing. But you know, all we can do is listen to the judges deliver whatever. But at the same time, I started writing down everyone's names and titles during this pitch competition. Yes. And I then put you on game. If you're not on LinkedIn you need to be and, and so I will tell all your listings like Instagram and tick tock for consumers, yes. But for your business, you need to be on LinkedIn. And so I started connecting with all these people on LinkedIn. And I thought target supplier diversity was having office hours, so I signed up for office hours. Now this is over. So I did the pitch competition in September, sign up for these office hours, like top of October. And so great conversation, like maybe three weeks later, somebody from supplier diversity reached back out to me like, Hey, that was a great conversation we had, I want you to talk to my boss. So I talked to her boss, and she was so then she was like, Hey, that was a great boss, that was a great conversation, I want you to talk to this team at Target. So I talked to them, and then they were like, Okay, we're gonna get you ready for the toy buyers. So we, you know, they worked with me, we did like a mock line review. So if you've not, if you're, if you're a product company, and you're trying to get into retail, they have what they have called a line review, where they'll, you know, you present what you present your products, right. And so we did this mock client review. And they act as if they were the buyer, they poke holes, and all of my, my pitch that came back, and then so but so we had a date to pitch the buyer January, and I'll never forget this. So we pitched January 4. Now the team that was prepping me, they're like, Listen, you probably not gonna get in, but take all the information that she gives you. And then you will be able to probably pitch again, and I don't know, probably like seven or eight months. But this is a great opportunity for you to get all the information, right. So I was like, Cool, we'll do that. And so we pitched now, when I did my pitch. It's just just between us. When I did my pitch, I focused on my customer, I focused on the why I focused on a lot of these other very important things, the the target guests and how this would benefit the target guests. I did not focus on the product so much, right. And so after we got off the phone, like but I focused on kind of what that subscription box looked like and that. But when we got off the phone I had circled back with that team and like, Yeah, you did. You did great. You did great. But you didn't really talk about the product. The reason why they talk about the products, because I didn't have one. What do you mean, you didn't have one? So what were you actually pitching at this point, like, a one time box? Or is this box going to change? So at this time target was looking at folks who had subscription boxes, yes. And to see how they could bring those DTC providers in just in store, right, but DTC direct to consumer. I've been doing all the research on what they were doing and how they were looking for. But I had, so we had prototypes. So at this point, I brought on a toy designer, we had all these things, but what I had heard was target typically will make you redesign your packaging. Now, we already had capital constraints, right? I knew that I would not be able to afford to do it twice. Right. So what what I said was what I said to myself, I said, Look, here we go, we're gonna do this. But let's present to target, let's co design the box, right? Okay. So they know what their guests likes. I know what my customers will respond to. And let's co design. And they were really open to that. And so that's really what I was I had, so we had all the elements, we just hadn't produced the things I shouldn't say that we didn't have a product, we haven't produced it yet. Right that and so and so a pitch target pitch, the buyer explained, you know, really went through why this was important to how it would be disruptive, why it's important to have it in the educational choice section, you know, that's just we are not at all brand we are doing, like the sting kids, we're doing these kinds of things. And so, so that was on Friday. And so we had get, you know, the team and I, we kind of talked through, like, if we get it, maybe we'll get like 10 stores, or maybe even like three markets, something like that. And you know, right, so we kind of kind of game which markets we would ask for and that kind of thing. So that was Friday on that Monday, I get a call from the buyer. And I was like she's gonna tell me that I'm not ready and you know, all these different things, right? So I was ready. All weekend I was mentally prepare myself because I was like, I know they said I could pitch again and seven, eight months, but I really really want this. Yeah, so she she called me that Monday and she was like, hey, Terry, I just wanted to call you and let you know that we want you in store. Now oftentimes You get that conference, right? But she's like, we want you in store. And I was like, great. And I'm just like, shake. I'm like, so excited. I was like, how many markets? I'm thinking she's gonna say three, maybe 1040. Right. 40 stores? How many doors will I get? She said, We want you full chain. Why? Every single store, right? And so I was like, Oh my gosh, so excited. But then I thought, oh, shoot, how? How am I going to pay for that? How am I going to pay for that? Right? And so that's when I had to go into so it's funny, because there's three hard things about retail versus getting in, right. And then it's, and then it's onboarding, because that is a whole process of itself. Right. You know, and so, you know, I found a great vendor rep to kind of do all that part for us. But then the other part is staying, right. And so we launched in Target during a supply chain crisis. Right. So this is where containers, so we produced in China, like 90% of all toy companies, and, you know, containers that were $2,000, we're now costing 20 to $25,000. Right? price gouging was ridiculous during the during the pandemic. And so I was I was, so I had to start raising funds, and it was a very, very stressful process. And then
Nicaila Matthews Okome 36:20
they were getting stuck, right, like as they were coming over.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 36:25
Absolutely. So somehow, they were just being stuck at the port. So first, the challenge was getting the capital to get started. So I, I am here because of really strong women, right? There were very strong women who advocated for me and for brown toy box. The first the first investment in brown toy box was from Google for startups. I did that I did that with Joburg, Solomon. I did that incubator. I got a $50,000 Non dilutive grants. And that's what got me to prototyping. Right. And so and then from there, there were other women from there's an organization called sheEO, where they will give you $100,000.00 Interest Loan. But it's very competitive. And they selected five women that year. And I just happened to be one of them. So that was a blessing. Melissa Bradley from 1863 Ventures she went hard for me, is an organization here in Atlanta called Atlanta, both Building Initiative. LED Teresa Thornton, she went hard for me. And then the the economic development arm of the city of Atlanta, because one of the things that founders say in Atlanta is if you want to raise money, you have to eat Atlanta, which particularly Why did they say that? Because it was true. Atlanta in Atlanta is a market that oftentimes, they want the powers that be want to see someone else, do something first, and then they will do it. So they will follow on, but they won't start. Right. And so I had some really amazing women that went to bat for me, and I would not be here. You know, there was a CDFI. So that's another non traditional bank, right? development investment.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 38:21
So you went to the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, yeah. Yes, I
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 38:28
went to a CDFI called ACE. And you know, there's a really amazing woman, Grace bricks, who leads that? And she said, Listen, I'm going to go in, and if anybody tells you no, they're gonna need to tell me why. And that's what all five of these women said to me if they tell you know, you've done the incubators and accelerators, you've got great credit, you've got a great product, right? You've got POS in hand, I like almost a million dollars in POS from Target, but I could not get access to capital. And so you know, with those things, but even with all those things going for me, and I had, you know, an amazing purchase orders, right? Yes, PLC and purchase, delay the process of actually starting with target because it seems like you got to prove but then you needed to raise money to be able to scale production to deliver to target.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 39:19
Did they help at all with that process? No.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 39:23
That's not our job. No, I worked my tail off from that January when we got that we want you full chain till October when we delivered. And we did deliver two weeks late, but it was because of things sitting in the port. Right and us not being able to get our products out and so but we were able to get it done like we were able to get raised all the capital that I needed to judge targets. So it was it was a journey, but you know, we did it
Nicaila Matthews Okome 39:59
now Oh, what can people find when they go to Target? Like, explain exactly what brown toy box is in today's iteration, because you've gone from subscription box, pivoted to making your own products. So just so everyone is clear?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 40:14
Yeah. So brown Toy Box is a, we are a toy company, right? And we focus on 15 Different steam themes, all of which were blacks make up less than 5% of the workforce, at the highest levels, right. And some were less than 1%, like architecture and engineering less than 1%. Right. And so we do it in a way that is purposeful, that it's fun and culturally affirming, right? So in each of our kids, so we've got first of all, we've got steam kids, we've got giant puzzles, we've got books, we now have plush, and so we've got about 70 skews now. And then we got games and that kind of thing, too. We've got about 70 skews, we've got a line of college bills, HBCU edition. So those are replicas of HBCUs, we've got eight licenses right now. And so we are a educational toy company that you know, really designing toys, books, games, content, that center and celebrate black children in a way that they see themselves positively represented. And they can expand their ideas of the possibilities for their lives. And we really are honing in on Steam, because those are the careers of the future. And we see what's happening with AI now we see what's happening is like, yes, jobs, that these jobs are being eliminated, like crazy. So if we don't prepare our children to explore the steam pathways now, then they're gonna be locked out of economic mobility, right? Absolutely. And that's what we, you know, for me, I'm like, not on my watch. And, you know, you think about, you know, when you watch kids play, you can see their personalities coming out, you can see, you know, like, when I was kid, you know, people who saw so you are so bossy, but I was just showing leadership qualities, you.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 42:00
There, that's what we have to emphasize.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 42:03
And we've got to turn those negative, those negative connotations of these different things into very positive things, right. But, but we want you know, you watch kids play, and you see them learning, you see them testing, you see them exploring, for all of it is about building the confidence to do it. All right. There's so much science about play based learning. And so we leverage that we test we test heavily in schools, we test with teachers, we test the parents, and and of course, the learners,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 42:33
you distribute through your website and also target. Are there other distribution channels?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 42:39
Yes, yes, yes. Yes. So we distribute through our website, we, we have all of our products on the website, but then we we've got six skews in target. And we're looking to grow that we have a line review coming up. So we're hoping that they'll bring in some more products. We're on Amazon, and then we start with Amazon. And then we are you know, because we're steam focused. We are we sell to zoos, aquariums, Botanical Gardens, because we've got to do allergy thing we've got, you know, we've got marine biology thing we've got, like all of these different we've got agriculture, and so all these different themes. And so it makes sense. We also sell to school systems and school districts, because these are educational based play, you know, things and so oftentimes, like family engagement groups, or, you know, the kind of like they buy the kids for like table play and those kinds of things. So, we've got our three big sales channels, our direct to consumer, which is probably our smallest one, and it ships, right. So it's a smallest one, retail, and then corporate partners and schools.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 43:47
Okay, this is a lot to manage. How big is your team these days? Just seven
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 43:51
or seven? Just wow, just seven bucks right now. I got folks, yes. Okay. You got extended folks. Right. So we've got, you know, my accounting folks and then CPAs. And, you know, some got, I've got an external sales team that we just brought on in December.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:08
And then as far as the warehouse that pulls all these skews and all of that, is that something that's in house or something that you hired out?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 44:17
No, I work with an amazing warehouse and black woman owned SJW logistics, and you know, and so, you know, it's interesting, because when I first got my target deal, they had never really worked with a brand that had a major mass retailer. And I've never worked with a warehouse or mass retailer. So we kind of learn together. And now they've got all these amazing clients in their warehouse, and I'm growing in it. So we really are, you know, it's one of those things where like, you bet on me, and I'll bet on you. And that's what we did. And so we were both patient with each other as we learned the space. And now I think we've got a good system down and I've always sent a business.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:58
What has been In your experience on the money side, when we first started learning about Ron toybox, you said you were working a night job, right to pay the bill. So, you know, what's been your experience with finally being able to leave? Pay yourself make profit? How has that been?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 45:19
Yeah. So, you know, I think what entrepreneurs should know is there will be times when you have to take yourself off a payroll. So, right, that's real. And so what entrepreneurship looks like on Instagram was not what it looks like in the real world. So it's not like you will not be on a yacht anytime soon. But the journey has been amazing, the fact that I'm able, you know, I'm very proud, you know, what I say is just seven, I'm so proud that I'm able to support seven people's lives and their, you know, in their families, and mortgages and their dance classes and all those things for their children. So seven people, but you know, it, you know, it we grow every year, right. And so I'm able to do more every year. And this year. So what happens, I'll tell you, what happened after 2020. So for 2021, so we went on to target October 2021. And then 2022 happened. So remember, there was like, all of this stuff at the port. And then in January 2022, all the retailers announced, hey, we've got way too much inventory, because first, it was stuck, and nobody can find anything. And then all came in at once. So they cut some of you know, some of the orders weren't like we're not reordering anything right now, because we've got excess inventory. And that was across the board. And so of course, that hurt our bottom line. But what it also was a lesson, right? So we talked about you when you lose your arm, right? And so what I learned was, we could not be a single retail company. So when you asked me about, like, where else are we it was so important to me that we diversified our retail channels, because that could happen, right? Like, you could think that you're gonna have this huge order. But you know, a global supply chain crisis is gonna happen, or, you know, what a store could, you know, file bankruptcy and then write your stuff. And so it was on a mission in 2022, to grow our sales channels. And so that has been instrumental. So, you know, big box retailers, you get a PIO, you deliver great terms with Target has been phenomenal to work with, but I deliver, and then they pay out, you know, net, whatever. Right? Yeah. And so that's how that works. But when you work with the smaller specialty retailers, it's more of a cash flow business, right. So we wanted to have a better mix of mass retailers and, and the specialty retailers because they those pay out more frequently. They're small, much smaller orders, but they you know, they keep the engines going. And then of course, you know, the schools as well. So there's different seasons, for each part of our business.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 48:03
Understanding that need to diversify is really important. And it's not saying, stretch yourself and try to do everything. And then you know, fall short for everyone. But slowly start to think of okay, where else can we be? And how can we make it happen? Because yeah, some of the bigger contracts will be amazing numbers, but they might take longer to pay or like you said, they might pause, cancel all this other stuff. So I absolutely relate to that. So before we jump into the lightning round, I'd love to know a little bit more about how you started out marketing, the business and what you're doing these days to continue to grow brand awareness. Yeah, so
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 48:48
I started out, just doing like some Facebook ads. You know, that kind of thing.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 48:56
Did you know what you were doing? Are you just kind of guessing? Absolutely not. It
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 49:00
was just throwing stuff at the wall. Not at all, not even a little bit. And then we started like hiring kind of like freelance marketers. I got played a lot, right. Like, everybody was like, Oh, I can do marketing and then like, oh, actually, you can't. To like, there's not that I don't give you that much time to play. So you gotta come out and come on strong, right? Because I've burned a few times. And now we really do kind of lean into we're leaning into influencer, we're doing a lot of email marketing. And so owning our list is super important. You know, we do social, but you know, I'm never going to be one where I'm going to put give my business to somebody else to lizard eyes with someone else right cam. So we do a lot of email marketing, we do influencer, we do experiential events. And and we do a lot of corporate partnerships and through that we're able to grow awareness with with those corporate partners and their employee teams and that kind of stuff. So it's been that's been pretty, pretty great for
Nicaila Matthews Okome 50:05
All right, so now we're going to jump into the lightning round, you just answer the first thing that comes to mind. All right, you ready? Okay. All right. Number one, what is a resource that has really helped you in your business that you can share with the side? Hustle pro audience? LinkedIn? Yes.
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 50:22
Every one of my advisors that's on my team, I have some amazing advisors came from LinkedIn.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 50:27
Do you have any tips real quick for success with connecting with people? Because some folks go about it all wrong, like how have you been able to connect with strangers?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 50:35
very transparently, right? Like, I will send it a message. Like when I do a connection request, if it's someone that I want to build a relationship with, I will send a message saying I love your content. You know, I see that you are an expert in this. I actually have a gap in this space, I would love to talk to you about whatever, I don't do that. Hey, you got 15 minutes for coffee? And then don't tell what you want. That drives me crazy. Yeah. So be very clear about what you want. And just be respectful of other people's time. And I think that really has that's worked really well for me. But when I tell you, I've got like some of the top executives in in Fortune 500 on my advisory board, and all came through LinkedIn.
Nicaila Matthews Okome 51:12
Nice. Love that advice. All right. So who is a non celebrity fellow Black woman entrepreneur who you'd want to switch places with for a day? And why?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 51:24
I think be Dixon that could be interesting. Yes. I think that could be really interesting to some, you know,
Nicaila Matthews Okome 51:30
because she's been it's hard. Yes. Yeah, I've been there for a while. Okay. And then number three, what is a non negotiable part of your day these days,
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 51:39
I take walks like I'm a couple blocks away from a park. And at a certain point during my day, I have to unplug and take a walk. And that gets my creativity going, it gets me thinking clearer. It you know, and, you know, because I could sit in this chair all day from 7am to 7pm, go home, change into my pajamas, Pixar, check in my pajamas and go back to work. Right? And so I need to get out. And so those walks are a lifesaver for me. You just
Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:06
reminded me I need to take one today. Okay. Number four, what is a personal habit about you that has really helped you significantly in your business?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 52:17
No means nothing to me. Oh, right. And so I am one that the nose just get me closer to my Yes. On the nose. It just helps me Okay, well, that's not true. So now I have to waste time there. And I'm gonna go you know, so I just am tenacious. And, you know, because again, I feel like this is my assignment that God gave me. Just like, I just know that I'm set up to win. And so I operate in that space, I believe that the world is conspiring for my good. And I operate in
Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:48
women that I'm receiving that too. I love that that's that's the mindset and that the headspace you have to be in for sure. Absolutely. So number five, what is your parting advice for fellow women entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss, but are worried about losing that steady paycheck?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 53:07
It's scary, right? It's you have to acknowledge that it is scary. It is very real. You know, there weren't when we first started, it was very lean, and my kids were like, Mom is your turn, you have sacrificed so much for us. We're you know, we're just we're not gonna have the vacations we're not gonna have the you know it and you have to know that there will be some sacrifice. I think it does people a disservice to make them think that it's gonna be glamorous from from the jump, like it's not glamorous now I just want great things. But I think it is just know that there will be sacrifice but with that sacrifice will come great reward. You have to stay the course you have to filter out advice. You cannot take advice from everyone or you could take a piece here piece there but if you keep you let too many people pour into you, you're gonna always be chasing all these things and you'll never you know really be centered you have to have a Northstar you have to know that you're trying to go
Nicaila Matthews Okome 53:53
yes all of that all of that you guys that you know that resonates with me of course because yeah, sometimes I look around I'm like, where's my glamour? Where's all the time? I'm never on the delayed gratification. And it's something me and my husband talk about because yeah, we just have to really like be each other center and remember what we are working towards and it's okay if it's not now you know, exactly the world of Instagram out there will have you seen people posting things and thinking like that's the reward and that's the goal and that's not really your way oftentimes. So you have to really go back to that so I love that it's not real
there's that as well. So where can people connect with you and brown toy box after this episode?
Terri-Nichelle Bradley 54:49
So we are at Brown toy box on all social media and then I am tearing the shell Bradley on LinkedIn. So
Nicaila Matthews Okome 54:57
you're gonna see those LinkedIn requests. Now me Sure you're correct. All right. She told me all right, no, ask her for no coffee chat. Okay. Come on. All right. Well, Terry, thank you so much for being in the guest chair. This was life giving. This was so fulfilling and I'm so glad to have you here and I hope everyone goes out and gets brown toy box. And you know, let's definitely stay connected. So with that, you guys, I'll talk to you next week. And there you have it. Hey, guys, thanks for listening to side hustle Pro. If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review on Apple podcasts. It helps other side hustlers just like you to find the show. And if you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Instagram at side hustle Pro. Plus sign up for my six bullet Saturday newsletter at side hustle Pro, that CO slash newsletter. When you sign up, you will receive weekly nuggets from me, including what I'm up to personal lessons and my business tip of the week. Again, that side hustle pro.co/newsletter to sign up. Talk to you soon.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai