For The HighBoy, it was a year to shine.
The curated online marketplace for high-end antiques and fine art received high praise in the national press this year, with major features in the magazines domino, Cultured, Elle Decor, New England Home and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, among others. Many of the articles also showcased The HighBoy’s client dealers.
But behind the splashy press coverage and the elegant website are some strong business fundamentals, thanks to the work of the husband and wife founders, Douglas Scott and Olga Granda-Scott, who won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge Community Track last year.
At the time of winning, TheHighBoy.com featured about 100 dealers and $25 million in inventory. Since then the number of dealers has been growing steadily and the value of published inventory is $36.8 million.
In 2015, revenues increased by 80 percent and the founders were able to reduce expenses in the second half of the year, achieving “break-even” and laying the road map toward profitability for early this year, Granda-Scott said.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a startup that is only just celebrating its second anniversary.
Not that it has been an easy road disrupting a tradition-bound industry and playing in the highly competitive e-commerce space. The company implemented changes to its business model late in the year that would make the company more sustainable.
The HighBoy kept hearing from antiques dealers that they wanted to take the lead on developing relationships with their customers, so The HighBoy changed its model to be a lead generator and marketing service instead of a full-service e-commerce provider.
“Our business model had been that we would handle the sale completely. Now we have a model more like an Etsy or eBay, where the buyer goes through us but connects directly with the vendor for the sale,” explained Granda-Scott. “It allowed us to reduce our expenses substantially, so it was a win-win.”
The team, now at four employees, focused on the automation of services by investing in more technology. It added email marketing to the services it offers its dealer clients, which also include presenting and marketing its dealers’ high-end antiques and art.
To celebrate its two-year anniversary, The HighBoy sponsored the new Miami Antiques Art & Design Show in January. “We continue to build partnerships with like-minded organizations who are working towards disrupting the antiquated antiques industry — pun intended,” Granda-Scott said. It will also sponsor the Junior League of Miami’s Showhouse at the Kampong Gardens in April.
The HighBoy, which was a finalist pitching on the center stage in the Startup Showcase at eMerge Americas last May, was accepted into the current cohort of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at Miami Dade College, where it will get support, mentorship and access to resources to scale the business. Granda-Scott became executive director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation, and she was accepted into Radical Partners Social Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.
The team put off additional fund-raising and is working on maximizing results from its existing angel investment. “We are focused on profitability, that’s where we plan to be in 2016,” Granda-Scott said.
The HighBoy’s advice to this year’s Business Plan Challenge contestants: Enter, said Granda-Scott. “Winning the Challenge gave us confidence in our achievements and proved our expertise beyond our niche industry. We had potential investors and partners contact us thanks to the feature and accolade.”
Stow Simple, the new on-demand storage service, impressed Business Plan Challenge judges with its value proposition and plan to execute. But at the time it won second place, the company had not yet launched.
That changed in July: www.stowsimple.com went live.
Founded by Silvia Camps, Stow Simple will deliver bins (each bin can hold the contents of about two carry-on suitcases) so you can pack them, then it will pick up your items — including miscellaneous items such as skis, artwork, baby cribs and camping gear — and store them in an air-conditioned warehouse. Customers will be able to see their inventory online and can order it returned with a few clicks through the website. Pick-up is free, and bins are $5 a month to store. There are no contracts; some of its business is for just a few weeks.
Since the launch, the company has tweaked its pricing strategy, finding that many customers were accustomed to thinking about storage by the size of typical self-storage units. So it added plans for 5 foot by 5 foot and 5 foot by 8 foot spaces as well as package deals it calls Urbin Closets, or three bins and a wardrobe box for $25, or Urbin Racks, three bins and a bike for the same price.
But getting the word out has been a challenge. “The first question we still always get is where are you located?” said Camps. “We explain we come to you.”
One big surprise: Stow Simple’s most active market isn’t the urban core highrises full of app-loving millennials, at least not yet. Camps believes the company hasn’t done enough to get the word out to them. Instead, Coral Gables has come on strong. “Coral Gables wasn’t even in our plan,” Camps said, but it was quickly added. “Those beautiful historic homes don’t have big closets.”
Another surprise is what Camps calls the “between-moves” opportunities. Perhaps the customers move in with the in-laws while their house is being finished. Or a small business loses its lease and needs to store its things while it finds a new location. That’s why Stow Simple is storing the contents of a small bakery.
Stow Simple now serves downtown Miami, Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, South Miami and as far north as Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach.
Along the way, Camps and her brother Jorge, who directs operations, have discovered new markets. For instance, hotels such as the Fontainebleau that have ownership units that are rented out much of the year: Frequent international visitors have been a very good market for them. One of the biggest sales periods was just before Thanksgiving — people getting their “junk rooms” cleaned out for holiday guests.
Yet a core market has continued to be down-sizers, such as a customer who just couldn’t part with a beloved 9-foot kidney bean table — in purple.
Stow Simple has tried direct marketing and affiliate sales but found the best results with boosted Facebook content, particularly a recent post that featured a blissful wish-I-had-that closet. Camps, who has a background in marketing, said Stow Simple’s Urbin Closet plan is all that most customers will need to declutter a closet. The company has also been running Google ads, and it recently began putting commercials on cable channels in its service area. It will be partnering with a pizza restaurant to offer free pizza to college students storing their dorm items. “It’s good publicity for the restaurant and good for us — a win-win,” Canps said.
A success has been its strategic partnership with Miami Rescue Mission. With a customer’s bin delivery comes a bag for donations. “We’ve filled up three trucks for them,” said Camps, who also has started a young professionals group called Rise to support the charity.
Stow Simple’s ambitions don’t stop at the county line. It hopes to expand throughout South Florida, the state and beyond — in time.
“Our goal is to uniquely understand our customer needs and ensure we are servicing and delighting them,” said Camps. “The Miami consumer is still learning about our bins and the service that we offer.”
Stow Simple’s advice for contestants: Look at yourself through your consumer’s eyes, said Camps. “A lot of times we like to expound upon how amazing our product is, and we forget to address how our product is supposed to make someone feel. What is the problem you are solving and is your solution worth paying for?”
JUANA LA IGUANA
The lovable Juana la Iguana stars in educational mobile apps that leverage Juana’s personality to teach core values to children in Spanish.
Juana la Iguana was a TV personality developed by Tania Gilinski and her team for an animated children’s show in Venezuela more than a decade ago. But the character and brand around it became dormant. With the help of Rokk3r Labs, a co-building company in Miami Beach, Gilinski last year launched a new company, new brand and new strategy to teach children cognitive skills in the fun, interactive game-ified app environment.
When it won third place and the People’s Pick in the Business Plan Challenge, the company was just launching its first application: Juana La Iguana en la Granja. But now, Juana has been branching out. Today, there are two apps on the market, with a third on the way and a couple more in the pipeline for this year, said Gilinski, who co-founded the company with Amanda Quijano and Anita Katz.
“Juana la Iguana en la Playa is about taking care of the environment,” Gilinski said about the second app, which has been available in app stores since Dec. 25 — “It was our Christmas miracle,” she said — but will be launching with a big splash next month. “Children pick up trash on the beach and they learn about the animals of the ocean. It teaches children how to make a better world.”
As part of the startup’s focus on branding this year, the company has partnered with YouTube and will soon launch an animated Juana song series. It also unveiled a new website and a shop that features CDs, videos, children’s activities and Juana la Iguana plush toys. “We want to do more of that,’’ Gilinski said. “What happens is when the kids play with the character on the app, they want to hug the character.”
The top highlight of the year: being one of the top Hispanic app developers chosen by Apple. Juana la Iguana was featured twice in the App Store, both in the U.S. and Latin America.
Last fall, the company began monetizing its apps, charging $2.99, which made it significantly harder to achieve downloads, Gilinski said. “We are always looking for innovative ways to promote the brand.”
The small team has hired an operations manager with extensive experience in app development and a brand manager. Some FIU business students studying Latin American markets asked Gilinski if they could help as part of a class project. “I thought that would be a cool thing to do,” she said.
The team remains focused on its goal of 20 apps in the next four years. Gilinski will attend the Kidscreen Summit, a conference about kids entertainment starting Monday in Miami, and will be looking for co-production partners for an animated series.
“Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. It’s about saying I can do this, and you have to work and work and work. It’s not one thing that works; it is a lot of little things and seeing what works,” Gilinski said. “Every day, you have little wins, and all together, it is a big win.”
Juana la Iguana’s advice to contestants: Focus. “We have lots of good ideas, but we don’t have the time or the resources to implement all of them. Focus on one idea and implement it. Then you can go to the next one. Implementation is key,” Gilinski said.