May 01, 2015

Former corporate communicator Izolde Bensch loved giving friends unique experiences as presents – spa treatments, music workshops, dance classes – but when her young son started primary school she found herself looking in vain for similar gifts for children. With help from The Hope Factory her business went live in early 2015. An online catalogue bursting with curated gift experiences for children aged 0 to 12 it’s named after the intriguing display honeybees make to alert the hive to new reserves of nectar.

Tell us about your business

It's about gifting to children and families and it's about gifting something different, something extraordinary. These are gifts that are not products, they are experiential, service-orientated or celebrations. I was finalising another business plan when this idea occurred to me. I've got a son who is seven and once children start going to school they get invited to a lot of birthday parties and they get more and more distracted with electronics and that sort of thing. I just thought I would really like to have a way to gift something more meaningful rather than to buy another Lego set, or another Transformer, a Barbie doll – more stuff.

What makes it different?

There aren't any other businesses doing this specifically for children in Australia at the moment. Sites like Red Balloon and Adrenalin and Gift It Now do have some gifts for children but it's mostly for older children or new born babies but there's little there for kids in-between. My business specialises for kids from in the belly to 12 years old. The gifts are exclusive to the site so we don't just on-sell current things that are out there, we actually try and create a new gift. It's more a curation of exclusive gifts that are really special.

What’s the most useful piece of business advice you’ve been given?

There are two. One came from a business consultant who helped me with my initial thought processes. He said, “Clarity comes from engagement”. And that is so true. You can do all the research you want, you can spend hours thinking about stuff and theorising and plotting and scheming but you really become clear about what you want to do and what you are aiming for when you actually start engaging with potential suppliers and start taking your business concept from the office to the world and start testing it a little bit. The second piece of advice was “Hope is not a strategy” (which is quite ironic, since I chose The Hope Factory for my website). That was actually used by [Red Balloon founder] Naomi Simson a lot. You can't say, “I'll build this site and hope that people will come and buy from it”. That's no strategy. You have to actually do the work to get that done. I think it's great advice.

Who or what inspires you?

From a business perspective one of the biggest voices in my head is probably Seth Godin. My day doesn't feel complete until I've read his blog. Then there's a quote from Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” If there can be just one child one day 20 years down the line who says, “I became a marine biologist because I dived with a dolphin when I was 10,” or “I’ve become a scientist,” or “I’ve become a musician because I had an African drumming party when I was six”, I will die a happy person.

What are some of your favourite tools or apps and why?

From a personal perspective I love [brain training app] Lumosity. It empowers me for the day. It takes about 8-to-10 minutes depending on what games you play. The other app I like is called Blrt. It's a collaborative phone app and it's great. Instead of ringing somebody and leaving a long message or trying to send screen shots of something you can record a little message, you can have the website there or a plan or whatever and you can draw circles around it and explain what you want and send someone the message instantly. I find that very useful to collaborate, especially over different time zones.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about starting a business?

Do the ABC – Apply Bottom to Chair – and just work and be patient. I think sometimes when you've got this great idea and you think, “okay, now let's just start it happening now”, there's a rhythm and a process to everything. You've got to trust the process.

What did THF help you with?

They built the business. It's an online business so the website is the business. We went live two weeks ago so it's a very new. The doors are now open and now the real work starts, to optimise the site and start the marketing and all of that fun stuff. Within a week or so we’ve got a really good audience building, which is great. It’s a start. We’re getting the word out there and that's how begins. By some serendipitous way I found The Hope Factory and I thought, that's interesting, because there's a similarly named charity in South Africa, where I come from. I liked The Hope Factor’s philosophy and I liked the testimonials they had on their site - it looked like it would be a personal interaction. A lot of web developers are so technological you barely see them. I was entrusting my entire business to someone so I wanted to get it right. I emailed Andrew and said I'm looking to get a website built, can we chat? And we did, and we finally gave them the website brief around September [2014] and we started building in October. The site ended up being a lot bigger then each of us anticipated so we ended up spending just over five months building.

What’s the most important marketing lesson you’ve learned?

I can't really say that I've learnt a lesson yet but in terms of a marketing philosophy … at the end of the day it doesn't matter how you market, what you market and how you do it, you're still talking to people. And you should always remember that. There's lots of clever ways to market and there’s lots of technology you can use but you still need to reach somebody's eyes and somebody's ears and they still have to interpret your message.

What is your next big business challenge?

To build that tribe. To get the word out there, to build a bit of traction, to get people to actually go to the website and have a look and see what it’s all about and start engaging with it and building that audience.

What should I have asked you that I didn't?

What would be the ultimate gift I would give my own child if money was no object? I would really like to take him in one of those Bloons. It's almost like a space pod and the safest sort of extraterrestrial experience you can have at the moment. Google it, they're great.

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