By Ray Mark Rinaldi | Apr 01, 2018
Employees: 2 full-time, changing roster of part-timers.
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: D.I.Y. STEM kits
DeFazio had big plans to become a biochemist. Then she became one -- and quickly realized it wasn't the life for her.
Good jobs were rare and the pay was low. Her gig as an under appreciated researcher at a local university wasn't making her happy, or covering the bills. "Basically, I was a Ph.D-level scientist getting paid $9 an hour," she says.
So she started taking side jobs, drawn as she always had been to small businesses with dreams of being much larger. "I started working in startups when I was 19," says DeFazio, who is now 31. "Before anybody even called them startups."
But something happened as she was toiling away in her parallel universes of academia and private enterprise: She realized she ought to be working for herself. It happened in a typical Colorado way -- while she was on a drive in the mountains in late 2014. The light suddenly went on. "And two months later I launched a Kickstarter," she says.
DeFazio was raising money for what became Kitables, a company that sells kits containing all of the parts needed to build things like Bluetooth speakers, portable USB chargers, and flying drones constructed out of Legos. The kits are packaged in cardboard boxes and come with easy-to- follow instructions, and sell for $17 to $53.
They're marketed to crafty adults and curious kids and are designed to fit into the STEM teaching curriculum in schools. Because its product business is mostly online, Kitables reaches consumers worldwide.
Kitables also regularly hosts public events at Colorado breweries, called Build n' Brews, where people come together socially around their products. Participants raise a glasses of beer then get to work constructing those flying drones or wireless speakers. They can be a place to get to know your neighbors or an ice-breaking date night.
The Build n' Brews have proved popular -- the website advertises seven in April alone, each with a $40 price tag -- and they've diversified the company's clientele.
Kitables customers tend to be people with discretionary incomes, says DeFazio. They skew young and usually make $60,000 to $70,000 a year. But while seventy percent of online kits sell to males, the live events draw a 50-50 gender split.
DeFazio believes one secret to Kitables success is its low overhead for raw materials. A kit might have seven or eight parts -- wires, batteries, a motor -- and each is sourced "off the shelf" from a manufacturer that already makes the part for other products. Kitables kits are assembled from suppliers in "Denmark, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Wisconsin; it's kind of everywhere," says DeFazio.
"We have to be able to make it for $20 or it's not going to work," she says. "Unlike most companies that make products and need to have fifty grand to get a run of something."
DeFazio describes her company as "a baby startup," but that is changing quickly. She has serious plans to expand and sees significant market potential for its Build n' Brews in other cities. Kitables already has franchise operations in the works with events in line to start next year in San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. "We want to be a national franchise by 2021," says DeFazio.
Challenges: Bolstering attendance at live offerings. "Some events we sell out and others, like, one person shows up," says DeFazio.
Opportunities: Kitables' Build n' Brews are "killing it" when it comes to customer satisfaction, according to DeFazio. That's something to capitalize on. "We have hit an artery and now we need to expand quickly."
Needs: DeFazio calls the people that run its Build n' Brews "buildologists" and it needs to recruit more of them. The company also hopes to develop a national marketing strategy "so we can expand outside of Colorado," she says.