Editor's Note: Komodo's "10 Questions" series features kids brands and their founders. They reveal how they came up with the idea, what's unique about their brand and what makes them carry on.
It seems summer is going to be around for a while. This is the perfect time to enjoy nature and joggle all around. Or wobble or better said Wobbel. You do not know what Wobbel means or is?! Let us tell you all about it. In our new interview with the Wobbel brand founders. A brand which is "inviting everyone to grow", to enjoy life to the fullest. The company started three years ago and they are already scaling up. We caught up with its founders, Hannelore Blaauw and Wouter Haine and asked them our 10 Questions, to figure out what makes their brand unique and what makes them tick.
K. Could you tell more about how we came up with the idea?
Hannelore: At some point in the beginning of 2015, I was looking for something to help the motor skills of my youngest son. He was turning 3. And because I went to therapy sessions with my oldest son, I knew there would be a question about the left and right brain. Both my boys did not crawl much. If a child goes from lying down to standing, there a possibility to have some motor skills problems later on in life. I didn't want to bring him to therapy, because I knew there are a lot one can do at home. I was looking for solutions and I was googling for "balance board" or "board". I found an old Waldorf board in the United States. It looked like fun and exercise in the same time. I emailed the company, but they were closed for a couple of years. Ikea had something like that, but they were not doing it anymore. We even got pictures from the Second World War. There were people lying on the edge and making pictures. They were some sort of rocker boards. And then I posted the picture on my Facebook account. Wouter has a 7-year-old daughter and so do I, they both went to the same Waldorf day-care. So Wouter, who is a designer, said: “Oh ok, I can make something like that, but you have to find 5 more friends who would like to have one!”. So, I went on a Parenting Forum and I posted that I need five people to support my idea, as I'm going to make one for my boy's birthday. That weekend I got 500 e-mails and orders and we did not have one yet. And so, he [Wouter] made one. And then we saw immediately that it was an old idea, which needed improvement. This is how we came up with the idea of layers of felt because wood on wood makes a lot of noise and scratches on the board. It took nine months from my son's birthday for us to actually start. And Wouter came up with the name.
Wouter: It’s from wobbling. At first it was Wobbel Bubble. But it was way too long. The logo, which usually takes hours and hours of work, took me five minutes. Everything came together.
Hannelore: After three years of common use, Wobbel can be added in the dictionary. That's also one of our goals! :)
Hannelore: Nine months after, we took our saving money and made the first 200 Wobbels. And they were delivered to our house, we stocked them in our garage. They were sold out in one day. Then we made 400 and they were also sold out. Afterwards we were sold out for 20 months. After we created the website. Within three minutes we had nine orders. A lot of people said it's good marketing. But we believe the power is in the board. And the fact that people like to share their experience with this toy.
K. So is Wobbel a toy?
Hannelore: We have the toy certification. But it's more than a that. We call it a BarbaPapa. It can be everything. We needed to share it. Not because we saw it in our living room and we thought: “Oh, let's make some money!”. But because it was “given” to us. We could operate relaxed. There were no competitors. It was a joy to share and then people did not take it so seriously.
Wouter: Kids thought of all the things one can do with it. When we started, we put the boards in the living room and I thought: “They are going to stand on it and juggle". But in five minutes they already had 20 things they could do with it. “Wow, so much more can be done”, I thought. Still, every couple of weeks, we see new ways to usage. Kids and adults. I am actually using it stretch my back.
K. What's your design thinking process?
Wouter: There's two parts of it: product design and then the branding. The product design is based on the golden ratio. Every details of the corners, the edges, the thickness of the wood, everything matters. Everything keeps that golden ratio going. When we designed the Starter, we did the same thing. The same for the XL.
Wouter: We also have this philosophy that the board needs to feel good. Usually it's sanded and sprayed so to get a special texture. Our board has an extra element: the polishing phase. To make it as smooth as possible. So, it feels like glass. The same for the selection of the felt. We could use cheaper felt of course. Like plastic felt. It costs may be half. But it's not wood, it’s not going to be the same. The felt mimics the same design philosophy. We use a hard material which is wood, smoothen out so it feels good in every way. There is a funny thing: on a fair, for example, there are a lot of wood manufacturers. The first thing they always do: they feel the wood. It's a combination of craftsmanship and technology. One of our employees is responsible for the edges. We can see if he's on holiday :). We know we have a “master”. You feel the board is smooth, that its shape is right. And it might sound "stupid", but if the shape is right people will use it.
And then we have the graphic design and product imagery. Most of our pictures we get from our customers. Around 90% of them. We're very lucky to live in this age, when people make very good pictures. And of course, we use sometimes photographers for new products, printed materials for fairs etc. But most of the pictures we get are very good.
Hannelore: It’s a very photogenic product! It’s a holy grail. It’s an open thing and it’s an open end on Social Media as well. People are so talented, and they can show it through their rooms.
K. Where you get your inspiration from?
Hannelore: Looking at what children we do. We travel around with our Wobbel playground and we have our own kids. If it works for our kids, it will work for other kids, right?! Because we are not that special!! :) At the playground, we could see for some small children that the Wobbel is a big thing. But also for a lot of people. So we thought we can also experience a smaller one - my first Wobbel or Wobbel Starter. So, the Starter is for young kids, but also for kids with “younger” motoric skills. And the funny thing is: young kids like it a lot, but also older ones and fathers as well! It has the size of a skate board. Younger kids choose it naturally.
Hannelore: The inspiration also comes from our invitation to grow. This is our main thing. Our way of thinking: we invite ourselves to grow, our children, our partners and our customers. It comes from the deep. We like to work with engaged shops which are driven by the people we meet, the people we know. We don't have any distributors in Europe. We want to have personal and close relationships with the people we work with, so we can relate to one another. Invitation to grow is our core.
K. What are your future plans?
Hannelore: We have got the Wobbel Lab. We're working on different shapes, different ideas. Especially around movement in schools and in offices. And with regards of expanding the business, we are looking into Asia, into countries like Japan, China or Korea. And then South America. So, wobbling around the world is very important to us. We have this idea of the United Children of the Wobbel Board. Because no child on Earth needs an explanation, no user guide. Because we are more than board, our message is about open-end play, offline play and sustainability. Every morning there is a yoga class with Wobbel boards in the Botanic Gardens in Singapore. Can you believe that?!
K. Can you describe your day at work.
Hannelore: Our days are quite different. I am our “voice to the world”, communication and partnerships. I wake very early. My kids changed my biorhythm for the rest of my life. I wake up around 6/6.30, have breakfast and then go online, especially on Instagram. And then I take care of the kids, making their bags, taking them to school. Then I go back home and I work. My day ends when kids finish their school. And then in the evening, when they are in bed, I work some more. So, I do get my 10 hours a day work, but in a different way :)
Wouter: I start my day with my daughter and preparing her for school. I'm in the process of transferring all the company's operations to Tiffany and Sergio, our employees here in the office. So now I don't need to be here in the office all the time. We are in the phase of going from start up to scale up. So the last weeks I could focus more on the website and the product.
Hannelore: Everything is moving super-fast. We have demands from Korea for example and we won the “Milk Award” at Play Time, media is more interested etc.
K. What’s a trip that changed you?
Wouter: Costa Rica! It's amazing. Not only nature. People are kind and nice. They diched the army and used the budget for higher education and health care. Everybody pays the same percentage of taxes. Every souvenir one buys goes to forest preservation. They are buying their own country back and it’s amazing! I’ve been there twice already.
Hannelore: I like the silence and nature. I have travelled, but I am more of a loner. So, silence and simplicity. I don't need crowded places. Of course, there are a lot of nice things to see in the world. But if we talk about a place I would like to visit, it would be New Zealand.
K. When you were a kid what did you want to do when you grew up?
Wouter: I wanted to be an artist, but my dad said: “Art school is for broke people with no job”. He didn't want me to go. And it's quite funny. Everything in life comes together. And today Wobbel, even though I studied Engineering.
Hannelore: I also wanted to do something creative, but it was out of the question for my family. I come from a very “scientific” family. So, I focused on becoming a lawyer. I studied law. But during my studies I joined an organization who helps children to be aware of their rights. And I made their website etc. So, this when I started to do some PR and communication. This when I realized how much I liked “bringing messages to people”. The business spirit is very much alive in my family, most are entrepreneurs. It’s a gift to be in this business: we meet so many wonderful people with great stories.
K. A message for the readers
Hannelore: If you are reading this article, you’re in the right place. I think the most important thing to remember is: invite your surroundings to grow and you will grow as well!
We will continue our series of brands founders’ interviews. As it's essential to know everything about the products we buy, especially those for our kids. As there is more to the product than its basic description. More than the materials used, its colour, size or the country where it’s produced.
Photo credits @Wobbel 2018