Elizabeth Granados, Founder and CEO of The House of Noa has built a brand based on beauty meets function. She spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about building, pitching, and evolving her business since its launch in 2016.
NAN: Give us a little background. Have you always known you wanted to run a business?
ELIZABETH GRANADOS: I’ve always had an interest in everything entrepreneurial. I’m that person who sees a good idea and thinks: You know, you could make money with that concept by doing X, Y, or Z. My parents are both entrepreneurs. My mom invented a board game when I was a kid and my dad had his own business. So, I think it’s in my genes to be a business owner.
NAN: How did you develop your business concept?
ELIZABETH: In the beginning, I had a couple of ideas for products and businesses I might want to start. At the time, I had a five-month old and I needed to buy one of those protective foam mats for my living room floor. I was so put off by the way they looked. I thought: This is a problem I want to solve and I think other moms would also like it.
Once I had created an initial play mat design, my designer Photoshopped an image of the mat on a living room floor. I started sharing it in a Facebook mom’s group and I realized how many other moms were into the idea and wanted it too. That’s when I knew I had to follow through and make it.
My husband originally told me about Kickstarter. When I went to the site and I started watching videos of entrepreneurs who were successfully launching businesses, I was so inspired. I also realized how the internet enables people to cut out the middleman retailer so you can speak directly to your customer.
NAN: Let’s talk about following through. How did you find a manufacturer and how did you get the funding?
ELIZABETH: Well, because I had an infant when I started, I had no real resources to go anywhere or leave my house! I relied on Google. When it comes to researching manufacturing, I think the trick is to learn the nomenclature around your product and how manufacturers describe the product. It’s usually different than the language a retailer would use to market a product. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in manufacturing, it just took me speaking to a lot of people, making a lot of calls, sending a lot of emails, and trying to figure out how I could manufacture my product.
In terms of funding, I put in about $10,000 of my own money. I spent about $6,000 on a Kickstarter video done by a professional videographer and $500 on a beautiful apartment I rented for an afternoon to shoot the video. I spent on making prototypes I could photograph. They weren’t the final, actual product, they were just mockups of the product so I could make the video. I also used that money to consult with a lawyer about safety testing since it is a children’s product.
I pre-sold more than 1,000 units on my Kickstarter. That was more than $100,000 raised. That money enabled me to buy the first container and continue to move forward. And once I sold more of those, I was able to buy another container and then so on and so forth until four years later.
NAN: You pitched your idea on Shark Tank in 2017. What did you learn from that experience?
ELIZABETH: I think people assume my business endeavor didn’t quite work out because I didn’t successfully make a deal on Shark Tank. But that isn’t the case. I learned a lot on from having just one hour with the sharks. They’re incredibly smart and they were able to tell me things about my business I didn’t understand in the first few months after I’d launched.
I feel incredibly lucky that I got to hear their feedback. All the sharks gave me different bits of advice and ultimately ended up following all of their advice. It motivated me to continue on.
The publicity was amazing, but ultimately it didn’t make or break my business. I was able to take what I learned and move onward. So, it was a great experience, but it wasn’t a defining moment that necessarily was a catalyst that made my business successful.
NAN: You were part of the reSET Impact Accelerator in 2019. What were you hoping to gain from the experience?
ELIZABETH: It was an opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs, learn from mentors, and hear other people’s point of view about how I could grow and shape my business.
I think people were surprised I was doing an incubator program because, three years in, I was already pretty far along in the business. But I try to stay open-minded and learn something new every day.
NAN: Tell us about your business evolution.
ELIZABETH: We started as a baby playmat company called Little Nomad. Then, in 2018, I had the idea to create a kitchen mat. It was sparked by a blog Lifestyle Director Lisa Freeman wrote for The Kitchn called, “What I’m Getting Instead of Those Ugly-As-Sin Kitchen Mats” in which she mentioned the Little Nomads playmats. That blog sent more than 100,000 hits to my website! I realized, oh my goodness, clearly there’s a need for a beautiful kitchen mat in the same way there’s a need for beautiful playmats.
I began working on a Kickstarter idea that, in my mind, was almost a separate business. I didn’t really see how I could marry up the playmats and kitchen mats from a brand standpoint. I was planning on doing that launch when I joined reSET.
After one of my practice pitches, I received some excellent feedback from Andrea Stalf, a reSET mentor and one of the pitch judges. There was value to everything she was saying. I was taking copious notes. Later, I asked her to lunch and shared my idea for how to connect kitchen mats and playmats to create an online destination for beauty meets function items.
It was a pivotal conversation. She helped me understand who my customer really is so I could continue to make products that speak to that customer. That gave me the spark to figure out a new way to reimagine the future focus of the business.
It was an important of part of my story. We transitioned from Little Nomad to The House of Noa in 2019 and began creating picnic mats, highchair mats, and yoga mats. We’re launching table mats soon. And, later this year, right before the holidays, we’re launching a machine-washable rug product. They all have the same value proposition of beautiful meets functionality and easy care and easy clean.
NAN: What has made your business successful?
ELIZABETH: Bootstrapping has been the most critical component to proving out the success of the business. My business success has also been more about the social proof—customers actually buying the product in advance of me making it because they wanted it that badly and it’s different than anything on the market.
My advice to any entrepreneur would be to get that social proof and presell your product because I don’t think it’s worth your time, money, or energy to work on a product people aren’t willing to buy. That’s rule number one of business: You’ve got to be doing it to make money. So, if people aren’t willing to buy your product, it’s important to know right off the mat.