Mary DeRosa of Austin, Texas wanted to do something special for teachers. After spending several years teaching at the elementary level, she became familiar with the stressors teachers face on a daily basis – and knew what it would take to put smiles on the faces of both the teachers and the students. So DeRosa – with the help of her business and life partner, Robby Lee – came up with ElementaryBox, LLC. The pair runs ElementaryBox out of their home office.
“ElementaryBox is a monthly subscription service for elementary school teachers, from the pre-k level to 5th grade. Each box contains grade-level specific teaching resources, rewards for the kiddos, and a special gift just for the teacher. We try to keep the boxes themed and seasonal,” DeRosa says of the objective of her business.
Although ElementaryBox was formally established in May of 2014, the team of two didn’t launch until July, so their then-handful of subscribers would receive their first box in August, appropriately in time for the back-to-school season.
For DeRosa and Lee, the urge to do something to give back to teachers was what prompted them to become small business owners.
“I wanted to do something special for teachers and provide them with resources they need, as well as special gifts just for them. After getting to know the life of a teacher through me, Robby was onboard. We put our heads together and asked each other, ‘What better way than a monthly delivery system?’ We wanted to boost teacher morale and also contribute to learning in elementary classrooms. I have teaching experience, and Robby is a landscape designer and artist, but he has worked with several schools and education programs and art programs,” DeRosa explains.
DeRosa and Lee knew now was the time to strike while the iron is hot since the subscription box industry is growing at such a rapid pace. There seems to be a subscription box for everything – men and women’s grooming products, subscription boxes for dogs and for gamers, among other niches that have been filled.
“We curate what teachers need and save them time and money. I use my prior experience as a teacher to determine what they want and what works,” she says.
It’s this process of picking and choosing what goes into the subscription boxes that DeRosa enjoys most about small business ownership.
“The teacher can open the box with his or her kiddos, so being behind that and being the one to put it all together is really rewarding. Teachers can be so overworked and so underappreciated,” she confides.
According to DeRosa, the vast majority of their subscribers are female.
Although subscription boxes similar to ElementaryBox exist, none of them are quite like what DeRosa and Lee send out.
“There are a couple of businesses like this that are focused more on snacks, or desk materials, or gifts for teachers and not educational supplies, so we give them a good mix of all of those things. We’re sourcing them from the best educational suppliers of the latest products. So I think that gives us an edge, as well as my experience as a teacher. We’re focused on meaningful, useful, educational resources — not just putting a bunch of stuff in a box,” she elaborates.
In addition to a website — www.elementarybox.com — and utilizing all of the social media platforms available to them, DeRosa and Lee partnered up with another relevant business that could help them spread the word about ElementaryBox.
“Advertising on social media can only get you so many subscribers. So we recently started a partnership with Teacher’s Notebook. It’s an online marketplace of downloadable and printable educational resources. We’ve included gift certificates and some of their material and, in turn, they’ve done e-mail campaigns for us. That partnership has really helped us go from that handful to hundreds. We also network and go to educational conferences here and there. By back-to-school season, we’ll have really grown significantly.
The biggest challenge DeRosa and Lee have faced on their journey toward startup success has been ensuring that their product is worth the while of their subscribers.
“Teachers don’t make a lot of money, so they want to make sure that their money is well spent. We have partnered with several bloggers, so we send them a complementary box and they review it. Teachers see those reviews and decide if it is worth it to them or not. Customer acquisition has been the biggest challenge in the first year of business,” she confides.
For aspiring entrepreneurs looking to become small business owners, DeRosa offers the following advice.
“Have a clear vision and a clear mission of what you want to do. Be passionate and go for it. Take risks and don’t hold back,” she urges. “If I can do it, anyone can!”
DeRosa insists that there are advantages that come from the independence of small business ownership.
“It’s very nice being your own boss. I enjoy working for myself because I have a strong opinion about the way it should go. It is hard work. It is a risk and it can be scary, but I don’t know if that’s a disadvantage.”
Mary DeRosa and Robby Lee of ElementaryBox are satisfied clients of 1-800Accountant.
“Our account manager is awesome. He makes sure we’re well taken care of. I have a really difficult time wrapping my brain around taxes and accounting, so not having to worry about it is a huge relief,” she enthuses.
Photo credit: The photograph and logo included in this blog post were provided by ElementaryBox, LLC and is used with permission.