My West London Life

Sahar Meghani

June
16

Education startup Trunkaroo founder Sahar Meghani on frustration with the children's toy market, strong women, building an entrepreneur community and bubble science

What prompted you to come up with Trunkaroo; how was the idea born?

Trunkaroo is a monthly subscription delivering hands-on art and “STEM”-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) projects for three to eight year olds in the UK. I initially set up Trunkaroo out of a personal frustration over current offerings in the market. As an aunt to three nieces who are all very curious (and require constant entertainment!), I was discouraged by the lack of smart, engaging toys that were also beautiful to gift.

I started spending hours on Pinterest looking for fun and educational arts and craft projects or science experiments to do with them, only to spend even more time and money shopping for supplies! While the process was painful for me, watching my nieces gasp at an erupting volcano we had created or “sell” tickets to and perform a show using homemade shadow puppets was truly delightful.

I realised then how crucial hands-on projects are for children but also how difficult it is for well-intentioned but time-poor parents to actually do them (and avoid the temptation of turning on the TV or handing over an iPad!). I started talking to early childhood teachers, interviewing parents, creating sketches and watching kids play with our prototypes. Very quickly I realized that there was a real gap in the market and that I might be onto something pretty exciting!

What makes Trunkaroo stand out from the crowd?

I’d say there are three things that make Trunkaroo stand out. First, we are the only company focusing on “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) topics
and projects for the three to eight year old age range, which is such a critical period in children’s development.

Second, every project we ship has been reviewed by early childhood experts and tested by actual children.

Third, we are truly design-led. This means that that we are obsessed with ensuring that from the initial activity design to the illustrations, characters and instructions our product is beautiful, easy to use and promotes open-ended play.

How do the activities aid development and tick boxes in terms of learning while having fun? Why did you think Trunkaroo’s focuses (e.g. STEM) were important?

There is a massive amount of learning and development that occurs during the three-to-eight age in kids—children develop their interests, their passions, their sense of self and build important creative confidence. Their minds are like sponges, so the more topics children explore the more they can discover about themselves. Whether it is a bubble science project or a superhero themed role-play, all Trunkaroo projects address eight key areas: Exploration, Making, Gross Motor Development, Imagination, Social Interaction, Fine Motor Development, Experimentation and Communication.

We specifically chose to focus on “STEM” or “STEAM” (A is for arts) because there is a growing consensus among experts that building, making and experimenting helps children become creative thinkers and problem solvers. STEM-based education also breaks traditional gender stereotypes and helps prepare children for the fast-changing technological innovation they will undoubtedly experience in their lives. ​

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What is the company philosophy?

By sparking creativity and curiosity in children everywhere, Trunkaroo is on a mission to transform every child into a mini maker, scientist, alchemist, explorer and inventor.

And what’s your personal life philosophy?

I’m an eternal optimist and really believe in the power of good old-fashioned hard work!

What has been your biggest challenge setting up Trunkaroo?

Starting your own business has been made out to be very sexy in the press, but the day-to-day reality of running your own company takes a great deal of perseverance and sacrifice. Having worked in very team-based cultures previously, I think I struggled most with the loneliness that comes from being an entrepreneur (even though I have a fabulous team!).

I’m lucky to have met friends and mentors who are also entrepreneurs so instead of going at it alone, I try to meet them for coffees or breakfasts to share ideas and get a sense of community.

What has been the greatest surprise in the response?

I have been pleasantly surprised by how incredibly supportive people (especially parents) have been! I’ll never forget the day I met this one woman for the first time for a coffee to chat about Trunkaroo—we got to talking and before I knew it I was over at her house testing Trunkaroo products with her children and having dinner with her family! She has become a strong supporter and friend since. 

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses?

The best advice I would give is to just put yourself out there. It can be pretty scary to share your ideas with someone who may not feel as passionately about them as you do or to show a prototype to someone which isn’t totally perfect. Over time you’ll find people who share your passion and vision. Get your idea out there and go out and test your prototypes. Talk to customers, do surveys and watch people use your product. The feedback you get early on is so critical because it will help you learn and grow as a person and as a business. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself!

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How far ahead do you work on boxes for coming months?

We’ve got the next six months designed and are working on new boxes each month.

Who works on the boxes—artists, writers? Who does what?

We have a fantastic team of writers, graphic designers, teachers, illustrators and kid testers. I work with teachers, our content writer and graphic designer to select a few winning ideas. We quickly test prototypes with kids so we can learn and iterate as we design and produce each activity. Our graphic designer and illustrator help bring our ideas to life and then we place orders from our suppliers and producers.

We also have a “packing party” where we get together and package our products over some pizza and wine—those are quite fun!

Each box has two art and STEM-based activities as well as a 12-page “Discoveroo” magazine with activity extensions and puzzles so it’s pretty fast-paced and exciting!

Who inspires you creatively, from any medium?

In architecture—the late Zaha Hadid, fiction—Haruki Murakami, music—Beyoncé (!). It’s no surprise that many of my role models are strong and successful women—I attended an all-women college (Wellesley College) and Trunkaroo has an all-women team. It’s an important part of our philosophy.

What are your favourite spots in west London to relax or be inspired?

As the sun comes out, I love to take my laptop and my dongle and work in Kensington ​Gardens! I also enjoy a spin class at Equinox or a Pilates session at Heartcore—it really helps me clear my head!

Where is your favourite place to eat in west London?

I’m obsessed with brunch at EggBreak in Kensington—it’s annoying to have to wait in line but the flatbread and avocado on toast are divine!

What was the last book you read?

I just finished reading Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was Hillary Clinton’s former policy chief at the State Department. It tackles questions around work-life trade-offs and takes a very opposing view to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s a great book for any women in business—I’d really recommend it!

And film you watched?

The new Jungle Book! I loved it so much I’ve watched it in the cinema three times.

Favourite summer song?

‘Werk werk werk werk werk’—it’s become my anthem (although I’m still struggling to figure out a lot of the words!)

What would your perfect day out in London involve?

I love strolling around London—at the moment I’m enjoying Hyde Park so walking through and having a picnic in the park with my husband and friends would be my ideal day! If I could bookend it with breakfast at Egg Break (as mentioned) and then dinner at our local pub, The Hereford Arms, that would be the icing on the cake.

trunkaroo

If you can tell us, what sort of themes are coming up in future Trunkaroo boxes?

Of course! We are releasing a special bubble science box for the summer as well as a sports-themed box in time for the Olympics. Our latest superhero themed box is also proving very popular so keep an eye out for that one too!

What’s your favourite theme so far and why?

We released our Growing Seeds box last month and it has been a huge hit with kids and families. We weren’t sure if children would have the patience for it but I love that kids have been completing their 14-day journals, caring for their cress and radish seeds daily, coming up with recipes for them and also sending us lots of photos!

What are your goals for Trunkaroo and beyond?

My goal for the brand and the product is to spark a curiosity in children and to make it really delightful and easy for families to create together. I’m also working on an initiative with some charities to get Trunkaroo to disadvantaged children and hope that becomes a larger part of the business as we grow. Overall, I’d love to give families everywhere the toy that I wish I had growing up.

Sahar Meghani is the Founder and CEO of Trunkaroo, an education-tech start up based in London. She has worked on Wall Street as an investment banker and private equity investor as well as at leading startups such as LinkedIn. She moved to London four years ago after completing her MBA from Harvard Business School and lives in west London.

www.trunkaroo.com

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