For spotting--and filling--a lucrative gap in the pet market.
When Parisa Fowles-Pazdro adopted a French bulldog, she found she had to choose between spending a few dollars on cheap pet accessories or thousands on designer ones. But what about something in between? With that question in mind, she founded Maxbone in 2017 to sell affordable luxury items including dog clothing, toys, freeze-dried food, carriers, and more. Boosted by an increase in dog adoptions during the pandemic, in the past year, the Los Angeles-based company grew sales 300 percent year-over-year and attracted more than 8,000 new customers.
Collaborating with well-known brands, including Disney and Away, Fowles-Pazdro looks back at the year with pride knowing she's serving shoppers who have been ignored in the past. "There are a lot of people who are grateful that we are making good quality food for their dogs,” she says. “And we’re educating customers about why they should have a certain approach to their dogs—and why they're like family members.”--Anna Meyer
Lora Haddock DiCarlo
For fighting gender bias in tech--and building a fast-growing business in the process.
After a decadelong career in health care, Lora DiCarlo went deep into researching sexual anatomy and in 2017 developed a sex toy in partnership with Oregon State University's Robotics & Engineering Lab. She and her team won an innovation award in robotics at the Consumer Electronics Show, but it was taken away a month later—prompting DiCarlo to launch a worldwide awareness campaign about gender bias in tech. The attention brought in a celebrity co-owner, actress and model Cara Delevingne, who had been a longtime fan of the sex-positive mission.
DiCarlo’s eponymous company launched its first product in January 2020, and within its first year went on to create 11 more products sold in 37 countries, generating $7.5 million in revenue. "As a founder, you have to look like you know what you're doing," DiCarlo says of the whirlwind year and the awareness campaign. "At the time, I would ask myself on a daily basis, 'This is scary. Do I really want to do this? Well, if you didn't do it, would that be respectful, and conducive to empowerment or integrity?' And the answer is, no. Better keep going."--Anna Meyer
For building a brand that hit its stride when things got tough.
Missing the excitement of running a fashion business after selling the Kate Spade brand, in 2016 Elyce Arons, Kate Spade, and Spade’s husband, Andy, launched Frances Valentine, another clothing and accessory company focused on bright colors and fun patterns. After Kate Spade’s tragic death in 2018, Arons was determined to carry the brand to greater heights in her honor.
During the pandemic, Frances Valentine’s sales have doubled, which Arons attributes to new marketing techniques. "It was challenging at first--scheduling our photo shoots to keep everybody safe, getting tested the day before to make sure the models are OK, finding interesting places so you don’t have to shoot in a studio all the time,” she says. “But the biggest challenge was really the first month of Covid, worrying about being able to keep everyone working and not having to furlough people. And I’m so happy that we didn’t have to do that.” In addition to business successes during the pandemic, Frances Valentine has donated more than 6,000 tote bags to the nurses and doctors on the frontlines.--Anna Meyer
For giving parents better kids' toys--right when they needed them most.
When schools shut down at the onset of the pandemic, Jessica Rolph saw an opportunity for Lovevery, the infant toy box subscription she founded with Rod Morris in 2015. “Parents were really looking for alternatives to keep their children engaged without giving them a screen,” says Rolph. What better than a lively assortment of age-appropriate playthings—art kits, board books, matching games—delivered to your door every few months, at just the right development stage? Rolph knew Lovevery didn’t need to spend on marketing—organic search soared as parents desperately searched for wholesome activities. And she was already months into research and development on a line of play kits for 2-year-olds, which would extend the company’s product line for older tots. She managed to push that project through during dark days of the pandemic, launching in July 2020. Zooming with test participants afforded Rolph a rarely seen glimpse into how children play at home, and she expanded testing to solicit feedback beyond the existing panel of parent testers. “That allowed us to get fresher insight,” she says. As if all that wasn’t productive enough, Rolph launched a standalone block set and play gym in the U.K. and Europe last November. “Babies are babies everywhere,” Rolph says. “We have a global opportunity to offer a hyper-relevant solution.”--Jill Krasny
For cooking up better kids' meals--and creative ways to stay in business.
When the country shut down at the start of the pandemic, Bean Sprouts—a healthy kids' cafe with 14 locations across the U.S.—found itself without any customers, let alone a game plan. The cafés reside in family destinations like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and couldn’t exactly pivot to takeout and delivery like many curbside restaurants did. Co-chief executive and co-founder Shannon Seip wondered how the 14-year-old Orange, California, chain would survive. Her solution? Ramp up content to stay in front of potential customers, first with sales of the delightful Bean Sprouts cookbook, and then by launching an online cooking class, Imaginibbles, free to host partners who shared the class with local schools. Seip also expanded business partnerships by bringing Bean Sprouts’ signature Imaginibbles menu items, like Crocamole, a crock of avocado and hummus dip, to children’s hospitals. And with health front and center in everyone's mind, she took calls with “huge players in the food-service industry” and signed a number of contracts to open future locations—for a total of 21 by the end of this year. That’s a good thing for parents—and kids hungry for something healthier (and tastier) than cold cuts.--Jill Krasny