Usher is saying "Yeah!" once again. This time, though, he's giving thumbs up to a fast-growing school supplies company called Yoobi. The Los Angeles-based company donates a portion of its products to schools and has brought in over $20 million in revenue between June 2014 and June 2015, CEO Ido Leffler tells Inc. exclusively.

"I partnered with Yoobi because I strongly believe that education is the most important part of a child's life and the best gift you can give," Usher tells Inc. by email. "It's hard for kids to understand now, but as they get older they'll realize that the more they learn, the higher they climb. Having the proper tools can make or break if a student goes to college."

The new line features notebooks splattered in pink and green--complete with Usher's signature, of course. It's curated by the hip-hop artist himself and designed by artist Jonni Cheatwood. The collaboration between Yoobi and Usher launched June 28 through company's website.

Growing a socially-conscious business

Yoobi prides itself on having a socially conscious business model, à la Toms or Warby Parker, for instance, so it works with charities The Kids in Need Foundation and Starlight Children's Foundation to donate product kits to classrooms in need for every Yoobi item sold. The prices are affordable and fall below the $10 price point.

Since its launch in June 2014, the business has sold nearly 10 million units of product, donating kits to over 700,000 students nationwide. For the record, these aren't your run-of-the-mill pens and notebooks--Leffler says he wants to make back to school shopping more exciting than that, and the 500 different products include items such as neon-colored gel pens and fuzzy, cylindrical pencil cases. 

In some ways, Leffler says that he treats Yoobi like his previous venture, Yes To, a San Francisco-based natural beauty products brand. "We apply the same trend matrix and the same planning strategy--much like a high-end fashion or beauty brand would. That's very different from our peers," he adds, nodding to giants like Crayola, who tend to recycle the same product designs year after year.

Building a dedicated team of employees

To what does Leffler attribute Yoobi's fast-growth? Primarily, he says, to a massively dedicated work force of around 30 employees who are willing to go the extra mile.

"We were able to recruit a team like no other I've ever seen before. People that are superhuman in terms of their passions for this project," says Leffler. For example, earlier this year, in February, he was worried the company wouldn't be able to get deliveries out on time. Two employees camped out in front of the company's manufacturing facility in China for 21 days while it was closed for the Chinese New Year, ensuring they would be there to heckle the facility when it reopened.

Leffler is similarly quick to credit Yoobi's exclusive U.S. retail partner, Target, which he says is helping to "coach" the company as it enters an already saturated marketplace.

Saturated, yes--but it's also a lucrative one. Classroom supplies account for nearly 20 percent of the wholesale supplies space at large, forming an estimated $2.4 billion industry. Nine percent of revenues are dominated by the distributor School Specialty Inc., according to market research firm IBIS World

Industry challenges

Unlike the beauty industry, where businesses can expect a relatively steady demand all year round, as much as 70 percent of Yoobi's business happens during back to school season. This introduces a huge challenge, because Yoobi must plan for that period over a year in advance.

"Having your entire year and budgeting process based on one period of the year is like nothing I've ever experienced. If you get that wrong and you don't budget correctly...at the early stages of a company, that could be make or break," says Leffler. "I now understand what it's like to be the guy that hangs the Christmas lights."

Bringing Usher onboard as a brand partner was a no-brainer. And largely due to Yoobi's focus on outreach, all it took was a single phone call.

"Usher is an incredible human being. [He's] a partner who has the reach and has an amazing reputation, and a partner that actually cares--not someone who's going to endorse for the sake of endorsement," says Leffler. 

Usher, for his part, is adamant. "More than anything, I love that Yoobi gives back to the community with every purchase. I want to encourage that mindset for shoppers and spread the word about this awesome company," he says. 

Published on: Jul 7, 2015