My daily mantra over the past few years is something that my husband always says to me and that is, “There is a reason for everything.” For example, the head of the development team that built my early product got a huge gig and we mutually decided to part ways. I was very nervous about finding a new development team and was losing sleep about it. About three days later, I got a text from a digital producer who I have known for 20 years and deeply trust. She was actually the first person I contacted when I had the idea for Gugu Guru but she had just taken on a long-term project and couldn’t work with me at that time. The text read that her big project had ended and she was looking for some new and exciting client work. The timing was uncanny and I was literally jumping for joy when I was texting her back. Needless to say, I have an amazing team in place now.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Banks, CEO and founder of Gugu Guru a free website that delivers highly personalized, unbiased and expert product recommendations to new and expectant parents based on their answers to a style & lifestyle quiz. Since its launch in 2015, Gugu Guru has partnered with retail giants like Bed Bath & Beyond and Walmart’s Jet.com; it serves as the platform for Domino’s Baby Registry and; has received loads of accolades from celebrity clientele such as Whitney Port, Cameran Wimberly, Ryan Lochte and Shenae Grimes-Beech.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I worked for many years as a branding and marketing consultant in the mom and baby space, first for a leading agency where I worked with global brands like P&G (Pampers) and Abbott (Similac) and then on my own when I started my consulting firm, where I worked with mostly new and emerging baby brands. When I started my consulting business, I happened to be pregnant with my first child so I was in the unique position of being the target customer of the brands and retailers that I was serving. I identified a trifecta of challenges in the industry — 1. First time parents are completely overwhelmed with the amount of choices in the category. Choosing products for your baby is research intensive and intimidating enough as it is. When you factor in that the category is exploding and there are new products and brands entering the market daily at a seemingly endless pace, it becomes extremely overwhelming very quickly. All this overwhelm is happening at a sensitive time when new and expectant families should be trying to cut extra stress out of life. 2. For brands, especially new brands, the market has a lot of noise and it’s very difficult to break through that noise and get in front of the right parent that needs your product. 3. Lastly, for retailers, personalized experiences are now an expectation of millennials (who make up approximately 90% of new parents today) and with the glut of products in the baby & parenting category, it was becoming almost impossible for retailers to personalize these experiences in a way that scales effectively.
I knew that there needed to be an easier way for parents to receive personalized and pared down product recommendations. Inspired by my love of those fun questionnaires like, “What Kind of Friend Are You?” that I used to take in teen magazines, Gugu Guru is meant to be a “What Kind of Baby Registry Are You?” quiz that results in free, unbiased and highly personalized product recommendations for families based on the answers.
Why did you found your company?
First and foremost, to help and delight parents. There is nothing more satisfying to me than hearing that Gugu Guru has made the process of shopping for baby less overwhelming and even fun for families. I also created the company to help brands cut through the noise in the market and get in front of the right customer, at the right time.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We are building a recommendation system and service for a key demographic, i.e., parents, that does not rely on item-to-item relationships. Existing item-to-item recommendation systems like the ones you see on Amazon or Netflix are flawed because they rely on a user’s browsing or shopping cart history. For example, if someone purchases Orange Is the New Black Season One, those type of recommendation systems will predict that there’s a high likelihood they’ll also want Season Two. The reason that this doesn’t work for first time parents is that there’s really nothing like that in their purchase or browsing history that will indicate, for example, what stroller is right for their family.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
The very first person I hired was my top advisor, Caren Sinclair-Kay, who is presently the President of Dormify. Caren has helped me in more ways than I can count but most importantly she has helped me avoid so many of the common pitfalls that entrepreneurs make. My brother, Mike, is an EVP and President of FirstBank Puerto Rico and has always taken the time to review my business model, financials, etc., and give me his invaluable feedback and guidance. My attorneys: Tom French & Erica Roman. Tom has known me since I was a teenager and is one of the top lawyers in the country with a specialty in tech startups. In addition to being a lawyer, Erica is a successful entrepreneur herself. I feel like I have the dream team of legal counsel who act as though they’re personally invested in my success. Lastly, I hired a business consultant late last year, Scott Shoemaker, who is an incredible coach. He helped me understand my business at a very deep level and really get to the basics of what was working and what wasn’t.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Gugu Guru’s big vision is to follow along and provide recommendations to our families through multiple life stages. We are now offering highly personalized product recommendations as your children grow. We know parents don’t just need help with preparing for baby and getting a registry together, they need help all along the way.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. My daily mantra over the past few years is something that my husband always says to me and that is, “There is a reason for everything.” For example, the head of the development team that built my early product got a huge gig and we mutually decided to part ways. I was very nervous about finding a new development team and was losing sleep about it. About three days later, I got a text from a digital producer who I have known for 20 years and deeply trust. She was actually the first person I contacted when I had the idea for Gugu Guru but she had just taken on a long-term project and couldn’t work with me at that time. The text read that her big project had ended and she was looking for some new and exciting client work. The timing was uncanny and I was literally jumping for joy when I was texting her back. Needless to say, I have an amazing team in place now.
2. On a very similar note, “Sometime man’s rejection is God’s protection.” Or “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” I have discovered that when I have my heart set on something and it falls through, it’s very difficult to see the bright side but quite often it is a blessing in disguise and many times that blessing reveals itself not immediately but down the road. For example, I was going to partner with a company but it did not come to fruition. One of the main reasons, I was considering the partnership was because I believed in and enjoyed working with a particular person there. Shortly after the deal fell through, she left the company. I would have been beyond disappointed if the partnership worked out and she had left.
3. “Every overnight success takes about 10 years.” Although I am not quite sure who said this, these words ring so true and serve as a constant reminder to me that good things take time. Sometimes I get frustrated if we’re moving too slow but I have learned that when I lose patience and try to force things, it’s never a good outcome. Take a deep breath, don’t try to take short cuts — just keep your eye on the prize and keep working toward it.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries. There were so many a-ha moments in this book but one in particular that I always come back to is a story in the book about a new meal service that focused on perfecting their offering with just one single user before going out and trying to offer it to the masses. I always go back to that philosophy if, for example, we launch a new service and are not getting the volume that we were initially expecting. I now look at it as the opportunity to get it right. Two other books that have made a huge impact on my thinking have been Built to Sell by John Warrillow and The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Marc Lore of Walmart. I think he is a visionary in the industry. I try to read every one of his interviews and I think that he is absolutely the right person for Walmart to have at the helm of ecommerce in the retail giant’s ongoing battle with Amazon.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!